A sad farewell to old friend Ken, the gentle giant

NORMAN GILLER laments the passing of another old friend, football writer Ken Montgomery

So another mighty oak has fallen with the sad passing at the weekend of that lovely man Ken Montgomery, who was the life and soul of the Sunday Mirror sports desk for many years.

Gentle, helpful giant: Ken Montgomery

My memories of Ken are of a gingery-haired friendly giant of a reporter, long before he became the white-top that most of you knew.

In his early Fleet Street career Ken could drink most of us under the table, and then dance on it. He and tiny Sunday Mirror sports editor Tony Smith made a contrasting pair in the days when they would stagger back to the High Holborn office from a liquid lunch at “the Stab” (as in “Stab in the Back”, or the White Hart pub to those not in the know).

My favourite Ken Montgomery story is of when we were in Hungary on an England tour. We were staying in the swish Hotel Gellert in Budapest, and dining in their main restaurant where you could have died of hunger waiting for service.

Ken had an accent so heavily Scottish he needed subtitles. He also had a motto, “There’s a way round this”. And Ken hit on a crafty plan to get his grub.

While the rest of we press gang twiddled with breadsticks and poured more and more Bulls Blood wine into our empty stomachs, he took a pack of Senior Service cigarettes from his pocket, tore it open and wrote his choice of food on the cardboard. He then found himself a waiter and passed him his order.

Smug Ken then returned to his seat and waited. All of 20  minutes later – with the rest of us still starving – his eyes lit up as his waiter threaded his way through the tables towards him with a tray. Sitting in the middle of the tray was a pack of Senior Service cigarettes. Nice one, Ken.

All of us will have our personal memories of one of Fleet Street’s nicer human beings. Trevor Bond, the ex-Telegraph and Mail on Sunday powerhouse with whom I worked in local papers 50-plus years ago (gulp), shared one with me:

“Big Ken was just one of the nicest guys in the world – for a Scotsman! Last time I saw him we were at Alan Hoby’s funeral and, looking around, he said: ‘Who do you think will be next?’

“Well, now – sadly – we know.

“Ken was always quietly doing nice things for people, as many of the Football Writers’ Association members he helped will testify.

“Our younger journalist son, Duncan, has fond memories of when he was a mere slip of a lad trying to get back from West Ham’s FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park and getting himself ‘lost’ on New Street station.  One big hand took him by the shoulder and guided him into the press carriage. Ken’s huge mitt of course. The hand of human kindness.”

Rest easy, Big Ken. You will be warmly remembered and greatly missed.

THE ROYAL ENGAGEMENT announced this week served to underline why our newspaper profession is in big trouble. Sitting at home watching Sky News, I knew within moments of the announcement that Will had popped the question… and just minutes later we were informed that Kate would be wearing Princess Di’s ring.

It was all over the internet, and before the day was out we had seen Tom Bradby’s excellent interview with the happy couple, and heard and read online the views of Kate’s parents, the local publican, priest, plumber, postman, pharmacist, paramedics and policemen. Old Uncle Tom Cobblers ‘n’ all.

Everything and everybody had been covered on TV, radio and the internet before “Fleet Street” came charging in like a guest arriving for a party after most of the food and drink had already gone.

They filled acres and acres of space with what was mainly wasted ink, telling us what we already knew.

It is the same with our major sporting events. I will be living on Australian time over the next few weeks as England bid for the Ashes. I will hardly bother to read a word about it in any newspapers because I will be watching it all live as it happens and listening in to Test Match Special.

As I said to dear old Ken Montgomery in one of our last conversations: “We have seen off the best days.”

Sorry if that depresses any young sportswriter reading this. But don’t get too despondent. If you use your imagination and lots of energy, there is a whole new world waiting to be conquered.

If I can – a little arrogantly but well-intentioned – offer my son, Michael, as an example. He is 40-something and has had his Fleet Street world fall about his ears. He has reacted by landing himself a job looking after elderly people (like me) in a care home, and in his spare time is marrying his computer and musical skills to get himself heard and seen on YouTube and iTunes.

The World Wide Web offers opportunities my generation could never have dreamt of. Grab it and make it work for you.

As dear old Ken Montgomery would have said: “Och, let’s find a way round this …”

Read Norman Giller’s previous columns for the SJA website by clicking here

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3 thoughts on “A sad farewell to old friend Ken, the gentle giant

  1. Ken was one of the old school, a wonderful big character who helped make sports journalism fun in the days when it could be.

  2. What a fantastic man. And he was the only person in the world to describe me as a fairytale princess, on my wedding day. (ok, I can’t vouch for his eyesight)

  3. Ken was a great friend and neighbour to all of us who used to go the the Royal British Legion in Barkingside, Essex. Rest in peace big ‘un

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