Merry master McGhee revelled in values now lost

Click to follow
The Independent Football

On a golf course in Las Vegas some years ago, Jim Murray, late of this life and the Los Angeles Times, said that along with a reliable putting stroke he was still seeking the Holy Grail of newspaperdom - the "column that writes itself".

On a golf course in Las Vegas some years ago, Jim Murray, late of this life and the Los Angeles Times, said that along with a reliable putting stroke he was still seeking the Holy Grail of newspaperdom - the "column that writes itself".

Well, God is getting an earful today. I hope He understands the offside law, jab and move, how to deal with a southpaw, when it would do you some good to play for time and the truth behind Alf Ramsey's downfall. He will get a lecture on Henry Cooper's famed left hook, Matt Busby's method of football management and the pure essentials of sportswriting.

At the end of this, the narrator will doff his trilby, tweak his moustache and make for the nearest bar. They called time on Frank McGhee this week and he went easy. In his sleep, which is the best any of us can hope for.

For the majority of today's sportswriters McGhee is merely a name from the past that crops up when some of the older guys get around to reminiscing. However, in his time with the Mirror newspapers before the drama became too much for him, McGhee was an outstanding reporter with the priceless gift of clarity. He was fun too and determined to keep from his employers the joy he derived from writing about sport and travelling the world at their expense. "Please God, never let them find out," I remember him saying.

Until the job broke down his enthusiasm, McGhee had a terrible hang-up. He thought sport should be fun. Today, he would infuriate the types who think football is a solemn High Mass that passeth ordinary understanding.

Arresting intelligence did not conceal the fact that there was a lot of little boy in McGhee, the eternal kid-at-a-circus. Sometimes you felt that he was the world's oldest nine year old, always leading a parade.

Someone once said of McGhee that if it wasn't for the scope of his friendships in sport he would have collected more bruises than a journeyman of the ring. Fancy often drives out fact to the point where people are left wondering what a man actually was like.

In the mood, McGhee could raise a storm, sometimes admitting that he was out of order, but not often. Once, on an England football tour, he spoke well of Mike Summerbee. Before the Manchester City winger was able to acknowledge a deserved compliment, McGhee added: "Yes, you're good. But not good enough." Soon afterwards, Allan Clarke pulled me to one side, pointed at McGhee and said: "You tell him whether I can play or not."

That few in his time bore a grudge against McGhee said a lot for his personality and the fact of never betraying a confidence. He grew close to such notable figures of his day as Matt Busby, Alf Ramsey and Don Revie but was never reluctant to take them on in conversation.

In recent years, no aspect of reporting sport has changed more than contact with participants. The sort of relationships some of us enjoyed and still maintain are not available to a younger generation. For example, some of the people who have called to speak about McGhee since his death was announced on Tuesday are old sporting heroes who hold fond memories of him.

The era McGhee worked through ended long before he died and it became difficult for him to sustain enthusiasm for sport through the years when many things he stood for were condemned or ridiculed in the rush to establish different values.

It is part of the passing of time that those who know about McGhee's stature do not need to be reminded of it and the rest are too preoccupied with their piece of the action to care. What counts more than evidence of his talent is the unflagging gratitude of sportswriters who were coming through in his prime.

Looking back only briefly on McGhee's substantial career and thinking of him as a friend, it is easy to understand why many hold up a lot of his work as an enduring example. At his best he seldom missed a trick. Saw most things clearly.

To a young writer who was pushing up dangerously close to a deadline, he gave the following advice. "If you can't write a good piece, write a bad one."

Comments