TOM CLARKE, the former sports editor at the Daily Mail and The Times and editor of the Sporting Life, responds to the latest cost-cutting news from the Thunderer that sees the exit of its chief sportswriter
I still can’t really believe it . . . The Times has dumped Simon Barnes, one of the handful of reasons for buying the paper.
It is a stunning mistake, an unforgiveable slur on a great writer on sport and nature.
The word from The Times is that it is purely a cost-cutting exercise and “we’re really sorry to have to do this, Simon, but we can’t afford you any longer”. Elsewhere, there are dark tales of powerful voices raised against his recent criticism of the slaughter of raptors by land-owners desperate to protect their stocks of game birds.
Whatever, this is no way to treat a writer who for 30 years or more has brought a very personal, very different dimension to sports writing and helped make The Times a highly readable and influential voice in sport.
I was Simon Barnes’s sports editor for six years. I inherited him from Norman Fox, who had the foresight to hire Simon in 1982 after he had done a few “on spec” pieces for the paper. I persuaded Simon – not that he needed much persuading – to go on the road to many of the major events of international sport. He revelled in it, and the paper revelled with him.
What Simon Barnes brought to our business was not the magisterial tone of, say, Hugh McIlvanney or the smooth thrusts of, say, Patrick Collins.
One day, Simon would bring a fan’s enthusiasm, sometimes naive and unworldly. On another day, he would bring a forensic and literate view on an issue of the moment. He could relate the skill of AP McCoy in riding a feisty racehorse to his own lesser but still intimidating experiences with horses. Likewise, his time as the wicketkeeper of Tewin Irregulars gave him a kind of rapport with Test cricketers bungling catches.
His imminent departure from The Times – possibly at the end of July – comes almost a year to the day after the paper axed its golf correspondent, Peter Dixon. The Times without a golf correspondent? It’s incredible but true (and it’s driven a number of people of my acquaintance into the arms of the Telegraph and the Daily Mail).
What next for Simon Barnes? He’s 62 years old, he has a book on wildlife due for autumn publication and book on sport in the making – and I hope another newspaper picks him up, gives him the opportunity to write about sport in his special way and show The Times how wrong it has been.
Good luck, Simon!
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