Martin Emmerson, of BBC Radio Newcastle, brought me the sad news about Ian Laws, the much-admired Sunderland Echo man who died last night (Thursday). This is his own tribute, to add to the ones already published at Salut! Sunderland and elsewhere …
And another great man has passed on.
I first met Lawsy when we started journalism college together in Darlington in September 1989. He was from Fulwell, I was from Whitburn and we were both big Sunderland fans.
But it was only once we’d got our journalism careers up and running that we started travelling to games together, normally in my dad’s people carrier with a few other friends in tow.
My dad, not a svelt athlete by any means, christened Lawsy “The little pie eater” and it was a nickname which stuck for years as we travelled up and down motorways each weekend watching the Lads in lovely locations like Southampton, Ipswich and Stoke!
But that was all to change one day when Lawsy snapped in the car: “I am not a pie eater! I am a vegetarian!”
As you can imagine we were stunned. None of us knew he was a veggie!
The trips up and down motorways continued for years. I remember during an evening kick off on a Saturday night at Ipswich we both missed Sunderland’s goals because we were in the loo after a few too many beers. The same trip also took us to the pub of the damned on the way home in some village in South Yorkshire. The sort of pub where the words “you made me miss” would not have been out of the ordinary. American Werewolf in London territory. We drank up and left in a hurry.
One night before an away game in London we ended up in a pub in Eltham where a couple of Charlton fans started having a chat with us. They then asked us if we fancied joining them on an BNP March at Dover the next day! We obviously declined.
Then came the shock news one day that Lawsy wouldn’t be travelling with us any more. He’d landed his dream job covering Sunderland for the Sunderland Echo. He had joined the paper as a news journalist initially. At the time I was working in news as well. Little did I know that a few months down the line I would be sitting alongside him in the press box as the Sunderland commentator for BBC Newcastle!
And so our travels continued again. Arguments about whether the M18 route via Doncaster was quicker in the car than the M1 past Sheffield and so on. Journeys to Bristol Rovers in the League Cup made all the more difficult by the fact half the country was under water at the time.
Occassionally Lawsy would join me as co-commentator. Arsenal at home springs to mind on a sunny August afternoon when Darren Williams got an elbow in the face and Sunderland won 1-0.
My days covering Sunderland came to an abrupt halt in 2003 and then last year Lawsy had a major decision to make. He was pushing 40 and it was time to leave the footy beat behind and become the paper’s online editor.
Ironically the job switch would allow him to spend extra time with the kids while taking his son to the match on a Saturday. In hindsight I am glad he took that decision. Little did he know his life would be cut so short.
I think the only think we didn’t agree on was cricket. He had no interest in a sport which would become a major part of my life through my Durham commentaries. But I can forgive him that now.
I drove past the Seaburn Centre last night at about the time the lads were gathering for their weekly five-a-side. Lawsy had been a key part of that since I’d asked him to make up the numbers a few years ago. My back did for me a couple of seasons ago and I haven’t played footy sinse. But I felt a pang of jealousy as I drove by last night wishing I could be involved again.
Sadly today I had to ring all of the lads from 5-a-side to tell them the terrible news that Ian had collapsed and died just a short time after they’d finished playing last night.
In journalism you report on sad events a lot but it is always worse when it is someone you know and someone who was a friend for so long.
There is a wall in the press room at the Stadium of Light with the pictures of some great writers of past years on it. Len Shackleton is among them. And now Ian’s picture will be joining them too.
Far too soon for anyone’s liking.
A very sad day indeed.
* Rob Lawson, editor of the Sunderland Echo, has written this at the paper’s website:
Ian was one of the most talented journalists I’ve had the pleasure to work with.
He had a way with words and writing came effortlessly to him.
I first met him many years ago when he started work at the Shields Gazette but he didn’t stay there long because he was always keen to get to what he always regarded as his paper – the Echo.
I remember him telling me he’d got the SAFC writer’s job and to say he was thrilled was an understatement.
Working alongside his friend and colleague Graeme Anderson, Ian provided brilliant coverage of his beloved Sunderland. He was a superb writer, very popular with the fans and well respected by the club.
What I’ll remember about him is his cheeky sense of humour – he could be hilarious – and the love he had for his children, of whom he was so proud.
“Our thoughts and prayers today are with them and his wider family.