Patrick Collins, one of the most respected, honoured and – most importantly – widely read of British sports writers has decided to retire after what he calls an “absurdly fortunate career”.
From a family of sports journalists – his father and his son have plied the same trade – Patrick Collins began his Fleet Street career nearly 50 years ago, and has spent the past 32 years weaving his particular magic in the pages of the Mail on Sunday ever since its launch.
After covering 10 football World Cups, countless rugby internationals, Test cricket series and every summer Olympic Games since 1972 bar one, Collins’s last Saturday’s afternoon as a professional watcher of sport will be January 31. “I haven’t dared look at the diary,” he told sportsjournalists.co.uk, “but I’ve seen that Charlton are at home to Rotherham. I might ask for that. It’s one way to go out at the top.”
In his own career, Collins has always been at the top. He has accumulated 11 major prizes at the SJA’s annual Sports Journalism Awards, including being five times the Sports Columnist of the Year, most recently in 2012, and receiving our ultimate accolade, as Sports Writer of the Year, in 1989, 1990, 1997, 2002 and 2008.
The SJA’s judges have described Collins as “the best of his generation”, admiring his work because “he never talks down to his readers, but uses a polite nudge and a smile”.
Collins, now 70, chose to announce his decision to retire through the SJA, the organisation of which he has been a proud member since the early part of his career.
“I enjoyed the privilege of working alongside some of history’s finest sports writers. The likes of Ian Wooldridge, David Lacey, James Lawton and the incomparable Frank Keating all became my firm friends, yet remained my heroes,” Collins said. “It was evident from an early age that the most enviable aspect of my absurdly fortunate career was the companionship of so many good and gifted journalists, both inside and outside the office. While the nature of the job has inevitably changed, that aspect remains. I hope and expect that it always will.
“The Mail on Sunday has indulged and supported my scribblings throughout the past 32 years, and I am leaving with the warmest of memories.
“I should also like to thank the Sports Journalists’ Association, which has been particularly generous to me down the years. I have been a member since the early 1970s, and I am genuinely delighted at the way in which the Association has expanded in terms of numbers and influence. May it continue to flourish.
“I started in Fleet Street with the Sunday Citizen, now long defunct, in 1965. I’ve worked for the News of the World, Evening News and Evening Standard before joining the Mail on Sunday a few months before its launch in May 1982.
“In the week of the first edition, the Falklands dispute was erupting into war, and was reported on the front page. Somebody had the idea that sport should somehow reflect the situation, and I was sent to Lisbon, to a roller hockey match between England and Argentina. The Argentines were rather good at the game, and I feared for the English team when I noticed that their goalkeeper was wearing National Health spectacles. They lost, very heavily, and I wrote a bright, droll feature which was intended as a whimsical column piece.
“I received a message from the BBC, inviting me to appear on the following day’s Grandstand programme, when Desmond Lynam would give the new paper a plug. I flew to Heathrow and hurried to the BBC, not having seen the paper. They sat me in the studio, and Des reached for the first edition and held up the back page to the camera. The splash headline read: ‘Argentina 8, England 0’.
“’Hmmm,’ mused Des. ‘So this is the first new national Sunday newspaper for 21 years. Tell me, will the Mail on Sunday be covering roller hockey on a regular basis?’. I gabbled, pathetically. Lynam, a good sort, later offered me consolation. ‘Don’t worry, old son,’ he said. ‘It’ll get better. You’ll see.’ Mercifully, it did.
“When you reach my age – 70 – you begin to tick off the big events like so many fond and fading memories. A total of 10 World Cups, the first and most memorable in Argentina ’78, when Ally MacLeod’s Scotland gave us a story every day and Argentina won a staggering final in Buenos Aires. Then there were all those marvellous Olympics, starting with the tragic Games of Munich ’72 and missing only Montreal ’76 before concluding with the London Olympics, which were not only the finest Games but also the greatest sporting event I ever covered.
“There were Rugby World Cups, Lions rugby Tests in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, and stunning Ashes Tests in Australia, as well as a stream of visits to the States in the days when boxing was still a popular sport. Looking back, it was an unreasonably rich diet. It isn’t quite true to say that I loved every moment – nobody who endured the Atlanta Olympics of 1996 could make such a claim – but it was true enough to make no difference.”
Jon Ryan, a member of the SJA committee and one of Collins’s former sports editors at the Mail on Sunday, paid this tribute to his friend’s stellar career: “I had the pleasure of working with Pat for many years on the Mail on Sunday where he became a good friend as well as colleague.
“I was lucky enough to have him as part of my team when I became sports editor and enjoyed his wisdom, humour and perceptive views. He is a brilliant columnist, an outstanding match reporter and a wonderful raconteur with a fantastic depth of knowledge.
“I realised just how deeply he cared about what he wrote when early one Saturday morning I was reading copy in the office and noticed when Pat had sent his finely tuned, highly polished and profound words over….it was 4.05am.
- Voting is now open for all SJA members to choose their Sportsman, Sportswoman and Team of the Year. Only SJA members are eligible to vote. The winners will be announced at the 65th annual SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery and being staged in London on Dec 11
- The SJA is the largest member organisation of sports media professionals in the world. Join us: Click here for more details
UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
Thu Dec 11: SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery, at the Grand Connaught Rooms
Mon Mar 23: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, sponsored by BT Sport, at the Grand Connaught Rooms. Entry forms will be available in October 2014
Mon Sep 14: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill Golf Club