Although never a member of the Sports Writers’ Association or SJA, Paul Stratton, the former editor of Match magazine, who has died, aged 60, was well-known to many of our members. Here, ADRIAN CURTIS and RAY RYAN pay tribute to their former boss
For those journalists who were privileged to work alongside him, Paul Stratton was arguably the finest sports news editor who never made it to Fleet Street.
“Strat” could have walked into any top job in an era when reporters played hard and worked even harder.
Yet he kept faith with employers East Midlands Allied Press, or Emap, then publishers of Match magazine, and later Bauer, working as diligently and professionally on a number of titles until his retirement a few months ago.
His own personal ambitions hardly surfaced during a successful career that saw him pilot Match to record sales levels in the early 1990s. Instead, he was happier to guide and mentor many an aspiring young sports reporter onto a career at the highest level.
As well as both of us, others to benefit from Strat’s wisdom and motivation included Paul Smith, Dave Smith, Rob Shepherd and Howard Wheatcroft.
That is why the passing of “Strat”, at the age of 60, after a short illness, brought Peterborough’s crematorium to a virtual standstill when his funeral took place last Friday afternoon.
“Strat” was as old school as they came. For those of us under his leadership, we would walk through the proverbial brick wall for him time after time.
“Strat” had an amazing eye for detail and could spot a literal in seconds. He was a sub-editor’s dream and the copy that landed on the desk of long-time chief sub Mick Weavers would end up in the magazine word for word. And he could spot a story even if it was buried in 500 words of nonsense from a junior reporter or a press release. And everything was done professionally but with a sense of humour and a glint in his eye.
In the days before laptops and PCs, when we churned out copy on typewriters, we would hand our copy to him with fear and trepidation. If it was acceptable, Strat would say, “Yeah, it’s good that”, and you moved on feeling 10 feet tall.
If you got the infamous left hand going through the hair and he lit a cigar, you knew you were in for a re-write.
Under Strat’s guidance, a little office in Peterborough became an outpost for some of the national newspapers’ biggest football stories. We had access to every top player in the country and they all read the magazine long before the days when the internet and press officers began dictating things. Yet that was not good enough.
Strat wanted a story and not just words from a famous face. He wanted something to tell the world even though Match was aimed largely at kids. It was no surprise when, week after week, the interviews we did were lifted by the nationals.
He might listen to a phone interview, pick up on the way a conversation was going and then thrust a piece of paper in front of you, telling you to ask a certain question. It invariably led to the story.
Yet he will be equally remembered for his wicked sense of humour and his sense of devilment.
Ray Ryan remembers his own early days with affection. He said: “I would arrive first in the office, and as office junior, I had to fetch the milk for the morning coffees from the next building. But Strat always gave me a fighting chance by playing me at darts. The loser would fetch the milk. It was only after a month of fetching the milk, I realised he was an accomplished player for his local pub team and could have played for the county.
“And I still have to live down the time he asked me to ring a taxi from a pub for an awards event – not realising the venue was 30 seconds from where we were. He took great delight at the abuse I got from the taxi company.
“Yet he didn’t have things all his own way. He once got sold a car which broke down on Boxing Day on the way to the office for a tight deadline shift and he had to run there with Adrian Curtis.
“It later transpired the car he had bought was actually two cars welded together. He still went on to work for a luxury sports car magazine. Oh, the irony. He could easily have etched his name in Fleet Street history along with the likes of Tony Smith, Frank Nicklin and latterly Mike Dunn.”
Curtis agrees. “I, too, have much to thank ‘Strat’ for. He set me on the road to a 25-year career in football journalism at the highest level and I soon realised when I replaced him as editor of Match, that nobody could do the job better than him. I couldn’t even lace his boots. He was, quite simply, the best.”