Tony Bodley, doyen of rugby writers 

By TERRY COOPER, former Press Association rugby correspondent

Tony Bodley (1)

Former Daily Express rugby correspondent Tony Bodley died in May 2017, aged 82. He suffered a serious fall six months earlier and never recovered, dying in hospital in Peterborough.  

His adult life was spent in sports journalism, especially rugby. He worked in Fleet Street when it was the hub of the industry. He was a Hornsey, North London, boy, supporting Saracens,  Arsenal and Middlesex, and worked on the Hornsey Journal before joining the Cricket and Football Reporting Agency in 1960. The CRA supplied all cricket, football and rugby news for the Press Association, the national and international news agency, who shared the same building in Fleet Street.

 In 1965 the organisations merged and Tony became the Press Association’s rugby correspondent in 1968. In his years at CRA/PA he also reported on cricket, boxing and football, including being on the agency’s reporting team when England beat Argentina in the ’66 World Cup quarter-finals (Alf Ramsey’s “animal” rant). He contributed for 14 years to Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, which was produced by the CRA/PA.

 He transferred to the Evening News briefly in 1974 before inheriting what he called “the dream job” – rugby correspondent of the Daily Express (coincidentally then sited directly opposite the PA building) in 1975, acquiring a by-line and photo at the top of his reports and a big profile. The Express was still one of the giant-hitters and he thrived there until taking early retirement 20 years later, just before Rugby World Cup 1995.

Along the way he was created Chairman of the Rugby Writers’ Club in 1978-80, then became a life member, and was also a member of the Sports Journalists’ Association. His occupation gave him the chance to travel extensively, which he found enjoyable rather than a tiresome necessity. If they had given Air Miles back then he could have flown to the moon free.

 He covered Rugby World Cups 1987, 1991, and Lions tours 1977 to New Zealand, returning there with the Lions in 1983 and 1993. Other Lions tours for him were South Africa 1980 and Australia 1989. He went on short England tours to the four southern hemisphere rugby nations (NZ, SA, Australia and Argentina) in 1984, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1991 and 1994 – not all at the same time.

He was a punchy tabloid writer, who still became close to the players and administrators in the days when we drank, travelled and stayed in the same hotels as the stars of the game. But when England were hopeless he was forced to criticise them. The players could not see why their flaws should be exposed and when Tony ventured into the England dressing-room in Dublin after a particularly inglorious defeat, some of the team tried to drag him into the showers. They got him only so far until he clung on with such strength to a down-pipe that it broke and the area was flooded.

 He always asked at least one question at every press conference, however small – unlike some parasite journalists in all sports who lack the nerve to quiz a coach or player, especially when his team has lost. To get the story you have to risk getting our head chewed off.  

He married Kath in 1961 and they settled in Bengeo, Herts, in 1963, moving house once 15 yards across the road, where they stayed. They have a son, Matthew, and daughter, Jacqueline.


© 2005-2019 Alastair McIntyre