Vanarama National League column – York City

York City – by Glenn Moore

Steve Watson was never one to shirk a challenge as a player, but few were as daunting as the one he has just signed on for as a manager. The former Newcastle United and England defender has become York City’s third manager this season.

Watson, 44, had been at Gateshead, whom he had steered to the fringe of the play-offs in the Vanarama National League despite a tight budget and youthful squad. York City are 17th in Vanarama National League North, their lowest position in at least 90 years, and arguably in the club’s history (Prior to joining the Football League in 1929 City had been in the old Midland League, then an established feeder into the Football League).

Leaving a club in contention for promotion to the Football League for one in danger of relegation to the Evo-Stik [Northern] Premier League is not an obvious move, but Watson was looking at potential. Despite their poor form York are averaging nearly 2,500, almost three times Gateshead, and crowds will surely increase further when their much-delayed, long-awaited new ground opens next season.

“It was a tough decision to leave Gateshead but an easy one to join York City,” he said. “I had a great 15 months at Gateshead but I couldn’t see the progression. With the new stadium, the size of York City – there are probably only two clubs in this league that you’d call ‘a League club’ and York is obviously one of them. There is huge potential here and my job is to realise that.”

Watson faces a tough start. Though he has technically overseen one match, a quarter-final against Redcar in the North Riding Senior Cup which was won 6-1 by a relatively experienced XI, the real thing begins Saturday. York travel to what is presumably the division’s other ‘League club’ Watson referred to, third-placed Stockport County. That is followed by a home debut against leaders Chorley.

The first priority is to change the mood around a club that has become accustomed to failure averaging one win in every four matches over the last four seasons. Then York need to climb clear of relegation trouble; City are six points from the drop. Next is an assault on the play-offs – nine points distant. Watson’s ultimate aim, regaining a place in the Football League, won’t be easy. The Vanarama North alone has nine former Football League clubs.

York are in danger of becoming one of those established Football League clubs that drops out and never returns – as the likes of Southport and Bradford Park Avenue seem to be. They have spent 11 of the last 15 years in non-League having been relegated from the league in both 2004 and 2016. Exacerbating the woe for supporters is that they have been overtaken by nearby Harrogate Town, a club traditionally well below the Minstermen but now challenging for promotion to the Football League.

Desperate to regain their former status City have remained full-time despite dropping into the sixth tier. This should provide a healthy advantage but also brings added pressure and expectation – Watson is the seventh manager in five seasons.

Watson is happy to face up to that expectation. “This season is far from over,” he said. “They seem to have lost their way a bit, but the ability here far exceeds where they are in the league. There are 17 games left, can we put enough wins together to have a real dash at it?”

For more on York City please visit: https://www.yorkcityfootballclub.co.uk/

For more on the Vanarama National League visit: http://www.thenationalleague.org.uk/

For great deals on van and car hire and leasing: http://www.vanarama.co.uk/

 

Vanrama Column – Attendances

The Vanarama column – Attendances, by Glenn Moore

It was the crowd for Truro City’s ‘home match’ against Torquay United that caught the BBC’s attention. Not many matches in the Vanarama National League South attract 2,760 ‘away’ fans – or 62 ‘home’ ones.  The reason was not hard to discern. Truro have been playing in exile in Devon with their Treyew Road ground, 100 miles to the west across the Tamar, earmarked for redevelopment. Those plans have been put on ice, so Truro will soon return to their real home, but in the meantime they groundshare with Torquay whom they ‘hosted’ on New Year’s Day. Thus the huge imbalance between what was technically the home and away support.

Less notice, however, was paid to the remarkable attendance for the Boxing Day match between the teams, 3,863. There was another 3,000+ attendance on December 29 when the Gulls beat Gloucester City. Indeed, since  Gary Johnson took over at Plainmoor in September Torquay have averaged 2,430, comfortably their highest gates since dropping out of the Football League in 2014.

Obviously it helps that the Gulls lead Vanarama National League South after a club record nine successive victories, but they are by no means the only club in the sixth tier division packing in the crowds. Woking, two points behind, drew a combined 4,540 for their brace of Holiday fixtures while Dulwich Hamlet, celebrating their return to Champion Hill, pulled in 5,900 for their pair of matches.

In Vanarama National League North eight of the 11 matches on both Boxing Day and December 30 drew four-figure gates with Stockport County’s two games bringing in 8,333 combined and Altrincham, Hereford and York City registering 3,000-plus gates over the Christmas/New Year period.

There were even bigger crowds in the fifth tier Vanarama National League. Wrexham drew 8,283 for their Boxing Day match with Salford, and more than 4,000 attended the return. Leaders Leyton Orient pulled in 6,000-plus against Dagenham & Redbridge – and 4,755 for the visit of Chesterfield on the traditionally poorly-attended weekend before Christmas. Chesterfield fans, despite their hugely disappointing season, posted holiday programme attendances above 4,700, Hartlepool and Maidstone, two other teams struggling to meet expectations, drew nearly 3,000-plus and string of clubs either with no Football League heritage to draw on, or one in the dim-and-distant past, pulled in more than 2,000 fans: Barrow, Dover, Sutton, Harrogate, Gateshead and Fylde.

Accepted this was a holiday programme and most matches were relatively local derbies, but these figures underline one of the unique elements of English club football. Arguably the most remarkable aspect of the nation’s devotion to football is not the global reach of the Premier League powerhouse at the apex but the depth of support further down the pyramid. Nowhere else in Europe do teams at the fifth and sixth tier attract such attendances. To take a random weekend in Spain earlier this season, the regional third tier Segunda B had a 26-match programme. Half of those failed to attract 1,000 fans and only three exceeded 2,000. Meanwhile, in England, on the last Saturday of 2018, more than 50,000 fans paid an estimated half-a-million pounds plus to watch Vanarama League football.

For more on the Vanarama National League visit: http://www.thenationalleague.org.uk/

For great deals on car and van leasing visit: https://www.vanarama.com/

Vanarama National League column – Managers

Who’d be a manager?  by Glenn Moore

There was major news on the managerial merry-go-round on Tuesday as one of the leading clubs made a change. Wrexham, arguably the Vanarama National League’s biggest name (though Leyton Orient and Chesterfield might disagree) appointed Graham Barrow, former manager of Wigan, Chester and Bury.

The decision went under the radar – another managerial move that day, in Manchester, absorbed the media’s attention – but it meant seven of the 24 Vanarama National League clubs now have a different boss to the one they began the season with. If speculation linking Aldershot’s Gary Waddock to Bristol Rovers proves correct it will be a third of the division. Indeed, add in the summer changes and already less than half the clubs retain the manager they ended last season with. Not so much a merry-go-round as a set of fast-revolving doors.

The spotlight may be smaller in non-League, but the expectation can be big. The Vanarama National League is like the Championship; the promotion prize is so great clubs are desperate to succeed, sometimes over-reach, and tend to react quickly. The vacancy at Wrexham arose because Sam Ricketts quit to join Shrewsbury, similarly Andy Hessenthaler left Eastleigh in October to take over at Dover Athletic, but the other five managers were pushed rather than jumped.

Hartlepool, anxious to regain their league status, are now on their third manager since being relegated in 2017, Richard Money this month replacing Matthew Bates who took over from Craig Harrison last season. The other four clubs making a change have never played in the Football League, but are ambitious to do so: Ebbsfleet, Dover, Braintree and Maidstone (whose namesake predecessors briefly played in the league before folding in 1992). Progress has slowed so, albeit with heavy hearts, each parted company with the men who had taken them into the top flight, Daryl McMahon, Chris Kinnear, Brad Quinton and Jay Saunders respectively.

However, there is a coterie of Vanarama National League managers who are part of the furniture. Paul Doswell has chalked up a decade at Sutton United, a feat Harrogate’s Simon Weaver will match at the end of the season. At Fylde Dave Challinor has been in place since late 2011 while Havant & Waterlooville, having seen off interest in Lee Bradbury from Hartlepool, have just completed six years with him at the helm. In each case longevity has bred prosperity.

So far Hessenthaler has had the most dramatic impact of the new men. Dover were bottom when he arrived and while they remain in the relegation zone the trajectory is upwards.  Going full-time has helped, though that is a tricky change to implement mid-season and has meant a turnaround of personnel.

Ebbsfleet’s results have also picked up, those of Braintree and Maidstone less so. Chairmen will wonder whether they were right to make a change so soon in the season, or whether they should have acted earlier. They will never know. While many would argue managers need time there are many factors involved and, when even hiring a multiple-Champions League-winning manager fails, no guarantees.

For more on the Vanarama National League visit: http://www.thenationalleague.org.uk/

For great deals on car and van leasing visit: https://www.vanarama.com/

 

Vanarama Column – Salford

Vanarama Column December 6th – Salford City, by Glenn Moore

Since automatic promotion was introduced 31 years ago no club has won back-to-back promotions into the Football League. Even meteors such as Fleetwood and AFC Wimbledon required a season acclimatising to the fifth tier before climbing out of non-League. This season Salford aim to break the mould.

Since being taken over by the five former Manchester United players from the ‘Class of 92’, as their youth team generation has become known, Salford City have raced from the eighth to fifth tier. As the busy Christmas programme approaches in the Vanarama National League they sit a point and a place off the summit and the promotion spot it brings. This after a slow start in which they took eight points from their opening six matches leaving them in the bottom half of the table.

“We are delighted with where we are,” said Gary Neville, co-owner and in many respects the driving force behind the project. “At present we’re maybe slightly ahead of expectations. We expected a tough start but with the investment we have made, and the managerial appointment [former Scunthorpe manager and Scotland international Graham Alexander] we thought we would be up there challenging.  Our approach has always been to be in contention going into the New Year. We have a tough run of fixtures coming up and if we’re in touching distance in mid-January we’re on course.”

Neville added: “We are well ahead of our initial plans. We have won three promotions in four years, we thought it would be one every two years. The initial aspiration was to get into the Football League because the original idea was to have an academy, to give young players a chance. We realised we needed a team for them to move into, and to have a proper academy you need to be a Football League club.”

Thus the rush, which has provoked resentment from less well-funded clubs. Besides Neville, his brother Phil, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes Salford are also owned by Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim. Neville points out “until this season we’ve matched Peter 50-50, we’ve put millions into the club. We could have used that money to buy houses, or cars, or leave it in the bank, we didn’t need to do it. We chose to come into Salford. We could have gone into a League One or League Two club, but we wanted to stay close to our roots. I find it hard to understand the negativity about ex-footballers using their own money to invest in a football club.”

Salford have formed an academy, a women’s team and are developing community and education programmes. Moor Lane has been transformed into a covered 5,000-capacity venue. Crowds have gone from 220 to 2,000+ with an emphasis on making it an affordable fun day out – Neville said his family recently chose  a match at the Peninsula Stadium rather than Old Trafford.

The former England international added: “We have retained the original people who ran the club, who made sacrifices and subsidised it. We have the cheapest tickets [£10] and season-tickets, we bring interest to the league and to games, we’re respectful of opponents. How is that ruining non-League?”

Sir Alex Ferguson unveils a plaque to commemorate the announcement that Salford City’s new stadium is named The Peninsula Stadium with Payl Scholes (left), Gary Neville (2nd left) Ryan Giggs (3rd left) and Peter Done (right) Pic PA images.

Arsenal legend Alan Smith joins FWA

The FWA is delighted to welcome Alan Smith, the former Leicester City, Arsenal and England striker, as a member.  In his hugely successful playing career Alan won two League Championship titles with Arsenal, the FA Cup, League Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994, when he scored the only goal in the final against Parma.  He also won 13 England caps and played in the 1992 European Championship finals.

Since retiring soon afterwards, he started as a journalist with the Telegraph, covering matches, writing features and interviewing football personalities. He is a well-known voice as a co-commentator for Sky Sports and since 2012, for EA Sports’ FIFA games.

Now he writes a regular column in the Evening Standard, and has recently released his autobiography “Heads Up” https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heads-Up-My-Life-Story/dp/1472127862 

Alan has always been a good friend of the FWA and attended many of our events, and is a welcome addition to the association.  You can see his thoughts on Arsenal’s prospects this season here:

https://youtu.be/MBujk6ApAiw

 

Vanarama column – Torquay

Vanarama column:  Torquay United, By Glenn Moore

Gary Johnson’s wife was still pondering where they could take a rare holiday following the veteran manager’s departure from Cheltenham Town when his phone rang. Torquay United, slumbering in the sixth tier of English football, were on the line. Would Johnson, who had not worked that far down the pyramid since managing Newmarket Town 30 years ago, be interested in taking over at Plainmoor?

Johnson figured he had nothing to lose by meeting the club’s owner, Clarke Osborne, and business partner George Edwards. “Their outlook was positive, it seemed exciting,” he said. “They are a big fish in a small pond. I have done a lot of firefighting over the years, been at clubs that were not expected to be successful, this was a nice project.

“I haven’t got to manage Manchester United any more, if you see what I mean. So I looked at the players they had and thought, ‘they are only a couple of wins from the play-offs and not a million miles away from being promoted’.

“The supporters’ response had been ‘we won’t get him’, not ‘we don’t want him’, which was positive. It’s a nice stadium. It looked a good future if they could turn the results around. I thought I could go in there and use my experience to pick it up. I just tried to put my personality and philosophy on everything, help the players gain confidence. It helped we won the first match at Hungerford and we’ve been on a good run.”

They have indeed. Torquay were 14th with 12 points and five goals from nine games when Johnson arrived. They are unbeaten in his eight Vanarama National League South matches taking 18 points, scoring 23 goals. The Gulls have soared into the play-off places and lie fourth, four points behind leaders Woking.

Johnson has won five promotions as a manager, taking Yeovil from the Conference to the Championship (over two spells), Bristol City from League One to the Premier League play-off final, and, two years ago, Cheltenham back into the Football League. This matches Torquay’s record since joining the Football League in 1928 with four promotions from the fourth tier and one from the Conference following their first relegation in 2007. They bounced back then within two years but recovering from relegation in 2014 has proved harder with further relegation last May.

Aided by loan signings from Bristol City where his son Lee is manager – “everyone has someone they can call on, a mate in the game, in my case it’s my son” – Johnson is now aiming for automatic promotion. The club are still full-time which helps attract hungry players to this football outpost. “We pay OK. Players might get more [elsewhere] if they have a job and are part-time, but my players are young and want a full-time pro career, they want to improve. Being full time we can work with them on the training field and do extra things off it like video analysis, psychology and evaluation.”

So everyone’s happy, but what about that lost holiday? “Torquay’s a holiday place,” said Johnson. “I’ve taken my wife to the English Riviera instead of the French one.”

ENDS

Vanarama Column – Dover Athletic

The Vanarama National League column – Hessenthaler’s Return, by Glenn Moore

From the outside it was not the most obvious move. Andy Hessenthaler was doing well at Eastleigh, stabilising a club which had been through a change of ownership and five managers in two years. The Vanarama National League play-offs beckoned. Then the league’s bottom club called.

His head might have balked, but his heart had no qualms. Hessenthaler had unfinished business at Dover, having won two promotions with them from 2007-2010 to take them into the National League set up.  He also had his family home in Kent.

Dartford-born-and-bred, a legend at Gillingham, for whom he played more than 300 matches as a driving midfielder, then returned to manage another 300-plus, the 53-year-old is part of the white horse county’s football furniture.

“It wasn’t easy to leave Eastleigh, he said of the switch, “but it’s great to be back and the biggest issue for me was family. I’ve got a young granddaughter and a grandson on the way so it played a big part in my decision.”

There was, however, logic too. Dover may be bottom of the Vanarama National League but the season has plenty of mileage yet and there is pedigree at a club which has usually been in-and-around the play-off places since returning to the division in 2014. Each year they have tended to run out of steam, then had to rebuild as their better players were lured away. But then, it is not easy being a part-time club in a largely full-time league.

That, though, is changing. Hessenthaler’s first act, in conjunction with chairman and main backer Jim Parmenter, was to take the club full-time. Several players were already on full-time contracts, but only training two nights a week. Now everyone is doing four days’ training, plus matches.

“We’ve got to do it,” said Hessenthaler. “It’s a tough league, most teams [are full-time] and to compete in this league it is the only way. We need to climb the table. We need to get these players on the training ground on a regular basis as a group and individually –  we have a lot of young players we need to make better.” 

Parmenter felt the change was ‘absolutely essential’. The chairman said: “Watching games the [difference in] full-time training and part-time training is showing.”

The move meant the loss of defender Connor Essam, who could not fit the new schedule around work commitments, but Hessenthaler has brought in several new faces, notably Maidstone’s Stuart Lewis, with more to follow.

Dover have invested heavily in recent years to bring their ground up to Football League standard and the long-term aim is to bring league football to East Kent for the first time. But first there is an escape act to pull off.

Last weekend brought the first league win under Hessenthaler, a 2-0 defeat of Maidenhead that ended a 14-match winless streak stretching back to August 14. “We won’t get carried away, we have a lot of work to do,” said the manager, “but if they keep showing that desire, hunger and quality I believe we can stay in this division.”

For more on Dover Athletic visit: http://www.doverathletic.com/

For more on the Vanarama National League visit: http://www.thenationalleague.org.uk/ 

For great deals on cars and vans see: http://www.vanarama.co.uk/ 

David Meek Memorial Service

Following a priivate family service, there will be a Memorial Service to celebrate the life of David Meek at St Ann’s Church, St Ann Street, Manchester M2 7LF on Wednesday 21 November at 1.30pm.

David’s family have pointed out that his favourite colour was pink, so feel free to wear something with a splash of the colour.

In the meantime, we have on our YouTube channel and Facebook page, a beautiful filmed tribute to David made by MUTV, featuring tributes from Manchester United legends Bryan Robson and Paddy Crerand, as well as journalism colleagues Steve Bates, Neil Custis and Andy Mitten.   Visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GYwyugd2MA

FWA Northern Awards dinner

Pep Guardiola led a host of successful managers honoured by the Northern branch of the FWA at the annual awards dinner in Manchester on Sunday November 4.

Guardiola was honoured after winning the Premier League title with Manchester City, and he was joined at the top table be fellow winners Tony Mowbray of Blackburn Rovers, Micky Mellon of Tranmere, Rotherham’s Paul Warne, John Coleman of Accrington Stanley and John Askey for his success with Macclesfield Town. Paul Cook of Wigan was unable to attend for personal reasons, but his assistant Liam Robinson accepted the award in his place.

Guardiola thanked the football writers for making him feel at home in Manchester, and his full acceptance speech can be seen on our YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37gBQPlbo08

A substantial sum was raised for the designated charity, Clare House Children’s Hospice.

Thanks to Dick Bott, Paul Hetherington, Andy Dunn and Steve Bates for their sterling work in organising the event, and also to our sponsors William Hill for supporting it.

David Meek – more tributes

More tributes have come in for David Meek, the former Manchester United correspondent for the Manchester Evening News, who has passed away at the age of 88.

Colin Young was given a huge help in his fledgling career  by David:

“When I was 14, my heart already set on football reporting as a career, my headmaster Alan Walker arranged for me to go over to Manchester to spend a day of work experience with his best school friend and a proud Archbishop Holgate’s Grammar School old boy. He had arranged a similar day out at Old Trafford for Jonathan Champion, who also went on to fulfil his dream, and is now a world-renowned commentator.

The Manchester Evening News’ legendary David Meek met me at Manchester Piccadilly and took me straight to the MEN offices and then into the inner sanctum of Manchester United Football Club, introducing me to the likes of Sir Matt Busby, Ron Atkinson, who was then the manager, and after the match, Bryan Robson and man of the match Jesper Olsen. I hardly closed my mouth all day.

‘Meeky’, as his colleagues called him, was the first person I saw and heard file a live match report and I was mesmerised. United lost to Nottingham Forest which meant I met Brian Clough for the first time. I remember him telling me to go to the press room (then a little cupboard next to the PA announcer) to pick up some quotes from the managers while he filed his final match report to ‘Belfast’. Cloughie, who clearly hadn’t expected such a young young Young man, spent the first five minutes interviewing me, much to the senior journos’ amusement. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, which has lasted to this day. I fell in love. With the job, journalism, Cloughie, although not United. David sent me on my way back to York after buying me a copy of The Pink at the station, with his by-lined match report on the front page.

A week later, I sent him a combination of a thank you letter and match report which he liked so much he kindly printed it in The Pink the following week. It was my first published football article, but certainly not the last.

And so began a warm friendship. When I joined the national newspaper pack, he remembered me the first time we met again at St James’ Park in 1996 and always kept an eye out for me. I can’t tell you how privileged that made me feel. The lovely welcome David extended on that first day was always there whenever I went to Old Trafford and he was still working and ghostwriting Sir Alex’s programme notes.

As well as sharing a love of the game and job, we had a joint interest in the fortunes of York City, and the Yorkshire Evening Press. I started at the YEP as an 18-year-old trainee after two years of voluntary weekly work experience, arranged with Alan Walker’s blessing. David’s dad Wilf was the YEP’s City reporter for many years and eventually became club chairman. He always asked about York and Archies when our paths crossed.

Last year I went to interview him at his home in Milton Keynes. He was such a lovely man, made me tomato soup and was in great form, typically humble, reminiscing from the days when he was appointed the MEN Manchester United man just days after the Munich air disaster which claimed the lives of eight journalists, including the MEN’s Tom Jackson. He made such a positive impression he stayed on for more than 40 years. He was so trusted that he continued to write Sir Alex’s notes when he retired from the MEN. His favourite all-time player was Bill Foulkes. And like any good journo that was based on ability and accessibility.

The bookcase in his office was a sea of red volumes and spines from the 50s, 60s and to the present day. And he had written most of the hundreds of books and magazines on show.

I covered a few Manchester United games in Europe and I remember sitting next to Jon Champion on a return trip from Athens a few years ago. I reminded Jon of his own trip to Old Trafford all those years ago and we agreed how proud Alan Walker and David Meek would be that two Archies lads were living their dreams.

I was fortunate that two great men set me on that path and it was an honour for me to go on to call David Meek a friend and a colleague. RIP ‘Meeky’. Although I always called him David.”

 

Ian Herbert, of the Mail, was another close friend of David’s:

“It was the fundamental humanity of David Meek which so many of those who worked with him will most remember.

Someone made the point, when news arrived of his death on Tuesday, that he was always interested in what you had written, heard, or were doing in life. He’d kept chickens at some stage and I had some vague intention of doing the same. ‘So have you got them yet?’ was his constant refrain when our paths crossed. I’d newly arrived in the forbidding world of football writing at the time, ten years back. Kindness of his kind was a precious commodity.

By then, Meek was a regular traveller on Manchester United’s European trips – there as a representative of the club to accompany reporters and a regular companion on match-day morning walks around some European city or other.

But behind the humility and self-effacement, there was the journalist’s steel. He was the chronicler of Manchester United for the Manchester Evening News and, of course, also the ghost-writer of Sir Alex Ferguson’s programme notes down many years. He gave as good as he got when Ferguson revealed that propensity of his to combust with reporters.

There was trouble when Ferguson took his players for a day trip to the SAS headquarters in Hereford, at the instigation of the club’s head of security Ned Kelly, who had served with the regiment. One of the MEN’s news reporters had got wind of the story. Ferguson asked the paper not to publish – fearing that his club would become a target for the then active IRA – but the paper went ahead anyway.

Ferguson had thus effectively severed all relations with him, but he decided to meet the problem head on at Old Trafford, when the players trained on the pitch there just before Christmas that year.

Ferguson spotted him. ‘The Manchester Evening News is finished at this club,’ he bellowed and marched away up the slope to the top of tunnel. He was out of breath, at the top, when Meek caught up with him. “OK. If that’s how you feel, then Merry Christmas,” Meek retorted as another Glaswegian volley came his way. Meek was marching past him when Ferguson’s arm came out. ‘Nothing personal, you know!’ Ferguson said, a smile breaking across his face. Fire always was best met with fire where Ferguson is concerned.

Meek’s quiet persistence also brought surely the greatest published insights into Ferguson. The relatively unknown book ‘Six Years at United’, which he ghost-wrote with the manager in 1992, is a gem. Its depiction of the insecurity Ferguson felt in those early trophy-less years quite extraordinary when you read it back now.

Meek is also perhaps the journalist who knew Ferguson’s compassion more than any. After illness forced him to break off from 16 years of uninterrupted programme notes, the Scot despatched a huge bouquet of flowers to the hospital where he was recovering. He was convalescing at home a week later when the phone rang. There were no words of introduction down the line, just a growl declaring: ‘The Scottish beast is on its way!’ Ferguson was at Meek’s door in 20 minutes.

Meek related these anecdotes for a piece I was writing for The Independent seven years ago – about the manager’s relationship with the media in what had by then been 25 years at the helm. I felt like the callow newcomer, mining his secrets, yet he was happy to speak of those days with extraordinary affection. ‘He never lost his sense of wonder at the game and his characters,’ someone reflected this week. Which pretty much said it all.”

 

Michael Hart, like David a life member of the FWA, wrote this:

“David Meek was a hero of mine. And not just me. He was a role model for dozens of young football reporters back in the sixties and seventies and, of course, he had the stage on which to perfect his journalistic craft – Old Trafford.

“Meeky” charted the everyday business of life at Old Trafford with the spirit of Denis Law, the confidence of Bobby Charlton and the grace of George Best. These three great players were the cornerstones of the rebirth of Manchester United in the sixties and David found it impossible to say which of them was THE greatest.

But he did say of Best: “I watched him blossom into a rare performer who in my view still stands alone as the most extraordinary and exhilarating player I have ever seen.”

David reported on life at Old Trafford from 1958, when as a young leader writer he took over as United correspondent from Tom Jackson, tragically killed in the Munich air disaster, until 1996.

I had the good fortune to work alongside him on many occasions. I learned many valuable lessons from him and perhaps the most important was the value of trust. “Meeky” would never break a confidence.

I remember a former United manager Dave Sexton, who I knew well from his time at Chelsea, telling me that David Meek was the only reporter he would trust. Years later, David established a similar rapport with Sir Alex Ferguson. He wrote his programme notes for 26 years and despite all kinds of inducements would never reveal the manager’s thoughts before they appeared in the programme. He was privy to the inner most secrets of one of the world’s great football clubs and never betrayed a confidence.

We travelled together across the globe, covering England, and it became a real pleasure watching his charm, his logic and his kindness win over some stubborn passport official, security guard or press box dictator!

I last spoke to him a few days before he died. I wanted to remind him of the debt I owed him. At the Mexico World Cup in 1986 he introduced me to the girl who would become my wife.

Yes, “Meeky” was a not just a special friend. He was my hero too.” 

And the tributes continued on social media:

From Neil Harman: The sad news keeps on hitting hard. David Meek, who became the Manchester United writer for the Evening News in the wake of the Munich disaster [a job he continued for almost four decades] has passed away at the age of 88. I moved to Manchester in 1981 and will never forget his kind words, wise counsel and helpful spirit. There was no more considerate, warm colleague in the press box. Always there for his fellow man, which speaks volumes of him. There will never be another Meeky.

From Matt D’Arcy: Devastating news! My guide and mentor from the time I joined the MEN sports desk in 1966 until I joined the Daily Star in 1978. And even then, he would keep in touch as a friend as much as a colleague, with words of advice and encouragement. He introduced me (young, and new to this world of football journalism) to his closest contacts–like Busby, Best etc–and opened doors for me, generously and unselfishly. David was a wonderful, kind man, a gentle soul, widely admired and trusted by football people who gave their trust and admiration sparingly. What a loss to our profession. My thoughts, now, are with his family. RIP Meeky.

From James Fletcher: Oh no, what terrible news. Lovely tribute Paddy. David Meek was one of the finest men I’ve ever met, not just because he was a proper journalist with proper contacts but, more importantly, it was the way he conducted himself. Always gentle, softly spoken, considerate. Willing to listen to the whipper snappers dominate conversations in the press box or on the press trips whilst he knew what was really going on. I learned a lot from just being around his company, a man who didn’t need to boast or shout or scream, he just quietly and professionally did his job and, never had a bad word to say about anyone. A man of true honour. RIP Meeky, and lots of love and best wishes to his family

From Andy Mitten: Very sorry to hear about journalist David Meek passing away. He covered MUFC for the Evening News from ‘58-95. Helped me loads, with work experience and advice. He was still on Euro aways until 2011. He’d mind my ticket and wanted to hear which daft route I’d taken to the game.

From Mark Ogden:  To many journalists who have covered @manutd, David Meek was as big a figure as some of the players he reported on as the MEN’s United reporter for almost 40 years. A great man, without an ego, and a true legend of his profession. Sad news.

From Stuart Mathieson: Very sad to hear that David Meek has passed away. Always available for advice when I took over in #MUFC MEN role. Meeky tours on Champions League aways were legendary. A coffee and a cathedral visit cured many a hangover. A great man. God bless

From the FWA’s Paul McCarthy: David Meek was a journalist who people trusted implicitly even when he had one of the toughest jobs in the media. His class shone through in everything he did and he was truly a man with the absolute highest standards. He will be greatly missed by so many.

From Gordon Burns: So sad to hear of the death of David Meek the legendary @MENnewsdesk sports writer. Great journalist and really nice man. What a long and outstanding career he had.

From Alex Stepney, former Man Utd goalkeeper: Very sad to hear that David Meek is no longer with us…been a bad week for losing good football people.