The newspaper is an endangered species. When Monsieur Salut was summoned to Abu Dhabi to help create The National, he was fully aware of being involved in possibly the last major newspaper launch the world would see. Under threat from electronic sources of journalism, dwindling sales and advertising and the evaporation of reader loyalty – not to mention the routine nature of attacks on press freedom – the newspaper’s days are numbered.
Pete Sixmsith takes a nostalgic look at the the football pinks, greens and whites of the past as he rues the imminent closure of Sunderland’s Football Echo, which is about to go exclusively online after outliving almost every similar UK publication …
There are some decisions that can be reversed quickly – Wes Brown’s suspension being a perfect example.
There are some that you know can be reversed eventually, like in a general election when the running dogs of capitalism and their bourgeois fellow coalitionists can be consigned to the dustbin of history.
And then there are some that sadden you and you know there is no going back, like the decision by Johnston Press to discontinue the Football Echo. It closes on December 28 after 106 years of charting the ups and downs of Sunderland AFC. And with it, a little more of my passion for top level football dies.
Once upon a time every town had an evening paper and that paper produced a Sports edition on Saturday night. For many, it was the only way of getting the results after walking home from the match. The radio had finished and the TV had moved on so the Echo or the Post or the Chronicle was the only way of poring over the scorers and the new league tables as they quaffed their pints in the club.
Michael Parkinson tells a lovely story of men dancing with their ladies and reading the Barnsley Star as they waltzed around the floor and in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, the paper lad comes into the pubs Arthur Seton is drinking in, selling the Nottingham Evening Post.
When I was a lad in Leeds, the Green Post was essential reading to catch up on the Rugby League scores. After the move to Durham, my grandparents sent it up every week for a couple of years and I looked forward to reading reports of Bramley v Dewsbury, Hunslet v Halifax and Leeds v Castleford. The paper was the only way you could find out the essential details.
Up here, the Darlington Evening Despatch published a broadsheet pink, which focused on Darlington but also covered the other North Eastern teams and the Northern League. Again, if you wanted to know the scorers from the Stanley United v West Auckland game or how the teams had lined up at Dean Street that afternoon, it was the pink that you turned to.
Then, after a couple of years on the soft stuff, I was turned on to hard core football papers when I started to go to Sunderland with M Salut. The Echo was green in those days, as a result of relegation in 1958, and we picked one up in Durham as we changed trains on the way home. A sprint (not easy for a fat lad in 1964) down from the station a cup of coffee and a pie in Bimbi and a Football Echo as we read reports by Novo and Sentinel and Teesman and the great Argus.
The features were read and re-read and we wondered how lucky Argus was to be paid to watch and write about Sunderland. We looked up the meaning of the name in the school library and at least one of us probably saw that as our career path. The Football Echo was our bible, our Koran and our Torah all rolled into one.
Later on, it appeared in Shildon, delivered by one of those small black and red Commer vans. Bill Clarkson sold it as did Coulson’s at Cheapside and maybe even Peter Dowson in Main Street. It was even delivered by some youth who probably had no interest in football so that we anoraks could get our fix.
Later on, when I lived in Sunderland and was walking home, an ancient crone would appear on Wearmouth Bridge and sell copies hot from the press when it was printed in the new print works, where the apartment block stands now.
It was read as I walked through the Bridges and back to college and then passed around the Hall of Residence.
They even flew them down to London after the Wembley triumph and pinks were seen all over the Kings Cross area on that never to be forgotten day. I have a framed copy of it on my living room wall as a memory of the bestest ever day of my life.
They stopped delivering to the shops in South West Durham but it could still be got from the local paper seller, a man with serious learning difficulties called Laurence.
His spot was outside the Bingo Hall in Railway Street in Bishop and he would take up a large area of the steps with his papers spread out. The correct money had to be tendered as Laurence refused to give change even though he had loads and loads of it. Requests for change were refused and he would not hand over the pink treasure until he was given the exact 12p or whatever it was.
On a number of occasions, coins were scattered the length and breadth of Railway Street as he lost his cool and he swore at the poor unfortunate who had popped out an hour ago to buy a pink and who was now subject to divorce proceedings.
I have always bought it, partly out of loyalty but also because I do enjoy some of the features. It is at its best when crisis hits the club (about three times a season) and a succession of journalists have given shrewd insights into what is happening. The current pair have to be much more circumspect than Billy Butterfield (as Argus was known to Mrs Argus) and criticism is frowned on by the media department of the club. And without the co-operation of the club, the Echo has no access to stories- as the Journal, Chronicle and Sunday Sun are finding out.
It will be a huge miss for those of an older generation. Younger fans are hardly aware that it exists, being immune to newsprint, preferring the app or the website or whatever. But part of your youth dies when the Football Echo goes. No more smiling/neutral/glum little man on the front, his rattle silenced forever.
No more crowds outside paper shops, waiting to see how we had done at Preston or Blackpool or Liverpool earlier in the afternoon.
No more sprints down from Durham railway station or running up along Pearl Street to Bill Clarkson’s shop and waiting for the van. Just a sterile screen on a mobile or a laptop and none of that feel of reading and re-reading the paper in case you have missed something. Your memories not committed to ink, but to pixels.
December 28, Cardiff City away is the last one. It is to be hoped that they print enough on the Echo presses in Sheffield to satisfy the demand. Saturday night and Sunday morning will never be the same.
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