Alison Kervin collects her OBE.
Alison is off to the Palace tomorrow morning (19th April) to collect her OBE. Here she reminisces about her time in sports journalism...
No good news ever comes in a brown envelope; everyone knows that. But, in mid-November 2016, a thick, official-looking envelope landed on my doormat informing me that I was to be made an OBE in the Queen's New Year Honours list.
It is a tremendous honour to be nominated for services to sports journalism and I've found myself thinking back through my career, remembering everyone who helped me along the way, those whose doubts spurred me on and those whose encouragement kept me going.
There have been so many highs during my 25 years in journalism that it's difficult to remember them all ... watching England win the 2003 World Cup in Australia is up there, as is being in the velodrome to see Laura Trott and Jason Kenny win gold at the Rio Olympics.
- I interviewed Usain Bolt when he was young and ambitious and he promised me that he would change sprinting forever. I went to interview Nick Faldo and we ended up peering through a telescope in his back bedroom in order to catch a glimpse of Elton John, who lived in the house opposite.
Then there was the time I spent an hour in the ladies' toilets in Monte Carlo talking to Catherine Zeta-Jones about Welsh rugby, and befriended Sean Connery's bodyguard in order to get on to the course to get an interview with the Hollywood star about his love of golf. I'm not sure that any other career offers the sheer diversity of experiences that sports journalism does.
I started my career in local newspapers, learning my trade by covering garden fetes and school fairs on the Hastings Observer before moving to the Slough Observer to write about sport. After that I went to work for the Rugby Football Union for a few years as a development officer. I took the RFU role because I wanted to be taken seriously as a rugby journalist.
These were different times when it was much more difficult for women to succeed in sport, not necessarily because of any overt sexism, but simply because there were so few women working in sport — and none working in rugby.
People assumed you couldn't do it. Most didn't understand why you wanted to do it. One of the great joys of my time as a sports writer is how much it has changed. There are still far too few female sports journalists, but attitudes have changed enormously and it's getting better.
My time at the RFU culminated in me refereeing at Twickenham in the opening ceremony of the 1991 World Cup. It made me the first woman to referee at the national stadium, and it was a terrifying thing to do, but I'm glad I did it.
In 1995, I swapped tracksuit for typewriter and moved back into journalism and became features editor of Rugby World, the world's biggest-selling rugby magazine. Rugby was turning professional, suddenly the sport transformed before our eyes. It was the most fascinating time to be involved.
I moved into national newspapers after Rugby World — first as rugby editor, then chief sports features writer of the Times. One of my main roles was a weekly interview series. It was great fun ... Jonny Wilkinson made me lunch (chicken salad), I went shoe shopping with Maurice Greene, who was the fastest man in the world at the time, and I travelled to South Africa to interview Oscar Pistorius shortly before his arrest for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
I even did the last interview with Brian Clough, a few weeks before his death. He was sitting at a table with five people when I walked in. It transpired that two of them had been standing at a bus stop when Clough drove past and he'd offered them a lift. Then he asked whether they fancied coming to the interview with him. They agreed, but the lady was so bored that she knitted all the way through.
The only time I've been genuinely tongue-tied was when I interviewed Nadia Comaneci, my childhood heroine. As I stood before her I was sent spinning back into my youth, as an eager gymnast watching her score the perfect 10.
Our heroes' names are woven into the fabric of our lives. You know where you were for Botham's Ashes, Maradona's 'hand of God' goal and Seb Coe's Olympic gold in Moscow, like most people know where they were when Elvis died.
I left newspapers 10 years ago to write books, mainly about sport but also five novels. I wrote 12 books in total and began writing regular sports features for a range of publications, including Financial Times magazine.
One of the pieces I wrote featured Felix Baumgartner, the man who sky-dived through the sound barrier. I was at the top of Sugarloaf Mountain interviewing him when the phone rang and Geordie Greig, the editor of The Mail on Sunday, offered me the job of sports editor.
It was too great to turn down. It's a newspaper with a big circulation, a strong reputation and some of the best journalists in the country. I started at the paper a few months later and we all decided early on that we wanted to be campaigning and investigative, to delve a little deeper into sport.
We found there were real problems with rugby union's attitude to concussion. Backed by neurosurgeons and neuropathologists and later by MPs, we campaigned for greater awareness of the long-term damage that could be caused by concussion and for new protocols that would keep players safe.
The campaign was led by our rugby correspondent, Sam Peters, backed by all of the staff and has become a real jewel in our crown. We're immensely proud of any role we have played in changing the sport's attitude to concussion, and if just one player is kept free of brain injury as a result of all our work, every second of it will have been worthwhile.
It is a terrible cliche to say that it is not just me who has won this honour, but everyone who gave me the opportunity, everyone who backed me. It is certainly for the whole team at The Mail on Sunday who work so hard to produce the sport supplement every week.
I hope you enjoy the section. We know we cannot please everyone, but we try to be balanced and strike the right note between being entertaining and informative, and always try to investigate everything thoroughly.
We hope to do even better in 2017.
WHAT THEY SAID...
Olympic champion and London 2012 chief
Congratulations! Alison's work on behalf of women in sport has helped break the gender barrier for women on the field of play and in administration. So well deserved.
SIR CLIVE WOODWARD
World Cup-winning coach
I've known Alison for over 20 years. She was one of the first women to write about rugby, which at the time was truly groundbreaking. I have always held her in the highest regard because she has never shied away from controversy or been afraid to speak her mind and became a role model for women working in a historically male-dominated environment.
I'm thrilled Alison's achievement in being the first female sports editor of a national newspaper has been recognised and hope it encourages many more women into sports journalism.
Alison is a trailblazer in the sports industry. Not only is she a fantastic journalist and writer, she has pushed the boundaries in becoming one of very few female sports editors in the world.
DAME TANNI GREY-THOMPSON
It's really important that women are recognised through the honours system. And in sport there are still not enough women who are represented through big parts of the industry, whether as agents or journalists or working in governing bodies.
I'm delighted. What a fantastic accolade. Alison knows the job inside out and back-to-front and it's a pleasure to work for her.
West Ham vice-chairman
Alison, you should be so proud. I'm thrilled. Sports and journalism are very difficult areas for women to achieve success in — and to champion both is amazing. Bravo.