22 MAY 1993, Page 47


Getting a grip

Frank Keating

A FORMER editor of Mr Maxwell's Daily Mirror, Roy Greenslade, has the brass neck in his fortnightly whinge in a magazine called the Oldie to declare that British sportswriting in the national newspapers is in a bad way. What would he know about it? In his brief stay as editor, he allowed the back pages of his miserable Mirror to be filled with acres of ghastly ghosted junk, allegedly 'written' by peripheral sporting luminaries, but in fact knocked off in a five- minute phone call by a hack in a hurry for the pub. After that, any spare space not taken up by the racing results in Mr Greenslade's sports pages were brown-nos- ingly devoted, if 1 remember correctly, to the tedious day-to-day minutiae of two more playthings of his corpulent and crooked boss — namely Oxford United and Derby County.

So we don't need Greenslade, thank you very much, to tell us that sport to sportswriters is

just a peg on which to hang, draw and quarter the English language in an orgy of self-indul- gence whose main aim was to impress your dozen rivals and win the plaudits of fellow journalists ... A world of hyperbole on a grand scale peopled by men who shamelessly mixed their metaphors, left no cliché unturned, and for whom infinitives had been created to boldly split.

The truth is, it seems to me, that a brand- new generation of sportswriters — on both the posh and the pop — are making this a vintage period. Almost every paper fields a couple of outstanding examples — and it was to general acclaim that young Michael

Calvin, of the Daily Telegraph, was voted by his peers last month as the year's best. There is also (for Greenslade's informa- tion) a bunch of very recently former sportsmen who display shining talents as writers and have no remote need of ghosts. I recommend Captain Maxwell's former ball polisher to glance (for obviously the first time) at the sparkling work of such as Eddie Butler (Observer), Peter Roebuck (Sunday Times) or Simon Hughes (Indepen- dent on Sunday). Many more, too. (1 partic- ularly liked another bright young thing's description, in the Guardian last week, of a one-time champion's bowling action now he has reached his dotage. These days, wrote Paul Weaver, the portly Ian Botham `does not so much run up to bowl, as take the ball for a walk'.) Mind you, right up to Greenslade's days as an editor there was more of an insistence to give the reader what it was perceived he wanted. Years ago, one of my old back- page heroes, John Macadam of the Express (best of his generation), had a couple too many in the buffet-car from Euston and thought it would be fun to telephone through his report of the Wolves vs. Bolton

match at Molineux totally in the olde-tyme soccer jargon. He did — and by return he received shoals of hooraying letters thank- ing him for 'at last reporting the match exactly as it had happened'. The report was headlined 'Stung By This Reverse' and this was John's first par:

The visitors took the lead through Howe's rasping shot which the home custodian was powerless to stop. Stung by this reverse, the homesters crowded on all sail and it came as no surprise when, towards the close of the initial moiety, the boys sporting black and gold drew on level terms. Shots were rained from all quarters on the visitor's citadel and after one daisycutter from the diminutive McIntosh was diverted by the netminder, Galley's right-foot drive suspended the spheroid in the rigging.

Some editors can get a grip on their sports pages. Or attempt to. The Barnsley Chronicle once got a new one and he was exasperated with his old-hand soccer writ- er, especially the way he began every single report with the line 'The Reds kicked off with a rush . . . ' He took the old boy aside and demanded more variation and colour, instead of the self-same intro every time. So the following week Barnsley's match report began:

The Oakwell pitch glistened after the rains, as a sharp wintery sunlight reminiscent of Brueghel's palate helped warm the chill north-easterly which angrily swirled and stirred at the smoke from neighbouring chim- neys as the referee set things in motion with a shrill blast and the match began. The Reds kicked off with a rush . .