The first week of January is always a good moment to take a step back to appreciate the array of talent and incredible human beings that make up the rich tapestry of British sport, as the New Year Honours list rewards the deserving.
From Lewis Hamilton’s knighthood, in a year when he surpassed the incredible Michael Schumacher for most Grands Prix won, to a CBE for former champion jockey and from cancer survivor Bob Champion for his relentless charity work, to an OBE for the former sprinter Donna Fraser, who received her award for services to equality, inclusion and diversity. And then MBEs across the sports world and across a gamut of ages for the likes of star striker Jimmy Greaves to rugby league legend Rob Burrow, now battling and raising money and awareness for Motor Neurone Disease to tennis star Anne Keothavong and Salma Bi, one of cricket’s first South Asian female umpires.
But beyond the glittering list of big names, there is always an equal number of superstars who do their work below the radar and away from the spotlight – and this year’s New Year’s Honours list was no different in ensuring that credit was give where it is due, and it was heart-warming to see so many good people acknowledged for their work in sport, particularly in the face of severe adversity as we experienced in the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020.
I came across the following four stories this week as I researched this piece but, as every year, there are countless others working in sport in this country, never asking for recognition but no less deserving of it because of that. And we salute you all:
Andrew Baker MBE (aged 32)
Didcot-based Andrew Baker is an inspiring survivor who suffered brain injury at birth, and also endured intensive surgery aged 12, He is also the founder and CEO of Oxfordshire-based fundraising organisation Play2Give, which has raised around £250,000 to date for brain injury and children’s hospital charities, through football tournaments and other fun community events.
He was awarded an MBE for his long-standing services to charity, which have remained dedicated during the Covid pandemic.
“I’ve been doing this for 19 years now, which is quite crazy,” he explains.
“It started when I was in year 10 at St Birinius School in Didcot; I was involved in the launch of the original campaign to get Oxford Children’s Hospital built. I had a dream to maybe raise £500, because I knew how special the purpose-built facilities would be, and how much they were needed. The school really got behind me; they realised I was passionate about the project, and the headteacher made me the lead for the fundraising. It went from the dream of raising a bit of money to where things are today, and it was a catalyst; the Play2Give fundraising organisation was born out of that.
Andrew explains that his own brain surgery was the inspiration for the brilliant work he has achieved since.
“ It wasn’t actually until I was 22 that an MRI scan and some tests at the National Hospital for Neurology in London confirmed that I’d had a brain injury at birth, which would probably explain why I had lots of problems growing up; I had speech therapy as a child, and special educational support at school. Since then, I’ve been under the care of Headway Oxfordshire; they’re an organisation that supports people affected by brain injury, and they’ve been a huge part of my life. My mum’s also been my biggest supporter. What I do started as the dream of a schoolboy wanting to give back, because of the gift of life.”
He realised the first part of that dream in 2007 when he set up Play2Give as a one-off football tournament.
“I started it with a friend at school, playing football and giving to charity,” says Andrew. “Because the first year was so successful, it just grew, and we do so many events now.
“The surgery I had aged 12, I couldn’t do certain contact sports like rugby because of the risk of further injury, but football and tennis were always something I could join in with, and back then, I didn’t have the balance issues that I’ve been plagued with since I was 21. I was an Arsenal supporter, and my friend was also a massive football fan, so we thought it would be really cool to do a charity football tournament.
“The response was fantastic; we got together six-a-side teams, whether it was a business or just a group of friends, and we had local newspaper, TV and radio teams playing together on the pitch. The first one raised about £700 with 19 teams; for the next one, we had 23 teams and raised £3400, and each year, we had more football teams. It was a way to bring the community together.
“Play2Give is now well established, and we now have Sleigh To Give, which was set up in 2015 as a Christmas toy appeal. It’s also grown and grown, and more and more gifts have been raised and given out, not just at the children’s hospital, but to young carers and a whole range of children and families who might be less financially well off, especially since the Covid virus.”
Covid gave Andrew a fresh challenge to overcome but, as he explains, “we still managed to raise over £15,500, which is brilliant considering we had to do more things online. And then in December 2020, we organised a mini festive market in Didcot, which was just a way to bring some festive cheer to the town and bring some of the charities together, in a Covid-safe and socially distanced environment. We’ve been really lucky, there’s a lot of love and support for Play2Give.”
Andrew’s award is thoroughly deserved but, he says, he could not quite believe it when he received the email telling him about it.
“I received an email out of the blue: ‘In confidence, from the Cabinet Office’, with a letter attached,” he says. “When I read it, I couldn’t believe it; it was emotional, and took quite a while to sink in. I did think they must have got the wrong person! You couldn’t tell anyone about it, which was quite hard, as obviously, I wanted to tell the charities that I work with, like the children’s hospital and Headway.
“After you accept formally, you don’t hear much until the list is officially announced; I got a phone call from the Cabinet Office when I was doing a gift delivery to Didcot Foodbank as part of the Sleigh 2 Give project. Then you see your name on the official website of announcements, and you realise that it’s real and the Queen hasn’t changed her mind! I had a personalised Christmas card from Boris and Carrie as well!
“For a lot of my friends and family, the Honours list news made their year after such a difficult time, and it was the best Christmas present for me.”
Susan Anne Deaves MBE (80)
Susan was awarded an MBE for her services to athletics. During a remarkable career she went from competing in cross country and general field events at Brentwood Athletics Club to becoming a senior representative of the British Athletics Federation at Executive Level, selecting athletes to compete for England and Great Britain in track and field events around the world.
In 2002 she officiated in the Commonwealth Games and served as President of the South East Athletics Association and Life Vice-President of the Amateur Athletics Association.
And since 2017 she has been instrumental in persuading Woking Athletics Club that their transfer to a different location should include the construction of a new track that would match international standards. The club recognised her years of experience and upgraded. Woking County Council acknowledged her many years of hard work with a presentation.
Now in her ninth decade, Susan has dedicated her career to women’s athletics and has improved the quality of the sport in the UK, opening up new possibilities for women in the sport that many take for granted today.
Tamsin Phipps MBE (61)
Tamsin was honoured with an MBE for voluntary services to Waterways and to Young People through Girlguiding UK, but it is her work in swimming and canoeing that most grabbed our attention.
The 61-year-old is a qualified teacher specialising in special needs and Tamsin served in the Army Education Corps, taking a particular interest in developing the army apprentices and organising many of the sports teams, particularly in swimming and canoeing.
Then as head of Training and Development with John Mowlem plc she directed a range of training programmes and established a purpose-built training centre in the East of London and designed and implemented a training programme for Prison Officers and staff at Britain’s first ever private prison.
But as Government and Public Affairs Manager with British Canoeing she led the nationally acclaimed Rivers Access campaign, promoting greater public access to rivers and becoming a well known personality and speaker on waterways matters.
Now she works with Age UK Berkshire.
Christina Peacock BEM (47)
Christina was awarded the BEM for services to Boxing. She is an inspiring boxing coach who has improved and changed the lives of children and adults all over Plymouth. She volunteers her time at the Doghouse boxing gym in Plymouth and has had a huge impact on all her clients. She manages the gym, teaches boxing, investing her time in every single individual in her classes, making every adult and child feel valued, regardless of ability. Her passion for teaching children a life skill is unparalleled according to her peers who nominated her, She teaches how to exercise, healthy living, social skills and listening skills as well as the boxing. And she helps children who are not in mainstream schools due to anti-social behaviour, children with special needs, ADHD, anger issues, depression, anxiety and spectrum disorders, providing them and deprived families low cost or free sessions.
Christina’s clients report benefitting from improved mental and physical health, confidence, learning a life skill and feelings of self-worth and belonging.
During the pandemic Christina ran family training sessions in her garden, which helped parents with stress relief and built family bonds in difficult times. It also gave children with anger issues a safe outlet during lockdown.
As with all these Covid heroes, Christina insists her award is not just for her. She cites two role models who helped her: Michael Best, who showed her how best to engage with teenagers and Bradley Kinsman who showed her how to run a gym.