Is this what our national sporting expectation has become? That a celebratory sigh of relief is released the moment we didn't get tonked

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The Independent Online
Tomorrow night, at about 9.30, the most predictable moment of the sporting calendar will take place: Frank Bruno will be named BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Des Lynam will tell us Frank deserves a knighthood, Harry Carpenter will be brought out of retirement for the occasion, the sportsmen sitting in the background in their Hugo Boss three-piece suits, will look uncomfortable at the ensuing flurry of "know what I mean, 'arry"s.

Although it seems scarcely credible as his avuncular presence has been one of the show's constants over the past 15 years, this will be the first time Bruno has landed the gong. Few could begrudge him his moment in the uplands of national sporting affection, however, if only for the perseverance with which he has gone about his task, winning the heavyweight title at the fourth attempt.

You can be all the more confident in the prediction that Sir Francis (as he likes to style himself) will be the winner when you look at his rivals in the poll: Damon Hill, who couldn't beat the Germans in a race for the pool; Stephen Hendry, world champion in a game virtually unplayed outside Britain; or Jonathan Edwards, winner of the hop, skip and jump world title, an event, until he performed his mighty leap in Gothenburg, most of us fondly assumed came in the athletic schedule somewhere between the sack race and the 4x40m potato and spoon relay.

It makes you wonder if 1995 has been a uniquely bad year for British sport or whether the choice we are offered is a telling indication of our relative international decline. Indeed this week, the two sporting moments which have quickened the national pulse have both been the execution of dogged, backs-to-the-wall, against-the-odds, draws: Michael Atherton and Nottingham Forest. The metaphor most frequently seized upon in the press to link the two has been that they are lads you would want next to you in the trenches. Is this what our national sporting expectation has become? That a celebratory sigh of relief is released the moment, for once, we didn't get tonked? What next, dancing in the street if we manage to scrape a draw against Chad? In truth, as a quick scan of the previous winner's list reveals, the Sports Personality of the Year should not be taken as an adequate barometer of the British sporting scene. Apart from the surprising number of winners who you assumed would be disqualified from consideration due to the word personality appearing in the title - Nick Faldo, Steve Davis, Nigel Mansell (twice) - the vast majority of the winners are from sports where you are on your own: runners, boxers, racing drivers. Perform well in figure skating, for instance, and you are almost certain to win the award. John Curry, Robin Cousins and Torvill and Dean have all scooped the thing. And how many other British skaters can you name?

It seems astonishing that only three team players - Bobby Moore in 1966, Ian Botham in 1981 and Paul Gascoigne in 1990 - have held aloft the venerable trophy with its three-lensed television camera statuette. No rugby players have been close, and rugby's duck is unlikely to end this year as Will Carling could not even rely on votes in his own household.

Team players are, clearly, discriminated against since they are part of a collective effort, hence the decision in 1960 to nominate a Sports Review Team of the Year. But you would have thought that football, the national game, had a whole roster of viable individuals to nominate: Matt Le Tissier (after all, this is one competition for places in which Terry Venables's vote counts for no more than the man in the pub's); Alan Shearer (if Mansell can win it...); or David Seaman (perfect, as long as he didn't let the trophy balloon comically over his head during the presentation).

Football, though, is always at a disadvantage in supplying candidates. Moore and Gazza both won for their efforts for England in the World Cup, something which unites the nation. In all other circumstances tribal loyalties come into play. Jurgen Klinsmann, for instance, clearly the football personality of last season, is not going to garner too many votes outside the white and blue parts of north London.

But, it occurred to me watching the television on Monday night, that the Football Association has at last woken up to its glaring under-representation in the country's premier sporting award and is grooming a candidate to unite the game. There he was, looking as if he had lost an enormous amount of weight for the role, telling us how he was making a venerable institution more fan-friendly, even, once, smiling. In fact, did we not detect an extra personality-style bounce in his tone as he uttered those famous words whose origins are lost in the mists of time: "And that completes the draw for the third round of the FA Cup."

Yes, step forward football's choice as Sports Personality of the Year 1996: Graham Kelly.