Here are details for the funeral of our friend and colleague Jeff Farmer, who passed away last week.
Funeral: Monday November 5 at 12.30
Streetly Crematorium, 296 Little Hardwick Road, Straitly WS9 0SG
Reception at Moor Hall Golf Club, Moor Hall Drive, Sutton Coldfield,B75 6LN.
Jeff’s family have requested no flowers please, but welcome donations to Marie Curie.org.uk
Tribute by Paul McCarthy
For those of us who have been amongst the last stragglers to leave an FWA Footballer of the Year dinner, it was almost guaranteed to be in the company of Jeff Farmer.
Jeff loved being amongst his pals and colleagues for as long as possible, chatting about the game, recounting old stories of the legends he was happy to call friends, not wanting the night to end.
And what a story he had to tell. Of Cloughie. Of Big Ron. Of Jimmy Hill. And of countless West Brom heroes who he idolised.
West Bromwich Albion was never far from his thoughts. Jeff cut his teeth in journalism back in the late Fifties and early Sixties when players and managers would very probably have been arm-in-arm with Jeff at the end of those nights safe in the knowledge he would never have betrayed any of their secrets.
Inspired by the film ‘Ace In The Hole’ starring Kirk Douglas as an intrepid reporter uncovering a a huge scoop, Jeff turned down a job in a bank to join the Midland Chronicle in his beloved West Bromwich before moving to the Wolverhampton Express & Star where he became the paper’s first West Brom correspondent.
It was the start of a love affair with the Hawthorns that saw Jeff join the West Brom board, leaving his imprint on the club that lasts to this day.
The nationals beckoned for Jeff and after two years he became the Midlands correspondent for the Daily Sketch before the paper merged with the Daily Mail in 1970. Jeff was part of a formidable Midlands pack covering the area but he was always the leader and his front page exclusive of Brian Clough quitting Derby County was one of the highlights of Jeff’s career.
He crossed from newspapers into television in 1981 when Gary Newbon enticed him to Central TV as sports editor. As befits an outstanding journalist, Jeff’s news sense and insight marked him out as a television powerhouse but it was his people skills which marked him out.
He was a natural leader, somebody who could always inspire his team and made him one of the most respected sports executives of his generation.
Jeff became ITV’s football editor in charge of their coverage including World Cups and Champions League and in 1998 oversaw the production of England v Argentina which pulled in an incredible 27 million viewers.
The natural move was to ITV’s Head of Sport, a position and role Jeff filled with energy, talent and exuberance. But he never lost sight of his roots within newspapers and was always quick to credit his colleagues on both the local and daily papers for a great story or interview.
He fell ill with cancer two years ago but nobody ever heard him complain or bemoan his lot, he faced the fact stoically and continued to live life to the full until the last few months when the horrific disease took its toll.
Jeff’s advice was always well-intentioned, his praise meant everything and for those of us fortunate enough to enjoy his company on those late nights either at home or abroad, his wisdom and humour was unsurpassed.
It’s been a dreadful few weeks at the FWA and the loss of another great Midlands journalist so soon after the passing of Ralph Ellis leaves a huge hole.
But like Ralph, we can be grateful for the time spent with Jeff and the incredible impact he had on so many during a stellar career.
Everybody at the FWA sends their condolences to Jeff’s family and countless friends.
We congratulate FWA member Leon Mann for receiving the Points of Light award from Prime Minister Theresa May for his work striving to increase diversity in the media.
Leon, the former BBC and ITV journalist who now runs his own production company, founded the Black Collective of Media in Sport which works to promote diversity in the media, and he has organised the past three D-Word Conferences, the latest of which was attended by a number of fellow FWA members and Chairman Paddy Barclay.
He also co-founded the Football Black List in 2008. This annual list, released in The Voice UK and coming soon, celebrates and highlights the contributions of Black people across football and aims to ensure there is diversity in front of and behind the camera.
The Points of Light award recognises outstanding volunteers who are making a change in their community and inspiring others. Each day, someone, somewhere in the country is selected to receive the award to celebrate their remarkable achievements.
In a personal letter to Leon, Prime Minister Theresa May said:
“Your dedication to improving access and inclusion within sports media is having a transformational effect on young Black professionals who aspire to work in the industry. By establishing the ‘Black Collective of Media in Sport’ and co-founding the ‘Football Black List’ you are inspiring the next generation of diverse sports journalists.”
Leon said: “It is an honour to receive this award for my work trying to increase diversity in the sports media. BCOMS recent research highlights a lack of BAME and female representation on screen and in the national newspapers that needs to be addressed urgently. The situation behind the camera, in newsrooms and within senior management is not much better. This impacts how stories are told, how communities engage with sport and how we portray diverse people. By working together, funding initiatives in this area and with strong leadership we can change this uncomfortable dynamic. I look forward to continuing to push this agenda forward.”
The FWA’s commitment to diversity in the media was reflected in a strong turnout at the third D Word conference – superbly organised as usual by FWA member Leon Mann – at BT Sport’s headquarters near West Ham’s London Stadium this week.
At least a dozen FWA members were spotted in the packed-out hall and both Carrie Brown and I took part in panel discussions, watched from the front row by fellow national-committee member Philippe Auclair.
The subjects covered were, as you would expect from a diversity event, wide-ranging, but familiar themes inevitably emerged. Figures produced by Leon and his team showed that, while the rise of women in the sporting media continues encouragingly, those who happen to be black and minority ethnic have fared far less well over the two years since D Word 2.
Indeed BAME progress in our field of work, male or female, has seemed to be confined mainly to former sports stars. It is an unhealthy situation and according to some attendees the remedy was for employers to cast their nets wider. From both BBC and ITV came promises to maintain progress in this respect.
Meanwhile there were calls for more widespread mentoring and on the FWA’s behalf I mentioned our efforts, which include a scheme open to all student members overseen by Jim White, and stressed that impressive candidates of any background, once introduced to a newspaper or broadcasting environment, would make enough of an impact to be invited back.
I also outlined the process by which we recently improved the diversity (gender, ethnic and age-wise) of our national committee, while making clear that this was only a start and that we had to be open to the world of blogging – by a happy coincidence, this is one of the ways BAME aspirants can make their own luck, and we look forward to welcoming them into an ever-more-diverse FWA.
FWA Student member’s remarkable story – by Brendan McLoughlin
Adam Micklewright, an FWA student member, has landed his dream job at Fulham – less than a year after being in a coma fighting for his life.
The University of Gloucestershire BA Sports Journalism graduate recently landed the role of academy communications executive with the Cottagers – just weeks after securing a first-class degree on his course.
It is an all the more remarkable achievement given the serious medical condition he found himself in only last autumn.
While socialising with friends, he suffered a blackout, collapsed and cracked his head on the corner of a pavement. It left him with a triple fracture to his skull and a severe bleed to the brain.
Medical staff put him into an induced coma for two weeks and, miraculously, he was discharged from from hospital just four days after waking up.
After a period of rehabilitation, Adam resumed his studies four months later and went on to pass his course with flying colours.
He is now pinching himself after beating off fierce competition for a job with Premier League Fulham – the club he has supported since he was a boy.
Adam said: “My first few months at Fulham have been fantastic. I’m learning a lot about the industry. There is always a new challenge to take on every day which suits me perfectly. I’m learning something new most days whether that’s technically or personally – I’m loving the job.
“I have several match days under my belt now, which filled me with a lot more confidence with new systems and styles. The hotels we stay in at away games aren’t bad either!
“The accident did hit me hard, although I didn’t really know too much of what was going on, it’s like being trapped in your own brain. The hospital staff in Bristol were great with me and I can’t thank them enough from getting me through a potentially life-threatening injury.
“The only side-effect I’m having is slight concentration issues, which considering the extent of my injury is something I’ll take every time.”
Adam was selected to represent his course at the Midlands FWA Lunch last spring and was among students invited to attend an FWA Live event in London in May. He has also received mentoring from FWA chairman Paddy Barclay.
“Paddy and the FWA have been more than accommodating with me,” Adam added. “Whenever there have been events or guidance opportunities they have offered them up to me.
“My time at uni has put me in fantastic stead to fit in seamlessly through video, interview, reports etc. The lecturers have been great in easing me back into studying as well as guiding me through industry practices.
“It seems surreal when you’re walking around the training ground, saying hello to Tom Cairney and Aleksandar Mitrovic, but it’s something you get used to and certainly with the U23s, they become your colleagues.
“As a first job out of uni, it is demanding. To be in charge of the academy coverage alone is a big task, but very rewarding which is something I’ve picked up even as early as now.”
We may just have gone the full range of reaction to Jose Mourinho‘s graduation as the pantomime villain of Old Trafford.
Yet beyond dismay and disbelief, there has still to be one ruling emotion of anger – at least for anyone who remembers when Manchester United, love them or hate them, had the hard-won hauteur of one of the world’s great football clubs.
A place where, for example, if the boss did what Mourinho did this week and treated Paul Pogba, a World Cup winner and widely agreed to be among the world’s three or four most talented players, as if he was an uppity ball boy there would probably have been a call for the men in the white coats.
It’s not so long ago, after all. Five years ago, United were champions of England and their manager didn’t go out of his way to publicly insult his players.
Alex Ferguson hadn’t merely taken one of the fancier jobs. He had inherited a destiny and a certain way of doing things. There were some things he knew instinctively – and perhaps because his ego hadn’t run out of control – that he didn’t do.
He didn’t retire to his hotel suite as a glowering potentate convinced that his talent and vision, his sheer specialness, was integral to every moment of the club’s success and if there was failure, well, there was no chance he might be part of that too.
He didn’t strip one of the world’s most gifted – though perhaps not always most seriously-minded – young players of his rank and his distinction with all his team-mates assembled for the spectacle.
He didn’t forget for a moment that he was defending the reputation of an organisation which, unlike few others in any sport, had reached its standing through pain and blood and destruction which, rather than demoralising, had proved ultimately inspiring.
Buoyed So much for such historic pride right now. United is not so much buoyed by its history as haunted.
Mourinho’s third season at Old Trafford has been born in chaos. Overwhelmed by Brighton and Spurs, held at home by promoted Wolves, knocked out of the League Cup by a once adoring protégé Frank Lampard, he is being outfought, out-thought, by some rivals who a few years ago wouldn’t be recognised if they strolled by you in the street. It means that it is increasingly hard not to be drawn to the likelihood of a jarring conclusion to United’s hiring of a coach still ranked, though ever more tenuously, among the world’s best 10.
The truth is that Mourinho and United have never worked to an arresting degree, are certainly not doing so now – and to the extent that the odds against a sweet ending seem to grow a little longer every day.
The Mourinho-Pogba relationship has always been pivotal. You do not spend a world record £89m for a player who has been voted among the world’s best, who has been coaxed and backslapped to Serie A titles – and a Champions League final – by Max Allegri and guided to the World Cup podium by France’s Didier Deschamps, as a work in very early progress.
Of course, you want to improve him tactically, strengthen his competitive instincts, but first you take what you paid for or inherited.
Pep Guardiola did it famously with the sublime Lionel Messi. Carlo Ancelotti did it with Cristiano Ronaldo, accepted his foibles and gloried in his talent, and won the Champions League in the process – an attitude enthusiastically adopted by the serial winner Zinedine Zidane, who, ironically enough, is now one of the favourites to succeed, sooner or later, Mourinho at Old Trafford.
In the best of his times Mourinho did it too. He lifted the likes of Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry to unimagined heights and when he left Inter Milan, after winning two Serie A titles and the Champions League, the notoriously hard-nut defender Marco Materazzi is said to have wept like a babe in arms.
This was not the least discountable of sentimental tributes when you remember it was Materazzi who provoked Zidane into the headbutt and red card which cost France so deeply in the 2006 World Cup by suggesting his sister was a whore.
But then where did Mourinho’s personal, inspiring touch go. At Old Trafford, it has flashed like a very distant and infrequent beacon, lost in swirls of bombast and self-justification and endless reminders of what he once achieved.
IT is a daunting task to say farewell to Jim Lawton as well as a sad one. He requires an elegy rather than an obituary.
Even then, it wouldn’t match the poetic tones of his own great works.
His voice, rich, ornate, important yet restrained, has been in my head ever since the news of his death at just 75 on Thursday.
I am sure it has been the same for everyone who knew him and admired him or counted him as a great friend and colleague. For all those who revered his work. For all those privileged to have accompanied him at the dinner table and the bar, where his bon-vivant spirit graciously emerged once the graft was completed.
That voice has accompanied me all through the writing of this tribute. Since so few sports journalists ever translated their voice so masterfully and so recognisably on to the page, it has been impossible to avoid his influence upon it. Or the standard, unreachable by miles of course, which he set for it.
Jim, such a big, gently patrician yet unpretentious figure in the business, was so prolific for so long that there are thousands upon thousands of examples which could be quoted to define his brilliance.
Here is one which the former player-turned-journalist Stan Collymore respectfully re-issued on Friday in which Jim captured perfectly both the talent at work on the pitch and the slight sense of un-fulfillment which accompanied it.
“Collymore was an extra-ordinary prospect,” Jim wrote. “He operated at a time when Alan Shearer was head and shoulders above all English strikers but there were times when Collymore made a nonsense of that status.
“He scored a goal at White Hart Lane ….which was received in awed silence. He was a giant stunted by his erratic nature – and his opulent times.”
That’s all Jim. Eloquent. Elegant. Authoratative. Wise. Experienced and impassioned to a level of searing analysis of the good and the bad of football. Then finished with a flourish.
Jimmy delivered to this majestic standard in two stints as Chief Sports Writer at the Daily Express divided by an adventurous spell at the Vancouver Sun. He continued in the same fabulous form at The Independent.
Just yesterday, what has turned out to be his final piece was due for publication in the Irish Independent . They will run it on Saturday with suitable fanfare and reverence. It is fitting and not disrespectful to note that he died with his boots on. He would have gone on forever if he could.
It is correct here at the home of the Football Writers Association to have first summoned an example of Jim’s work about our greatest, most consuming game.
Jim was a deeply seasoned football man whose friendships with men like Sir Bobby Charlton and Johnny Giles reflected the knowledge and insight he had gained starting out in a football era more raw yet more open and human than that of the present day – and which he brought to bear so powerfully upon the modern game.
Notably, though, his vision and his beat encompassed all of sport.
His unique magic was an ability to infuse all that he witnessed and analysed with an epic grandeur. Or a devastating, unanswerable insight.
Whether he was marvelling at the feats of Tiger Woods, Lennox Lewis and Michael Atherton – all of whom particularly impressed him – or eviscerating the fripperies and distractions infecting modern football, Jim’s style told us that this was all important because it reflected human nature and the human spirit; again good and bad, great and poisonous.
Here he is on the death of Muhammad Ali in The Guardian in 2016.”His body, for so long a such a monument to physical perfection may have been ravaged but his spirit was never compromised and if anyone needed a reminder of this, it has surely come with the emotion provoked by his death.”
It wasn’t just about monumental words, however. As both a master craftsman and a man steeped in the professionalism, methods and disciplines of the good reporter, Jim was noted for being able to turn around the required, usually elegaic 800 words quickly, crisply and without blemish.
He was driven and impassioned by both sport and the romantic’s love of the newspaper trade. It made him one of the greatest of his generation, with the rare distinction of that achievement being noted upon both sides of the Atlantic.
The impression he has left upon all of us is deep and memorable. Personally, it was an honour to follow in his footsteps – or attempt to – as Chief Sports Writer at the Express, whatever they did to the newspaper along the way.
It was a privilege, too, to travel with him. To work alongside him. To drink with him and dine with him on so many wonderful occasions. There was no false modesty about him but neither was there any excess of pride despite his status as a giant of Fleet Street.
A word of encouragement or acknowledgement from him filled you with belief and gratitude. It was offered to the youngest and most inexperienced of those who had joined the trade he adored so much and carried out so beautifully.
Among the tributes now pouring forth, one recalled how he told a young hopeful that the world of journalism was “a jaded vineyard.” Again, pure Jim. How he loved it in there.
Sometimes, of course, it tortured and dissatisfied him. An element of self-doubt drove his work, as it does for most of the greats. Sport often disappointed him, too. But it also up-lifted him to imperious levels of work.
It was my good fortune to do so many of these things with him against the back-drop of so many great locations across the football world, at the World Cup, at the big fights in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and on and on across the USA.
He seemed particularly suited to America, where the big cities matched his own broad vision – both of sport and life. His opinion was always up-to-date but there was, gratifyingly, something of the old school about him. Newspaper traditions across the pond are as powerful as they are here and there was something of both about Jim.
This was partly due to his experience in Canada, partly due to the fact the he spent so much time in the USA and partly because of his own nature.
This was where he left the ringside to work through the night. Where he lamented the Sunday evening finale of each golf tournament because it would never be repeated in quite the same way again.
This was where he resignedly and regularly paid fines for smoking in his room. This was where he tipped waiters $100 at the start of the week to ensure a good table every night. Never in an over-mighty way but because he knew what he liked and he wanted it to work well. One tribute today from Canada described him as “steak dinner and a bottle of wine waiting to happen.” Work, which he did furiously and incessantly, always came first, though. It was afterwards when he was such fabulous, generous company as well as being a fabulous, generous work-mate
This was where he offered insight and a translation of the ways of life and sport in America and thereby massively broadened my own horizons as a sportswriter. Once I cut out and collected his pieces. Now here I was, keeping him up until 9am on one memorable occasion at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
I will cherish the memories of the times I enjoyed with Jim and what he taught and offered me – as will so many of you. On Friday, the Ryder Cup began and with typical good grace, Paul Hayward of the Daily Telegraph said he would be walking the course in Jim’s honour.
Jim loved this competition and all of golf and with the Ryder Cup’s return, I’m left with one particular vision of him, sitting outside the tent at the K Club or in Louisville, a plume of blue smoke rising into the pale air as he discussed the day’s events and prepared to begin sculpting his words.
He was a colossal figure in journalism and sports-writing. A great man and a good man. To take in tribute his own memorable summary of the fine work he did, I think he paid the freight.
Tributes have been flowing for James Lawton, a giant of journalism, who has passed away suddenly at the age of 75.
Jim was one of the finest sportswriters of this or any other generation, and his passing brought tributes from around the world, not just from friends and former colleagues on the Express, Independent and many other newspapers whose pages were graced by his writing. Many younger journalists spoke warmly of the help he provided in their early days, and of course many recounted their favourite Jim Lawton story.
He was born in Flintshire and began his career in the Flintshire Leader before moving to the Daily Telegraph in 1963. He went on to work at the Sun, Express and the Independent, as well as a stint at the Vancouver Sun. Jim won numerous awards in his career, including The Sports Journalists’ Association Sports Writer of the Year in 1988, Sports Columnist of the Year in 2005 and Feature Writer of the Year in 2006 .
Jeff Powell broke the sad news on Twitter and the tributes followed.
“Very sad to have to report that the great James Lawton has died suddenly today at his retirement haven in Italy. Great sports writer, great friend, great companion on the road. Funeral arrangements to come. RIP Jim,” wrote his close friend Powell.
Another friend and colleague for around a half a century was Steve Curry, who wrote: “The great Jim Lawton left us suddenly today. In the top five sports writers of my generation. We were neighbours, colleagues on the Express and great buddies. I would drive him to work and we’d stop every day at a wine bar in Battersea. We drank a bottle of champagne served by a Sloan ranger who was fascinated by Jim’s wit and command of the language. His writing style was so unique he didn’t need a by line. Bon viveur, gourmet, lover of fine wine, lover of life. What a colossus, what a man. An intimate friend.”
Paul McCarthy, FWA Executive Secretary, wrote: “More desperate news. So many great memories of working alongside Jim and on many nights out. One of the giants of our trade and a beautiful writer. It worked Jim, every time. I’ll always remember a line from Jim Lawton’s final Express column as he reflected on a career spent following the greatest sports events from around the globe. “The coffee pot’s half full, the ashtray overflowing…” Before a wonderful reminiscence of his role.”
John Dillon tweeted: “Jim Lawton….you taught me so much and inspired me even more…and in return I kept you up all night RIP.”
Nick Harris added: “I sat with Jim Lawton in cabs when he dictated to a copy taker, off the cuff, 2,000 words on a major story that had just happened. Passionate, articulate, persuasive, word-perfect, crafted. Just like that. Then he’d turn and ask: ‘Do you think that was ok?”
Matt Lawton recalled: “Lot of the guys sharing their Jim Lawton stories here in Paris. My favourite: getting a call from Sean Connery on day of 2006 WC final in Berlin to tell him how much he’d enjoyed his coverage. A pat on the back from James Bond takes some beating.”
Des Kelly: “Grim news; the wonderful sports writer Jim Lawton has passed away. He was not only a gifted wordsmith, but he had the ability to deliver his perfectly crafted prose at breakneck speed. This made him the best. Proud to work with him. Jim was a true great.”
Dave Kidd: “Jim Lawton used to check in to a hotel, pay a month’s worth of smoking fines up front and then write everybody else under the table. I admired the hell out of him. RIP Jim.”
Owen Slot: “Jim Lawton, one of the best ever to fill our back pages. Envied how much he lived the story. A generous friend to young pups who just wanted to learn and be near him at the bar.”
David Conn: “So very sad to hear of Jim Lawton passing away. A brilliant writer & charming man, got to the heart of every subject & the soul of football. And although a giant himself, very kind and encouraging to younger journalists, meant so much to me when I started at the Independent. RIP.”
Sam Wallace said: “Farewell to Jim Lawton, a great colleague and a kind man. Never better than when dissecting an England tournament disaster -especially in 2006, the likely outcome of which he had long warned.”
Neil Harman added: “Another master of the sports writing industry has passed with the death today of the wonderful James Lawton. A giant of his trade, terrific raconteur, brilliant wordsmith, great supporter, ally and friend. My God he wrote beautifully especially when the Daily Express was a paper of high repute. Jim absolutely shone. Another terrible loss.”
Paul Kelso tweeted: “First met Jim at the Recreation Ground, Antigua, ‘97. I was green as the pitch & he welcomed me with a great (oft told) Viv Richards story. Jim in a nutshell: encouraging & great company. He liked the right sports, had the right heroes and was, above all, brilliant. Not only did Jim Lawton tell me the Viv Richards story, he introduced me to Viv Richards as they buried the hatchet by way of an interview. I’d been there 10 minutes & met two of my heroes.”
Martin Lipton: “Sad, sad news. One of the greats. Spent many a night in his company. All of them to be treasured. RIP Jim.”
Janine Self: “Really sad news about Jim Lawton. A proper gent, absolutely no ego, great company in press box or restaurant and what a writer.”
Donald McRae wrote: “Jim Lawton….a great sportswriter, especially when it came to football and boxing, and a kind, amusing man who loved to share a good glass or two.”
Steve Nolan: “Privileged to have worked with him at the Daily Express. His catchphrase of ‘I think it works’ came after he submitted his Monday Verdict on the weekend’s major action which usually set the sporting agenda for the rest of the week. A genuine guy.”
John Rawling added: “Jim Lawton was a brilliant tourist and a fine writer. Some add very little, but Jim was always essential reading. I am so pleased to have known him, shared time with him and to have watched a tremendous journalist in action. Every word in tribute is well merited.”
Mike Parry said: “So very sorry to hear of the death of Jim Lawton. He was a fellow Chester boy who conquered the world of sports reporting, using words like a needle and thread .. majestic company in any arena .. a golf-course, World Cup, Madison Square Garden .. an English country pub.”
John Etheridge: “Jim Lawton dipped into cricket sometimes, most memorably in Antigua in 1990. Viv Richards berated him furiously in the press box when the West Indies captain should have been on the field, leading his team. First spoke to Jim 40 years ago – wordsmith, kind, lovely company, a gent.”
David Bond: “Very sorry to hear that James Lawton has passed away. An elegant master of his craft. No matter how junior you were, he always had time to talk and share his insight.”
Glenn Moore recalled: “I persuaded Jim to get public transport, tube and bus, to 2001 Champions League final on a broiling hot day in Milan. But the buses weren’t running so we had to walk about two miles with our bags. As we arrived, bathed in sweat, Jeff Powell stepped out of a cab, ice-cool. Jeff smiled and said something like, ‘hello chaps, been for a yomp?’. Jim looked as if he would willingly execute me. The journey back, in a ferociously quick car Nick Townsend had flagged down at 2am, was another tale. It was the last time I got Jim on to a tube to a game.”
Mike Rowbotham said: “Did something similar with poor Jim at London 2012. Boldly led him on about a half mile walk through crowds to reach the rowing venue press sub-centre when we could – and should – have taken a short cut bus-ride the other way. Of course, he was lovely about it.”
Mark Staniforth tweeted: “I recall erroneously steering the late, great Jim Lawton to a press conference halfway up a mountain during the 2010 Winter Olympics – a trip requiring a dangly cable car and a treacherous skate over sheet ice. fter a voyage of simply epic proportions, I had to break the news to Jim that I had mis-read the email, and the press conference was actually right back down in the centre of Whistler, from whence we had just come. ‘Mark – are you trying to kill me, Mark?!’ wheezed Jim, fag in one hand, clutching my arm with his other, as we careered our way back down the mountain. I always considered it a minor miracle that we made it intact. A recalibrating drink and approx 10 more fags were required upon our arrival back on terra firma. Farewell Jim, simply the nicest and most brilliant sports journalist I’ve ever met. Hope there’s no cable cars up there.”
Roy Curtis: “I don’t cry too often. But, the death of a hero. Jim Lawton, Fleet Street’s finest bard. A gentleman and a genius. Wordsmith supreme. No more poems from Arcadia. Rest easy, my friend. The lyrical dance ebbs.”
Mike Beamish: “Very saddened to read the news that the great wordsmith James Lawton — Vancouver Sun sports columnist (1980-87) — has died. Jim was the complete package — gifted, incredibly hard working, generous in spirit and a travelling companion/pub mate nonpareil.”
Jim’s daughter Vicky tweeted: “Touched by the tributes to my father tonight. A kind, insightful, talented and hardworking Dad. Proud of him and grateful.”
On 25 May 2014 Leyton Orient were twice on the brink of reaching the second tier of English football for the first time in more than three decades. As they prepared to celebrate promotion at Wembley that day, the idea that they could be playing a league match at Braintree within four years – and coming home elated after a win – was beyond comprehension.
Nevertheless, on Tuesday night around 1,600 O’s fans made the 40-mile journey back from Essex in jubilant mood. Justin Edinburgh’s team had won 5-1 at Cressing Road to extend their lead at the summit of the MANarama National League (sponsors Vanarama have renamed the competition in support of the charity Prostate Cancer UK).
Victory eclipsed a club record set in that 2013-14 season when Russell Slade’s team began with a 12-match unbeaten run before having to settle for a play-off place. At Wembley they led Rotherham 2-0 with 35 minutes left, then led again in the penalty shoot-out.
Two failed penalties followed, and less than three years later they were relegated from League Two ending a stay in the Football League dating back to 1905. This precipitous decline, which almost concluded with the club ceasing to exist, began when long-term owner Barry Hearn sold to Italian businessman Francesco Becchetti. This proved ill-fated as Becchetti rattled through 11 managers, overseeing two relegations, a string of unhappy headlines, and the alienation of supporters. Soon after dropping out of the League the club faced a winding up order.
This, however, was staved off and the club bought by a consortium fronted by Nigel Travis, an Orient fan and former schoolmate of Hearn who had risen to head up Dunkin’ Donuts.The bulk of the cash was provided by Texan millionaire Kent Teague whose enthusiasm has extended to watching the club’s walking football teams play.
The pair brought stability off the field and, after a brief stint by former Crewe boss Steve Davis, Edinburgh provided it on it. The former Tottenham defender arrived at Brisbane Road at a low ebb having been fired in quick succession by Gillingham and Northampton Town. However, he had good experience at non-League level having taken Rushden & Diamonds and Newport County into the National League play-off places, winning promotion with the latter.
Edinburgh banished fears of a second relegation as the Os finished mid-table. This season they began by snatching a late equaliser at Salford and have been unbeaten ever since with six wins in the last seven games. Macauley Bonne, a 22-year-old signed by Davis from Colchester United, took his O’s total to 31 goals in 57 matches with a hat-trick at Braintree. Just as influential have been the experienced Jobi McAnuff and Dean Brill, youth product Josh Koroma, East Thurrock recruit Marvin Ekpiteta, and an injury-free run that has enabled Edinburgh to name the same XI for nine successive matches.
MANarama National League is a hard one to escape. Less than half the clubs relegated from League Two in the last decade have bounced back. Orient are on course to buck the trend.
FWA to support Prostate Cancer UK
Following the sad passing of our colleague and lifetime member Ralph Ellis, who lost his battle with prostate cancer last weekend, the FWA is proud to announce we will be supporting Prostate Cancer UK as our designated charity for the remainder of this season.
When his illness first struck, Ralph went out of his way to support PCUK including a bike ride to Amsterdam in June where he and his family and friends raised over £15,000 for the charity. Before that, a wide-reaching interview he conducted with Ray and Stephen Clemence, including words on Ray’s own diagnosis and the impact on his family, reached more than 500,000 people across Prostate Cancer UK’s channels.
This tie-in is particularly apt as Vanarama, the sponsors of the FWA Golf Day have also pledged their support and, as many of you will have seen, they have changed the name of the National League to MANarama for the remainder of September and until Non-League Day on October 13th to raise awareness of the disease while also pledging to raise £150,000.
It seemed a logical time to show the FWA’s support of the charity that was close to Ralph’s heart and we would urge all members to back the MANarama initiative throughout the next six weeks on social media by means of an RT or Like. Please feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org if there are any stories or features that will heighten the awareness of prostate cancer and with which Vanarama can assist.
Ralph’s family have also asked us to pass on their thanks for all the kind words and tributes over the past few days but have also stressed how important it is for men to be aware of the dangers of prostate cancer. It claims the life of a man every 45minutes in the UK, and there is more information here about this terrible disease and what’s being done to counter it.
Ralph’s family have sent their thanks for the many tributes and messages that have appeared in the days since his passing last weekend.
They have asked us to notify friends and colleagues that his funeral will be on Monday October 15 at Weston Super Mare Crematorium at 1.30pm
Afterwards at The Nut Tree pub in Worle.
The family would like some idea of the numbers likely to attend, so if those who are definitely going could email email@example.com and he’ll pass on to the family.
TRIBUTE TO RALPH ELLIS by Paul McCarthy, FWA Executive Secretary “Not bad for a bricklayer’s son from Forest Gate.”
And that just about sums up Ralph. Modest, self-deprecating, dead straight and one of the very few people I’ve met in journalism for whom nobody had a bad word, just genuine warmth. That description of himself came in a conversation he had with his son, Matt, just a few days before his sad passing on Saturday.
They were reflecting on Ralph receiving Life Membership of the Football Writers’ Association after his failing health forced him to relinquish his place on the National Committee.
Nobody wanted him to leave and I did my best to talk him out of his decision. True to form, he didn’t let on just how seriously his health had declined, he just said: “No, I’ve had my time, you don’t want an old git like me hanging around.”
But we would all have wanted him to hang around just that little bit longer. Because his leaving has been too soon, far too soon. The FWA has lost one of its driving forces and journalism has lost a powerhouse, even if it was a quietly understated one who was never in the business for glory and fame, but for getting the job done.
It was his honesty and straightforward approach to landing outstanding stories which singled Ralph out as special. You’d never hear him boasting or even humble-bragging when he outstripped his peers to land another exclusive or get the most elusive of England line-ups when he was covering the national team.
He just went about the job in the most old school of ways – cultivating brilliant contacts with a combination of absolute trustworthiness, friendship and the assurance he would never let them down. And he didn’t, not for a minute. If Ralph thought he’d upset anybody – be it a colleague or contact – he’d have been mortified.
Except, of course, on the football pitch. Then he became a different beast. He was what you would probably call ‘dogged’ and if he thought somebody wasn’t pulling their weight, he was never backward in letting them know.
You’d take it from Ralph, though, because he was utterly reliable, always the hardest worker on the pitch and a great man to have alongside you, even when (as was usually the case) we were getting our legs run off us by younger, quicker and more talented opponents.
He was probably the most supportive of colleagues I’ve ever met, always ready with a quick word of advice for young journalists or a pat on the back and quiet praise for a pal who might have pulled a good story.
His energy and enthusiasm were boundless. As the leading light of the Midlands FWA, he was the man who delivered some of the great nights of the social calendar and the leading managers and players in his patch would do anything for him. He never let them down and they reciprocated.
In recent years, he WAS the FWA Golf Day, organising a splendid event, helping to raise huge amounts for charity and working tirelessly behind the scenes. Even as recently as June he defied his doctors and cycled to Amsterdam to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK, the horrible and wicked disease which ultimately claimed his life. He may not have wanted the spotlight or praise, but he deserved them nevertheless.
There wasn’t a pompous or posturing bone in his body. All Ralph ever wanted to do was the job to the absolute best of his ability, that was enough for him.
His bravery was unquestioned. Where many of us have pontificated that we could do a better job than some in football authority and administration, Ralph had the courage to actually make the switch to commercial director at Bristol Rovers.
And when he came back to journalism, he simply picked up where he left off but with an even keener insight into the game than those who may have shouted louder.
At the FWA, we’ll miss his generosity and wisdom. His friends will miss somebody you could trust with your life. His family will miss a wonderful husband, father and grandfather who believed in the rewards of hard work and determination and never for a moment flinched from that path.
Honest, modest, talented and with a legion of friends who have lost a great, great pal.
Yes, Ralph, not bad for a bricklayer’s son from Forest Gate.