Who’s your pick for the top of today’s sports writers?

NORMAN GILLER’s head is hurting. It’s all the fault of Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford and his challenge to find today’s top sports journalists

Hugh McIlvanney - Doug Gardner trophy
Two of the all-time greats on Norman Giller’s list of top sports writers: Hugh McIllvanney and MichaelParkinson

I will leave the voting to those more in tune with the latest breed of sportswriters than this ancient hack (in the old-fashioned sense), but it got me thinking of the top-50 of my 70-something lifetime.

It was as hard as being a Union Jack salesman in Ecuador, but I finally came up with the following list in era order:

Frank Butler News of the World
Peter Wilson Daily Mirror/Express
Henry Rose Daily Express
George Whiting Evening Standard
Geoffrey Green The Times
Desmond Hackett Daily Express
JL (Jim) Manning Daily Mail
John Woodcock The Times
Alan Hoby Sunday Express
Laurie Pignon Daily Mail/Sketch

John Rodda Guardian
Ian Wooldridge Daily Mail/News Chronicle
Hugh McIlvanney The Observer/Sunday Times
Frank Keating Guardian
Brian James Daily Mail
Ken Jones Daily Mirror/Independent
Brian Glanville Sunday Times
Frank McGhee Daily Mirror
David Miller Daily Telegraph/The Times/Express
David Lacey Guardian

Peter Batt The Sun/Daily Star
Michael Parkinson Daily Telegraph
Alan Hubbard Independent on Sunday
Malcolm Brodie Belfast Telegraph
Peter Corrigan The Observer/Independent
Neil Wilson Daily Mail/Independent
Harry Miller Daily Mirror
Brian Scovell Daily Sketch/Mail
James Mossop Sunday Express
James Lawton Daily Express/Independent

Neil Harman Daily Mail/The Times
Julie Welch The Observer
Patrick Collins Mail on Sunday
Jeff Powell Daily Mail
Richard Williams The Independent/Guardian
Patrick Barclay Times/Guardian/Telegraph/Independent
Michael Calvin Daily Telegraph/Sunday Mirror/Independent
Kevin Mitchell Observer/Guardian
Brian Woolnough The Sun/Daily Star
Martin Samuel The Sun/The Times/Daily Mail

Oliver Holt The Times/Daily Mirror
Simon Barnes The Times
Des Kelly Daily Mail
Stephen Jones SundayTimes
Kevin Garside Daily Telegraph/Independent
Henry Winter Daily Telegraph
Paul Hayward Independent/Daily Telegraph/Guardian/Daily Mail
David Conn The Guardian
Michael Atherton The Times
Matthew Syed The Times

Ouch, that hurt. It was not so much fretting about who to put in as who to leave out. A lot of good old pals from my Fleet Street days may never speak to me again.

And I am not proud of myself that I found room for only one female writer, the inestimable Julie Welch, who shattered the glass ceiling as a press box pioneer. Those wonderful women I have left out have my permission to give me a George Galloway-style kicking.

The easier part was selecting my top five, and here they are in reverse order:

5. Geoffrey Green
4. Peter Wilson
3. George Whiting
and equal first: Ian Wooldridge and Hugh McIllvanney.

Yes, I copped out in the end, unable to separate Woolers and the Mighty Mac. Both could capture any sporting action with the accuracy of a vintage Leica camera, and then get it down on paper with the colour, detail and depth of a Goya painting.

I feel honoured and privileged to have shared press boxes with both these Fleet Street giants, overshadowed by them but overjoyed to be breathing the same air – even though it was often contaminated by Hughie’s Havana cigars.

THEY SET THE standards for all of us lucky to qualify for membership of the Sports Journalists’ Association, and now I am delighted to hear the committee has been wise enough to allow Associate Members.

I urge in particular student journalists to apply for the Associate Membership. It will give you status and a sense of belonging on your way up the sports writing ladder.

You are coming into a rapidly changing world, where dinosaur journalists like me are being replaced by “media-ists”. But the written word will still be king, and one day you could find yourself being considered for a top-50 list of UK sports scribes like those I have selected above.

I urge you to go and cast your vote for the Press Gazette‘s list – might it be slightly less dominated by football writers in this Olympic year? Click here to cast your vote.

And remember, as a sports journalist, enjoy every second. The world and the word’s your oyster.

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


Mon Sep 24: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill GC. Click here for booking details

Thu Dec 6: 2012 SJA British Sports Awards. An Olympic year extravaganza. Note the date in your diary now. Details to be announced soon.

4 thoughts on “Who’s your pick for the top of today’s sports writers?

  1. No Vic Railton, no Denis Signy, no Arthur Hopcraft to name but three. Brave of Norman to stick his head above the parapet. There’re some on the list who I wouldn’t have but I’m not brave enough to name names.

  2. I loved Vic like a brother, Randall, but writing was not his natural gift. A 22-carat news gatherer. Denis was also more a digger than a writer. Arthur Hopcraft I agree, but it is a personalised list. Who to leave out for those you name? It went up on line before I could have a call over, but I am happy with my list. Ask 100 people to name their top 50 and there will be 100 different lists, with about 40 in all of them.

    1. John Arlott.
      Brough Scott.
      Matthew Engel.

      I do reckon that the absence of “news-gatherers” from the list is a bit of an oversight. The “writers” depend on the story-breakers to deliver up the information on which they can later comment.

      And one name which will irritate mightily one or two of our colleagues, but without whom there might never have been a 2012 London Olympics, is Andrew Jennings. The former Insight and World in Action news reporter blew apart the whole corrupt closed-shop of the International Olympic Committee with the book, co-authored with Vyv Simson, Lords of the Rings. The IOC reforms after the Salt Lake City scandal – which Jennings’ work had predicted and first shone a light on – opened up the bidding process in such a way that made a London bid stand a chance.

      And that, of course, is just my personal opinion.

  3. If you are going to include news gatherers, you would have a completely different list, with the likes of Andrew Jennings, Vic Railton, Dennis Signy, Alan Williams, Derek Potter and so many more battling for prominent places.

    Mine was a personalised list, and would will struggle to make a case for most of them not to be included.

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