Old-school Northern Echo reporter Johnson dies at the age of 78


Frank Johnson, whose most precious technical aid was the pen-knife he used to sharpen his pencil, has died at the age of 78.

Johnson worked for the Northern Echo for 43 years, all but one of them as the paper’s Sunderland reporter. He also covered athletics and greyhound racing.

He joined the Echo at its Sunderland office as a teenager before moving to the Darlington head office and later Guisborough.

Image Northern Echo

His former editor Peter Barron said: “Frank was from the old school of journalism and will be remembered by many as a great character. He spoke straight from the heart, and was always passionate about Sunderland.”

Former Sunderland chairman Sir Bob Murray said: “I knew Frank  (left) from my very first day at Roker Park and through many up and downs over the years. He was always his own man, forthright and never afraid to speak his mind. It was a different era without instant technology and 24-hour news, when relationships mattered and press access was different to that of today’s game. The Northern Echo is a great newspaper and Frank was one of its finest servants.”

Frank’s son, Simon, 50, told the Echo about the treasure trove of sporting memorabilia that his father left: “Some of his stuff should be in a museum. I used to say to him it should be on display because it is just in boxes. It is a shame, so one day we might do something with it.

“My dad caught the cork that Ian Porterfield (scorer of  1973 FA Cup winning goal against Leeds) popped in the dressing room. He has got tapes of different interviews with managers from over the years and it is unbelievable. Some of the ‘off the record’ things are amazing. He told us of the stories about players missing flights, and doing this and doing that. There were some absolutely corkers. There is a book in there.

“What he should have done, which saddens me because he never did, was write a chapter on each of the managers. He had stories about each. It was a shame he never did in the end.”

My dad caught the cork that Ian Porterfield popped in the dressing room. He told us stories about players missing flights, and doing this and doing that.

Rob Mason, Sunderland’s club historian, described Johnson as a “fully paid up member of the old school” in terms of sports reporting, whose most precious technical aid was his pen-knife. 

He said: “Depending on how emphatically it was pulled from his pocket before he began to sharpen his pencil with it you knew how vitriolic the criticism was going to be. He didn’t suffer fools gladly, especially if they were wearing red and white stripes.”

Johnson, who retired in 2002, lived in Bournmoor, near Chester-le-Street, with his wife of 54 years, Brenda. He was diagnosed with cancer three years ago and underwent surgery, but became ill again around two months ago before passing away earlier this month.

Mrs Johnson said: “He was a great family man. We are coming to terms with what has happened together, but we cannot get over the response from people who knew him. He was well-respected and there were lots of people who have been helped by him.”

The couple had two sons, Tony and Simon, and two daughters, Ashleigh and Lucy.