SJA stalwart and former Extel sports editor Geoff Wheeler dies at 86


Geoff Wheeler, who has died after a long illness, aged 86, was a member of the SJA for over 50 years. For much of that time, he was sports editor of (the now defunct) national news agency Exchange Telegraph (Extel).

His career in sports journalism, spanning more than six decades, began in his home town of Cheltenham where he was indentured by the Gloucestershire Echo in 1952.

His local paper stint was punctuated by two years of national service before he moved to London as a 22-year-old. One of his early achievements as a wire reporter was to marshal Extel’s reaction to the fast-breaking Munich air disaster of February 1958.

It wasn’t long before he became the agency’s football and cricket correspondent, and in 1966 he attached himself to the World Cup group featuring Brazil and Portugal rather than follow Alf Ramsey’s England.

Geoff’s no-nonsense talents earned him promotion to sports editor in the mid-1970s. A decade later he was ‘kicked upstairs’ into the non-job of managing editor and in 1986 was ‘let go’ without so much as a ‘thank you’ for the previous 30 years of loyalty, integrity and excellence.

Fortunately, a second career beckoned. He found a new home at News International and subbed on the sports desks of The Sun, News of the World and The Times for more than a quarter of a century. He crafted his final ‘Sunday for Monday’ cricket round-up on The Times in 2013, at the age of 78.

Geoff clocked up more than 40 years as the Gloucestershire correspondent for Wisden. He played cricket for Tring Park for almost as long and was also a member of both the Press Golfing Society and Redbourn Golf Club where his lowest handicap was 13. He is survived by Josie, his wife of 60-plus years, their son, daughter and three grand-daughters.

Apart from yours truly, Geoff shepherded many aspiring sports journalists towards successful careers. Mick Dennis was appointed to the Extel staff in 1978 because Geoff decided to vet the applications that had been initially rejected by the company’s wonky personnel department. Other Extel alumni from the ‘Wheeler’ era include Eric Brown, John Goodbody, Tim Glover, Frank Wiechula, Barry Flatman, Chris Jones, Stuart Barnes, Trevor Haylett and Ken Reynolds.

I would like to add a personal tribute to Geoff, one of the great friends of my life, but I can already hear him shouting across the divide: “Wrap it up, Trow. Keep it brief. No adjectives. Never be afraid of a full-stop.”

Donations in Geoff’s memory can be made by cheque to Rennie Grove Hospice, c/o J.Worley Funeral Directors Ltd, 48 Lawn Lane, Hemel Hempstead HP3 9HL