The day Sir Alf took me and Jules Rimet for a ride

VIEW FROM THE PRESS BOX: You don’t want to believe everything you read in the papers, or what national heroes tell you. RANDALL NORTHAM recalls the days when England’s World Cup-winners did their work-out in a Plymouth public park

I had to giggle the other day when I read on these pages that we were complaining about wi-fi in press boxes. You reporters don’t know how lucky you are.

Or, in some cases, unlucky.

So tell me, Alf: how did you get the World Cup down to Plymouth?
So tell me, Alf: how did you get the World Cup down to Plymouth?

I can’t imagine being a reporter now there are mobile phones. Fancy the office being able to get hold of you all the time. We could call in, ask if there were any queries on our copy and then go out to dinner sure in the knowledge that we would not be interrupted.

But mostly, it must be easier doing your job these days. Laptops, tablets, mobile phones… no need to carry large reference books, and instead being able to Google facts and figures. Copy going in seconds, no relying on the sobriety or common sense of a copytaker. I have to admit to being rescued by more than one – “you sure you want to say that?”.

I’m not that much a dinosaur – I was the first sports reporter in the country to carry a portable computer with which to send copy – a Teleram. As with the Tandy, which came a little later, it relied on telephone handsets fitting with its rubber couplers. Did I say it was portable? It weighed a ton. And when some enterprising Spanish technician decided the way to tell the press he wanted to go home was to flick the switch, off and on again, for the entire stadium’s electricity supply, my half-written report of the England v Spain second round match at the 1982 World Cup disappeared into the air above the Bernebau Stadium. The Teleram is now an exhibit in the Computer History Museum.

But I would find being a sports reporter these days incredibly frustrating, mainly because of access. Or the lack of it. These days you bump up against press officers and PRs at every turn. When I started out in Birmingham in the late 1960s, there was only one on my patch – Eric Woodward at Aston Villa. We called him Mr Poo – Press Obstruction Officer.

And just imagine access like this: in September 1966, the Football League played the League of Ireland at Home Park, Plymouth. I was a 22-year-old reporter on the Western Evening Herald and Western Morning News and desperate to cover sport.

On the morning of the match, the Daily Mail carried a report that Alf Ramsey had carried the World Cup to Plymouth in his brief case. I volunteered to find out if this was true. Off I went to the public park in which the Football League team – which contained six of the World Cup-winning side and five of the rest of the England squad – were training. Imagine that: a public park.

And no one in a blazer stopped me from approaching Alf Ramsey. Trepidatiously it must be said because Ramsey’s reputation had even reached the far west.

I asked him if the Mail‘s report was true. “I shouldn’t believe what I read in the papers, young man,” he replied.

I said I was just paid to write in them, and asked again, was it true or not? “No,” he said, before disappearing into the small cricket pavilion doubling as the Football League changing room.

Back I went to write my story. A few minutes later the call went out for a volunteer to go to Len Shipman’s press conference at Home Park. Len was president of the Football League at the time and much more approachable than Alf Ramsey.

“How did the World Cup get here?” I asked before the conference started.

“Alf brought it down in his brief case,” was the answer.

Valuable lesson learned.

Any pique I might have felt evaporated soon after, when the Football League won 12-0, with Johnny Byrne scoring four and John Connelly, George Eastham, Geoff Hurst and Terry Paine getting two each.

Later that night, being only 22 and fairly lively then, I was given the job of taking eight or nine of the players to a nightclub. “I’ve got the World Cup team behind me,” said to the manager.

I didn’t have to buy a drink for a couple of months.

  • Randall Northam is a former Daily Express sports correspondent and magazine publisher who now runs SportsBooks Ltd
  • Next View from the Pressbox: Adrian Warner, university lecturer
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