David Parkin on a looming Balloon challenge and the wisdom of Cellino

IT still ranks as one of the biggest challenges of my working life.

Give me an arrogant company chairman or cabinet minister to interview, or even the cashflow demands that come from running a business, and I’ll tell you that either are easier than the Lord’s Taverners Balloon Debate.

It is more than two years since I was “volunteered” to take part in a ‘balloon debate’ at the Lord’s Taverners eve of test dinner in Leeds.

But what is a Balloon Debate?


It involves four individuals speaking to the audience about their sporting hero.

The premise is that all four speakers are in a balloon which is thousands of feet in the air but losing height. One of them is voted out after they have all spoken for six minutes, another when the remaining trio have each spoken for another four minutes and then one more when the last pair have spoken for a final two minutes each.

Given I was up against popular Look North presenter and sports broadcaster Harry Gration; sports commentator John Helm – who has covered the last three Olympic Games – and comic actor Gordon Kennedy – Little John on TV’s Robin Hood and the star of comedy series Absolutely – then you can imagine my trepidation.

I decided at the time that it was all about your subject – forget a sporting hero and pick someone there was plenty of stories about.

That’s what led me to Frank Worthington. The colourful former footballer’s autobiography was entitled ‘One Hump or Two?”

He might have been credited with scoring one of the best goals ever, but my stories about Frank centred on his off the field activities.

And, thanks to Frank, I won the debate.

So why do I bring this up now?

Well I’m tasked with helping organise the next Lord’s Taverners Balloon Debate at Headingley on November 19 and that is certainly as challenging as competing in it.

Not because it is a difficult event to sell – the combination of a worthwhile charity and the great reputation of the event has ensured that table sales are already in double figures before any speakers have been confirmed.

No, the hard part has been persuading high profile people to take part.

I’ve stared into the eyes of successful captains of industry, entrepreneurs, former sporting greats and national broadcasters and seen terror.

Ok, maybe nerves.

People who are used to being in control don’t welcome the prospect of being judged on their verbal dexterity and wit. That vote by the audience after each speech can transform someone from top dog to whipped puppy.

Even my sales pitch that if I can win it then anyone can, hasn’t worked very well.

But we do now have three speakers confirmed with another waiting in the wings.

And given it is a sporting charity event, which traditionally can be male dominated, I’m pleased we’ve been able to secure two women among our quartet of Balloonists.

Broadcaster Tanya Arnold is the main presenter of the Super League Show on BBC One. Tanya is well known to rugby league fans as part of the BBC’s Challenge Cup and Four Nations team, as well as being a regular sports presenter with BBC Look North, Yorkshire’s regional news programme.

Ruth Whiteley is one of the contestants in the latest series of the top rated TV show The Apprentice. Unlike many of the would-be Apprentices to Lord Sugar, she has a successful pedigree in business and sales.

Ruth’s background is in telephone sales, though she previously worked as a DJ on a mid-morning show for her local radio station, as well as doing a stint as a court reporter.

Nick Ahad’s greatest sporting achievement was opening the batting with Dirty Den from Eastenders in a charity celebrity cricket match against a Harold Pinter XI. He is a BBC Radio presenter, former scriptwriter for Emmerdale and a Yorkshire Post columnist. He currently has a popular Saturday morning show with BBC Radio Leeds.

If you are interested in joining us for what has to be one of the most unusual and enjoyable charity dinners in the calendar, then either reply to this email or see further details below.

  • Lord’s Taverners Balloon Debate Dinner
  • Headingley Stadium, Thursday, 19 November 2015 – 7.00pm for 7.30pm start. Dress: Business attire.
  • A table of 10, including a three-course meal and drinks reception is £750 (+VAT). Sponsorship starts from only £1,100 (+VAT)
  • To book your table or discuss sponsorship opportunities please call Liz Theakston on 07736 673231, or email events@copasummit.com


LEEDS United is back in the news following the sacking of Uwe Rosler as manager and the appointment of larger than life Steve Evans to replace him.

And then there was the Football League’s decision to disqualify owner Massimo Cellino because it says he fails its owners and directors test after he was found guilty of tax evasion under Italian law.

Cellino is currently appealing against the decision but it hasn’t stopped a flurry of newspaper articles recounting his exploits both at Leeds and the Italian club, Cagliari, that he used to own.

The Leeds owner is nothing if not flamboyant, although I’m told that he appears quite nervy when faced with speaking to a group of more than a handful of people.

One quote from him that I read, I particularly liked.

It related to when he appointed Giovanni Trapattoni as his fifth head coach at Cagliari in four years.

Cellino was delighted to have secured the services of a great football manager who had won not just six Serie A titles but a cabinet full of European trophies as well.

“I have finished eating coaches,” said Cellino. “I am on a diet. I did not dare hope Trap would say yes but sometimes the most beautiful and unattainable women prove the easiest to win.”

Forget the fact that he fired Trapattoni seven months later – perhaps I can learn from Massimo.

From now on I have my sights set on the most beautiful and seemingly unattainable women in Yorkshire.

And if you see me around town with ruddy cheeks, then it won’t be the red wine that’s to blame 

It will be the slaps.

Have a great weekend.

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