Patriot gains for Rushie

Stan Hey looks at sport's beneficiaries in the New Year honours
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The Independent Online
THESE days the honours lists are almost as keenly anticipated among sportsmen and women as they are among time-serving civil servants, lickspittle back-benchers and ageing luvvies who usually dominate such awards, albeit for different reasons. For while the Whitehall mandarin sees his peerage as due reward for keeping his mouth shut about Government treachery, the back-bencher gets a "K" for being lobby-fodder and actors accept awards as confirmation of their hard-won self-regard, humble sports people of Britain know that a gong can put an extra grand on their appearance fees and several more on their income from kit endorsements.

The sporting figures mentioned in this weekend's New Year's honours can all expect a bit more folding gear to be tucked inside their garters if the agents are as sharp off their blocks as the clients. Of course most would deny regarding their award as any kind of financial boost, preferring to share the honour with either their country, particularly if they're not English, or with their team-mates, particularly if they are rugby players who don't want Deep Heat smeared in their jockstraps before the next game.

The saintly Jonathan Edwards, whose MBE follows the award of BBC Sports Personality of the Year, is safe from all cynical thoughts, although a suspicion remains that his prodigious triple-jumping might have been to do with something slipped into his underpants, if not a rheumatic cream, then a wasp perhaps.

Nevertheless, the God-fearing Edwards may yet be tempted by the opportunities his award will bring him in promoting such products as breakfast cereals ("Put the hop, skip and jump into your morning"), fast food ("Try the new cheese, beef and fish triple-jumper") or indeed hip-hop records ("Yo, white men can jump!").

Elsewhere in the sporting honours it is surely possible to detect the hand of government in the MBEs for the Liverpool andWales footballer Ian Rush and the England rugby union forward Dean Richards. Rush has enjoyed a distinguished goal- scoring career for club and country, but his unhappy one-year stint in Turin with Juventus plainly puts him in line with current Eurosceptic thinking.

Indeed a whole mythology grew up around Rush's misadventures abroad - how he was supposed to have taken baked beans and teabags with him, and how he was said to have concluded that "Italy's another country" as the reason for his failure, and how he thought Mussolini was a liniment.

If any, or all of these are true, then Rush will soon be invited to join Teresa Gorman, Bill Cash and Sir Teddy Taylor, who regularly patrol the House of Commons terrace for signs of foreign invasion. Though there must be a doubt about the moment when Rush goes down on bended knee before Her Majesty as to whether he can stop himself shouting "Penalty, ref!"

The award to Richards, who is still deciding between his career as a policeman and his prospects as a professional rugby union player - a tough choice as they both involve being paid to grab people by the shirt front - must have come via the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, in his continued quest to charm the law-and-order lobby.

The MBE for the Welsh scrum-half Robert Jones and the OBE for the triumphant Scot Bernard Gallacher, captain of the European Ryder Cup team, may help thwart nationalist momentum in their respective countries, while the OBE for Wigan and England rugby league captain Shaun Edwards also sends out a message to the Commonwealth. Edwards is surely honoured less for his record-breaking achievements with Wigan than for his neck-crunching tackle on some Aussie republican in the opening World Cup match at Wembley in October while Dermot Reeve's award probably owes less to leading Warwickshire to five trophies in two years and more to his ability to take the piss out of Imran Khan.

But, as in every sporting contest, there must be losers. Despite tabloid expectation, there is no knighthood for the WBC heavyweight champion, Frank Bruno, possibly because even kneeling he would still be taller than the Queen. If he beats Mike Tyson next year, however, the calls for a peerage - and Lord Bruno of Hainault has a certain ring - will be irresistible.

There are others who will, like the famous film producer who used to drop on one knee if someone near him lifted a knife, just have to wait for that special K. Geoffrey Boycott is "entitled to feel disappointed", as he might put it, at being overlooked again, while Will Carling could surely have expected the Queen's favour for his work-outs with the Princess of Wales. Never mind, there's always the Birthday Honours next year.