Monday, January 22, 2018


PART 5: Bristol City

Eric Todd, a doyen of football writing in a time before the ceaseless clatter of social media, worked for the Manchester Guardian and later The Guardian. His words-to-frivolity (WTF) ratio was always maintained at an impressively low level, allowing carefully chosen phrases to go to work on the reader's imagination.

In days before clickbait and inane look-at-me hyperbole were the names of the game, Todd stood for conciseness, directness and descriptive brilliance. A familiar face at the grounds of the north, he had been present at the famous White Horse Wembley cup final of 1923 between Bolton and West Ham. Later, following typically sharp journalistic instincts, he tracked down the police officer who had been atop the horse that day, for an interview.

Todd's report for City's 2-0 win over Bristol City in September 1977 

Born in Leeds, Todd's breakthrough came at the Lancashire Daily Post in Preston, from where he moved to the Manchester Evening Chronicle, mainly covering football with Manchester City and cricket with Lancashire. When The Manchester Guardian moved south, becoming simply The Guardian and losing its strong northern ties, Todd lost his position as senior football correspondent in the north.

"In turn they have been visited by irresponsibility and outright inspiration"

He could be a prickly character and his no-nonsense behaviour occasionally matched the sharpness of his prose. If he felt a situation demanded that he say something,  Todd would not hold back, once standing up to a prickly Manchester United manager Matt Busby, who had been reacting negatively to questions at an Old Trafford press conference.
Todd is also remembered for a beautifully curt report on a match between Liverpool and Arsenal that had been less than inspiring entertainment. With no goals and little excitement, Todd dismissed the entire game in one paragraph. When asked about the shortness of his match report b y his editor, Todd is said to have responded "That was already more than it's worth, and that's all it gets."
On the other hand, reporting on City - a club whose quixotic nature over the years began to grow on him, brought out some of his best work. After the 1968 League title, his Guardian piece started thus:
Tell it not in Trafford Park, publish it not in the streets of Stretford. Manchester City, winners 4-3 in a magnificent match at St James' Park against Newcastle United, replaced Manchester United as title holders in the First Division. In doing so they fulfilled the ancient prophecy that the meek shall inherit the earth , with which nowadays must be incorporated football league championships as well as local councils..." 
The entire stirring report can be read in The Guardian's archives.

His admiration for the club and its supporters can be best illustrated by this extract from the Newcastle match report he penned for The Guardian in 1968:

"Then there are the City supporters, many of whom have developed ulcers and who have grown prematurely grey for the cause. I have seen them at Plymouth and Newcastle, Portsmouth and Middlesbrough year after year, "like patience on a monument smiling at grief". They have cursed, applauded, demanded, cajoled, laughed and wept. They have sworn never again to take out season tickets, never again to support their team. And always they have come back, generation after generation.  
Todd "retired" in 1973, but eloquent reports penned by him could still be found in The Telegraph later in the 70s (see the Bristol City clip, above). Always a friend of Manchester City, he died in a home for retired journalists in Dorking, Surrey on 10th December, 2000.

With him went some of the journalistic skills so badly missing in swathes of today's mainstream press.

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