Bowls: Local hero's two awards

LOCAL hero Mark Royal walked away with two awards at the glittering presentation of the World Bowls Tour Awards for 2008, staged in the state-of-the-art Atlas Theatre at Potters Leisure Resort in Norfolk following the final of the Potters Holidays World Indoor Singles Championship.

LOCAL hero Mark Royal walked away with two awards at the glittering presentation of the World Bowls Tour Awards for 2008, staged in the state-of-the-art Atlas Theatre at Potters Leisure Resort in Norfolk following the final of the Potters Holidays World Indoor Singles Championship.

The 34-year-old from Stowmarket in Suffolk, who leapt from 13 to six in this season's WBT World Rankings, was presented the Players' Player of the Year award by WBT Director Brett O'Riley.

"I am known as the quiet man of bowls - but this is a very special award and I thank my fellow players for honouring me in this way," said Royal who won his first WBT title, the Welsh International Open, in February last year.

Later, the left-hander was called back onto the stage to receive the Performance of the Year award from WBT Director David Phillips.

"It's fantastic to receive my second award," said the surprised Suffolk man. "I was sure Alex (Marshall) was going to get this, after winning his fifth world title last year - I wish I could win just one! But I hope to be back for a lot more chances in future years!"

Simon Skelton, the 36-year-old from Nottingham who made his debut in the world top 16 this season, won the Shot of the Year award, presented by John Taylor of WBT sponsors Cooperative Funeralcare.

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"I was at the Awards last year, and never expected to be up on this stage to receive one," said Skelton, honoured for a stunning winning shot in the third round of last year's world singles championship.

"It's a great privilege and an honour," added the 2008 and 2009 world championship semi-finalist.

Andrew Walters, a 21-year-old from Broadway in Gloucestershire who reached the last sixteen of the 2008 International Open as a qualifier in his maiden year as a member of the Professional Bowls Association, received the Young Player of the Year award from Dales Sports Surfaces Managing Director Richard Steadman.

"To go to Burgess Hill and roll up alongside all these heroes of mine was an unbelievable experience," said Walters. "I thank the PBA, and my mother for giving me membership of the PBA as a present!"

For the second successive year, former world number one Greg Harlow won the Fans' Player of the Year award, presented jointly by fan Tracey Osbourne and Nationwide Bowler magazine assistant editor Michael McEwen.

"To win this award last year was fantastic - and I thought, after one year, it might next go to someone else! So I'm extra delighted - a big thanks to you all," said the 40-year-old from Ely who won his fifth WBT title at the Scottish International Open in November.

The award for the Best Qualifying Performance was presented to Darren Burnett by WBT and PBA Director Wynne Richards. The Scot became only the second qualifier ever to win a WBT ranking event when he clinched the International Open crown in December, beating fellow qualifier Brett Wilkie, from Australia, in the final.

"This award means so much to me - it's the best award I have ever won," said the 32-year-old Dundee policeman who lost his father last year - but gained his first child, daughter Isla, two weeks after his Burgess Hill success.

"It's been a difficult year - and I would like to dedicate this to my Dad."

A special Services to Bowls award was presented by WBT Commercial Director Nigel Oldfield to TV Director Gerard Lane, of North One TV. Lane, producer of the TV coverage of every world indoor championship since 1994, was described by Oldfield as "an exceptional man, who has worked tirelessly behind the scenes for bowls for many years".

Lane, a BAFTA award winner for his pioneering TV production of Formula 1 motor racing, was delighted with his award: "I can't tell you how honoured I am to get this. Like today's champion Billy Jackson, I too am celebrating my 25th year in bowls and it's a privilege to be involved with the sport. My thanks to the WBT and the Potter family. I hope to be involved in continuing production of bowls on TV for a good many more years."

A Lifetime Achievement Award was made to retiring WBT and PBA director Wynne Richards, a former England international and founder of the WBT and PBA. In a citation delivered by respected bowls journalist and TV commentator David Rhys Jones, the world championship runner-up and two-time England singles champion was described as someone who "has made a major contribution to our sport".

Revered player David Bryant, winner of the award a year ago, added his own praise of Richards: "Not only was Wynne a great player, but he has been a tireless worker, and a fine ambassador for our sport. I can't think of anyone who deserves this honour more."

Richards was clearly taken aback to be honoured in this way: "I always felt that my greatest achievement in bowls was beating Richard Corsie, Tony Allcock and David Bryant on the same day. But this beats it!"

Alex Marshall MBE, the Scot who last year extended his record to five world titles at Potters Leisure Resort, received his second Player of the Year award from John Price, the widely-respected Welshman who celebrated his 24th appearance in this year's world championship after making his debut in 1982.

"I am so proud of this - and I would like to thank John, one of the legends of bowls and one of the most popular guys in the sport.

"I would also like to take my hat off to Billy Jackson who won the world title today - he was the most consistent player of the week.

"But more than anyone, we owe a great deal to the Potter family who have now put more than �3 million in prize money into our sport. It is hugely appreciated!"

The final presentation was made to long-standing England international Andy Thomson, a two-time winner of the world singles title who was elected into the WBT Hall of Fame.

Fellow inductees of the WBT Hall of Fame - launched at the inaugural WBT awards last year - are three times world champions Richard Corsie, MBE; Tony Allcock, MBE; Paul Foster; David Bryant, CBE; and five-time winner Alex Marshall, MBE.

"I am extremely privileged to be standing up here," said an emotional Thomson, the most capped England player of all-time.

"But the most important thing about today is Billy Jackson - I'm over the moon for you," said the modest Londoner to his fellow England team-mate, now the 2009 World Champion.