IT was a lean year for Bradford in the New Year Honours list, but CBEs for two men firmly associated with our neighbours Leeds certainly raised a smile.

Two of Leeds Rhinos’ all-time greats, Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield, were honoured for their tireless work in raising awareness for Motor Neurone Disease.

Pocket rocket scrum-half Burrow was diagnosed with the condition in late-2019, and sadly is now confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak without the use of machinery.

But he has bravely remained in the public eye throughout all of it, while his best mate, and at times half-back partner, Sinfield has run and run to raise eye-watering amounts for charities associated with MND.

Their phenomenal achievements with Leeds meant many Rhinos fans would have been calling for honours for the pair purely for their playing careers, but CBEs are the very least they deserve for everything they’ve done since retiring.

If their awards were met warmly by the British public, the reaction to former RFL CEO Ralph Rimmer being awarded an OBE was somewhat more lukewarm.

Many felt some of his decisions while in a position of power at the RFL affected the sport in a negative manner, yet on the flip side, the current RFL chairman Simon Johnson has hailed Rimmer as “an outstanding leader for rugby league” and a “passionate advocate of the sport”.

Rimmer will not be the only person in the New Year Honours list whose new title divides opinion, but instead I’ve picked out some people from the Bradford District who are surely indisputably* deserving of some sort of honour for everything they do.

*You can dispute and you most surely will…


It is fair to say those in positions in power at Bulls over the last couple of decades have not been the most popular men in the city.

The likes of Ryan Whitcut, Andrew Chalmers and Nigel Wood, the latter still the owner of the club, have come in for their fair share of criticism over the years, but someone who has been largely exempt from all of that since becoming Bulls’ CEO in May 2022 is Jason Hirst.

The Bradford native never stops working for his beloved club, all on a voluntary basis, and has done so much to smooth over cracks in the often-tempestuous relationship between Bulls fans and the board.

Even navigating the tricky 2022 season, where Bulls’ first-team were way below-par, he was largely warmly received, mainly for displaying an openness to communicate with supporters, a simple gesture that Bradford have often failed to get right down the years.

And he started 2023 on the right foot with me, allowing me a 45-minute sit-down interview for the T&A where he revealed Bulls’ financial state, saying that while they were financially solvent, they were paying back an historic loan to the RFL and were in desperate need of people to donate to help the club keep funding their academy.

After years of supporters feeling kept in the dark about money, it was nice to see someone in power lay their cards out on the table in such a fashion.

Hirst puts on regular fans’ forums, has increased the number of events at Odsal, ensures all nine Bulls teams get exposure, embraces the club’s past legends and you can find him in attendance at every Bradford game, home and away, come rain or shine.

If only Bradford Bulls had had more people in power like Jason Hirst over the last 20 years…


You might not know Mike Healey or Mike Abbott, but both have left an indelible mark on Bradford sport over several decades of hard work.

Healey first made it into the public eye as a teenager, when he carried the Commonwealth Baton back in 1958 ahead of the Games in Cardiff that year.

He was so good at it, he was chosen to do so again in Bradford at the age of 81, ahead of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Healey also carried the Olympic torch ahead of London 2012, but if you’re thinking this man was purely Games fame-hungry, you’d be very wrong.

East Bradford Cycling Club was founded way back in 1899, but it was not until 1998 that Healey founded the kids club, where he continues to coach youngsters over a quarter of a century later.

Healey may be approaching his mid-80s, and surely won’t be coaching for too much longer, but the Bradford cycling scene will be a poorer place without him.

As for trampolining icon Abbott, he finally got the kind of honour he deserved last year, as he was handed the Special Recognition gong at the 2023 Bradford Sports Awards.

Abbott founded the Girlington-based Bradford Olympian Trampoline Club way back in 1984, and remains their head coach an incredible 40 years later.

Keighley News: Mike Abbott is still such an influential figure at Bradford Olympian, 40 years after founding the club.Mike Abbott is still such an influential figure at Bradford Olympian, 40 years after founding the club. (Image: UGC.)

They have grown to around 70 members now, all between the ages of five and 50, while Abbott welcomes those of all abilities on the trampoline.

Abbott, along with the other brilliant coaches at Bradford Olympian, has overseen numerous regional and national medallists from the club.

It is a great honour for Abbott to be beside the trampoline with some of these special talents, as he gets to enjoy this second career in the sport.

He has been involved in trampolining since 1976, competing at a national level, and has held world records in the sport.

Many struggle to transfer their ability as a sportsperson into being a good coach, but it is safe to say that is not the case with Abbott.


Cheating a bit here, because Smith is most definitely down south, but her champion horses come from her Craiglands Farm stables in Bingley, so we’re claiming her as one of our own.

Smith had the distinction of participating in Britain's initial ladies' race and in her youth, she was an international show jumper.

But it is as a trainer for which she is most famous, with her crowning glory coming in 2013.

Her horse Auroras Encore stormed to victory in the 2013 Grand National by nine lengths, with jockey Ryan Mania guiding it home at odds of 66-1.

In achieving that feat, Smith became just the third female trainer to win the world’s most famous horse race, after Jenny Pitman and Venetia Williams, and the first Yorkshire-based trainer to triumph in the race since Neville Crump in 1960.

Smith had more success eight years later, when her horse Vintage Clouds produced a shock 28-1 win at the Cheltenham Festival.

But despite that glory, Smith cares more about the welfare of her horses, and was audibly upset when the T&A spoke to her about the death of her horse Midnight Shadow, who suffered a fatal injury after falling in a race at Doncaster in January 2022.

She said at the time: “It affected everybody at the yard when we lost Midnight Shadow.

“It was a pretty sad day for all of us, and we lost a good horse.

“It’s a life lost to the whole yard, which is tough to deal with.”

When Vintage Clouds was retired a few months after the death of Midnight Shadow, Smith wrote on Twitter: “It’s Official. Vintage Clouds has retired. Its the end of a Vintage Era.

“What a wonderful servant hes been to his owner Trevor Hemmings, to us @suesmithracing and all those who’ve ridden him, in races and at home. We’re all so proud of all he has been able to achieve.”

Like any good trainer, the wins mean a lot to Smith, but a happy and healthy horse in retirement means more.


Mick O’Neill is probably the most important off-field figure in Keighley Cougars’ history, leading them to what should have been Super League’s promised land, only for them to be overlooked for the inaugural season in favour of a weaker London Broncos side.

After establishing ‘Cougarmania’ in the early 1990s, the club enjoyed a half-decade renaissance, only for O’Neill to walk away in protest in 1996 over that Super League debacle.

His return at the start of 2019 was a shock, but desperately needed, after a traumatic 2018.

Chairman Gary Fawcett left in July, with the club’s bank balance standing at an alarming £34.23, while the Austria Holdings takeover later that year was mired in secrecy and controversy, with wages going unpaid and recently-departed head coach Craig Lingard admitting Cougars ‘were on the brink’ that November, saying “the players had been let down”.

But club saviour O’Neill already has his MBE, handed out to him in 2021, so we’ll pick his son Ryan and Ryan’s husband Kaue, the club’s owners, for our ‘T&A honours list’ instead.

Keighley News: Ryan O'Neill (navy coat) and Kaue Garcia (grey coat) divide opinion in rugby league at times, but they have been crucial in helping to save the club, as well as promoting and supporting marginalised communities.Ryan O'Neill (navy coat) and Kaue Garcia (grey coat) divide opinion in rugby league at times, but they have been crucial in helping to save the club, as well as promoting and supporting marginalised communities. (Image: JT Sports Media.)

Now the pair are not everyone’s cup of tea, with some complaining that the pair are more focused on promoting LGBTQ+ rights than the team itself.

Aside from that being a pathetic argument, given most clubs should be looking at Cougars as an example as to how to include and celebrate those who are marginalised every day in society, it is mutually exclusive to the team’s performance anyway.

If they’re so bothered about being ‘woke’ (which has bizarrely become a pejorative term with which to label good, progressive people), then why did they invest so much in a side that romped to the Betfred League 1 title in 2022, becoming just the third-ever invincibles in the history of elite summer rugby league?

They do not get everything right for sure. While the pair’s stance against IMGs ‘Reimagining Rugby League’ was understandable and principled, they were clearly fighting a losing battle from the get go, and comments saying other clubs supporting the proposals were ‘accomplices to tragedy’ and that one day 'the sport will remember their names' were unnecessary and inflammatory in the extreme.

O’Neill and Garcia also made bad decisions, in hindsight, in the transfer market, bringing in big name players who failed to gel during the 2023 Championship season.

Most of those left mid-season, Rhys Lovegrove was probably sacked too hastily, and the club went down.

But at least O’Neill was candid enough to admit he’d got things wrong on the player front, a refreshing show of honesty instead of trying to lay the blame at the door of others.

And even despite their continued opposition to IMG, and the removal of promotion and relegation between Super League and the Championship, among other things, they have at least accepted that’s the way things are now, rather than persisting with fighting a lost battle.

As two of very few gay owners of professional sports clubs around the world, O’Neill and Garcia are probably unfairly scrutinised more than most.

Yet after the horrors of 2018, Cougars are very lucky to have this pair in charge right now.


The sack race is not quite as fierce in the 10th tier of English football as it is in the Premier League or Championship, but there is more of a revolving door than you might think.

Campion, Thackley, Albion Sports, Eccleshill and Silsden have all changed or added managers at least once since I started at the T&A just under six years ago.

Not that there is anything wrong with that, the respective boards just want the best for their clubs, but when you consider the upheaval at some of the clubs over the last half-a-decade, that makes the job the man in the hotseat at Steeton has done all the more remarkable.

Chevrons boss Roy Mason took charge of the club in August 2006, a month before I started secondary school, to put into context the length of his tenure.

The grey hairs may have appeared over the last two decades, though many admirers would term him as more of a ‘silver fox’, but that is only due to the tireless work Mason puts in for the club.

As he will tell you, being a manager at North West Counties Football League First Division North level is not just about coaching the first team.

It is keeping an eye on the youth prospects, arranging all your signings, purchasing balls, bags and cones, helping out behind the bar at the clubhouse and much much more.

Mason, who works long hours to continue being a success in the footwear industry too, has openly admitted he has considered quitting at times, with the strain becoming tough, and apparently, some having the audacity to criticise the boss man for pushing for the club to shed their amateur status and become semi-professional.

But Steeton, founded in 1905, are in the best and most ambitious place they have ever been in their near 120-year history, with much of that down to Mason.

And a Steeton without Roy Mason is not a Steeton I, and many others, could ever imagine.