Doug Gillon has announced he is to retire as The Herald‘s staff athletics correspondent, a job he has held for 34 years.
Gillon, pictured above with Liz McColgan, an athlete whose career he followed every step of the way to her world titles, will step down after the Scottish championships later this month and says he will try to wean himself off his “addiction” to his work.
Gillon has been a fixture in sports press boxes since 1968, first covering the Commonwealth Games when they were staged in Edinburgh in 1970. He has covered every summer Olympics since going to Munich in 1972, where he was able to report on his friend and former training partner, Frank Clement, racing in the final of the 1,500 metres.
Fittingly, therefore, when Clement was honoured at Glasgow City Chambers recently for organising major athletics events in the city, Gillon’s life work as a sports journalist was also recognised by Lord Provost Bob Winter with a special award, citing his coverage of Olympic and disability sport.
Donald Cowey, The Herald‘s sports editor, said: “Doug is justifiably one of the most respected sports journalists in Britain and has been a credit to The Herald for over 30 years.”
In an award-studded career which has included three SJA British Sports Journalism gongs, Gillon last year received a life-time achievement prize at the Scottish Press Awards.
On Wednesday night, with UK Athletics staging its Super8 event in Glasgow, Ed Warner, UKA’s chairman, made a special presentation to Gillon in the in-field of the Scotstoun arena. “You have done outstanding coverage for our sport for a very long time,” said Warner. “I know everyone who reads your work appreciates it.”
Gillon, with typical self-deprecation, said, “I’m just privileged to have been paid to do something I love.”
Gillon has reported on every athletics world championships since the first in 1983, including the memorable night in Tokyo in 1991 when McColgan took the 10,000 metres world title. Last night McColgan described Gillon’s retirement as “a great loss to athletics, as Dougie was an avid supporter.
“Doug was always so enthusiastic about performances, especially if by a Scot. He would run every step of a race with you, and then he would share in the elation of the win.
“He is a great guy and a friend,” McColgan said.
Gillon also worked tirelessly on behalf of colleagues within the British Athletics Writers’ Association and for a long spell he also chaired the athletics commission of AIPS, the international sportsjournalists’ association.
“Doug has always gone out of his way to be helpful to colleagues, he is incredibly dilligent in everything he researches, he writes with passion and great insight, he always works bloody hard, and he is always great fun,” said Steven Downes, the SJA secretary who has known and worked alongside Gillon for 25 years.
“I have this abiding image of Dougie which I think typifies his approach and love of the job.
“It was 1996, and after the Atlanta Olympics, two plane-loads of athletes and journos were flown out to Sarajevo for the first ‘normal’ sports event to be staged there after the civil war. In many respects, it was absolutely terrifying – our rooms in the Holiday Inn on snipers’ alley still had huge shell holes in the walls, while the Kenyan distance runners had to be quietly warned not to run on the grass verges in case of land mines.
“The playing fields around the athletics stadium had been turned into cemetries, and the sports hall where Torville and Dean had Bolero‘d their way to Olympic gold 12 years earlier had been converted into a workshop for fixing tanks and military trucks.
“Michael Johnson, probably the biggest star in track and field at that time, opted not to go along on the trip because his mother told him it was too dangerous.
“Flying in and out was a bit shaky and had to be done in daylight because there was no radar at the airport. But the airport was also the only place where any of us could get a phone signal to file our copy.
“So after the track meet, we were all bussed in a rush to the airport, where we immediately got on to copy and then hoped we would be able to get out of Sarajevo before dark. A gaggle of journalists, Doug, Neil Wilson, Tom Knight, Ian Chadband, all queued up together for the flight. Primo Nebiolo, the head of world athletics there with his wife; Seb Coe was there; Charles Austin, who still had his new Olympic high jump gold medal in his hand luggage; Jon Mayock, the Brit who won the 2,000 metres race that afternoon.
“Doug, being Doug, suddenly got an idea for another line of copy, or had spoken to someone, it may have been Coe, and wanted to work the quote into his piece. Out came the laptop, and he started tapping away again.
“With the light fading fast, eventually a senior RAF officer came forward and ordered – it was definitely an order – on to the waiting aircraft.
“We all got on board, took our seats and looked around to see where everyone was. Someone was missing… Where was Doug?
“When we looked out of the window back to the shed, there was Doug, walking slowly across the tarmac, being hurried along by the RAF big-wig, his luggage slung over one shoulder, his laptop balanced on his arm and his mobile phone wedged against his ear. He was still working on getting a last, better line into his story.”
Gillon, 63, has not written his last for The Herald – never dare call it the Glasgow Herald in his hearing – since he will still be writing his tenchant Wednesday column and one other piece each week. He will also be back at the Commonwealth Games, his 11th, at New Delhi in October.
But otherwise, he’ll be spending most of his time at what has long been his beloved holiday home in Cornwall.
Gillon’s final piece of staff copy will be filed, fittingly, from the Scottish championships at Pitreavie the weekend after next.
“Although Doug knows every statistic, every winner, every face, he is one of the most generous folk in the trade at helping others out with titbits of information accumulated during his brilliant career,” Mark Woods, one of Gillon’s Scots-based colleagues, said.
“At a time when football dominates the back pages of Scottish newspapers, Doug has continued to stand out from the crowd and set a standard in athletics coverage for everyone else in the United Kingdom.”
In an interview with allmediascotland, Gillon said, “Forty-two years as a hack and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and I will enjoy continuing to write a couple of pieces a week.
“For most people, especially those who are fortunate enough to enjoy their work, going from full-time one week to absolutely nothing the next week is not easy.
“If you’ve got an addiction, you wean yourself off it. And I’ve been addicted to being a sports journalist for 42 years so I’m going to wean myself off it gradually, hopefully without suffering too many withdrawal symptoms.
“As a specialist writer, the challenges and difficulties of the area I cover is that there is only one of you and so you’re basically on call all the time.
“I expect I will miss the hustle and bustle to a degree but I’m very much looking forward to recapturing and regaining my life.”
Gillon, left, at work at last year’s world championships in Berlin, interviewing gold medal-winner Phillips Idowu together with John Wragg, of the Express
With thanks to Mark Woods and Mark Shearman