Wednesday, 30 November 2016

SPOTY: Unlucky losers in the 1980s

There were many great winners of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) award in the 1980s, but also a few sporting figures who never had their names engraved on the shields housed on the famous old trophy.

This week I am taking a look back at some of the unlucky SPOTY losers, including a couple of snooker stars, a Grand Slam winning captain, and a golden boot winner who would probably be a cert for the SPOTY trophy in the current age.

1980: Bill Beaumont

English rugby union had hardly been a raging success during the first 25 years of the BBC Sports Review of the Year. By the start of the 1980 Five Nations Championship, England had last won the championship outright in 1963, had not achieved the Triple Crown since 1960, and you had to go back to 1957 for the previous Grand Slam. England expects? Not very much when it came to the rugby union team during this period.

So it was a pleasant surprise to many when England, led superbly by lock Bill Beaumont, defeated Ireland 24-9, won 17-13 in France (their first win in Paris in 16 years), narrowly scraped and scrapped past Wales at Twickenham, before clinching the Grand Slam in resounding style in Edinburgh. But come the final reckoning, Beaumont was nowhere to be seen when Robin Cousins was named as the winner of the main event.

Admittedly rugby union is a team sport, and only Jonny Wilkinson has transcended this to win SPOTY after his 2003 World Cup heroics, but for the popular Beaumont to not make it into the top three is a little surprising.

His team did clinch the Team of the Year accolade - spare a thought for the great Welsh teams of the 70s that didn't win this award - and it was an Olympic year, yet as the leader of a side that had made history that season, Beaumont surely deserved at least a place on the podium?

1982: Alex Higgins

On to a case that is a lot stronger than the previous example. When Alex Higgins claimed the 1982 World Snooker Championship, the combination of his stunning personality, ability on the table, as witnessed in his breathtaking do-or-die break of 69 in the semi-final against Jimmy White, and his emotional celebrations with daughter Lauren, was surely enough to see the Hurricane win the BBC's iconic trophy come the end of the year.

Alas, the People's Champion turned out to be the People's Runner-up, as he was pipped at the post by another hero of the decade; Daley Thompson. The world record holder, and Olympic, European, and Commonwealth champion may have promptly informed everyone that he "felt like shit", but any lovers of Higgins and snooker, must have been gutted.

At the time the popularity of the sport was growing, and with Higgins' Sheffield story gripping the nation, it is slightly surprising to think that he didn't win the SPOTY award. If a much-loved character that had won the biggest prize in his sport could not win the SPOTY prize in this year, then what hope was there for any future snooker stars? Which brings us neatly on to the next entry.

1985: Dennis Taylor

A popular man from Northern Ireland who won the World Snooker Championship, but still didn't go on to win the SPOTY award. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? But when you consider that Dennis Taylor won his world title in one of the most stunning sporting moments of the decade, then maybe his omission from the list of SPOTY winners is even more staggering.

Taylor had not only beaten Steve Davis to win his first World Championship, he had done so in an extraordinary manner. Trailing 8-0 after a disastrous start, Taylor edged his way back into contention, but at 17-15 down and with Davis requiring just one more frame to win, Taylor won the next two to take the final into a deciding frame. As the clock passed midnight, 18.5 million people watched on, as Taylor dramatically clinched the title on the final black. It was the first time he had led in the final.

There can't be too many complaints regarding Barry McGuigan winning SPOTY in 1985, yet for Taylor to not even make the top three was baffling. Ian Botham had enjoyed a fine Ashes summer, and had recently walked from John O'Groats to Land's End for Leukaemia Research. Steve Cram was only defeated three times in the whole of 1985. But did they really merit finishing above a man who had come back off the floor against a legend of snooker, to win the ultimate prize in front of a record post-midnight audience? Well, according to the UK public, yes they did.

1985: David Gower

Another man who had a strong argument for inclusion in the medal places was David Gower. Leading the England cricket team to a 2-1 win in India at the start of the year was a fine accomplishment, but it would be Gower's role in regaining the Ashes that proved to be the cherry on top of the cake.

Perhaps the voting public recognised that the Australian visitors were not the strongest team ever to reach our shores, yet Gower's glorious summer of 732 runs at an average of 81.33 might have earned him a top three finish in most other years.

The thought of any England player scoring that many runs against Australia would be a dream in the next twenty years, and we would have to wait until that famous summer of 2005 to see an Englishman lift the urn on home soil once more.

For two decades, from boy to man, I watched my Ashes Regained video and marvelled at Gower's excellence. Like Marty McFly, I would have given anything to get back to 1985. As would David Gower just a few months after his glorious year had ended.

1985 and 1988: Sandy Lyle

A man who features twice on my list, Sandy Lyle can definitely count himself unlucky to have not won the SPOTY prize, especially in 1988. On the one hand, you could argue that 1985 had other major contenders, and the likes of McGuigan, Botham, Cram, Taylor and Gower, were always going to be major obstacles in the way of Lyle winning the public vote.

On the other hand, though, Lyle had become Britain's first Open champion for 16 years, the first Scot to win the Claret Jug since 1920, and had played a part in winning the Ryder Cup back for the first time in 28 years. Not a bad application for the trophy, but not quite enough in 1985, sadly.

There surely cannot be any excuses for 1988, however. Lyle enjoyed a fantastic season, becoming the first Brit to win the US Masters, as well as claiming the British Masters and World Matchplay Championship.

Yet, Lyle unbelievably lost out to Steve Davis, not the first or last odd decision taken by British voters. Davis had won a fifth World Championship, but with snooker seemingly not as popular as it had been earlier in the decade, Lyle not winning SPOTY is a hard one to explain.

1986: Gary Lineker

Going into England's final World Cup finals group game against Poland in Monterrey, the prospect of Gary Lineker winning SPOTY seemed about as likely as the Everton forward signing for Barcelona. Without an international goal in six matches, Lineker was under pressure, playing in a team that had stunk out the World Cup in their previous two matches. It was the point of no return.

What a difference a game makes; Lineker's hat-trick propelled England into the last sixteen, and when the same man scored a brace against Paraguay, a mouth watering quarter final involving Maradona and Argentina loomed on the horizon. Maradona would not be denied - by foul means or fair - yet another Lineker goal saw him win the Golden Boot at Mexico '86, and a dream move to Barcelona followed.

To achieve something that only one Englishman has ever managed is a proud boast, but apparently this didn't impress the public much back in 1986. Nigel Mansell won the 1986 SPOTY award for his efforts in almost winning the F1 World Championship. Fatima Whitbread came second, and double winning player-manager Kenny Dalglish was third, so there really was a strong argument for England's new golden boot boy to feature heavily in the final reckoning.

It's hard to envisage an England golden boot winner not winning the main prize in the age of wall to wall football. After all, Michael Owen won it for scoring two goals at France '98. Even in an era where football wasn't particularly fashionable, Dalglish earned a top three spot, so you would have thought Lineker's antics in Mexico might have earned him a bit of recognition.

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