LEEDS UNITED legend Eddie Gray hailed the sporting strength of Leeds as Commonwealth Games star gymnast Nile Wilson and boxing world champion Josh Warrington stole the show at the 2019 Leeds Sports Awards.
Glaswegian Gray moved south of the border to join Leeds as a 15-year-old in 1963 and went on to become one of the club’s best ever players under the glorious Don Revie era of the 1970s.
Four decades on, Gray admitted he was thrilled at the overall sporting success of his city which was celebrated in style at the 16th Leeds Sports Awards organised by Sport Leeds and held at first direct arena.
Seventy-one-year-old Gray took to the stage to herald the evening’s big winners as part of a night which also celebrated Leeds United in the club’s centenary year with a 100-second long video covering 100 years of the Whites.
United’s Argentinian head coach Marcelo Bielsa was one of four finalists in the coach of the year category but that award went to Leeds Gymnastics Club coach Dave Murray as part of a stellar evening for his sport.
Nile Wilson – who Murray coaches – beat off stern competition including Leeds United playmaker Pablo Hernandez to be named sportsman of the year while another of Murray’s younger protégés in Jack Stanley took the young sportsman of the year gong for under-16s.
The junior men’s artistic and women’s artistic Leeds Gymnastics Team also took the young club/team award.
Youth Olympics gold medallist Hope Price took the over-16s young sportsman award as part of a night which saved the best until last when IBF featherweight world champion Josh Warrington was presented with the Sporting Pride of Leeds award.
Other main winners included Leeds Rhinos women’s rugby league star Lois Forsell who was named sportswoman of the year with Rhinos’ celebrating a double on the wheelchair rugby league front with James Simpson taking the sportsman disability award with Jodie Boyd-Ward winning the female version.
The City Of Leeds Swimming Club also had cause for celebration with Leah Crisp taking the young sportswoman of the year accolade while the City Of Leeds Diving Club added another award to their growing haul in the club/team performance category.
We’re a city on the up and it won’t be long before Leeds is recognised as one of the best sporting cities in the country.Josh Warrington
An array of talent excelling on a world stage which has left Leeds custodian Gray proud, five and a half decades after his arrival.
“I first came here in 1963 and it’s a great sporting city now,” said Gray.
“It’s great for young people to look up to people like Josh – a young kid who comes through the ranks and becomes a world champion.
“Young people can look up to people like him and hopefully the Leeds United players will achieve what everybody wants this season and that’s promotion to the Premier League – to be playing against the elite every week.”
There were quizzical looks as the city’s ultimate elite boxer Warrington proved a surprise omission among the finalists for the sportsman of the year award which ended up being a battle between Hernandez, Adil Rashid, Jack Laugher MBE and Sam Dickinson. Warrington, though, stole the show as he was handed the evening’s final award – the Sporting Pride of Leeds accolade.
The 28-year-old was unsurprisingly in demand for the whole evening with Warrington happily posing for photographs and signing autographs by the dozen.
Very much remembering his LS9 roots, Warrington would not have it any other way.
“What makes me the most proud is the fans, the supporters,” said Warrington.
“When I started out as a young lad, all I wanted to do was to put Leeds on the map.
“Now we are doing that worldwide and nothing makes me prouder than seeing the rest of the sporting people here tonight representing the city all across the world. If it’s Leeds, I’m backing it.
“Many people have told me before, hey you need to drop the Leeds out of your nickname – Leeds Warrior.
“But no, it’s who I am and I ain’t changing it for nobody.
“I go all the way to the top and until the end of my career I am Leeds through and through.
“I’m proud of where I have come from and my film, Fighting For A City, I hope that portrayed that.
“If it’s tiddly winks I’m backing you, I’ll have you to the hills. I’m proud of Leeds and to see so many different sports now – we’re at the top of the game. Gymnasts, swimming, all the disabled sports – we are bossing them as well – we’re a city on the up and it won’t be long before Leeds is recognised as one of the best sporting cities in the country.”
Echoing that point, gymnast Wilson proved the best athlete in England at last year’s Commonwealth Games – taking three golds and two silvers despite a hand injury – with Wilson subsequently taking the sportsman of the year award.
The 23-year-old is currently recovering from neck surgery and the 2019 Leeds Sports Awards proved just the tonic in more ways than one.
“When I’m competing I’m representing Leeds first and foremost – 100 per cent,” said Wilson.
“The amount of love I have for this city is unbelievable.
Asked how he was getting on after his operation, Wilson smiled: “I’m up and down. I’m all right.
“I’ve just had major spinal surgery so not the best of the best but I’m very well and there’s a certain substance that helps the pain. The champagne tonight has been brilliant.”
LEEDS SPORTS AWARDS 2019 WINNERS – SENIOR ACHIEVERS – Sportsman: Nile Wilson; Sportswoman: Lois Forsell; Sportsman Disability: James Simpson; Sportswoman Disability: Jodie Boyd-Ward; Coach – Performance: Dave Murray.
YOUNG ACHIEVERS – Young Club/Team – Community: Corpus Christi Catholic College Year 7 Girls Rugby; Young Club/Team – Performance: The Junior MA and WA Leeds Gymnastics Team; Young Sportswoman: Leah Crisp; Young Sportsman (O16): Hope Price; Young Sportsman (U16): Jack Stanley; Young Sportswoman – Disability: Charlotte Tate; Young Sportsman – Disability: Nathan Collins.
SPECIAL CONTRIBUTION - Student Sport Individual: Connor Davies, Curtis Davies, Sion Jones; Student Sport Club: University of Leeds Netball Club; Club/Team Performance: City of Leeds Diving Club; Volunteer: Susan Partridge; Outstanding Service to Sport: Bob Jones.
Service to PE and School Sport: Charlie Pyatt; Coach – Participation: Kris Stafford, Harrison Marshall, Stephen Quinn.
Lifetime Achievement: Liz Wilson. David Heddon.
Sporting Pride of Leeds: Josh Warrington.
Leeds Cares Award: Leeds Girls Can Ambassadors.