NORMAN GILLER gets into his starting blocks for a row over Crystal Palace and Boris Johnson, and hears the starter’s gun fired for staff changes on the sports desks at the Mirror, Sun, Express and Telegraph
Martin Lipton, the chief football writer for the Daily Mirror and one of the finest sports journalists of his generation, is being lined up for the biggest shock transfer of the year. And it’s The Sun wot’s got him.
How’s that for a tabloid intro?
I understand that Lipton has been offered the position as right-hand man to The Sun’s new sports boss Shaun Custis, who is shaking up his team ready for a blitz reminiscent of the golden days of Frank Nicklin.
Lipton’s title if he takes the job will be deputy head of sport content, with responsibility “for input across total multimedia platforms”. It’s all part of the modern world of sports journalism, with former features specialist Paul Hudson helping to carry the leadership load as “head of sports publishing”.
It is a huge challenge for Lipton after more than 20 years on the road, when he used the office just for writing his expenses and catching breath between reporting assignments.
He is an all-rounder who sowed his first story seeds with the Oxford Courier and the West Riding agency in Huddersfield before travelling the football path as chief reporter for the Press Association and the Daily Mail, joining the Mirror in 2002.
Custis and Lipton were rivals on the road but good friends, and they will be a formidable duo as they set out to make The Sun sports coverage not only entertaining but authoritative. Few can match this pair for contacts and experience of deadlines and headlines.
My old Fleet Street hunting ground is in turmoil as bodies fly at the Express and Telegraph. Reporters and sub-editors galore have been getting their notices delivered this week, and from Telegraph Towers in Victoria come whispers that leading figures from the sports desk will be among those to go. I guess somebody has to pay for the massive fee the Telegraph is paying for new signing Kevin Pietersen’s vitriol.
We have been lining up on Facebook to commiserate with John Ley, one of the Telegraph star players who has been thrown out with the bathwater as the Telegraph decimates its staff.
John, a brilliant football reporter and arguably the No1 statistician in the sports newspaper world, has been made redundant after 27 years diligent and dedicated service.
The scores of supportive and sympathetic comments from our brother (and sister) sportswriters captured how highly John is rated by his peers.
AS A YOUNG REPORTER, my first love was athletics, before I became disillusioned by the drug culture among the top competitors. But I have always kept a close watch on the bread and butter of the sport, and it breaks my heart to hear of brutal plans to demolish the athletics stadium at Crystal Palace.
What makes it even more unpleasant is that there is the poison of politics and profit at the hub of it all. There is understandably mounting anger among some senior athletics figures that the company running a consultation for the Greater London Authority is CSM Strategic, which is headed by Sebastian Coe, the former chairman of the London Olympic organising committee.
One coach to some of the country’s elite athletes described Coe’s part in the stadium demolition proposals as “hypocrisy on a world-class scale”.
The shy, retiring Mayor of London Boris Johnson is set to decide on the stadium’s future next year, but it all appears to be slipping through without much notice from the athletics community. Even staff at the sports centre and working in Sport England’s offices in the seemingly doomed Jubilee Stand were unaware of the consultation and the four options for the future of the complex, all of which would see the stands and indoor training area demolished.
It took Martyn Rooney, Britain’s new European 400 metres champion, to stress the importance of keeping a track and an indoor training facility at Crystal Palace. “I love it as a stadium,” Rooney said. “It will be sad to see the stadium go. I have some terrific memories of the place.” Don’t we all?
With the Olympic Stadium at Stratford soon available for international meetings, Rooney is realistic about the prospects for Crystal Palace staging major events. “But they need to keep a track there for community and local clubs’ use, and an indoor training facility is really important.”
If the stadium is demolished, it will clear the line-of-sight from the £500 million replica Crystal Palace which China’s ZhongRong Group is proposing to build at the top of the hill within the park.
Local campaigners fear that with the replica Palace proposal and the schemes suggested for the stadium site, as much as one-third of Crystal Palace Park public land could be given over to various private interests.
Boris Johnson and Seb Coe in tandem should be fighting for grassroots athletics facilities to be built up, not knocked down.
There’s something not smelling quite right down at the Palace. I trust the shrinking sports departments on our national newspapers will investigate.
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