David Field, Boxing Writers’ stalwart, has died

ERIC BROWN pays tribute to a former colleague and long-time secretary of the Boxing Writers’ Club, Dave Field, who has died, aged 68

The 1968-1969 football season ended in huge disappointment. My local team Charlton Athletic had failed by a hair’s breadth to gain promotion from the old Division Two, finishing third behind Derby County and Crystal Palace.

At the big boxing nights of the 1970s and 1980s, Dave Field would have been ringside for ExTel
At the big boxing nights of the 1970s and 1980s, Dave Field would have been ringside for ExTel

One consolation was that I would be covering Palace against the big boys the following season for the local paper. Another was that I had met David Field.

Back in those days I was a cub sports reporter on the South London News Group of seven local newspapers spread from Wimbledon to Dulwich via Tooting, Norwood, Clapham and Streatham.

This meant Saturday afternoons (and many evenings) spent at Tooting and Mitcham, Dulwich Hamlet, the then non-league Wimbledon and, of course, Selhurst Park.

There I soon became friendly with David Field, a statistical journalist with Exchange Telegraph who supplied the goal flashes, half-time scores and results which used to appear on ticker tape – or the “Videprinter” – behind David Coleman, Frank Bough or whoever happened to be fronting Grandstand that Saturday. I secretly envied his Selhurst “perch”, in a small but special glass-fronted wooden box above the halfway line.

Later David moved to the Exchange Telegraph sports news agency supplying copy to national newspapers. And so did I. My first love remained football while David specialised in cricket and boxing.

Occasionally we’d pair up to cover boxing, Dave supplying the cultured copy while I acted as his quotes man. One fight involved Reading’s Johnny Frankham, who had a notoriously rowdy following of fans. An unpopular verdict prompted a hail of missiles into the ring which seemed to continue for an eternity. I cowered under the desk for protection, phone in one hand to relay the result while Dave remained quite unflappable writing his polished prose until I handed over the mouthpiece.

He wasn’t always so cool, though.

Discovering he was a talented cricketer, I asked Dave to play for my club, Erith, and soon we were opening the bowling together. Dave could bang the ball in a bit, move it away and on a helpful wicket have batsmen ducking and swaying to avoid his threatening deliveries.

He didn’t suffer fools gladly, so woe betide the fielder who dropped a catch off his bowling. Woe betide the batsman who edged him to the boundary, too. A few choice words including the word “luck” – or at least it sounded like “luck” – would be aimed the batsman’s way.

Sometimes this went a little too far. I recall one game where a batsman clearly had Dave’s measure. After yet another ball was thumped back past him all along the ground for four, Dave continued down the wicket until he was virtually nose to nose with the batsman. “You lucky ****,” screamed a furious, red-faced Dave.

His wife Jacky attended matches as scorer and although he invariably batted low in the order, Dave kept her busy recording his useful scores, including a couple of half centuries. He liked to talk of his experience playing for a National Press XI at Headingley. If it threatened to get boring, I’d remind him of my own taste of the “big time” at Lord’s and The Oval.

A popular post-match companion in the bar, Dave always somehow socialised his way out of any embarrassing incidents in which he had been involved on the pitch. While at ExTel, he contributed to the Christmas party by turning up with an endless supply of ELO on tape. Always ELO. Every year.

After ExTel was taken over by the Press Association, he was part of the PA Sydney Olympics team, specialising in boxing and swimming.

Eventually, Dave and the PA went their separate ways, he concentrated on his committee work with the Boxing Writers’ Club, where he was secretary for many years, contributed to Wisden and worked part-time in a garden centre.

Jim Rosenthal, a former chairman of the Boxing Writers, said, “Dave had been the backbone of the club for many years, together with Colin Hart organising our big annual awards dinner at the Savoy quietly and efficiently. It’s very sad news. He’ll be much missed.”

David Field’s wife, Jacky, died after a short illness a couple of years ago. They had no children. David was devastated by the loss.

When we last met at a Cricket Writer’s Club lunch in London nine months ago, he seemed to have recovered his zest. He greeted me with a cheery, “Well, we go back a long way don’t we?” I shall always remember those words, umpteen beers after a match at Selhurst and all those frightened batsmen.