Friends and family gathered earlier this month to commemorate Terry O’Connor, former chairman of the SJA, who covered 11 Olympic Games and 10 British and Irish Lions tours. Former Daily Mail colleague PETER JACKSON, chairman of writing judges for the British Sports Journalism awards, reports.
C B Fry had so many claims to fame that it’s impossible to squeeze them all into one paragraph. He captained England at football and cricket in between playing rugby for the Barbarians and equalling the world record for the long jump.
He played in the FA Cup at 16, captained Oxford University at football, athletics and cricket. He would have won a rugby Blue but for an untimely injury, excelled at boxing, golf, swimming, tennis, rowing, skating, throwing the javelin and putting the shot.
Not for nothing, therefore, was he offered the vacant throne as the King of Albania. A brilliant scholar and parliamentary Liberal candidate, he met Hitler and, as a reminder that madness often comes out of the same stable as gnius, tried to convince one of Hitler’s henchmen, the foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, that it would be a good idea if Nazi Germany took up Test cricket.
Fry, ‘Almighty’ as they called him at the height of his sporting prowess around the advent of the 20th century, had another claim to fame, one that had been buried for almost 80 years until its resurrection at St Stephen’s Church in Dulwich on the Fourth of July.
C B Fry put Terry O’Connor on the road to a long and colourful career in sports journalism as the Daily Mail’s rugby and athletics correspondent, chairman of the SJA and President of the Rugby Writers’ Club.
In giving O’Connor six pence for his first assignment, Fry would have had no way of knowing that over the next seven decades the rumbustious young fellow would hurl a fair few cats among pigeons the world over, at every Olympiad and on every Lions rugby tour from the sixties.
During a memorial service for his father who died in April at the age of 92, O’Connor’s son, Barry, told the story of a chance encounter that took place a short taxi ride from the church in another corner of south London during the darkest summer of all, in 1939.
“When Dad was 14 he lived just off the Brixton Road near The Oval,” O’Connor junior told the congregation ncluding SJA President Patrick Collins and other members. He and a mate used to bunk off to watch the cricket, sitting on the grass behind the boundary.
“On this particular day they were sitting close to the Press box. A journalist signalled to Dad that he wanted to speak to him. He offered him sixpence if he would run his copy to the telex machines and that man was none other than C B Fry.”
A tail gunner in the RAF during the final years of the Second World War, O’Connor plunged into newspaper life as soon as he had been demobbed. His stature in rugby can be gauged by the fact that before Clive Rowlands took Wales off to the pioneering World Cup in 1987, he sought the advice of two people – Sir Bobby Robson, then managing the England football team, and Terry O’Connor.
Born in London to Irish parents, his Irish heritage shone through the memorial service, from the Lions’ version of The Fields of Athenry to William Butler Yeats’ revered The Cloths of Heaven and Jackie Evancho’s version of Danny Boy.