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From Wigan to the West Indies and Beyond

The Kegworth air disaster in 1989: 47 people died when a Boeing 737 crashed on the M1

A JOURNALIST'S TALE, Part 3

By STEVE BOTT

Daily Star staff 1980s

The banter was fast and furious but apart from chats with the likes of Denis Law, a Star columnist at the time, when he popped in to see the boss, one of my best and most amusing memories from my time at the Star occurred on the night of the East Midlands air crash on the M1.

I had started work at lunchtime that day, a Sunday, covering a Rugby League match then returning to the office to start my shift at 6pm on the stone in the days when hot metal and printer's ink was still in full flow.

A passenger jet had crashed in a field bordering the M1 as it came in to land and all hell had broken loose in the office. The atmosphere when something like that happened was electric and it was then that you saw just how professional and talented the people around you really were.

My aforementioned colleague Mr Moynihan was with me that night and although we had a relatively easy shift as news took our back page for a wrapround spread on the disaster we still had to wait till the bitter end to check our other pages as each edition went.

And so at 3am on Monday morning covered in printer's ink and struggling to stand up, John turned to me as the last page went and said 'Right come on Botty. I don't care if the Queen has a black baby. We are out of here!'

Immortal words, which if repeated now would probably see Mr Moynihan sued by Anton Ferdinand or the like but at the time it was and still is very, very funny.

The Star moved to London in 1990 following the introduction of computerisation and a whole new ball game opened up for journalists and newspapers in general. It wasn't so much a brave, new world as totally unknown territory and it caused immense upheaval as well wrecking some peoples lives and careers along the way.

Blackburn and the Lancashire Evening Telegraph was my first stop after the Star. Although it was a big step down after nine years on a national newspaper, I was relishing the prospect of covering a football club 24/7. That club was Burnley FC and I started the job at the same time as a new manager stepped into the hot seat at Turf Moor.

That man was Frank Casper, a silky smooth inside forward who played for Burnley in their Team of the Seventies that also included the likes of Martin Dobson, Paul Fletcher and many other shining stars of the time.

I have remained a firm friend of Frank's ever since and value his friendship too as he is one of the most genuine, kind people I have ever met. He also has impeccable manners … but most importantly he is still prepared to talk to me!

My then immediate boss at the Telegraph, Alan Simpson, himself a Burnley FC fan, said he would like me to travel with the team for a season on the coach and in their hotel. Frank, after consulting his chairman Frank Teasdale and the rest of the board, agreed to our request and I became Burnley's 15th man!

I did get on the pitch at various grounds, including Turf Moor, but not as a player. There were several men of many parts in that team. While I was a journo itching to score a hat-trick, the late Ray Deakin was a left back who also drove the team coach on occasions!

Ray, a player at Everton, Port Vale and Bolton before joining Burnley, held a PSV licence and when owner driver Hughie Jones or his son Simon needed a rest Ray stepped into the driver's seat amid huge amounts of ribald humour emanating from his team-mates at the back of the bus!

Good job Ray had a sense of humour beneath that quiet, unassuming exterior. The lads pulled another stunt at a hotel in the West Country that was a mite eerie to say the least. Ray let it slip that he had a fear of ghosts. So after much winding up and a sleepless night he was sitting with the boys at breakfast when one of the waiters creaked open the dining room door and announced: "Visitor for Mr Deakin!" In came this figure covered in a white shroud heading for Ray and making scary Woo-ooh noises.

Somebody got up and whipped off the sheet to reveal Chris Pearce, goalkeeper and japester supreme. Everyone fell about and even Ray smiled!

Sadly Ray, a lovely man who just got on with his job, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2008 and passed away at the very young age of just 49.

27 botty shah.jpg

Eddy Shah boss of Today newspaper

From Burnley and the LET I moved on to London, the big city, the Smoke in July 1994. The job there was sport again, on the sports desk of a relatively new national newspaper, Today, brought in by the Government to kill off the print unions and bring in computerisation fully to national newspapers.

Eddy Shah had already done that job in the North on his weekly series in Warrington. Once the printers had been crushed and disposed of after a few weeks of rioting outside the gates of Rupert Murdoch's plant at Wapping in East London the paper brought in computers, full colour and the rest and slowly it began to grow in terms of circulation and reputation.

I met many famous people during my time at Wapping. Rupert Murdoch stood at the head of our sports desk one afternoon and I regularly chatted about Burnley Football Club with Alastair Campbell at the start of each working day, which was around 4pm most afternoons as we worked up to midnight. Alastair was Today's political correspondent in those days, 1991, before he went on to become Prime Minister Tony Blair's "spin doctor".

From Wapping back to the North and Leeds with the Press Association then a spell of freelancing from home in Ramsbottom near Bury and Stockport in the office of a small agency set up by a national newspaper colleague.

From there I went to Newcastle in 1996 after some time shifting in London. I covered Middlesbrough Football Club the year they had Bryan Robson as manager and Juninho, Ravanelli and Emerson on board as players.

It was a short but spectacular ride for the Boro that season. Two cup finals, three if you count the League Cup replay with Leicester and a relegation from the Premier League despite Ravanelli's 30 goals!

Leeds again after that on the Yorkshire Evening Post for a short six-month spell on sport.

In 1999 I joined the Bury Times working on sport again with Phil Thorp. Bury FC were the main focus of attention. Phil covered them and I stood in for him when he was on holiday.

My brief was covering Radcliffe Borough, a non-league team, a few rungs down the ladder on England's football ladder.

Trips to Ramsbottom United, another non-league team, were frequent too. I had lived on the outskirts of Ramsbottom for four years so knew the club well.

But Radcliffe was main focus and I got along well with manager Kevin Glendon and club chairman Bernard Manning Junior, son of the famous comedian.

Bernard snr entertained at functions in the social club from time to time and because of the Manning's footballing connections, primarily with Manchester City, several big name team played friendlies at Stainton Park, Radcliffe's ground, and the stands were constantly full of various football personalties. Phil Neville in fact came to watch one game and stood on the terraces.

I left the Bury Times in 2003 and went back to national newspapers doing shifts on the Daily Star at their plant in Broughton, close to the M6 in Preston.

That location prompted me to move to the Yorkshire Dales in December 2003, something I had wanted to do for years as I was a regular visitor to the area and still am.

I rented a lovely three-bedroomed cottage in Brigflatts on the outskirts of Sedbergh.

NEXT: BRIGFLATTS


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