The Annual Dinner of the Parliamentary Rugby League Group took place on Tuesday evening in the Palace of Westminster. The Group, which comprises 70 Members of both Houses of Parliament from all parties, were joined by Group Associate Members and supporters as well as distinguished guests to celebrate the sport and recognise the contribution of certain individuals.
The dinner, sponsored by the RFL, was the first without founder member Lord Geoffrey Lofthouse of Pontefract who passed away in November last year. The Group decided to rename its Merit award The Geoff Lofthouse, following Geoff’s preference to not use his title.As part of the evening’s proceedings, a minute’s silence was held in Geoff’s honour.
The first recipient of The Geoff Lofthouse award went to Sky Sports Rugby League Executive Producer Neville Smith for his many years of hard work and dedication in the sport. The award came as a surprise to Smith, who said afterwards “I had no idea the Group was going to present me with this award. To be the first recipient of The Geoff Lofthouse Award is a great honour personally but is recognition of rugby league coverage on Sky Sports. Producing live sports broadcasts and all the shows we do is a team effort and I would like to thank all those involved behind and in front of the cameras, particularly my great friends and colleagues Eddie Hemmings and Mike Stephenson, for their sterling work – often for many years.”
Sam Tomkins was awarded the Group’s 2012 Super League Player of the Year award. Receiving the award on Tomkins’ behalf was Wigan Warriors Chairman Ian Lenagan and Wigan MP Lisa Nandy. Nandy paid tribute to Tomkins saying “Although Sam already has so many accolades to his name, he has them for a reason. This honour is well deserved and I’d like to thank my Parliamentary colleagues for putting aside club sentiment and voting Sam the Group’s Super League Player of 2012.”
The Group created a new award this year to recognise the personal contribution to rugby league by Members of Parliament past or present. The award, which will only be presented when there is a suitable recipient, went to one of the Group’s founders, former Makerfield MP and Cabinet Minister, Sir Ian McCartney.
McCartney, also unaware of his honour, thanked members of the Group for his award, saying “I would like to thank all those in the Group – past and present – for their work in rugby league. The sports landscape is very different to the late 1980s and early 1990s and it is good to see rugby league leading the agenda in so many ways. Recent work on securing funding for the World Cup demonstrates the importance of the Group and I wish the Group every success in the next 25 years.”
Speaking at the Dinner on behalf of Mulholland said “25 years ago, the Group was founded by a small number of politicians. Sadly we lost one of those founders – Geoff Lofthouse – a few months ago but it is wonderful to see a few in the room, including someone we recognise this evening. It is their legacy that we look to.
“We are now at our largest and there has never been as powerful a voice for the sport of rugby league in Parliament and with the Rugby League World Cup 2013 taking place in England and Wales, we in the Group need to do all we can to build on our momentum and the foundations laid 25 years ago.”
Mulholland paid tribute to Lord Lofthouse for his passion and never-wavering commitment to rugby league and read out a letter from Geoff’s daughter who was unable to attend the dinner to present the award:
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who sent sympathy card and letters of tribute to Dad they truly were a comfort to us.
“Rugby league was one of Dad’s great passions in life and I know he would be delighted that you have chosen to honour him by renaming your Merit Award the Geoff Lofthouse Award. I thank you on his behalf and on behalf of his very proud family.”