The full Monte: memories are made of this

SJA member BOB THOMAS pays fond tribute to his old colleague, friend and mentor of 40 years standing

Bob Thomas photogrsaphed Monte Fresco in 1984, when the photographer got his hands on the European Cup soon after Liverpool had won it on the pitch
Bob Thomas photographed Monte Fresco in 1984, when the photographer got his hands on the European Cup soon after Liverpool had won it on the pitch

In attempting to come to terms with the loss of our great friend Monte, the many messages and heartfelt words that his family have received bear witness to the enormous affection that so many people had for him.

A remarkable man with an abundance of skill, not just with a camera, but in his way with people. Everyone was treated just the same, no “airs and graces” whether you were the England football manager, a world heavyweight champion, or a youngster just starting out. “’Ello darlin’” would be your greeting.

In football and boxing he became close friends with so many household names including Henry Cooper, Bobby Moore, Dave Mackay, Muhammad Ali, and Brian Clough. The list could go on and on. They loved his humour and the many “wind-ups” that he would orchestrate. He could persuade an England footballer to pose with a mop on his head, and another to sit in a dustbin. We’ll never know why or how, but they would do it for him. They trusted Monte and he never let anyone down.

But I suspect that few ever knew that he was almost blind in one eye, with only his left eye available to look through a camera.

And as we celebrate Monte’s life with so many memories and anecdotes, perhaps the background to the famous image of Vinnie Jones and Paul Gascoigne should be told.

An example of Monte Fresco's work
Monte Fresco always managed to deliver lasting images

On that same Saturday Arsenal had a big match at home in north London, and the Mirror wanted Monte to be there. But he argued against going to Highbury, saying that he’d heard about a young boy called Gascoigne who would be playing for Newcastle United at Wimbledon’s Plough Lane, which of course was true, and very plausible.

But there was also another reason. Plough Lane was not far from Monte’s house and he wanted to be home early that Saturday. Monte won the argument and the rest is history, with his skill providing his newspaper with one of football’s most iconic images. Typically he shrugged that off – “I don’t want to sound flash”.

He would always prefer telling stories about when things went wrong rather than talk about his success stories, or “belters” – as good “snaps” became known in the Fresco vernacular.

Personally, I have so much to thank Monte for over the past 40 years, since we first met outside Wembley Stadium when I was just 15 years old. Monte was “big time” – a phrase he often used to describe others, but never to describe himself. For all his gregarious, and sometimes outrageous antics, not to mention his incredible ability with a camera, he was a very humble man. And he always found time to help others, often before helping himself.

There are many more like me who were helped by Monte. He didn’t have to do it, but helping and advising were just two of his many strengths. I was so fortunate to have had his guidance – attending the Fresco University of Life was the best education any “smudger” could have.

Loved by everyone: Monte Fresco attracted affection for his work and personal charm from the greats of sport, including Brian Clough
Loved by everyone: Monte Fresco attracted affection for his work and personal charm from the greats of sport, including the then Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough

However he was fallible – as we all are – and his trademark greeting “’Ello darlin’” was born out of his difficulty with remembering names. But there was one Argentinian footballer who’s name he never forgot.

On the morning of the 1978 World Cup final between Argentina and Holland in Buenos Aires, Monte had arrived at the stadium just after breakfast for a game that was to kick-off in the late afternoon – he hated being late for anything. As the game moved into the second half of extra-time with the score at 1-1, Mario Kempes scored for Argentina to give them the lead with just a few minutes left.

Not a great goal picture but exactly what Monte needed to happen. As the match re-started he began to rewind the film. But the rewind “didn’t feel right” – it was too loose….then it dawned on him….there was no film in the camera!

Ask any “smudger” and we will all admit to this happening at some time during our careers. But Monte had picked the World Cup final to do it. However after a minute or so of “industrial language”, he put that out of his mind and with a freshly loaded camera he started again. And that’s when Daniel Bertoni came to his rescue. With just five minutes remaining Bertoni scored Argentina’s third goal to seal their victory, and not only that, he ran straight towards Monte to celebrate. It was a superb sequence of images.

Perhaps many would have kept quiet about this slice of good fortune but Monte would tell the story time and again because he thought it proved his firm belief that you need some luck sometimes, and as he always said “the best stories are those told against yourself”. They never met, but Monte never forgot the name of Daniel Bertoni.

In 1988, Monte left the Daily Mirror and joined my agency. The memories of working with him on a daily basis are something that I will always treasure. It was my privilege to have known and worked so closely with him, and an absolute honour to call him my friend.

Thanks for everything Monte. God bless you.

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