JANINE SELF interviews the tabloid chief sports writer who is retiring after four decades of major changes in journalism
“The end of an era” can be a trite expression in journalism but that will be the only way to describe it when The Sun’s chief sports writer, Steven Howard, calls it a day later this month.
Since the paper’s tabloid inception nearly half a century ago there have been just three incumbents in that job – Howard, John Sadler and Peter Batt. As Howard put it: “A bit like West Ham managers used to be.”
Howard retires after 38 years at the Currant. He joined in 1978 as a sports sub under much-admired boss Frank Nicklin and moved up to become sports news editor, sports feature writer, tennis correspondent, rugby correspondent, chief football writer and chief sports writer.
He started his career at the Salisbury Times and Journal in 1970 and also worked for Wimbledon News and South London Press.
Howard’s grandfather was the actor Leslie Howard (Gone with the Wind, First of the Few, Pimpernel Smith). Father Ronald was a journalist at the old News Chronicle before the war and was pushed into acting afterwards.
Steven Howard recalled: “My mother Jean then ordered me to get a ‘proper job’. No comment!”
Amazingly it was not until the early 2000s that The Sun‘s chief sports writer actually had an authentic column. The late and extraordinary Sadler only filled two columns down the side on Tuesdays and Fridays.
“When Steve Waring became sports editor, I badgered him for so long about having a proper column like all the other guys on the other papers that he finally relented – and gave me two, one on Thursday and another on Sunday. Sunsport finally entered the modern era!
“It’s all gone extremely quickly – as the young sports journalists of today will also discover. So make the most of it, boys.
“It has also changed beyond belief. In the old days, discombobulated hacks would stagger in from a night out abroad at about the same time the current generation are heading off for an early morning run.
“Needless to say, I never got too involved in the latter stuff!
“The perception of the journalist as a species has also totally altered. Well, I hope it has.
“Lunchtime O’Booze has been replaced by a lycra-clad athlete who has to provide a virtual 24-hour rolling sports news service on assorted platforms.
“The hacks of yore would have been astonished how hard most of today’s sports journalists work. Though some, in my ‘umble opinion, probably do too much!
“What will I miss? Certainly not the running overview, in my opinion a heart attack on a plate and the most challenging job in the business.
“And I’ve done them all. The match report, by comparison, is a stroll in the park.
“I will also relish the chance to actually watch a match, race or fight, rather than having my face buried in a laptop. I will miss most of my colleagues, though. Especially the (Oliver) Holts, (Paul) Haywards and John Dillons.
“And all the young ones who put up with my endless moaning and griping.
“Beyond the call of duty, chaps. There are some extremely talented twenty and thirtysomething journalists in the business. As such, I leave it probably in better hands than when I joined.
“Finally, a special thanks to all my current Sun colleagues – especially Charlie Wyett, Andy Dillon, Phil Thomas, Neil Custis and the wonderful Vikki Orvice – for all the generous help they gave me in filling in huge gaps in my knowledge so I could then pass it off as all my own work!
“The cheque’s in the post.”
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UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
- Wed Apr 20: SJA annual meeting, Fleet Street
- Wed May 11: VIP York Race Day, sponsored by Ladbrokes
- Tue Jun 7: Death of a Gentleman screening, Croydon