DAVID WALKER, the SJA deputy chairman, worked alongside Ray Matts for 40 years, at the Daily Mail and later the Sunday Mirror. Here, he pays personal tribute to an old friend
Ray Matts was a fine journalist and an even better man.
He epitomised an approach to life and work that made you feel richer for having Ray as a colleague and a friend. In Ray’s eyes, life was for living. He was a diligent, caring journalist who worried deeply about his work and the veracity of everything he did.
That professional thoroughness did not prevent him being the life and soul of any party. Ray’s sharp wit and self-effacing humour could illuminate the dourest circumstances.
I’ve witnessed under-pressure football managers actually ask during a club-in-crisis press conference: “Where’s Mattsy?” They felt in need of the kind of lift and fun the son of the Black Country could always provide. He was so naturally warm, funny and engaging. If Mattsy couldn’t lift you, nobody could.
From his days on the Birmingham Evening Mail to succeeding his great friend Jeff Farmer at the Daily Mail, Mattsy was a tyro of the Midlands sporting scene. I was proud to be his colleague for many years at the Daily Mail. There was no selfish side to Ray. If he picked up a tip that might help me, he’d be straight on the phone passing on the information.
He could easily have filed the story himself and earned the praise of the sports desk. That wasn’t Ray’s style.
We did pull his leg when he started covering Formula 1. Not because we didn’t think he could do it but because his style was so different to what many us perceived they’d be expecting on the Grand Prix circuit.
But when you’re a warm, honest, decent guy like Ray, you can conquer any situation. And tales of Ray playing guitar at Formula 1 parties around the world soon bounced back to those of us covering games on cold English nights. We did know who was having the last laugh.
Ray had an army of great contacts. Because I knew him for almost 40 years I inevitably see Ray’s greatest professional days as the Mail’s man in the Midlands. His big interviews with Brian Clough; his warm, banter-exchanging days with Ron Atkinson at West Brom and Aston Villa.
After his retirement in 2006, Ray would step in for matches with the Daily Mail. Then, a few years ago, we had a chat. The subject of covering matches for the Sunday Mirror in the Midlands came up. Ray sounded like a teenager as he excitedly declared his hunger for the role.
Late on a Saturday night, before I leave the office, I send out the match list orders for the following weekend. Invariably, the first man to reply – staff or freelance – was Mattsy. His emails would highlight his commitment and love for being a working journalist. He was a joy to work with.
Just 48 hours before his passing, from his hospital bed, Ray was sending me emails of banter, including references to him getting back on our match list as soon as possible.
How we wanted him back. Having Ray on your team made you feel so much richer.
David Walker is the sports editor of the Sunday Mirror.
The SJA sends its condolences to Ray Matts’ family, his wife Val and son Tim.