Sunderland Echo: a fond farewell as last page looms for the Pink

The small story to the right of page one breaks the sad news
The small story to the right of page one breaks the sad news
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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11 thoughts on “Sunderland Echo: a fond farewell as last page looms for the Pink”

  1. Hi Pete; I think Eric012’s comment sums up my feelings perfectly. As for the lonely sixpences…one of the happiest days and results I recall was a 3-0 away thumping of Forest.

  2. Bye bye history and welcome brave new world. Not a better place by any means. Anyone who reads history with even the slightest interest knows that that it’s nothing more than a catalogue of events most of which should have never have happened in hindsight. I’m at a point in life, and living where I do that I don’t give a shit about the same sorts of things happening here in someone else’s culture but sorry to see the demise of a real football institution. It had probably outlived its usefulness but if ever there was an example of the medium being more important than the message then this may have been it.

  3. Hapy days! I used to buy the Echo and the Chronicle as a kid,cutting out all the match reports,Match photos and any transfer news about Shildon FC.and Sunderland.I pasted them all of them in scrapbooks for years.Me dad had to read it first to check the pools,them I was allowed to have it.Over the years I would clance thro it,bringing back memories.I dont know whatever happened to the scrapbooks.

    • Ian – Idid the same – Echo only though. The scrap books were there when I went into the Army, but had disappeared when i was demobbed. One of my Mum’s ” clearouts ” no doubt. All that history………..

  4. The Football Echo certainly has a small but significant, place in mychildhood memories.
    My parents were both born in Sunderland, and in later years moved to Epsom, Surrey, to find work.
    However my Mum always went back ” home ” to have her children, and all three of us were born at my Grandparents house in Deptford.
    We returned annually for years, and my Sister and I both went to school in Sunderland during the War.
    My uncle introduced me to SAFC at an early age, and my life-long love affair began.
    At home in leafy Epsom, we had the Football Echo passed to us weekly by another exiled fan, and most of the news I picked up was gleaned from it’s pages.
    I worshipped the teams of that time [ 1950s ] and watched Sunderland at all the London grounds. Those players are immortalised in my memory – Shackleton, Ford, Bingham, Willie Watson etc, and of course, later joined by Monty, Kerr, Todd, Hurley et al, all brought alive via the pages of the Football Echo.
    I’m really sad that it is going, but thanks for all the memories.

  5. Being a Morpeth lad, it was the Football Pink for me. Still amazed that a paper could get delivered to a shop not much more than an hour after the game finished , with full results send scorers , a good report on the first half of away games, then key points as the time ran out. Sad loss of all these papers, and not sure it’s progress for the good.

  6. I’ve tried reading the Footy Echo online previously and found it time consuming and bloody awkward. I used to wait outside Milburns in Fordfield Road at about 6 for the Commer van mentioned by Pete to arrive. There was a buzz of anticipation as the van arrived, the side door would slide open, and a huge parcel would be hurled out, frequently landing in a huge puddle or a pile of dogshit. No mind. 5 or 6 of us urchins would go at it hammer and tongs for the honour of carrying the Footy Echoes into the shop. Mr Milburn would then award the winner with a free copy. I remember my shock and horror when the Footy Echo announced that Stan Anderson had been transferred to Newcastle (no SS breaking news in them days). It was also a lifeline for me in 1971 whilst spending 9 months in the Persian Gulf with no access to any news media. Once a week the Pink turned up courtesy of my brother and was read from front to back, every single word and scoreline devoured. As a long time exile from Sunderland, the Footy Echo has been a major part of my life. It will be sorely missed.

  7. There were seasons in the 60’s when that sixpence would be feeling very lonely, David. Was football better in that era? I sometimesthink that there was a greater honesty about it and it wasn’t all pervading. Anyone else feel the same or disagree?

  8. I echo (!) every sentiment Sixer; when I was a kid and the Lads were playing away, Saturday at twenty to five was heart thumping agonising tension watching the Grandstand teleprinter, then a dash to Bobby Brown’s (South Hylton newsagent), if I beat my previous best time my uncle would give me sixpence – although that only coincided with a rare away win.

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