In memory of ‘Mr Chips’ Vic Railton, 40 years on

By John Goodbody

Former colleagues of Vic Railton, the inimitable football correspondent of the London Evening News, commemorated the 40th anniversary of his premature death in 1978, with a lunch, where there were  many memories of his prowess as a news-gatherer, his dislike of going abroad and his constant phone calls to other journalists, managers, players, and also players’ wives, from whom he would get many stories.

He was, said David Miller, “the best informed man in football.”

In an era, when there few press conferences and even fewer agents, Vic revelled in speaking directly to all his contacts on the phone, especially Ron Greenwood, then the manager of West Ham, with whom Vic had a close association.

Existing, it seemed, during the day, largely on mugs of tea, bags of chips and cigarettes, he would work extremely long hours at his desk at the Evening News, under persistent pressure to produce stories for the constantly changing editions of the paper, which in those days, unbelievably, reached Blackpool.

David Meek, a long-time associate as football correspondent of the Manchester Evening News, recalled Vic for his suggestions of stories to get from Sir Matt Busby.. “Why don’t you just ask him, David ?”  

Vic detested going abroad, partly because he could not get his staple dinner of either fish (always deep fried) and chips or sausages and mash. Pat Collins remembered that one of the reasons why he joined the Evening News was that Vic did not want to go to the 1978 World Cup in Argentina (England had not qualified). In fact, Vic died before the tournament began.

From left: SJA president Pat Collins, Neil Wilson, Bob Harris, John Goodbody, Michael Hart, David Miller and David Meek

He certainly had some eccentricities. In 1970, before the World Cup, he had been tipped off by Alan Mullery at the airport in Colombia that Bobby Moore had been arrested in the affair of the missing bracelet. But Vic still got the plane to Mexico with the rest of the England party and press because he would have been alone (albeit with a scoop) in a city where he knew no one. Vic liked the comfort of the familiar.

Existing, it seemed, during the day, largely on mugs of tea, bags of chips and cigarettes, he would work extremely long hours at his desk at the Evening News

The following year, when Chelsea drew their European Cup-Winners Cup final on a Wednesday with Real Madrid and the game had to be replayed two days later, Vic returned to England, to the astonishment of the sports department, on the Thursday, insisting he was better off getting stories on the phone in London.

“And anyway, I didn’t have enough underpants”, he explained. When he realised how the paper regarded his action as bizarre in the extreme, Vic spent 48 hours calling everyone trying to justify his decision.

When after four memorable years on the Evening News with Vic (“Is there any other London club, Doric Dogsbody, you have yet to upset ?”), I decided to become a mature student at Cambridge. Vic was withering. When I went to say good-bye, he said: “You should have come to me and I could have got you fixed up at the West Ham Polytechnic where you would have been far better off than Cambridge University.

“Ron Greenwood sends all his apprentices there so you would have been well in. You could have done gossips for the People and matches for us. As it is, you are going to go to university and when you come back, no one is going to want to know you, not that anyone wants to know you now.”