Due to my back surgery (which I may have mentioned once or twice), I missed out on quite a few things. Yeovil at home, the play-off defeats and, sadly, the Football Blogging Awards. You kind people had voted me in amongst the best ten Football Club Content Creators in the country – but would it be enough to get me to the top spot? Would the judges see my work and think it was better than the other nine even if a writer with far more followers snatched the vote?
In my absence, long-term Imps fan Darren Bugg attended. I’ve always had respect for Darren as a pioneer of the fanzine scene, a precursor to the sort of thing I do now. He edited Imps fanzine ‘The Banker’ and later moved over to Deranged Ferret to work with Roger Bates, Tim Bradford and the team. It seemed fitting that Darren was able to take my place. Here, in his own words, is his account of the ceremony in London.
I’ve been a massive fan of the Stacey West blog ever since the site was set up a couple of years ago. So when Gary Hutchinson sadly couldn’t attend the National Football Blogging Awards event in London, it was a massive honour for him to ask me to step into his place and represent him at the prestigious annual awards ceremony.
Although I live in Leeds, I travel down to London quite frequently on business, and I just happened to be down in London that particular week. So when I read on social media that Gary was looking for someone in the London area to attend the awards on his behalf, I jumped at the chance.
Of course, London being London, things are never quite as easy as they seem. I spent the night before the awards in Hampstead, and because I only found out at the last minute that I was going to the blogging awards, I didn’t have any appropriate clothing with me. This meanta mad dash to Primark in Kilburn first thing on the Thursday morning for some posh togs. Then a dash back to my hotel to get changed, and then a trek right across London to docklands for the business event I was attending that day.
By 5pm I was already exhausted and ravenous, as I hadn’t eaten all day. But with the promise of some posh nosh at the awards ceremony, I excitedly set off on a complicated public transport journey (walk – DLR – Tube – over ground train – walk) up to Alexandra Palace in north London.
For anyone who has never been to Alexandra Palace, it’s a bugger to get to!! The nearest Tube station is a long way off; it’s on an infrequent bus route; and although there is an over ground train station, it’s a mile away, right at the bottom of a very steep hill that the Palace sits upon. I think I got more exercise that evening climbing up that flipping hill, than I’ve had in the whole of 2018!
So, eventually I’m stood in the VIP queue outside Alexandra Palace, out-of-breath, sweaty, hungry, and dead excited. Why? Because I’d had a premonition that Gary was going to win an award.
My phone buzzes. It’s a text from Gary with his acceptance speech for me to read out if he has won one of the prizes. My excitement is now nearly at fever pitch.
At that point I remembered something rather important. I know it might seem unbelievable, but having had such a busy few days in London, I’d actually forgotten that the mighty Imps were playing the same night in the play-off semi-final in Exeter, a game that was being broadcast live on Sky Sports. And I was going to miss the game because, ironically, I was attending an event that was also being broadcast live by Sky Sports on their internet channel. D’oh!!
It took an inordinate amount of time to get inside the venue, mainly thanks to all the young ladies in their posh frocks getting their handbags searched. Well I suppose this is what you have to expect in an iconic London venue, with the country on high-alert for terrorism.
Eventually inside the VIP area, and I saw a crazy smorgasbord of dress styles. This is what unfortunately happens when the organisers write on the invitation the words: “Dress Code: dress to impress” – which is a completely pointless statement, as nobody knows what the heck it means.
Stood next to me were a group of young men in dinner jackets and bow ties, with their girlfriend’s in ball gowns, that wouldn’t have looked out of place at a Buckingham Palace dinner. But to the other side of me were a group of geeky looking bearded hipsters in ripped jeans and t-shirts.
I was relieved that I had taken the ‘middle ground’ and gone for the ‘smart casual’ look. This enabled me to effortlessly cruise the room and converse with people wearing both extremes of attire!
It became clear early on who the really devoted football writers were. And who were the poseurs. You could tell the devoted ones because they tended to be standing towards the edge of the room taking loads of photographs to put on their blogs, and furiously uploading things on social media, while complaining about the poor internet connection! To these devoted bloggers, attending the event wasn’t just a ‘night out’, but an opportunity for a good story for their blog. And I sincerely hoped that they would be the ones that won the awards later in the evening.
At 7:30pm, those of us In the VIP area were invited to go behind the curtain and enter the main room where the tables had all been laid out for the awards dinner. It was organised chaos. Nobody seemed to have been told which table they were sitting on. There were 30 tables, each with about 10 people sitting on them, so I guess the total attendance was around 300 people.
I asked one of the staff which table I was supposed to be on. They looked down their guest list and said I was on Table Number 1, right at the front. I felt a rush of excitement; this must surely mean that Gary had won an award. I assumed they had put all the award winners at the front for easy access to the stage.
So the main event began. First, all the usual welcome speeches, introductions, background information about the sponsors, and then straight into the award presentations.
I knew which category Gary was being nominated for, but I wasn’t sure when this award was going to be made, although I knew it was somewhere in the middle of the evening. There were loads of awards being made on the night covering 10 categories. Each category had two awards (the voted-for fan’s award and also the judges’ award). Plus also one final category of overall winner. That’s 21 awards in total, so with only two hours to spare,they had to really rush through the proceedings.
The first presentation was made, for the ‘Best International Football Blog’. The winner was invited to make a short speech. Then the judges award for this category. Then the ‘Best Gambling Football Blog’. And then the judges award. Then the speech.
So it went on and on and on. Award after award after award. Inching closer to that magical moment when (I was convinced) I would be walking up on stage to collect Gary’s award and read out his acceptance speech. The adrenaline was pumping. My nerves were frayed … and my stomach was rumbling very badly at this point, considering it was now well past 8pm and I hadn’t eaten a thing all day.
It was just about to come to the award that Gary was nominated for (‘Best Football Club Content Creator’) and my excitement had reached near orgasmic levels, when everything was brought down to earth with a bump, and the evenings host announced they were going to take a break for dinner.
Almost with military precision, a large group of waiters and waitresses appeared out of nowhere carrying dinner plates. I couldn’t believe the speed at which all 300 people were served. They literally served the entire room in the space of just a couple of minutes.
I award the venue ‘ten out of ten’ for service, but unfortunately ‘zero out of ten’ for assuming that there weren’t any vegetarians in the room. A very classy meal appeared in front of me (in a top London restaurant it would have cost a fortune) but there was no way I was going to tuck-in to some very posh looking dead bird. GROAN!! I had gone all day without food, and it looked like I was going to go all evening without food as well!!
I left the table, by now famished, and used it as an excuse to go onto the internet to find out the score line at Exeter. GROAN!! The Imps were losing one – nil.
I decided to make a quick important phone call, and just as I was dialling the number, bizarrely, the evening’s host went back to the microphone and said: “While we’re all eating our meals let’s continue with the awards.” I’m not sure whether this was deliberate or not. Somebody else at our table suggested it was strange to be presenting awards while people had only just started eating a meal. Being an old cynic, I don’t think this was their original intention. I think the organisers were running late and had decided at the last-minute to continue presenting awards during the actual meal.
But then it hit me. YIKES!!! Gary’s category was coming up next, and I was standing outside the room, a long way from the table that I was supposed to be sitting at.