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Winners in their own right - our pick of the Midlands' sports personalities

By Thom Kennedy | Sport | Published: | Last Updated:

Ahead of the sports personality of the year awards, we take a look at local sporting figures.

Celebrating the Midlands' sports personalities

On Sunday evening, the great and good of British sport will celebrate a year of achievement at the Sports Personality of the Year Awards.

The bookies are backing Harry Kane for the top award, after he became the first Englishman to come home from a World Cup with a golden boot under his arm since Gary Lineker almost 30 years ago.

And his boss, Gareth Southgate, is sure to hear his name mentioned in dispatches after leading the national side to the semi-finals of that same tournament in Russia.

Also in the running is boxer Tyson Fury, the 6ft 8ins Gypsy King who, after drawing with Deontay Wilder, won new fans with his impassioned speech about mental health.

Serial F1 champion Lewis Hamilton and Tour de France king Geraint Thomas make up the list of the favourites for the title. Staffordshire swimmer Adam Peaty is also one of those who is likely to receive recognition as he continues to set gather world records and sparkling silverware.

But sport, as we know, can be a very tribal affair in which fans stake their pride to a far more local mast.

And with the BBC’s glittering bash a national event, it falls upon us to take a look at our area’s own top sporting personalities.

It's Boiler Man

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Not everybody who deserves acclaim is necessarily a champion. We can hardly consider those who have made an impact on the public consciousness without a mention for West Brom’s Boiler Man mascot, for example.

From the moment West Brom kicked off their Championship campaign with the half man-half boiler cavorting around the pitch, social media caught fire. It would, alas, probably be a bit of a stretch to say that the cuboid capers necessarily lead to a SPOTY award, however.

Fred Onyedinma of Wycombe Wanderers and Omar Beckles of Shrewsbury Town

Lewis Cox, our man behind the scenes at Shrewsbury Town, pinpointed defender Omar Beckles as a man worthy of a nod in a year in which Town twice played under the Wembley arch.

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“Beckles has become an inspiration to Shrewsbury Town fans and many others with his charity work in support of mental health,” said Lewis.

“Originally from London, since moving to Shropshire he has launched his own charity, Hub 365, and has carried out some superb work spreading the messaging about mental health, particularly for males, in the local area.”

Beckles, 26, has been with Shrewsbury for just over a season and originally set up his charity in memory of his late father, Linton Charles Beckles, a former musician.

Lauren Fishman with brother Jack, dad Dave, mum Andrea and sister Ruby

Lewis also highlighted Lauren Fishman, the Telford youngster who showed real battling qualities to overcome Ewing’s sarcoma after being diagnosed last October.

“The 16-year-old used to play for AFC Telford United girls but has been told she cannot play again after 14 months of chemotherapy and two operations,” said Lewis.

“Lauren, who had a rib removed during treatment, was given a liberty bell from a friend at the end of her treatment and she donated it to the oncology ward at the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford.”

A fan grabs a selfie with Carl Ikeme

Wolves fans have taken the cause of Carl Ikeme to their hearts, and this year has no doubt been an emotionally charged one for the former keeper. In June, Ikeme revealed that he was in complete remission from the acute leukaemia which he had been tackling for the previous 12 months. However, the extent of his treatment had meant he would not be able to continue his playing career. He hung up his gloves in July.

Ben Purkiss

Ben Purkiss, the Walsall defender, has had an eventful year, even though he has yet to make an appearance for the Saddlers this season.

Purkiss, who is also the chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, found himself in the eye of a media storm after he called for an independent review into the organisation’s structure. That led to PFA chairman Gordon Taylor attempting to have him removed from his role, but the battle for the future of the footballers’ union goes on.

The Invictus Games provides an opportunity to recognise some of those whose contributions to the country through their military service.

Clive Smith

Among those heading out for this year’s games in Sydney were Lance Corporal Clive Smith, who is originally from Walsall but now lives in Shrewsbury.

He contested his third Invictus Games this year and bagged a truly impressive silver medal with the Great British wheelchair rugby team.

The 33-year-old also captained the side who just missed out against Australia 22-17 in the final.

The ex-serviceman lost both of his legs above the knee in 2010, when he was attempting to defuse a bomb in Afghanistan. Also a face of the Royal British Legion’s National Poppy Appeal, Mr Smith has shown real inspiration leading the way in the fantastic Invictus Games.

Paul Twitchell

He was joined in Australia by Paul Twitchell who works at RAF Cosford, and who spoke candidly about his PTSD before going on to land a silver medal as part of the British sitting volleyball team that competed in the games.

“I witnessed significant trauma which stuck with me,” he said of work in Iraq evacuating casualties or injured personnel.

“One of the root causes of my PTSD was an incident involving a young Lance Corporal who was injured in a shooting.I felt a complete sense of hopelessness that I couldn’t help him. The medics were doing all they possibly could, but that was the moment something happened to my brain.”

He participated in the games as part of his ongoing recovery.

Matt Wilson, our West Brom reporter, didn’t mention Boiler Man for some reason, instead highlighting two other Baggies icons.

Darren Moore

Darren Moore is a local boy and cult hero emerged from the shadows during one of Albion’s darkest times in recent years to restore faith, pride and dignity to the club,” said Matt.

“He nearly pulled off a miracle to keep the doomed Baggies up at the end of last season, beating Manchester United, Tottenham and Newcastle after nine straight defeats, and is now in charge of the club he loves, having made them attractive and entertaining to watch.”

Matt added: “Special mention should go to Julia Regis, who has conducted herself admirably since losing her husband Cyrille in sudden circumstances at the start of the year. She walked the Great Wall of China in the summer to raise money in memory of Cyrille.”

Nick Elwell puts together our grassroots pages, and regularly sees the magnificent work of volunteers in local communities.

Jonathan Caldecott with wife Elaine

Among them is Jonathan Caldecott, who was handed an Outstanding Contribution to Cricket accolade at the Shropshire Cricket Board awards.

In the last three years Jonathan has coached the Shropshire disability squad to two national finals.

The award capped a summer to remember for Caldecott, whose efforts were recognised nationally when he picked up one the prestigious OSCA awards at Lord’s.

John Edge receives his award

Meanwhile, John Edge, club secretary at Ellesmere Rangers, was the winner of the Outstanding Contribution to Adult Football prize at the Shropshire FA awards.

He has been in the role for more than 30 years, previously serving as manager, and has also served as vice chairman of the Shropshire County League.

Shropshire FA chairman Dave Simpson said: “I started out with Vince in 1980. You see these large football clubs, Shrewsbury Juniors being one, but that guy is a one-man outfit – and still wears his football boots now.

“He supports clubs financially and is an unbelievable man, but nobody knew about him.

Anona Hickin

Anona Hickin, meanwhile, has been chair of the Wolverhampton City Netball League for 35 years, and our man Nick highlighted her work.

“She has played a huge role in making the league the success it is today,” said Nick. “She joined the league’s committee in 1967 and played up until the age of 71.”

Nuno Espirito Santo

But given all that has happened over the last 12 months, we could hardly consider the nominations for the West Midlands’ Sports Personality of the Year without discussing Nuno Espirito Santo.

Nuno landed at Wolves in mid-2017, and led the team to a memorable Championship title win in his first season as boss. Since then he has continued to surprise, having taken a draw from Manchester United and beaten Chelsea. He excites fans with his team’s up-and-at-them style, his passionate displays on the touchline, and with his candid interview style.

“When I’m upset I can be the worst guy in the world,” he said as he digested the title win. “I don’t speak to you one day because I have everything in my mind. Next day I’m hugging people. It’s natural, we have good and bad moments.”

Team of the year 1: Wolves’ winners

Wolves players celebrating promotion to the Premier League

Few who saw them in action would begrudge Wolves their place in local footballing folklore.

From the moment they despatched fellow promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough 1-0 on the opening weekend of the season, Wolves looked like a team that had a good thing going.

By Christmas, Wolves had lost only three times in the league, and looked a very good bet to win the second tier title thanks to the swashbuckling team that had been put together by boss Nuno Esperito Santo.

In the end, Wolves won the title with 99 points and might have expected to get into three figures, but lost to relegated Sunderland on the final day of the season.

It didn’t matter a jot. Wolves had won the title with a nine-point cushion to nearest challengers Cardiff.

It was against the Bluebirds that the season hit its most thrilling heights. With six games left, Wolves went to south Wales looking for a win that would more or less push them over the line. However, with a 1-0 lead, they conceded two penalties as the game entered its dying stages. Cardiff missed them both, leading to raucous celebrations as Wolves held on to an unlikely victory.

The team’s Portuguese element was among its most important ingredients.

Ruben Neves was a magician in midfield, scoring six goals – all from outside the penalty area – including a swivelling volley into the top corner against Derby that few of us would even consider possible.

Diogo Jota scored 17 times, meanwhile, while Frenchman Willy Boly became a fans’ favourite with his sturdy defensive displays.

The home nations were represented too, including full-back Barry Douglas, and sturdy defender Conor Coady, who became a key man in a wildly successful team.

Team of the year 2: Shrewsbury Town’s heroes

Jon Nolan celebrates Shrewsbury’s play-off semi-final win over Charlton

Nobody – not fans, not pundits, not bookies – reckoned Shrewsbury had much of a chance going into the 2017-18 season.

The only direction they could possibly be going, received wisdom said, was down.

Paul Hurst had come in towards the end of the previous season and managed to keep the side afloat in League One, but few thought he could repeat the act the following season.

How wrong people were. Town were never a magical, Barcelona-like outfit who could sweep aside all in their path. But they were dogged, they were superbly drilled, and they had goals flowing in from all areas of the pitch.

Hurst built a side of seasoned professionals around the likes of Mat Sadler and Shaun Whalley, supplemented it with carefully picked lower league players like Jon Nolan, recently relegated with Chesterfield, and Hartlepool outcast Toto Nsiala.

To add some glitter to the mix, he brought in loans from higher level clubs including Ben Godfrey from Norwich and Dean Henderson, the young Manchester United goalkeeper. They were all good players, but when put together they were transformed into a whole that was more than the sum of its parts.

Town got to Wembley twice, in the Checkatrade Trophy and the play-offs, and were unlucky to miss out on an unlikely promotion.

It would be unfair to think of Town’s team as nearly-men – rather they were a superbly effective unit who defied all expectations to scare the daylights out of the big boys of the division, Blackburn and Wigan.

In any other year the boys in blue and amber would have marched into the Championship. The season ended on a sour note with Hurst’s departure, but in the fullness of time few Town fans will think of the class of 2018 as anything other than a band of heroes.

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