Vikki Orvice – a tribute by Jacqui Oatley

Jacqui Oatley, the broadcaster, was brought on to the FWA’s National Committee by Vikki Orvice, who passed away today at the age of 56.  Here is Jacqui’s tribute to her friend and our dear colleague.

 

BRAVE. FEARLESS.  TRAILBLAZER. PIONEER. 

There was only one Vikki Orvice. That’s clear from the many tributes which have poured in from journalists and senior sporting figures alike following the desperately sad news of our beloved colleague’s passing. Taken from us by cancer at the age of 56, but not before she’d squeezed every drop out of life and found humour in even the darkest of days.

This funny, strong Yorkshirewoman and fiercely loyal friend was unrivalled in her experience, yet did everything in her power to draw others alongside her.

Vikki had been a member of the Football Writers’ Association since the mid-1990s, joining the national committee in 2015 and becoming vice-chair two years ago. Holding the belief that change must come from within, she was also a committee member of the Sports Journalists’ Association. Vikki had so much to offer so, when she heard about our new Women in Football campaign group, she wanted to get involved. WiF was set up in 2007 by Anna Kessel and Shelley Alexander with a plan to champion our peers, challenge discrimination and create opportunities for other women. Vikki saw this as another avenue to make a difference in a heavily male-dominated industry so became a founding board member.

Vikki had been a staff writer for The Sun since 1995 and could easily have chosen to focus on the considerable demands of such a role on a national newspaper. She could have kept a low profile to focus on simply keeping her job. But no, Vikki’s political beliefs stimulated her determination to stand up for the vulnerable, those who lacked confidence and needed a guiding hand. She was in a perfect position to mentor others. Nobody else has equivalent experience so every word she uttered to wide-eyed students and aspiring journalists was absorbed and digested. She would always make the effort to attend our WiF events over the past 12 years – only extreme ill health or being in another country would keep her away. Such was her dedication and commitment.

Just a fortnight ago, Vikki attended the FWA tribute dinner to Gareth Southgate at The Savoy Hotel. She was in a wheelchair and so frail, her body ravaged by cancer and the drugs required to fight it. Most would have taken the easy and sensible option to stay at home to rest but not Vikki. She had to be there alongside her husband, the renowned sports writer, Ian Ridley. Spirited and resolute to the end. Naturally, she was still smiling.

Vikki achieved so much in her relatively short but action-packed time on the planet. Far too much for one article to detail, so here’s a brief overview: she was the first female staff football writer on a tabloid, athletics correspondent at The Sun, charity campaigner and fundraiser, patient governor at the Royal Marsden Hospital, diversity campaigner, board member and despite the effects of intensive treatment, she even found time to chair her local book festival in Hertfordshire. Her inspirational story will be told in full in due course.

Vikki’s passing is devastating to all who knew her. I have cried a steady stream since taking the call from my WiF colleague, Jo Tongue, at breakfast time. Too soon, just too soon to lose this special person. But Vikki was such a force for positive change that her friends and colleagues will turn our grief into her legacy. Plans for a sports writing bursary in her name are just the start.

Rest in peace, dear Vikki. There was nobody quite like you but your warmth, wit and spirit will live on. We will do everything in our power to ensure the sporting press rooms and press boxes of the future are a more welcoming and equal environment. On behalf of all female sports journalists: thank you.

Pictures courtesy of News Group Newspapers

Vikki Orvice RIP – by Steve Howard

Vikki Orvice, the FWA’s vice-chair and a long-standing National Committee member, lost her long battle with cancer today at the age of 56. She was a much-loved colleague to many of us at the FWA and especially at The Sun, where she covered athletics and football.

Former SunSport chief sports writer and FWA member Steven Howard paid tribute to his colleague on the Sun’s website, and we are honoured to reproduce it here:

Article below via The Sun website.

Images courtesy of News UK.

IT was Saturday August 4, 2012, and London’s Olympic Stadium was a crucible of bubbling, patriotic fervour.

Jess Ennis-Hill had just won gold in the heptathlon and Vikki Orvice and I were furiously putting over our copy knowing Mo Farah was due to start the 10,000metres in under half an hour.

Then from the other side of the stadium came a huge roar.

“What the **** was that?” I yelled at Vikki alongside me.

“Greg Rutherford has only gone and won the flipping long jump,” she shouted back over the din.

Not long after, Farah would make it triple gold – three inside an astonishing 44 minutes.

It was the greatest night in British athletics, perhaps the greatest night in Olympic history.

Certainly, neither Vikki nor I had known anything like it.

At the time, Vikki was in remission from the cancer that had first struck in 2007 – and which, devastatingly, would return in 2014.

For the last four years she fought valiantly – and with no lack of humour – against the odds, her life a strength-sapping treadmill of chemotherapy at London’s Marsden Hospital sandwiched inbetween her jobs as athletics correspondent and football writer for The Sun.

All three Olympic gold medallists later sent message of encouragement and support during her cancer battle.

Fittingly, for a daughter of Sheffield, she had a core of steel.

 

But the long, unequal struggle ended this morning when Vikki died aged 56.

The grief engulfing her sportswriter husband Ian Ridley, her family and her many admiring friends is only partially mitigated by the relief it is finally all over.

If she was a fundraiser, arch supporter and poster girl – her own words – for the Marsden, she was also a massive source of encouragement for every young girl who wondered whether they, too, could make it in what was the very male enclave of sports journalism.

Yes, Julie Welch was the first to start breaking down the barriers on The Observer in the Seventies.

And there were other sports journalists like Hazel Irvine and Kate Battersby when Vikki first arrived in Fleet Street in the Nineties.

But they were few and far between.

The difference with Vikki, though, was she was the first woman to be appointed as a football writer on a red top.

It may have been a decade or so after the worst male excesses of the Life on Mars generation but the profession was still top-heavy with men behaving badly and contemptuous of women in the pressbox.

Working at the coal face of sports journalism, she was not just a pioneer but a suffragette on the slow, back-breaking march towards equality.

At the end, she would stand at the pinnacle, a vociferous defender of women’s rights and ceaseless promoter of their abilities – a director of Women in Football and a significant figure at both the Sports Journalists Association and the Football Writers Association.

At the age of ten, she entered a Daily Express competition, saying she wanted to be a sportswriter.

Her subject? Her beloved Sheffield United.

She would finally achieve her ambition in the face of constant prejudice but it was a long journey.

Recalling her early days on national newspapers, she said: “I went to Arsenal v Norwich on the opening afternoon of the season.

“The main stand at Arsenal had a mural on it and I was basically sent along to write about that because, you know, it was a bit girly and stuff.

“But it actually turned into a good story because Norwich won.

“I remember somebody came over to the sports desk on the Monday morning saying ‘Why did you give that match to HER? I should have been there instead’.

“I would later have lunch with the sports editor who said a woman could never do the job full-time. In those days, you didn’t even question it.”

Then in the summer of 1995 came her mould-breaking move to The Sun.

Her all-round talent was quickly recognised and she would soon become the paper’s athletics correspondent, a role which she relished – covering all of Usain Bolt’s world records – and in which she would prosper.

She would also strike up enduring relationships with many of the sport’s leading lights – chief among them Paula Radcliffe, Ennis and Farah.

She did so because these people trusted her. Many times she was given information she couldn’t write about and didn’t – her scrupulousness being rewarded later with bigger stories she COULD write about.

As such, she produced a series of old-fashioned scoops during the golden age of British athletics. An era that saw the GB team go from one gold medal at Atlanta in 1996 to an astonishing 27 in Rio in 2016, second only to the USA.

Nor was there anyone more excited about the new crop of outstanding home athletes like Dina Asher-Smith than Vikki.

During all this, she was a sounding board for other members of her profession unfortunate enough to themselves be afflicted by cancer.

She was also fundraising – one reference to a charity event with Radcliffe showing both her unquenchable spirit and humour.

She tweeted: “I am walking 5k with Paula in the Race for Life. She has a personal best for the event of 14 minutes 29.11 seconds but is recovering from a broken toe and hence is not running.

“I have a personal best of 19 months in remission from secondary cancer – hence not running, either!”

I met Vikki twice for lunch in the last few months with former Sun sports editor Paul Ridley, the man who not only brought her to Fleet Street but also gave her the athletics job.

Once when, complete in black wig and showbiz sunglasses, she looked a million dollars – despite the chemo.

Then again just before Christmas in Soho when she was obviously struggling a bit.

Dressed in a stunning, full-length, camel overcoat and carrying an elegant black walking-stick, she climbed into a black cab that was to take her to see a concerned Sebastian Coe.

Noticing the anguish in my face, she said: “Don’t worry, Steve.”

What style. What class. Still thinking about other people to the end.

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/

 

RALPH ELLIS – Funeral details

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 johnwragg21@yahoo.co.uk  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.

Latest Members’ Handbooks delivered

The latest 2018/19 Members’ handbooks have been sent out and all FWA members should have received this invaluable guide.

The 42-page book contains contact details for all FWA members, Press Officers at all 92 league clubs, as well as other leading organisations such as the FA, Premier League, Football League, UEFA and FIFA.

There is also a comprehensive history of past FWA Chairmen and Footballers of the Year, as well as a list of key dates in major football competitions over the coming season.

It is a unique resource for FWA members, and if you have yet to receive yours, contact us via the usual channels.

Brian Scovell becomes 1st Life Vice-President

The Football Writers’ Association is delighted to announce that Brian Scovell has been made the first Life Vice-President of the Association.

Brian, who was chairman in 1980, has been recognised for his outstanding contribution to the FWA as both a Life Member and the longest serving member of the National Committee.

Following changes made at the AGM on August 7, Brian will no longer be a part of the National Committee but it was felt his devotion and passion for the FWA fully merited the new title.

Chairman Patrick Barclay said: “We are delighted to bestow this unique honour on a unique personality.

“In his distinguished career, our beloved ‘Scovs’ has conveyed wisdom with a frequently deployed light touch – and we at the FWA have benefited from these qualities too.

“We hope he will serve for years to come, as we hope soon to announce plans to log the history of football journalism, of which Brian has been very much a part.”

The Association has also agreed to grant Life Membership to Christopher Davies, Ralph Ellis, Tony Hudd and William Powell who have also left the National Committee.

Executive Secretary, Paul McCarthy, said: “Of course, it’s always sad when the National Committee loses members but the departure of five people allows us to bring in fresh faces who will add a new impetus to the Association.

“We want the FWA to be reflective of its membership. We have had a 60 per cent increase in new members in just over two years including far more women and BAME journalists as well has a huge influx of the younger generation involved in the industry.

“The National Committee has to echo the changing dynamic of the Association and we are determined it will be far more diverse in its constituency.”

FWA AGM – August 7th

The FWA’s Annual General Meeting will be held next Tuesday August 7 at noon at the Old Bank of England on Fleet Street, London.

All FWA members are encouraged to attend. On the agenda will be finance, election of officers and the Chairman’s report on the past year.

Please contact General Secretary Paul McCarthy if you need more information.

 

Chairman’s message

Dear Member,
I’d like to wish you a very happy 2018, and to pass on a few personal – and private – thoughts from the Football Writers’ Association chair.

We promised to increase the FWA’s size and diversity and, while the latter was always going to be the greater challenge, the growing influence of women is reflected in Vikki Orvice’s election as vice-chair and the lively committee presence of Carrie Brown. I would still like to improve the racial balance of the committee and hope that before the AGM in May we will do that.

Numerically we are up 50 per cent over three years but, having sailed past the 300 mark, are now set on 400. In addition the new category of student member has seen around 40 of the next generation of football writers sign up. One of their number, Luke Coulson, has already qualified as a journalist, but let’s hope his career stays on hold for many years, as he is currently starring for Ebbsfleet United in the Vanarama National League.

Luke, along with Glenn Moore, contributes a column to our website, which Gerry Cox and his team have revamped. All shares, likes and retweets are appreciated. Your committee are grateful to Gerry, and to John Ley for dealing with the extremely welcome influx of new members. But you can help to make John even busier by encouraging non-members to join; all they need to do is go to the MEMBERSHIP section of the website. The more there are of us, the more we can do for all football writers.

Speaking of which, what do we achieve? More than put on our two gala dinners – even though the work Paul McCarthy has put into this month’s Tribute Night in honour of Pele has been phenomenal. Probably our most important function is the largely unseen negotiation with the football authorities and clubs over facilities and access to players. Too often it is an uphill task – but it must be done.

We also, with the extremely generous assistance of our main sponsors William Hill, held a sell-out event after the Grenfell Tower fire which raised £10,000 for the victims of the disaster and I’d like to thank everybody who helped make that event such a success.

Finally to one of our most enjoyable duties; may I remind all members to make their recommendations for Football Book of The Year? Our selection committee is chaired by Mike Collett and he wants to hear from you at mikecol99@gmail.com.

All the best,

Patrick Barclay

Liberty Stadium facilities report

Brian Scovell reports on our Facilities Committee visit to Swansea City FC on April 17, 2012…

Tony Hudd and I visited the highly impressive Liberty Stadium on a very windy day and we concluded that many of the Barclays Premier League clubs have yet to match its standards. For example, the two press boxes are on the half-way line – the 52-seater higher up and the other one, which has more than 40 working stations along a wide corridor, on a lower level – whereas more clubs are now placing their corporate boxes on the halfway line.

Jonathan Wilsher, the chief press officer, told us a separate entrance, near the VIP entrance, is to built for the media for next season 12 metres from the press room which is perfectly adequate. However, the press room which includes the interview section, is be extended by six metres at the opposite end to accommodate more working spaces. The club are upgrading the standard of the hot meals and refreshments. And the room will be decorated with pictures, memorabilia etc.

A wall or fence, will be installed behind the 40+ working stations to prevent spectators leaning over to read the writers’ copy and engaging in conversation. This area is on the first floor – a top class viewing spot – and no spectators can obstruct the view. There are separate mixed zones with the away team leaving from a different part of the stand.

Extra parking spaces are planned but there is a park and ride from a bigger car park five minutes’ walk away. We learned that the players have been training on astroturf in recent months which might explain why their passing is so Barcelona style! A new grass surface is being used for next season. Ospreys Rugby Club share the stadium and there was no damage to the playing pitch, a tribute to the ground staff.

We have congratulated Reading for their sensational final surge to regain their place in the Barclays Premier League and they are inviting us to come along with our suggestions. The overflow is currently near a corner flag and that subject will be first on the agenda.

Norwich report that they have no plans to improve their facilities at the Carrow Road for next season. West Ham say the same thing. Southampton tell us they will revert back to the original facilities at St. Mary’s Stadium.

St Mary’s report, July 2011

The Football Writers’ Association national committee is pleased report that following discussions with John Nagle at the Football League, Southampton have agreed to resume holding post-match conferences upstairs in their excellent former press room rather than in the players’ tunnel, which had become customary but unsatisfactory in the past few seasons. The club have also agreed to an FWA request that opposing managers are brought up separately rather than at the same time.

Brighton and Hove Albion regret the “teething problems” working journalists experienced during their first Championship match against Doncaster at their new Amex Stadium on Saturday, August 6. National committee member Tony Hudd visited the Amex Stadium the following Tuesday and was assured by press officer Paul Camillin that the club were working hard to resolve the few problems.

The general consensus among journalists on the night was that the press facilities were exceptional.