We live in interesting times, but no one expected them to be this interesting. In his weekly commentary, NORMAN GILLER looks back on stormy times for newspapers, and remembers when boxer Terry Downes won the middleweight world title 50 years ago
BREAKING NEWS: Richard Desmond has bid for The Sun and The Times and plans to relaunch the NotW as the New News of the World. The Channel 5 and Express Newspapers owner now faces a similar monopolies probe as the one that was to centre on beleaguered Rupert Murdoch.
OK, I have made this up. But how else can I keep ahead of the news stories that were breaking this week with Gatlin Gun speed?
My “exclusive” story, for which I tapped no phones and blagged bank details from no one, is not so far fetched. It was only last December that Desmond revealed he had gone to New York and tempted Murdoch with a £1 billion offer for The Sun and The Times. “I am patient and I can wait,” said Desmond. “I usually get what I want.”
For Desmond, the price may soon be right. While Wapping staff press on with plans for a seven-day Sun – with the addition of the SunOnSunday, expected to launch next month, just in time for the start of the new football season – following Sunday’s last edition of the News of the World, there has been falling sales at Murdoch’s other titles while advertisers have been deserting in droves, so it would not surprise me to see Roop sell his entire British newspaper empire.
I have been a Murdoch watcher (and earned lots of money from his newspapers, thank you) since the mid-1960s. And he never fails to do the unexpected. He broke the iron grip of the print unions, gambled every penny on launching BSkyB when the company almost drove him to bankruptcy, and against all advice has taken his online papers behind pay walls.
Roop never does the obvious, and you can bet your boots that he is planning something audacious.
Why else is he grinning maniacally every time a photographer gets near him? Unless, of course, he has finally flipped. He is looking more and more like Mr Burns in The Simpsons, created of course at the Fox studios that form part of his American broadcasting empire.
The best line I’ve read this week on Murdoch was penned by my distinguished old friend Roy Greenslade, who imagined the last moments of the tired tycoon, now looking every one of his 80 years. Roy likened him to Orson Welles in the closing scene of Citizen Kane, when the media mogul says with his dying breath: “Rosebud”. With Rebekah Brooks in mind, Greenslade wonders whether Murdoch will replicate the scene and mutter: “Redhead”.
I hope all those fired News of the World sports staffers are not wasting their 90 days’ gardening leave as they wait to see if jobs can be salvaged for them. In their shoes, I would be setting up a website into which they can pour their talent and their knowledge of the sports scene. And they will not have to hide behind a Murdoch paywall.
There are seven and a half million “lost” News of the World readers out there waiting to be tempted to look at your work. Use Twitter, Facebook and as many sports forums as you can find to broadcast that the NotW team is up and running under the banner, for instance: www.sportsnewsoftheworld.com And link up with bodies flying from the advertising department to get website sponsors and advertisers.
Sports editor Paul McCarthy was rightly proud of his team, and chief sportswriter Andy Dunn composed a moving and evocative final column that was a fitting eulogy for a sports paper that often led and never ever bored. No wallowing in self-pity. Show you can be productive without the cushion of a Murdoch paypacket.
I CANNOT believe that it was 50 years ago on Monday that Terry Downes forced defending champion Paul Pender to quit on his stool, surrendering the world middleweight title to the “bashing, crashing Paddington Express”.
Here’s picture proof that I go back a long way on Downesie. That’s me on the right, 19 years young, alongside Terry at the 1959 Boxing Writers’ Dinner in the days when I was scribbling punchlines for the tradepaper Boxing News.
The anniversary gives me the chance to revisit one of my favourite boxing stories, and it features somebody who would have shed tears of pain and frustration at last week’s demise of the News of the World.
Bill Bateson, late, much-mourned NotW sports editor and SJA deputy chairman, was a young local newspaper boxing reporter alongside me at ringside the night in 1957 that Downes came a cropper against an unknown Nigerian middleweight called Dick Tiger.
It was the first show promoted at that cockpit of a fighting arena Shoreditch Town Hall, and Bill and I – nor the capacity crowd – could believe our eyes when the squat, wide-shouldered Tiger flattened Downes in the first minute of the fight. It was suddenly the lion versus the Tiger, as Terry picked himself up and battled back in a swinging style that was to become his trademark.
Manager Sam Burns finally pulled Terry out of a fight that had become a war at the end of the fifth, with both his eyes swollen, nose busted and ego bruised. For a long time afterwards, Bill and I agreed that it was one of the most savage fights we ever witnessed.
Matchmaker Mickey Duff told me years later that it cost the little matter of £195 to stage – £135 to Downes, £60 to Tiger, plus his petrol money. During the 1960s, Tiger became world middleweight and light-heavyweight champion, and Downes world middleweight king. By then, it would have cost a fortune to bring them together in the same ring.
There was the usual hush of a losing dressing room when Bill and I joined the big-time boxing reporters looking for after-fight quotes.
Defeated Downes, his face a bloody mask of pain, did not disappoint: “When the first bell rang I thought, ‘Fucking hell, they’ve put me in with a giant.’ Then I realised I was flat on my back looking up at him. I don’t remember much after that. I look forward to reading your reports to see what happened next.”
It was, as I recall, dear old Bill who came up with a fairly straightforward question that drew one of the all-time great responses. “Who d’you want to fight next?” Bill asked.
Back came Downsie: “The bastard who made this match.”
Mickey Duff, wise man, was nowhere to be seen.
Now that’s the sort of story that will go down well on a sportsnewsoftheworld website. Don’t just sit there. Do it.
Read Norman Giller’s previous columns for the SJA website by clicking here
UPCOMING SJA DATES
- Mon Sep 12: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill GC. Click here for more details and to book yourself in for the day.
- Wed Dec 7: SJA 2011 British Sports Awards – Booking now open. For more details, click here.
All details subject to alteration. Keep checking sportsjournalists.co.uk for updates