SUNDAY 19  MAY 2024


My good friend David Emery, a gold medal journalist and a champion guy

PETER TOZER pays tribute to former Daily Express Sports Editor David Emery who died in June 2023 aged 76

“When David Emery entered a room, you knew he was in it.” Those words of Bob McKenzie, when told of David’s passing, gently capture the engaging personality and presence of David’s joie de vive 76 years, qualities which endeared him to us all.

David started in journalism at the Surrey Comet in 1966. Also there was Clive Goozee, who was later to work closely with David at the Daily Express and who recalls him then as “a breath of fresh air”.

David inevitably made his way to Fleet Street. Our paths first crossed in 1973 as sub editors at the self-proclaimed Greatest Newspaper in the World (aka the Daily Express). David’s writing talent and versatility were recognised as he moved to reporting. When the Daily Star launched, HIS star certainly rose as his remit broadened. He went to World Cups and Olympic Games; he relished reporting athletics’ golden era of Coe, Ovett, Cram and Daley Thompson.

Touching on athletics evokes a story recounted at one of David’s birthday bashes. He had been a keen schoolboy runner, enjoying some local success, so much so he was in the habit of informing mates that one day he would win an Olympic gold medal. Perhaps this was in his mind during his teenage years while he was walking home a young lady whom he was keen to impress. The light was fading as they passed through a rec with a long jump pit. As they approached the run up, David accelerated down it and took off in the dark with a mighty leap which ended with an anguished howl. The cement pit contained no sand and David had painfully twisted an ankle, It was not recorded whether his athletic exhibition did indeed impress the young lady. 

His journalistic career contained no such crash landing and so he was Nick Lloyd’s choice to become sports editor of the Daily Express in the mid 1980s. There was an immediate impact, optimism despite circulation struggles, as staff responded to his leadership. His predecessor’s inclination had been to bang loudly on the big bass drum to keep the orchestra playing. David was more of a simpatico conductor. Talented players in the metaphorical trumpet section might on occasion demand a fortissimo solo part; just a wave of David’s baton kept everyone in harmonic accord. I can vouch, as his deputy for most of the decade he was in charge, it was a happy place to work…and to play.

In those days, the liquid lunchtime, always of course creatively productive, running into extra time, was a given. However, as a healthy alternative, David, forever the runner with a dream, introduced the lunchtime run, encouraging some of us to join him jogging along the Embankment as we trained for the London Marathon in support of the Daily Express Rupert’s Runners, raising money for charity. As the running became competitive, a sort of departmental championship over some three and a half miles was organised, with heavy side bets. Charlie Sale, whose last known sporting activity had been stonewall batting for Repton School, was offered 50-1 that he couldn't beat either David or myself. 

Spurred on by the thought of relieving both of us of £500, Charlie got seriously training and in just a few weeks was half the man on the scales he had previously been and showed worrying signs of increased speed when we espied him training alone along the Embankment. Come the big day and David arrived at the start with £500 in notes which he displayed in front of Charlie, goading him: “It’s all yours son, if you think you can beat me.” 

These were mind games before Alex Ferguson ever deployed them. An over-confident Charlie went off far too quickly, blew up in the last half mile and David, albeit somewhat wearily, was able to pass him close to the finish, his £500 safe (So, I modestly add, was mine).

David’s name occasionally caused him to be mistaken for David Hemery, the British Olympic gold medal hurdler. One Saturday morning David and I probably looked far from spritely as we completed a training jog along the street where he lived. A neighbour who spotted us was overheard remarking to David’s wife: “How long ago did your husband win that gold medal?”

The good times for us at the Express ended when the bean counters did their sums. David made the most of other opportunities, innovatively masterminding a page-ready operation at the Press Association, editing Sport First and then, his boldest move, launching his own weekly sporting newspapers where two of his sons, Matt and Sam, continue to carry the Emery banner.

During his action-packed career, David was chairman of the Sports Writers Association and captain of the Press Golfing Society as well as being inspired, after running the New York Marathon in 1980, to help launch 26.2 Road Runners Club, of which David remained president at the time of his passing.

Reporter, sub-editor, columnist, newspaper publisher. Committee volunteer. A runner supporting charities.  Always with a  generous word for all-comers. Few people play the game with such panache and win so much respect as David did.

He may not have got on the starting line at the Olympics, but he was a gold medal journalist, a champion guy for us to have known. As Peter Jackson concluded his excellent tribute in The Rugby Peter, “Quite Some Man That Emery.”

My old friend Dave gave me my start in Fleet Street


It was the summer of ‘66, what a year! I married Monica (we’re still together), West Ham, sorry, England, won the World Cup — and I was introduced to David Emery. He was a district reporter on the Surrey Comet, which I had just joined as a trainee sub. He had returned from a journalism training course. I’m so sad he’s gone because it was thanks to Dave that I made it to Fleet Street after he fixed me up with casual shifts on the Mail and the Express. 

Among our many happy memories was of the time Dave stood in for the sports editor. He looked at the Express pages and decided to give the Comet a Fleet Street makeover. All was going well until the hot metal was being put to bed in the broadsheet pages. Dave’s layout was designed for seven columns instead of eight. Intelligent use of white space by Dave and the comps solved the puzzle. He dubbed it his two-hour page.

Dave and a Comet reporter, Keith  Stooke, called to see how I was recovering from viral pneumonia. He decided I needed a pick-me-up and took us to the Craywood casino in Twickenham. It was our first time in

a gambling joint. Dave warned Monica the heavies patrolling the tables were armed. She  was spooked. I won sweet FA, Monica was moderately successful, Dave blew a lump of his week’s wage.