Vikki Orvice, friend, colleague and valued member of the Sports Journalists’ Association died today after a long battle with cancer. Former Sun chief sports writer Steven Howard has written this tribute
IT was Saturday August 4, 2012, and London’s Olympic Stadium was a crucible of bubbling, patriotic fervour.
Jess Ennis-Hill had just won gold in the heptathlon and Vikki Orvice and I were furiously putting over our copy knowing Mo Farah was due to start the 10,000 metres in under half an hour.
Then from the other side of the stadium came a huge roar.
“What the **** was that?” I yelled at Vikki alongside me.
“Greg Rutherford has only gone and won the flipping long jump,” she shouted back over the din.
Not long after, Farah would make it triple gold – three inside an astonishing 44 minutes. It was the greatest night in British athletics, perhaps the greatest night in Olympic history.
At the time, Vikki was in remission from the cancer that had first struck in 2007 – and which, devastatingly, would return in 2014.
My beloved, bright, brilliant wife Vikki Orvice passed away at 5am, able to defy the cancer no longer. I am bereft, empty, but grateful for her life and her love. Those who feel the breath of sadness, sit down next to me.
— Ian Ridley (@IanRidley1) February 6, 2019
For the last four years she fought valiantly – and with no lack of humour – against the odds, her life a strength-sapping treadmill of chemotherapy at London’s Marsden Hospital sandwiched inbetween her jobs as athletics correspondent and football writer for The Sun.
Fittingly, for a daughter of Sheffield, she had a core of steel. But the long, unequal struggle ended this morning when Vikki died aged 56.
The grief engulfing her sportswriter husband Ian Ridley, her family and her many admiring friends is only partially mitigated by the relief it is finally all over.
Not surprisingly, the tributes poured in as news of Vikki’s death spread.
Sebastian Coe tweeted: “Vikki has been part of my life for 30 years. She believed in London 2012 long before others and drove support. A cheerleader for women in sport & mentor to athletes & my team to be strong female role models in sport. We owe her so much. She will live on in our ❤️”
Paula Radcliffe tweeted: “Vikki will be greatly missed. A true trailblazer for women journalists, and women everywhere. Lived her life with integrity and courage, always thinking of others and treading her own path.”
Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill wrote: “She was such a genuinely lovely woman. I feel really lucky to have spent so much time with her over the years of my athletic career. Lots of great memories and she will be truly missed. A very sad day. Thinking of you and your family x.”
And the Women in Football group said: “We are devastated to learn of the passing of our dear friend and colleague Vikki Orvice. Vikki was a brave, brilliant and extraordinary lady who passionately championed women in football. We will miss her dreadfully, and will continue to stand up for all she believed in.”
If she was a fundraiser, arch supporter and poster girl – her own words – for the Marsden, she was also a massive source of encouragement for every young girl who wondered whether they, too, could make it in what was the very male enclave of sports journalism.
Working at the coal face of sports journalism, she was not just a pioneer but a suffragette on the slow, back-breaking march towards equality.
At the end, she would stand at the pinnacle, a vociferous defender of women’s rights and ceaseless promoter of their abilities – a director of Women in Football and a significant figure at both the Sports Journalists’ Association and the Football Writers’ Association.
At the age of ten, she entered a Daily Express competition, saying she wanted to be a sportswriter. Her subject? Her beloved Sheffield United. She would finally achieve her ambition in the face of constant prejudice but it was a long journey.
I would later have lunch with the sports editor who said a woman could never do the job full-time. In those days, you didn’t even question it
Recalling her early days on national newspapers, she said: “I went to Arsenal v Norwich on the opening afternoon of the season.
“The main stand at Arsenal had a mural on it and I was basically sent along to write about that because, you know, it was a bit girly and stuff. But it actually turned into a good story because Norwich won.
“I remember somebody came over to the sports desk on the Monday morning saying ‘Why did you give that match to HER? I should have been there instead’.
“I would later have lunch with the sports editor who said a woman could never do the job full-time. In those days, you didn’t even question it.”
Then in the summer of 1995 came her mould-breaking move to The Sun.
Her all-round talent was quickly recognised and she would soon become the paper’s athletics correspondent, a role which she relished – covering all of Usain Bolt’s world records – and in which she would prosper.
She would also strike up enduring relationships with many of the sport’s leading lights – chief among them Paula Radcliffe, Ennis and Farah.
During all this, she was a sounding board for other members of her profession unfortunate enough to themselves be afflicted by cancer.
She was also fundraising – one reference to a charity event with Radcliffe showing both her unquenchable spirit and humour.
She tweeted: “I am walking 5k with Paula in the Race for Life. She has a personal best for the event of 14 minutes 29.11 seconds but is recovering from a broken toe and hence is not running.
“I have a personal best of 19 months in remission from secondary cancer – hence not running, either!”
I met Vikki twice for lunch in the last few months with former Sun sports editor Paul Ridley, the man who not only brought her to Fleet Street but also gave her the athletics job.
Once when, complete in black wig and showbiz sunglasses, she looked a million dollars – despite the chemo. Then again just before Christmas in Soho when she was obviously struggling a bit.
Dressed in a stunning, full-length, camel overcoat and carrying an elegant black walking-stick, she climbed into a black cab that was to take her to see a concerned Sebastian Coe.
Noticing the anguish in my face, she said: “Don’t worry, Steve.”
What style. What class. Still thinking about other people to the end.
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