The Football Writers’ Association would like to pay tribute to former member Gerald Mortimer who passed away last week at the age of 77.
John Ley writes:
Gerald was the voice of Derby County, through the pages of the Derby Evening Telegraph for more than 30 years, and without doubt one of the most respected football writers around.
An hour in Gerald’s company quickly became two as he spoke with intelligence and thought on Derby County, Derbyshire County Cricket Club and beyond.
That he was a ‘fan’ of the Daily Telegraph helped my relationship with him, as a football writer on the paper, but it soon became clear that while generous with his knowledge, he was not one to suffer fools gladly.
Fittingly, Derby fans gave Gerald a moving round of applause before the Championship game against Wigan.
Gerald’s funeral service takes place at Markeaton Crematorium on Tuesday, January 14, at 10.20am.
Steve Nicholson succeeded Gerald as the DET’s Derby County correspondent and here he writes a moving tribute to the great man.
TO say Gerald Mortimer saw it all with Derby County is no exaggeration.
From Luton to Lisbon, Middlesbrough to Madrid, Grimsby to Geneva he was there covering the club’s fortunes for the Derby Evening Telegraph.
In his 30-plus years as the newspaper’s authoritative voice on the Rams, he filed match reports from Freight Rover Trophy ties watched by a couple of thousand spectators to epic European Cup tussles including one against Real Madrid in front of 120,000 at the Bernabeu Stadium.
He was there for the highs and the lows, from Derby being crowned kings of English football twice in the Seventies to when the club came within minutes of going out of business in the dark days of the early Eighties.
The number of games he attended is in the thousands. In the days when the match report was king and before the demand we see today for quotes and fans’ reaction, his words painted a picture of what happened during the 90 minutes.
In May 1972, Derby beat Liverpool in their final match of the season to go top. They would be crowned champions a week later. A young Steve Powell was handed a shock start against the Reds in place of the injured Ron Webster. Gerald wrote: “Derby’s composure did not suffer by the presence of Steve Powell. He was brilliant. Not brilliant for a 16-year-old: just brilliant.”
Following an 8-2 thrashing of Totenham Hotspur in October 1976, Gerald said: “Derby County treated their supporters to a quarter of an hour of dazzling virtuosity such as they will be lucky to see equalled in their watching lives. During that second-half spell, the Rams scored five goals and not only Tottenham Hotspur but the very fabric of the Baseball Ground reeled before a display of football genius.”
Gerald, who died on Monday, was a stickler for fine English and as I write this piece about my colleague and my friend I find myself wanting to cover the screen in case he is looking down at my grammar and punctuation!
I first met Gerald in October 1985. He was sports editor at the Telegraph and I turned up to be interviewed for the post of sports writer/sub.
He said we should nip across the road to The Smithfield pub for a burger and a beer before I was due to see the editor, Alex Leys. Not a good idea, I thought. I did not want to be smelling of drink when trying to impress Mr Leys but Gerald assured me it would be a useful “net”, to use a cricket term.
“I know the questions he will ask – and I know the answers he will want,” Gerald said.
I got the job and have been here ever since.
Gerald was the football and cricket writer at the time. Apparently, I went to the wrong kind of school to discuss the fine details of cricket, I was informed by Gerald who had been educated at Repton School and Oxford University.
But when it came to football, we shared a thirst and passion for the game.
We spent hours talking about players and teams, past and present, and grounds we had visited.
Gerald was a member of The 92 Club, a society for those who had attended a first-class match on the ground of every professional football club in England and Wales.
He took his ground-hopping to another level by making it a mission to see clubs on each of the grounds they have called home. For example, Brighton at the Goldstone Ground, the Priestfield Stadium, the Withdean Stadium and the Amex.
His mission took the two of us on a midweek trip to London in March 1992, just after Wimbledon had left Plough Lane and become tenants at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park.
“What you doing tonight, Nico?” Gerald asked as we sat in the office mid-afternoon. “Fancy going to watch your team, Everton, play Wimbledon at Selhurst Park? I haven’t seen Wimbledon at Selhurst and I need to tick it off my list.”
We hurtled down the M1 in Gerald’s Saab and somehow made it in time for a 7.30pm kick-off. It was a wet, windy and cold evening. The game, a First Division clash, was awful. A drab goalless draw in front of only 3,569.
Gerald turned to me 10 minutes from the end and said: “We needn’t have bothered coming. I’ve just remembered, I saw Wimbledon play here back in 1975 in an FA Cup replay against Leeds!”
Gerald retired in 2002. He continued to attend Derby’s games at Pride Park Stadium and write a weekly column in the Telegraph.
His determination to go to home games despite a deterioration in his health was evident in recent months. He wanted to observe from the press box and struggled to negotiate the steps. Thank you to the stewards who kindly helped him to his seat.
He was unable to attend the last few home matches. I would arrange to pick him up and he said he would let me know on Saturday morning how he felt.
He would call and say: “Not fit enough for the squad today, Nico.”
“Not even fit enough for the bench?” I would reply.
Gerald would laugh but I knew how much missing matches hurt him. Derby County was such a huge part of his life.
Covering matches at Derby’s home will not be quite the same without Gerald sat in the seat next to me.
He was a font of Derby County knowledge. Succeeding him as the man who covered the Rams for the Telegraph was a daunting task and I will forever be grateful for the help he gave me.