THE 20 years since the first Local Heroes Awards have flashed by at the speed of Usain Bolt being pursued by a cheetah. Or even Boris Johnson being chased by Andrew Neil.

I’d been made The Northern Echo’s editor at the start of 1999, launched a grass roots sport pull-out called Local Heroes, and the awards bearing that name began as an experiment at Feethams, Darlington Football Club’s old ground.

The feelgood factor surrounding an awards night for ordinary people doing extraordinary things in sport was immediately clear; and the event simply got bigger and bigger, moving to Tall Trees, Hardwick Hall Hotel, the Dolphin Centre, then Wynyard Hall’s Grand Marquee.

Last week’s 20th anniversary event was as special as any other, not least because my friend and personal all-time hero, Lyndon Longhorne, was voted The Winner of Winners from the 20-year hall of fame.

Lyndon, from Crook, had been the overall Local Hero in 2009, in recognition of his record-breaking achievements as a swimmer, despite losing both legs and an arm to meningitis as a toddler.

I’ve watched him grow into a fine young man and now a dad. When life feels like a struggle, thinking of Lyndon Longhorne always puts the world into perspective.

He was a clear winner of the best of the best prize and that’s taking nothing away from the other magnificent winners through the years: 2000 Steven Grey (power-lifting), 2001 Kip Watson (football), 2002 Norman Sturman (cricket), 2003 Laura Whitfield (swimming), 2004 David Bogg (football), 2005 Ian Berry (volleyball), 2006 Sharon Gayter (ultra-running), 2007 Phill Nixon (darts), 2008 Ted Wood (rugby), 2010 John Schofield (tennis), 2011 Dave Elderkin (basketball), 2012 Josef Craig (swimming) and Kat Copeland (rowing), 2013 Charlie Donaghy (multiple sports), 2014 Karl Wharton (gymnastics), 2015 Steph Houghton, 2016 Amy Tinkler (gymnastics), 2017 John Moore (swimming), 2018 Julie Scurfield (women’s football), and 2019 Aly Dixon (athletics).

My sincere thanks to them all – along with many more category winners, finalists, and celebrity guests – for a kaleidoscope of memories I will treasure always.

Over and out.


The Northern Echo: Mike Amos

DURING 40 years in journalism, it has been a pleasure and a privilege to work with – and learn from – some brilliant journalists.

Don’t ever be mistaken that the best journalists only work for national newspapers. Some of the finest choose to stay close to the grass roots, relishing the closeness to the communities they write about.

In my time, no one did it better than Mike Amos, who wrote his final column for The Northern Echo on Saturday.

Mike was my news editor when I first arrived at the paper in 1984 before he was persuaded to immerse himself in writing unique and prolific columns that touched more people than it is possible to count. Backtrack, Gadfly, At Your Service, and Eating Owt overflowed from the notebook shoved in his back pocket.

He won the North East Journalist of the Year title so many times that the frustrated editor of a rival newspaper was moved to voice a protest. Mike’s awards became as predictable as Lewis Hamilton being Formula One champion.

As his editor for nigh on 20 years, he was impossible to manage and, in truth, I didn’t even try. Freedom to roam, and forgetting team tactics, is the key to getting the best out the most creative.

There are lessons to be learned from Mike for any young journalist beginning their career in an industry going through huge challenges and mind-boggling change.

Wherever the technology takes us, the ability to write well, and to lift readers’ spirits through the choice of words, will always be fundamental.

And what Mike demonstrated better than anyone else was the value of getting off your backside, getting out into communities, and talking to people. That’s where the best stories, and an understanding of the audience, really comes from and it is an art that must not be lost.

I’d be a much richer man if I had a pound for the number of times I’ve told someone I work for The Northern Echo and they’ve replied: “Do you know Mike Amos?”

It wasn’t so much a job as a way of life, and anyone who can do that for more than half a century – and be paid for it – is very lucky indeed.

Mike was never an editor and perhaps, at one time, that may have been a personal regret. However, no editor in The Northern Echo’s 150-year history – from William Stead to Sir Harold Evans and beyond – left a more profound mark on The Great Daily of the North than Mike Amos.

Over and Owt.