RIP: SJA member Bill Meredith from 13-year-old copy boy to Telegraph assistant sports editor

The Football Writers’ Association have kindly allowed us to publish their tribute to SJA member Bill Meredith, who has sadly died at 92.

By John Ley (FWA national committee and formerly the Daily Telegraph)

Though Bill spent most of his working career on the production side, he was a familiar face for six decades in football press boxes pursuing his great love of writing.

Bill retired in 1993, after 26 years’ service on the Daily Telegraph, where he was assistant sports editor.

Bill’s love for all forms of sport saw him cover many different types, from cricket, golf, tennis and football to fencing.

Those who were lucky enough to encounter a man who always seemed to have a smile on his face remember his preference for ‘man hugs’ long before they became fashionable, and, as I can testify, his ability to come close to breaking a shoulder when he greeted you with a welcoming punch.

Bill was born in Northampton, in 1928, and soon became a fan of The Cobblers. He was in the press box when George Best scored six at the old County Ground, in 1970, when Manchester United won an FA Cup tie 8-2.

The family moved to London when he was nine and, just short of his 14th birthday, he took his first, tentative steps into Fleet Street when he became a ‘copy boy’ for the old Evening News, collecting and delivering copy from all over London including Westminster.

After the war, in 1946, Bill was conscripted into the RAF and was posted to Egypt where tensions were running high after the hostilities.

Bill had always wanted to write and, on his return to England, landed a job on a magazine called The Competitive Journal, as a sports reporter.

Bill with former Telegraph sports editor Keith Perry

Bill also did subbing shifts on the Daily Mirror – he became good friends with my father, Charlie, who was a photographer there around the same time.

He honed his writing skills by covering games for Sunday papers before landing a job as assistant press officer at Ladbrokes – only to discover on his first day that he had been promoted to press officer after the present incumbent had quit!

Bill’s contacts within all sports – he was a member of the MCC – through working with the betting company was to prove invaluable. In 1964, when the Daily Herald was replaced by a broadsheet version of The Sun, he was ‘poached’ by Sports Editor Frank Nicklin, as a sub.

But after three years he moved across the Street to the Daily Telegraph as a sports writer, and remained there until his retirement, in 1993. But you can’t keep a good scribe down and Bill continued to write match reports well into the new century.

Bill made people smile and commanded the respect of all he met – even those from unlikely areas.

Ian Pfeiffer, a Telegraph ‘comp’ or compositor in Fleet Street, South Quay and Canary Wharf, remembers him fondly. “As far as I can remember Bill was just one of two editorial subs that we banged out on their retirement, which speaks columns of how well he was liked on the stone in Fleet Street and the subsequent cold metal days in Docklands.”

Another story is told by his wife Margaret. “He was with the comps and when one of them complained that the sports pages were late, so he ruffled his hair – and removed his toupee. He tried to put it back – and put it on back to front!”

Those who recall the frosty atmosphere on ‘the stone’ will know those actions were unheard of. But that was Bill.

Bill had high standards and those at the Telegraph remember the times when he would lose his temper at the sight of a shoddy sentence, or incorrect facts.

Former colleague Peter Mitchell recalls: “What a lovely, quirky, vital man he was. He was in the office when I did my first shift on the Telegraph in 1988 and within the first hour I had witnessed a classic Bill glasses-throwing episode.”

Indeed, that act was always followed by the words: “I’m not sure I like your attitude,” if anybody dared to respond. Mostly, though, it was said with tongue in cheek.

Another former Telegraph colleague, Gareth Williams, recalls another great story. “We both loved boxing and Bill’s legendary story was when he was covering the Joe Bugner v Richard Dunn British heavyweight title fight. The office asked for a round-by-round account with a top and tail – at least 1,000 words. Bugner raced out of the blocks and knocked Dunn down three times. All over in two minutes. Even Bill was lost for words!”

Bill and Margaret were able to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary and she reveals a man who loved writing as much as he loved people. Bill was a churchgoer, who also loved nothing more than going to the opera or a good musical.

“The last production we saw was Hamilton,” says Margaret. “We warned him there was a lot of rapping – but he loved it, loved the vibrancy and life in it. That was Bill.”

Bill is survived by Margaret and children Steve, Sarah and Will, and 10 grandchildren.