Tuesday, March 7, 2017

THE JOURNALISTS: Paul Fitzpatrick


In the early 70s, football journalism was a very diferent beast to what millions of football followers consume today. Many papers did not even have a sports department, relying on staffers and assorted wordsmiths to plug the gaps, when intermittent sports coverage needed some attention.

When they did turn their gaze on sweaty athletes, the broadsheets covered a variety of sports with almost equal amounts of column inches, meaning you could get your football fix on a page that had just as many column inches given over to a seemingly insignificant hockey match and the latest soaked participants at the Badminton Horse Trials.

Seemingly momentous events were often covered by a single hack with the most rudimentary means of filing his reports back to base in Fleet Street. The Guardian operated slightly differently to the others at this time in that it was a company with a controlling trust, namely the Scott Trust. It sought to be a business, but with a generally leftist moral tone in its attitude towards the governments of the day.

According to John Samuel  in his accounts of what those innovative days were like, "Different people had different ideas for the tone. It varied from Jo Grimond to Karl Marx. Strictly, it had no sports department, certainly not in a Fleet Street sense. There were fine writers – Pat Ward-Thomas, Denys Rowbotham, John Rodda, David Frost, Eric Todd – but in a limited number of activities....

In amongst these esteemed writers came Paul Fitzpatrick, who would write on football and cricket for the Guardian and Observer for more than a decade, breaking the Kerry Packer cricket scandal story in April 1979.

His football writing was what you would have expected from the Guardian, erudite, with cadence and clarity and gets a mention in Daniel Taylor's illuminating account of Nottingham Forest's rise to European elite status, I Believe In Miracles, as one of the first writer's to acknowledge Forest's talent in that surprise season of 1977-78, when they took the top flight by storm.

Here we see him struggling manfully with a dreary 0-0 draw between City and Stoke at Maine Road in the 1973-74 season.

Within two months of writing this match report, Fitzpatrick had been sent to Newcastle to report on the FA Cup 6th round tie between United and the then second division Nottingham Forest. An unlikely match to produce a full-blown riot, Fitzpatrick witnessed some of the most turbulent crowd scenes from an utterly unstable decade, describing them thus:

"Only a spark was needed to set alight combustible feelings, and a balding middle-aged looking pugilist provided it. His paunch exposed, his shirt flying, this heavyweight bare-knuckle fighter set his arms flailing like a windmill and at least five policemen were needed to cool his ardour and pin him to the muddy turf. But the damage had been done and the crowd went haring down the pitch to the Gallowgate end..."

"Combustible feelings"

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