By Malcolm Folley, Chief Sports Reporter, Mail on Sunday (1992-2014)
Andrew Longmore called just over a fortnight ago. In his usual breezy manner, he told me that he had completed the first four chapters of the book he was writing on British rowing, a story of repetitive success that has broken over the Olympic landscape like a tidal wave, and would appreciate the contact details of a literary agent of my acquaintance.
Over lunch this year, we had discussed this work of love he had embarked on over the first winter of his retirement. Andrew was particularly pleased that head coach Jurgen Grobler, a man renowned for his reticence to speak in public about his stellar record, had agreed to be interviewed.
Andrew was not being coy. Simply, he never accepted that he should be regarded as one of the finest sports writers of his generation. Yet Grobler, and all associated with the success of the British rowing team, knew that their history could not be placed in the hands of a better story teller.
After travelling with Andrew for over 25 years, to overseas tennis tournaments, or Olympic Games, or to a Grand Prix, or football match, it was evident there was an integrity to his work that he would never sacrifice, an elegance to his writing that was the envy of most. His byline was a hallmark of truth.
Our last shared Olympics was spent in the Utopia of Putin’s fantasy Winter Games in Sochi, on the shores of the palm tree-lined Black Sea. One day in the middle of these Games, like naughty undergrads, we skipped beyond the wire-meshed fence of the Media compound, and headed to the Prince of Wales pub in neighbouring Adler.
A few pints and some pub grub later, we returned as evangelists to tell mates chained to daily deadlines, like Jon McEvoy and Kevin Eason, there was life beyond the patrolled perimeter fences of the ugliest Olympics of the 13 Games I reported from.
Andrew’s friendship extended beyond post-deadline downtime, though. He would always, always, come to your aid if in need. Some examples: in Sochi, he shared his research on Pairs Skating Champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov when MailOnline summoned a piece at short notice; in Turin, in 2006, Andrew willingly provided much-needed background on skeleton athletes Shelley Rudman and Kristan Bromley, a couple off the ice, to develop a 2000 words colour feature as we rode in a bus across the Alps to a ski race. It appeared the next day under the headline: Love on a tea tray. We both had to chuckle at that.
There are examples galore of Andrew’s journalistic generosity; and known to so many who worked alongside him across the world. He never felt this compromised his own contribution to his newspaper, because, firstly, he would never let anyone down on deadline if he could assist; and, secondly, if he could file in his own inimitable way what did it matter.
Of all those I travelled with, Andrew stood out as a beacon of decency. I remember how he shamed me in my earliest years of fatherhood – not intentionally, of course – by having left behind recorded stories for his children to hear while he was in New York covering the US Open tennis championships for The Times. It was so typical of Andrew and a reflection of where his heart lay.
Andrew was a master at prioritising life; his wife, Jane, and their children, Anna, Jessica and David were central to all that he did. Later he would revel in his role as a grandfather, twice over.
Andrew was not writing his book on British rowing with the ambition of snaring an advance. He just wanted to do what he did better than most of his generation: tell a good story and tell it well. Andrew knew no other way of doing his job; a good man, and great friend.