Roy Collins, former chief sports writer at Today and The People, has died. His friend, and one-time flat mate, PAUL WEAVER pays a very personal tribute.
If a man really is to be judged by the company he keeps then Roy Collins, who has died suddenly in Spain at the age of 73, must be ranked very highly indeed.
He could never quite believe that he had the good fortune to earn a good living travelling the world writing about sport, and that he often did so alongside Ian Wooldridge and Hugh McIlvanney, the best exponents of the craft in their long era, together with (for a shorter span) Frank Keating.
Roy was never cowed by this luminous company, nor by that of another heavyweight of the profession, Jim Lawton, with whom he was close. As chief sportswriter for the fledgling Today newspaper, Roy was a talented and versatile operator in the industry’s middle market, covering World Cups, Olympic Games and big fight weekends in Las Vegas in the eighties and nineties.
— John Dillon (@JohnDillonSport) January 19, 2022
His more illustrious colleagues were delighted with him, for Roy was a journalists’ journalist, professional, generous, hilariously anecdotal, a passionate Basil Fawlty impersonator and always available to organise the taxi, arrange the dinner table and sort out the all-important receipts at the end of the evening.
A little younger than his peers, Roy was also known as the “Tandy doctor”, the go-to man when there were difficulties sending copy in early days of new technology that followed Rupert Murdoch’s move away from Fleet Street at the end of January 1986.
For a bet, he had just stolen a magnificent one-piece snooker cue (later returned) from a club, with one end stuffed down his right trouser leg and the other pushing the left shoulder of his jacket above the level of his ear
When Today folded, Roy was sufficiently protean to find work freelancing for the Sunday Telegraph and The Guardian. He was, by temperament and opportunist instinct, a freelance rather than a staffer.
Roy’s favourite topic of conversation – and there was plenty of talk at the bars he adored – was invariably Roy. If this suggests a tiresome solipsism it could not be more misleading; Roy was a fascinating subject and no-one knew more about it than he did; he viewed life’s absurdities very keenly – with a sort of angry good humour – through the prism of self and had the stand-up’s eye for self-deprecating detail.
Roy and I shared a flat together in Crouch End, north London, for four years from 1978. We were the Odd Couple, except that both of us played Walter Matthau’s Oscar Madison.We had first met in Southend in 1975 when I turned up to take his job on the lively Evening Echo. He was set for London. He was always set for London. We became instant friends in our overlapping week of employment in Basildon.
He told me that, for a bet, he had just stolen a magnificent one-piece snooker cue (later returned) from a club, with one end stuffed down his right trouser leg and the other pushing the left shoulder of his jacket above the level of his ear.
“To get out of the club, with the cue hidden, I had to pretend I was having an epileptic seizure,” he explained, matter-of-factly. I knew, instantly, that he was not quite normal.
A rotten day. Too much darkness from first to last. Worse than my whinging, Roy Collins died. He was the first big name to show me real kindness. When I got to know him better, he was wry, funny and full of stories. And he once rescued my laptop cable. A lovely, lovely man.
— John Aizlewood (@aizlewood1) January 18, 2022
Our friendship survived his attempt, a week later, to return to Southend to get his old job back, at my expense, after his promise of employment in London had fallen through.
The editor of the Echo sent him packing; he recognised Roy as a fine journalist but also remembered him as the militant leader of the paper’s NUJ chapel who had caused more than a few problems.
Three years later it was my turn to move to London. He invited me to stay with him “for a couple of weeks” and it turned out to be a little longer than that. He worked for The People and I was with the News of the World. We should have been rivals but were the closest of mates. His time at Today represented his professional apogee but many friends – including this one – think his best years were as a sports feature writer for The People, where he was outstanding at perceiving the right line for the piece, and where he adored his old-school sports editor, Neville Holtham.
The highlight of our week would be the celebratory Saturday night. Roy and I spent most Saturdays covering football matches for our respective newspapers, often in the north or midlands. Our target was to meet up in our Crouch End local for a few pints before closing time. In the days before mobile phones, one of us would often get to the pub at five to eleven and order half a dozen pints in the hope that the other would get there in time to help finish them. Then on to the local curry house for more pints and gossip. Happy memories. Thank you Roy.
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