Dennis Signy, the finest freelance football reporter of my or possibly any other generation, has passed on to the great press box in the sky, says NORMAN GILLER
Dennis Signy leaves behind an army of grieving friends all of whom will be warmed by his memory and in awe of his achievements.
Back in the 1960s, 70s and all the way through to his latter years, Dennis had the best contacts book in the business. There was no major figure in the game he could not phone at home and not one of them would refuse his call. He was trusted and revered by everybody who was anybody in football.
He has left us at the age of 85 with a myriad of memories of a man who was the hidden hand behind scores of front and back page stories.
I am among many reporters who claimed the byline glory for stories fed to us by Dennis, and they were always accurate and ahead of the field. If “Signy of Hendon” was giving you a tip-off, you knew you could run with it without double checking.
Dennis never had to hack a phone or pay backhanders for his stories. He worked hard at winning the confidence of the people who mattered and never let them down. He was a man of words and a man of his word. In Signy you could trust.
As I write, Count Basie is swinging away on my CD player out of love and respect for his memory. We were both Basie fanatics and along with my late wife, Eileen, and Dennis’s gorgeous better half, Pat, would make sure we were at any of his London concerts.
Pat was his right hand and the power behind the Football Writers’ Association throne when Dennis was their king organiser from the mid-1960s across a span of 20 years.
His long career as a journalist began at the Ham and High at the age of 16 in the early 1940s. He movedas a junior reporter on the Hendon and Finchley Times before doing four years of wartime national service.
After the war, he returned to north London where he had a long association with the Hendon Times, rising to become executive Editor, and was a powerhouse at the Hayters Agency in the golden days. He could write a football book with his left hand while digging out stories for lazy gits like me.
He and Pat were trusted friends of Maggie Thatcher and “the other” Dennis from the days when he was editor of her local paper and helped push her to local and then national prominence.
Once general manager of Brentford, he very nearly pushed through a merger with Queen’s Park Rangers, where he was a close confidant of chairman Jim Gregory. He would eventually hold an executive position at QPR, and in later years he became a fixture at Barnet Football Club. An ambassador for Barnet, he was awarded an OBE for his service to the community and charity.
His closest friend was Peter Watson, former sports editor of the London Evening News and the Sunday Express, affectionately dubbed as “Ayatollah” by Peter Batt. He told me today: “You can talk to a hundred people in football and journalism and not one of them will have a bad thing to say about Dennis. He was bright, intelligent, reliable, very humorous and I would bracket him with Vic Railton as the best gatherer of news stories ever. He rarely got his name on his scoops, but had the quiet satisfaction of knowing he was leading the back page – again!”
He once tackled me because he had not been paid for a tip-off for a story I had written in the Daily Express. Like his hero Denis Compton, I used to spell his name with one “n” and I told him that because of that the accounts department had not paid him as his name was not on their files. Quick as a flash, he said: “There’s no accounting for that.”
Well it was very funny at the time.
As his funeral at Hendon Crematorium next Thursday (June 14, 10.45am, followed by a wake at Barnet Football Club) clashes with the Euro2012 finals, Pat and the family – five grown children and seven grandchildren – plan a memorial later this year.
Every football writer that I know will want to be there to pay their respects to a gentleman, an old-school journalist and lovely, lovely man. They don’t make ’em like Dennis – with two n’s – anymore.
Rest easy old friend.
DENNIS SIGNY WAS a football traditionalist who would have led the protests over the Cardiff City decision to change their shirts from blue to red, their badge from bluebirds to a dragon.
Those of us steeped in football history grew up with tales of how the bluebirds of Cardiff were the first (and only) club to take the FA Cup out of England after their 1-0 victory over Arsenal at Wembley in 1927.
I don’t want to come across as a Little Englander (or honorary Welshman), but the new Malaysian owners of Cardiff should not be allowed to come in and trample on our football heritage.
I wonder if it will give Roman Abramovich ideas at Chelski. That would definitely have them seeing red at the Bridge.