By Barry Newcombe
Fleet Street yesterday staged a multi-faceted farewell to one of its legends, Bill Bateson.
The former sports editor of the News of the World, Bateson was also an Arsenal fan, golf nut, lover of all things Spanish, a family man and bon viveur.
From the moment friends arrived at St Bride’s Church, they were made aware they were in for something different – the order of service card was more like an Arsenal programme, in red, and contained its performance record over the years and a black and white photo of the Highbury Stadium.
It did not end there. The last verse of Rule Britannia was also Arsenal themed – “Good old Arsenal, We’re proud to say that name. While we sing this song, we’ll win the game.”
Other football themes were presented by Gary Lineker, whom Bateson had signed as a columnist, and with a passage from Nick Hornby’s book Fever Pitch, read by Jon Ryan, the former sports editor of the Sunday Telegraph where Bateson worked in his later years.
Those who were at Bateson’s funeral last year in Cornwall found a farewell message from him in the order of service, and that was reprinted this time. Then, Bill was banged out in Fleet Street style at the crematorium, but he remembered in a different way this time.
Lineker said in his address, titled, “When in doubt, wear red”, that he had first met Bateson in the 1980s. “He had a great sense of making you feel at ease,” he said.
Other readings came from Patrick Collins, Peter Hayter, Tom Crone and Bateson’s daughter, Sally Read. And the congregation left after listening to the choir sing, “What shall we do with the drunken sailor?”
At a reception afterwards in the Press House Wine bar, Paul McCarthy, the current sports editor at the News of the World, reminded friends of Bateson’s philosophy: “A long lunch at Langan’s will always give you more ideas than some think tank”.
And Richie Benaud said in a message: “In America, many years ago, a great sportswriter debunked death as being unimportant. That was a slight exaggeration but he added, ‘living is the trick’. We will be raising a glass tonight and saying ‘Cheers Bill, you did the trick’.”
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