Growing need to resurrect an Honours List

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 January, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 January, 1998, 12:00am

SIX months into Hong Kong's brave new era, is there anything from days gone by that you hanker after or recall with growing nostalgia? For those of us whose day-to-day life generally revolves round things equine and sporting, the short answer would be in the negative. It really doesn't matter whose flag is fluttering outside Sha Tin or the Hong Kong Stadium, what goes on inside has always had considerably more relevance.

But I confess to having missed something on New Year's Day. That was the page of the paper taken up - almost nine columns of it - in previous years by the Honours List.

It was here that Hong Kong's great and good, the well-meaning, the honest and the faithful were given their just reward on the nod of the Governor. Outside the auspicious categories listed, there were probably a few dodgy characters who made it as well, but let's be positive and charitable.

Invariably in the annual List, I would come across a few familiar names. None more so than in the section devoted to Asia's Finest. There was inevitably someone there whom I'd encountered more than once - socially, not in their line of duty I hasten to add - whose devotion to the cause had earned at least the Colonial Police Medal.

Infrequently, if understandably, there would be a sportsperson honoured with an OBE or MBE. Given the general lack of success in our sporting endeavours, it is not surprising that the path to Government House or Buckingham Palace was not worn bare by Hong Kong awardees.

The List, as far as Hong Kong is concerned, is history now but it was truly pleasing to read that Tony Blair - or whoever advises him on these matters - really did a good job with the sporting honours this New Year.

Waking on the first morning of 1988 with a clear head and without throbbing membranes, I was greeted with the news that a knighthood had been conferred on Tom Finney. Well, damn good show.

If there was ever a case of better late than never, this was it. Sir Tom evokes happy footballing memories from my early days and, for me, he was always more of a schoolboy idol than fellow knight of the realm Stanley Matthews.

I saw Finney play on four occasions at international level and he was everything that a quality footballer should be. Through the mists of time and probably nostalgia, he is recalled for his superb individual skill and great team spirit.

Unlike Matthews, Finney was not necessarily a great individualist. But he had a real awareness of the basic nature of the game which is, after all, about teamwork. And he didn't mind a dig at goal.

Above all, Finney was an exemplary professional who always gave all he had - and was completely loyal to Preston North End and England.

He played in Hong Kong many years ago on a brief visit and last week with regret turned down a chance to return. He was tied up with charity work - which just about sums up the man.

And it was almost as good to see Mark Hughes get a gong.

He may not be everybody's favourite player but he would be the first name down on my teamsheet. He does not win awards for being nice to opponents or referees but I have always seen him as honest. It's give and take and Manchester United have had few better servants.

If he puts the Reds out of the FA Cup today when they clash with his current team Chelsea - what a free-transfer signing he was - you can rest assured that one armchair fan will be leaping out of the seat.

And he could, too. Hughes has a remarkable record in the FA Cup and Alex Ferguson is on record as saying he has had more than a twinge of regret about letting the Welshman depart. It may be more than a twinge when the final whistle blows today.

One FA Cup goal from Hughes sticks in the mind. It was in a semi-final against Oldham Athletic and United were losing as the match moved into stoppage time. Hughes, with virtually the last kick of the game, half-volleyed quite brilliantly into the far corner of the net.

United went on to win the FA Cup and Oldham were relegated. That single goal started a slide that has seen them drop two divisions and Joe Royle go from Oldham to Goodison Park and then the job centre.

Hughes may not be quite cast in the mould of Sir Tom but he's definitely more than a little bit special.

Meanwhile, they'd better come up with a suitable SAR decoration - just in case we do something dramatic on the world sporting stage.