Obituary: Harold Abel

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HAROLD ABEL was the classic national news-agency sports reporter, working in Fleet Street, when the newspaper industry was still based there, from 1949 until 1986.

For the first half of his career he was employed by Pardon's Cricket and Football Reporting Agency, who supplied the sole coverage of those sports to the Press Association. When the agencies amalgamated in 1965 his contributions continued seamlessly.

He was successively soccer and cricket correspondent of the Press Association. Abel had the obligatory encyclopaedic knowledge of the history and current state of his subjects. His agency's words were communicated to every paper in the country and abroad through Reuters. But it was also important for agency reporters to have the complete respect and trust of semi-despotic administrators.

Bodies like the Football Association, the Football League, MCC, of which Abel was a member, and the Test and County Cricket Board, used Pardon's and the PA to release all news, knowing that it would be instantly transmitted.

Abel acquired the confidence of administrators who operated in his first 25 years, before media and marketing departments and spin-doctors emerged. Hard-bitten sports rulers like Alan Hardaker of the Football League, Sir Stanley Rous and Joe Mears of the FA, Gubby Allen and Sir Plum Warner at Lord's, conducted themselves like medieval emperors and it was necessary to work hard and demonstrate integrity before gaining their total acceptance. Harold Abel, like many others, but not all, came successfully through the faintly feudal rigmarole.

Every match involved producing accurate, informed copy. That's what they're all paid for, but the agency man is churning out the stuff during play and more "on the whistle" or at stumps. Abel hit the deadlines, his copy being always graced with originality. His transient journalism has inevitably vanished, but his work is preserved over several decades in Wisden, which was compiled almost exclusively by Pardon's staff under the editorship of Norman Preston.

Abel, a classy amateur footballer, never confessed to a favourite football or cricket team, but he relished his turn to watch Surrey of the 1950s or Danny Blanchflower and Tottenham of the early 1960s. He worked alongside and was greatly respected by some of the leading by-lined reporters of his era - Bernard Joy and Geoffrey Green, from the cramped football press- boxes; John Woodcock, Jim Swanton and the increasing number of famous players whose second career was cricket journalism. It was Denis Compton who nominated Abel as his successor as Chairman of the Cricket Writers' Club in 1978.

Born in Ilford, east London, but living most of his life in Surrey, Abel went into the RAF after war broke out when he was still a teenager. He saw war service as a Sergeant code-breaker in the Egyptian desert and was then posted to India, and post-war Berlin.

On graduating to journalism, he reported many football internationals - including World Cup final 1966 - before earning one of the coveted Test- match duties for Press Association in 1970. He was supremely helpful to younger entrants to the Test press box, provided the newcomer had shown a civilised attitude to the game and his colleagues - not always identifiable credentials.

In 1977 he witnessed Ian Botham muscle his way into Test cricket and sagely remarked: "We are going to enjoy watching this lad, but he's going to give us writers a bit of overtime." He was - as so often - precisely correct.

Ill-health forced him to reduce his reporting activities in 1981 and soon after he retired in 1986 Jeannie, his wife of 39 years, died suddenly, meaning that they were not able to enjoy together their retirement in Chichester, Sussex.

Norman Bartlett

Harold Ernest Abel, sports journalist: born London 8 November 1920; married 1948 Jeannie Quittenden (died 1987; one son, one daughter); died Chichester, West Sussex 3 November 1999.