The Questionnaire: John Jackson

“Veteran committee member” is too glib a tag to give to John Jackson, the long-time news reporter for the Daily Mirror whose cross-over work in sport saw a new style of coverage developed, with Jackson working at 22 Olympic Games, more Wimbledons than Martina Navratilova, directing the traffic for Nelson Mandela and playing ping-pong with Pele (seriously).

“Jacko” keeps himself busy, not least working as press officer for the British Olympic Association at the last two Olympic Games. Here, he answers the SJA Website’s Questionnaire

Give a brief summary of your career to date, and your current work

From reporting in short trousers for the Scout Magazine to 30 years with Mirror Group (Daily Herald/broadsheet Sun/Daily Mirror) and title of Fleet Street’s Chief Rotter, brought about by my pioneering of sports news coverage.

Journalism by the traditional route took in the Birkenhead Advertiser/News and Manchester Evening News before the travel bug brought staff jobs on papers in Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Jamaica and international stints with Reuters and Associated Press. Was travel editor of Today and Sunday Post before embarking on a leisurely freelancing lifestyle.

Was the British Olympic Association press officer in the Main Press Centre at the Sydney and Athens Olympics.

What was your first sports journalism assignment?

Covering a Canadian ice hockey match, when I told the startled readers of the Orillia Daily Packet & Times, Ontario, that “the Orillia Pontiacs pucked off….” (nobody mentioned face-off to me). Vital grounding, however, for my progression to 22 Olympic Games (12 summer, 10 winter), 10 World Cups, England cricket tours of West Indies and South Africa, five Commonwealth Games, 43 Wimbledons et al.

What has been your most memorable/enjoyable assignment during your career?

There have been many, but as a newsman at heart it must be February 1990 when I watched Rebel Cricket Tour captain Mike Gatting bowled for a duck at the Wanderers Ground, Johannesburg, then caught a flight to Cape Town to be at the prison gates to witness Nelson Mandela walking to freedom. What the great man doesn’t know is that his first act was to drive over my foot.

John Terry or Steve Gerrard?

As captain, John Terry.

What is the one sporting event that you have seen in which you might have dreamt of being a participant?

It would have to be an individual sport, so a toss up between Franz Klammer’s Olympic downhill ski-ing gold (Innsbruck, 1976), and Goran Ivanisevic’s conquering of Wimbledon in 2001.

If you did not work on sport, what do you think you might be doing?

Easy for someone who was always a newsman-cum-travel writer, so when not covering sport I would return to a general news hack persona, and crime, courts, Royals – and travelling. Away from journalism, I would like to have been a barrister specialising in criminal law.

What sports did you play – and to what level?

Football was always favourite. I “made it” aged 12 when picked for my school first XI against Edmonton Latymer, as a tough tackling right-half. We lost 13-0 and the opposing inside left, my responsibility, scored seven. His name was Johnny Haynes (pictured left). He became captain of England; I never played for the team again.

I played in a Press v Referees prelim match before 80,000 people waiting for the South Africa Cup Final in Johannesburg (scored an own goal after three minutes); was left marking the great Northern Ireland international Peter Doherty in a press/showbiz match in Manchester; and was carried off after five minutes in an Ontario Cup Final (well battered by an opponent who had been a professional with Kilmarnock).

Flintoff or Botham?

Sorry Beefy, but I feel the best of Flintoff has yet come.

Does any of your family have any involvement with journalism?

My wife Barbara (we met as young reporters on the Auckland Star almost 50 years ago) is a distinguised journalist, whose major world scoop came with AP at the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica, when she broke the news of the first ever sex test. She has covered four Olympics (two summer and two winter), while at the 1962 World Cup in Chile she divided her time between Reuters and spare time secretary for then FIFA president, Sir Stanley Rous.

Our eldest daughter Catherine, and youngest son Tom, followed us into journalism but both decided on the safer, and more remunerative, publishing world. Catherine presently edits the UK Athletics magazine.

Which colleagues or managers have been most influential or helpful in your career, and how?

Hard man Bill Bothwell (Birkenhead Advertiser editor), who may be remembered for his BBC Radio Sports Report summaries; Harold Evans (when assistant editor Manchester Evening News); and Richard Stott (editor of Daily Mirror twice, and Today). All three, with entirely different styles, impressed with ideas and ways of making you learn.

Beatles or the Stones?

Rolling Stones.

What has been the best sports-related book you have read recently, and why?

The re-issue of Arthur Hopcraft’s 1968 classic The Football Man, with its amazing insight into the future, and which is quite rightly listed as one of the best books ever written about sport. And Gary Imlach’s fascinating lifestory of his father Stewart – My Father and other Working-Class Football Heroes.

What changes in the business during your career have you most welcomed?

The new technology which has eased the past anxieties of getting copy over to offices, often on phone lines which, when available, popped and crackled and only became clear when the copytaker moaned: “Is there much more of this?”

Mind you, after the Tandy Tantrums by the British contingent covering the 1988 Seoul Olympics, I doubted whether these new fangled machines could ever succeed. The old adage passed on to me by a seasoned foreign correspondent during my early days in Fleet Street still stands, however: “Dear boy, when you’re abroad all you need is a bidet and a telephone and you can reach every necessary part”.

…and what changes in the business do you really dislike?

First, the way accountants have taken charge, and how agents, spin doctors and, of course, big money have driven such a wedge between sports personalities and the Press.

Oh for the days of the 1962 World Cup in Chile when I played table tennis most mornings with a young star called Pele (pictured here celebrating another ping-pong victory over Jacko); and the 1964 Wimbledon final, when the two participants, Roy Emerson and Fred Stolle, approached me the evening before with the suggestion that “we have a few lagers and chat on the lawn before we head up to London”. Federer and Nadal don’t do that. Even the lawn has gone!

Piggott or Fallon?

Definitely Piggott.

Which sports journalist’s work do you look for first (and why)?

James Lawton (Independent) is the leader of a very readable pack nowadays, and I always seek out the light, fun approach of Martin Johnson (Daily Telegraph).

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to enter the profession?

I still feel a good grounding through the traditional route of local paper/sports-news agency/evening etc is the best (you not only learn all the ropes but have great fun, despite the poor money). It is very hard to get started but never give up trying – even when the rejections (from those few who have the courtesy to reply) keep coming.

Nicklaus or Tiger?


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