End of a running commentary on the grand soap opera

David Meek (above) today files his final match report on United after 37 years' coverage. He talks to Guy Hodgson about the men who have made the club great

Whatever the result in today's FA Cup final, one man closely intertwined with the fate of Manchester United will be suffering mixed emotions. "I might shed a quiet tear," David Meek said while adding he could also be overwhelmed with relief.

Meek is a journalistic institution. For 37 years he has reported on the goings-on at Old Trafford for the Manchester Evening News and probably knows more about that other institution, Manchester United, than any other man alive. Today, after some 2,000 match reports, he retires.

In Manchester, his last report in nightly pages will be regarded like final communication from a close friend. More than half the city's population has never known anyone else write on United for the evening paper, and you would need to be in your seventies to recall anyone other than Meek or his predecessor, Tom Jackson.

"It will be a poignant moment," he said, "but I expect it will hit home only afterwards when there isn't a match to go to. Fortunately, there's the summer to come, so no one will be reporting football. I'll be easing into retirement."

Which is not how you could describe his entrance to the job. He was a political leader writer when the Munich air crash in February 1958 shaped his career. Jackson, who had reported on United for 25 years, was among the casualties and Meek was asked to be a temporary, emergency substitute.

It was a difficult task at an emotionally charged time and his last match was supposed to be United's FA Cup final against Bolton Wanderers three months later, but a persuasive editor (and pay-rise) proved irresistible for the next year. And the next, and the next . . .

"I was going to do it for a season and then maybe two seasons, but Manchester United are the kind of club you just don't walk away from," Meek said. "There's always something novel, something exciting. I know there's a saying in newspapers that there's nothing new under the sun, but United have come close to proving that untrue."

The club's rise to the pinnacle of Europe and fall to the Second Division; the managers who have come and gone; the players who have thrilled and appalled, Meek has provided a running commentary on the biggest sporting soap opera outside the England cricket captaincy.

"Even these last few years," he said, "who could have forseen the drama that lay in that. Everything from another transfer record, pounds 7m for Andy Cole, the Eric Cantona situation, Roy Keane and the success under Alex Ferguson of back-to-back championships and the Double. I'm glad I never walked away from it because there was so much I'd have missed."

His favourite United players over the period would echo the choice of most supporters: George Best and Eric Cantona. They fill, he says, the criteria of being "a delight on the field while being notable suppliers of news".

"Best was the finest player I've ever seen. He could tackle and head the ball quite apart from his dribbling ability. Cantona is a magic man on the field, but like George there's never a dull moment when he's around. He's a character. He's different.

"That doesn't mean to say one approves of everything Eric and George have done in their careers, but it's challenging as a newspaper man to analyse it, understand it and present it."

An approach which, he says, was missing in the reporting of Cantona's assault of a fan at Selhurst Park, a most blatant example of the changing face of sports journalism in his time. The vast numbers who report on United now in comparision to the 1950s is matched, in his view, by gross exaggeration.

"I thought some of the reporting was a disgrace. `Boot him out of England' was one headline, and another paper said Cantona should never be allowed to kick a ball again. It wasn't sports people writing these things. It overflowed into the news side and they made a public spectacle out of it.

"I'm not defending Cantona, but some newspapers lost their sense of proportion and turned the whole thing into a circus. They weren't dealing with it in the serious way the situation demanded."

Cantona, for his all faults, still makes it into Meek's team of best United players over his 37 years [see panel], a choice which he agrees will not meet with universal approval. "I hope Paddy Crerand doesn't read it, for a start," he said. "If I'd played a 4-3-3 formation he'd be in, but you have to leave some great players out."

As he was talking, Wilf McGuinness, a former United manager, walked over. "David has been one of the great reporters over the last few decades," he said, before pausing for effect. "Now for my next lie . . ."

Meek caught the mood: "I've written, give or take a few thousand, six million words on Manchester United. Every one different, honed and polished." He laughed with McGuinness and then, quietening, he added: "Maybe it is time to stand aside."

Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
Sport
Sergio Romero saves Wesley Sneijder's penalty
world cup 2014But after defeating the Dutch, Lionel Messi and Argentina will walk out at the Maracana on Sunday as underdogs against Germany
Sport
Scoreboard at the end of the semi-final World Cup match between Brazil and Germany at The Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte
Sport
'Saddest man in Brazil' takes defeat with good grace, handing replica trophy to German fans
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Sport
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
football
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
video
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience
News
The garage was up for sale in Canning Place Mews for £500,000
newsGarage for sale for £500,000
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile App/IOS Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC)

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Mobile App/IOS...

Front End Developer-JavaScript, Angular J.S, HTML, CSS, ASP.NET

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front End Deve...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil