NORMAN GILLER, the SJA’s newest honorary member, on plugging his latest book and sport’s place in the General Election campaign
With two weeks to go to the closest General Election of my lifetime (75 years and counting), I am amazed that our national newspapers have allowed the politicians to get away with hardly a whisper of the sports world in which we chisel a living.
If I were a sports editor I would be running hard-hitting editorials demanding that the parties add sporting concerns to their manifestos.
And it would make sense for the politicians to tap into the fanaticism of the millions of people for whom sport is a main element in their lives.
Top of the list I would put the return of sports playing fields to all schools. It would not only help us start to produce a conveyor belt of outstanding sports stars, but would lead to a cure for the, literally, huge problem of obesity among our children.
Next, I would feature the scandal of Premier League football admission prices. With the billions coming into the game from television and sponsorship, the clubs can afford to drop the ticket fees to give the bread-and-butter supporters the chance to watch their favourite teams without breaking the bank.
West Ham have gone some way to giving a lead to their rival clubs with this week’s announcement of some cuts to their bottom-level season tickets as they prepare for the exciting move to the Olympic Stadium.
Now the newspapers need to bully the major players like the two Manchesters, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham into cutting their entrance fees. But as with the promises from most politicians – we won’t hold our breath.
I have deliberately taken this theme to give me the chance to toss up an idea that just might appeal to whoever takes residence at No11 Downing Street after May 7.
The Giller Plan is that the BBC – television, radio and online – should be ordered to take advertising.
Chancellor Giller waits for the screams of protest to die down, and then comes up with the punchline: all the profits from the commercials will go to the NHS.
There you go, in one stroke, the worries of funding the National Health Service solved. George Osborne is talking about spending an extra £8 billion on the NHS, and does not seem to have come up with a plan how to fund it.
Well, here it is Georgie boy. The BBC, so hated by many of the Tories, could be the answer to their prayers. A cash cow for the NHS.
None of us would be able to complain about the commercial breaks, because we will know it is all to help with our health. Clever, or what?
I HAVE BEEN in book-plugging rather than politicising mood this week, and spent a happy hour in the TalkSport studio with Paul Hawksbee and Andy Jacobs, who present the fun-and-fact H&J show every afternoon.
Both Paul and Andy are inspiring role models for young journalists just starting out. They laid the foundation to their careers in the writing world, Andy as founding editor of FHM magazine and Paul helping to launch the 90 Minutes football magazine back in 1990.
Now they have a huge following as broadcasters, and have taken the path that young newspaper and magazine journalists should be considering as the print world shrinks before our eyes.
Both are walking record books on sport, but never bore their listeners with an overload of facts. They leave that to know-it-alls like me. Paul is a wise Tottenham follower, while Andy supports Chelsea. Nobody’s perfect.
I was promoting my 99th book, The Ali Files, and one of the questions Paul asked was whether I had introduced Ali to any of my football friends.
Paul and Andy were surprised to learn that Ali had been a spectator at the 1966 World Cup final, a couple of weeks before he blitzed Brian London in three rounds at Earls Court. He sat stretched out on a seat at the back of the Press Box, and slept through most of the game!
I AM PROUD and humbled to become an Honorary Member of the Sports Journalists’ Association, particularly as it comes on the first day of the Patrick Collins’s presidency.
Pat and I go back a long, long way, and I have watched with quiet admiration as he has established himself as one of the most accomplished and authoritative sportswriters of any time.
He was still a schoolboy when I first met him, accompanying his football-reporting Dad on an assignment for the Sunday People at West Ham. His Dad, Pat Senior, was a gentleman of the first order, and Pat junior has inherited all his qualities and more. He would be so proud of all that his lad has achieved.
Pat Senior was a Fleet Street man back in the day when I was first aware of what was then the Sports Writers’ Association. It was the 1950s and, unlikely as it may seem, I saw two illustrious members of the Association almost come to blows over the Sportsman of the Year vote in the Olympic year of 1956, when 3,000 metres steeplechase gold medallist Chris Brasher was declared the winner.
Back then I was the sports-room copyboy on the London Evening News, and was a witness to sports editor Bill McGowran and his boxing correspondent Reg Gutteridge having an almighty bust-up.
Those were the days when, to save money, the Association’s committee meetings were held in the news conference room on the second floor of Carmelite House, down at the Embankment end of one of the many tributaries that run off Fleet Street.
Reg was never short of an opinion or three, and he told the committee members what he thought of – and I quote – “another bloody runner nicking the trophy”.
With some justification, he thought the winner should have been fellow Cockney boxer Terry Spinks, who at 18 had won the Olympic flyweight gold medal in the same Melbourne Games where Brasher had survived a disqualification to take the steeplechase gold.
The veteran McGowran, who had been the longest reigning SWA chairman and the main instigator of the annual Awards dinner, bristled at what he interpreted as personal criticism aimed at him. At one stage he and Reg were nose to nose until pulled apart by the then secretary Dave Caldwell.
Bill’s name lives on in the SJA Hall of Fame through the presentation for 53 years of the Bill McGowran Award for Disability Sport – the first such annual prize in the world recognising achievement in what we now understand as Paralympic sport.
Over the following half century that Reg Gutteridge was a committee member – and one-time chairman – of the Association, he continued his grumble that track and field athletes were too heavily favoured in the votes.
And you should have heard Reg on the theme of Henry Cooper, who was twice BBC Sports Personality of the Year yet never once made it into the top three of the SJA’s lists of the year’s top performers.
Dear old Reg has of course since joined Bill McGowran and Pat Collins Snr in the great press box in the sky, from where Pat will be looking down with pride on his son, Mr President.
Well done, Patrick, and thank you for the award. I am literally honoured.
- The SJA is the largest member organisation of sports media professionals in the world. Join us: Click here for more details
UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
Mon Sep 14: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill Golf Club
Thu Dec 17: SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery