A great of sports journalism, a former Olympic Journalist of the Year, and a two-time SJA British Sports Journalism Award winner, Alan Hubbard was a class act who could count on some famous friends but never failed to help those making their way in the industry. Philip Barker takes a look at the tributes…
SJA Secretary Philip Barker writes…
During the London 2012 Olympics, there was one lunchtime when Organising Committee Chairman Lord Coe paid tribute to veteran reporters Neil Wilson, John Goodbody and Alan Hubbard.
This week, Coe led the tributes again as former colleagues and friends reflected on the sad news that Hubbard had passed away.
“Fearsome with facts and fanatically fair,” Coe said.
“No matter how tough he was, I always enjoyed every interview and our many conversations about boxing, London 2012 and football.”
Alan had reported Coe’s earliest competitions as a runner and went on to cover 16 Olympics and 10 Commonwealth Games.
The two found common ground in boxing. Coe, a fellow fight fan, became a steward of the British Boxing Board of Control.
Coe also paid tribute to the encouragement Alan offered to others.
“In the age of mostly male reporters, he was a supporter and mentor to many female journos and comms pros.”
Alan was one of the select few British reporters who witnessed the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, Muhammad Ali’s fabled 1974 victory over George Foreman in Zaire.
“Always good company on the boxing beat,” said Ian Darke, the highly respected boxing commentator with BBC Radio Sport, Sky Sports, and BT Sport.
“One of the best and most perceptive journalists and editors. A man whose insights were always on the money.”
Darke’s views were echoed by another distinguished broadcast voice of the sport, John Rawling.
“One of the great journalists and editors of old Fleet Street. A great friend of boxing” Rawling said.
“It is with great sadness to hear of Alan’s passing, At this time I would like to send my deepest condolences to his family and friends,” said Frank Warren, promoter of many of the biggest fights during British boxing’s golden age.
Sean Ingle, one of the standard bearers of the newer generation and now Chief Sports Reporter and columnist at The Guardian, recalled: “Met him for first time when I managed to do a week’s work experience – and he very kindly gave me a byline.
“Always a pleasure to speak to when I eventually got to do the job for real.”
Very, very sad to hear this. He was a good friend on many assignments and a terrific writer with incredible boxing knowledge. He had a great life, though, travelling the world and reporting on so many Olympic Games. RIP.
— Simon Hart (@SiHart) June 8, 2023
Alan’s own career began as a “cub reporter” with the Balham and Tooting News & Mercury, almost 70 years ago.
A few years back on our SJA pages, he recalled interviewing comedian Tommy Trinder, then Chairman of Fulham as he appeared locally in panto.
In the 1960s, he began working for World Sports Magazine and later edited Sportsworld its successor when amongst other exclusives, he interviewed the Princess Royal shortly before she was chosen to compete for the British Olympic team at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
Truly saddened to learn of the great Alan Hubbard’s passing,genuine, astute journalist, supporter of explaining truth. A real friend, kind, generous with his time, always willing to listen. You read his opinion pieces because they painted a fair picture & asked key questions, RIP
— Michele Verroken (@SportIntegrity) June 10, 2023
Neil Wilson, later a distinguished Olympic and athletics writer with the Daily Mail in his own right, worked as Deputy Editor of Sportsworld alongside Alan.
“Worked with him since 1969, worked for him for three years. Truly one of the best and his copy in his prime was sublime, a joy to sub.”
Alan later became sports editor of The Mail on Sunday and The Observer and in a career which he later described as “a helter skelter ride”, he also spent three years as Deputy Editor of The Straits Times.
But it was as a writer that he will be best remembered – a columnist for The Independent on Sunday and also for The London Standard.
He was Olympic Journalist of the Year in 1992 and won the Sports Diarist Award at the SJA British Sports Journalism Awards for 2004 and 2006.
In retirement, he became a columnist for leading Olympic website insidethegames.biz.
“Alan had been ill for a while, but continued to file his weekly blog right up until a few weeks ago.” insidethegames.biz editor Duncan Mackay told readers this week.
“He was a great supporter of insidethegames and an important part of our success.”
Alan met many of the biggest personalities, shook hands with Nelson Mandela and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Frank Sinatra.
It was perhaps highly appropriate that when he carried the Olympic Torch, just outside the Oval Cricket Ground in London, he should pass the Flame to Ian Botham.
He had chronicled the exploits of such superstars superbly for so many years.
From SJA member John Goodbody…
I first met Alan at the 1968 Olympics.
He was a staunch colleague, sometime employer of mine in various guises and also became a close friend.
Alan never lost his enthusiasm for reporting sport and despite increasing health problems, he was still writing pieces up to a month before his death. He will be much missed.
Alan Hubbard: From Ali to a bugged hotel room, reflecting on 65 years in sports journalism (insidethegames.biz, December 2020)
Muhammad Ali dead: How I travelled the world with a legend (The Independent, June 2016)