From Wigan to the West Indies and Beyond

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View from the Old Trafford Press Box



THE previous Saturday I had been jumping up and down, shouting and screaming on the Stretford End terraces. Today I walked in through the main entrance of Manchester United Football Club, took my complimentary programme from the uniformed doorman and walked up the staircase towards the Directors Lounge with my new colleague from the Stewart and Hartley Press Agency in Manchester, Mike Slingsby.

As we mounted the stairs, I noticed out of the corner of my eye one man coming down the steps. We didn't pay him much attention, until he looked across at us and said in a soft Scottish burr, "Good Afternoon".

I looked up into the craggy, but kindly face of Matt Busby!

Not a bad start to my journalistic career I thought to myself as a smile broke across my features. Onwards and upwards then!

Old Trafford

That match was the start of a great career that led to me meeting a whole host of famous footballers, managers and lots of other very interesting people from Royalty to the man in the gutter.

 From Busby, Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison through to Fergie and Mourinho with players such as Law, Best and Charlton to Maradona, Cristiano Ronaldo, Beckham and Rooney. I watched and reported on them all.

 After six months with Stewarts, I departed the Press Boxes at Old Trafford and Maine Road and after gaining my fifth GCE ''O level joined my local newspaper, the Middleton Guardian, to take the traditional apprentice route into journalism.

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 That was when I got my first rude awakening to life as a scribe. The Editor of the Middleton Guardian at the time, a quiet, thorough man named Jack Sladen, (pictured) called me and a colleague, John Moynihan, a lifelong friend and an extremely diligent journalist, into his office.

He looked at us and without blinking said, "Now look, don't think people will be buying the Middleton Guardian to read your stories. No, they buy it for the births, marriages and deaths, the crossword and the TV page. Now go out and get some stories!"

 There followed four and a half years of induction into the real world of newspapers. Tramping round housing estates and knocking on the doors of everyone, from ordinary members of the public through priests, vicars, publicans, teachers and politicians in the endless search for a story. The old adage is that behind every door there is a story and my goodness dud I see some doors in my 42 years as a hack!

 There is an expression called 'doorstepping' that is given to a reporter who stands on someone's doorstep and refuses to leave until they get their story. Getting an invitation to go inside the house is a real plus and if that happens you are more than halfway to getting what will probably turn out to be a very good tale.

 My most memorable example of this was when I was sent to interview a couple whose son had been murdered at a holiday camp. Despite some comments from a nosey neighbour, I was invited inside immediately by the dead boy's mother and she made me a cup of tea before she and her husband poured their hearts out to me about the tragic killing of their son.

Now before you pull me up and ask 'What about Wigan' well I did pull a bit of a fast one there because although I did spend my formative years in Wigan from a babe in arms until the age of nine, I did not undertake any journalistic duties fully in that Pier-less town until 1977 after I left the Middleton Guardian when I was 22 years of age. But what a spell I had there.

After a few months news subbing, I switched to the sports desk. I covered Manchester United and Manchester City for the old Wigan Evening Post and Chronicle and we were VERY big on Rugby League too.

The paper was run by a chap called Mike Taylor who, in his spare time, was a Methodist lay preacher. However, his main role seemed to involve spending each day from opening time until mid afternoon in a local hostelry by the name of The Brocket Arms along with his long-suffering deputy, Geoff Taylor. Mike went on to edit The Methodist Recorder in London! 

As I was once told and soon found out, journalism is full of characters!

I was the Leigh RLFC man at the WEP when John Woods, the Taylor brothers and Des Drummond were in the team.

My brother-in-law, Neil Courtney, also began his professional rugby league career at the time with St Helens, going on to play for Warrington and culminating in a Challenge Cup final appearance with Wigan in the epic final against Hull FC at Wembley in 1985. He also played for Great Britain.

I managed to get myself into the Wigan dressing room after that Challenge Cup final in which Wigan held on after leading 22-8 at half-time only for Hull to come roaring back in the second half. "Phew! That was close," I said to Neil (first left below) as he stood in front of me on a bench still in his kit. He simply smiled, held a hand aloft and said "What's that?" It was his winner's medal!


© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre