Sports writing, the Wooldridge Way

This week, the SJA announced the introduction of a sports journalism award for young sportswriters, to be called the Ian Wooldridge Trophy – named after the multiple winner of the Sports Writer of the Year who died earlier this year. A new book, Searching for Heroes, showcases the work of Wooldridge during 45 years at the Daily Mail. Here is a brief taster

There are mornings when you wake up and cannot believe they pay you for it. By nightfall, you will have seen another Test match day in Sydney or Port of Spain, a Grand Prix in Brazil or Monaco, a world heavyweight title fight in Las Vegas or darkest Africa, a tennis match in Wimbledon or Melbourne, a wrestling contest in Tokyo, a chess think-in in Iceland, the 100m or 1,500m Olympic final in Rome or Moscow or maybe just the Cup final at Wembley.

It adds up, in a good year, to about 150,000 miles, 70 hotels, 3,500 telephone calls and between 200,000 and 210,000 words. There are times, struggling with the words, when you would cheerfully chuck it all for some quiet index-linked pension life at the Ministry of Anything, but it is surprising how swiftly a good dinner at the Algonquin in New York or the Peninsula, Hong Kong, will bring you to your senses.

The Peninsula management send an olive-green Rolls-Royce to meet you at the airport. Two minutes after you reach your room a servant enters bearing a tray and invites you to choose from any of the world’s dozen most luxurious toilet soaps. You meet all kinds of people and learn many recondite things along the sportswriting road.

Meeting Idi Amin, Semlike Uganda, 1976

As befits any humanitarian who only that morning had stepped straight from the breakfast table to save seven men from the firing squad, His Excellency Field-Marshal Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, was in benevolent mood. The blades of his armour-plated helicopter had barely stopped spraying dust in our faces before he lumbered forward, hand extended, and said: “My aides tell me you have come from London to discuss my boxing career.”

This was not necessarily the whole truth but one does not readily contradict a 19-stone statesman with a gun at his hip, even though he has recently been cleared of an allegation of murdering not fewer than 25,000 of his brother Ugandans. “That is correct, sir,” I said.

Respectfully, his large entourage of Ministers, Permanent Secretaries and some unspecified gentlemen whose perspiration flow appeared to be impeded by shoulder-holsters fell silent as President Amin began to recall his days as a pugilist. In some respects they were more remarkable than Muhammad Ali’s.

“I first won the heavyweight championship of Uganda in 1951,” he said. “Then in 1952, I became champion of all East Africa.” The President then added that he held both titles until 1962, which seemed a fairly safe cue to ask the name of the man who had the presumption to beat him.

“Nobody beat me,” the Field-Marshal replied. “You retired, then?” “No, I did not retire. I am still heavyweight champion of Uganda. Nobody is willing to fight me.”

At this the 48-year-old reigning champ bellowed with laughter. His entourage were silent for perhaps half a second before breaking up. They slapped their thighs, as well as each other, and shrieked their appreciation of the President’s wit so purposefully that two vile-looking birds rose almost vertically from a distant tree and fled towards the Sudan.

To order your copy of Searching for Heroes at the special price of £15 including p&p (RRP £20), ring 0870 755 2122 and quote offer code BSH606. Alternatively, send a cheque made payable to Bookshop Parternship Ltd to:

Searching for Heroes
Offer BSH606
PO Box 104

Please allow 28 days for delivery.

A longer version of this article appears on the Press Gazette website. Click here to read in full

Tributes to Woolers – click here

ENTRIES OPEN NOW FOR BRITISH SPORTS JOURNALISM AWARDS – click here for details and entry forms