Drawn to the stars: Sketchy memories of Sir Alf and his ilk

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From a naked Evonne Goolagong to a very distracted George Best, Paul Trevillion tells Simon Hart of some amazing artistic encounters

To label Paul Trevillion a cartoonist is rather like calling Lionel Messi a footballer: it offers just a hint of the whole story.

Trevillion may be best known for the "You Are The Ref" comic strip, but his life less ordinary sounds rather like a sporting equivalent of "Forrest Gump" – a journey that has brought him into contact with many of the greatest names of the past half-century in the world of sport and beyond. As he puts it: "I've drawn everybody, I've been around a long time."

He was 21 when, in 1955, his portrait of Winston Churchill earned him an appointment for tea with the retired Prime Minister, who was so taken by Trevillion's drawing that he signed it. By that stage the Duke of Edinburgh had already offered his encouragement at an awards ceremony at Mansion House where Trevillion told him: "I draw sports stars."

The rest is a long and colourful history that takes in so much more than illustrating "Roy of the Rovers" and the "Gary Player Golf Class" instructional strip that was syndicated in 1,500 newspapers worldwide. This, after all, is the flamboyant figure who devised an image makeover for Don Revie's "Dirty Leeds", created a split-hand golf putting technique, spent 15 years as a stand-up comedian and was also the world speed-kissing champion.

Yet the constant thread in his life's work has been a wish to capture sport's great and good, usually in ink drawings – his output over a six-decade Fleet Street career earning him the moniker "The Master of Movement".

"People sit on deckchairs and watch the sea come in all day long. People love horses, they love movement," he says. And in his eyes one sport stands out. "The greatest sport for movement, real movement, is boxing. That is the ultimate. In football you're trying to score a goal, in boxing you're fighting for your life." He would like to have boxed himself but was told by Sugar Ray Robinson: "No way, you've got no balance."

Thankfully, Trevillion had his own God-given talent. "I could draw before I could talk." He still sleeps with a pencil under his pillow, and still remains in demand, having recently contributed his comic art realism to "The Footballers' Guidebook", a mental-health tome being issued by the Professional Footballers' Association. He is now working on his autobiography, "Drawn to Life", which, with a film deal signed, is being turned concurrently into a screenplay. If it is anything like two hours in the company of this breathless raconteur, 77 years young, it will be a treat.

"Drawn to Life" will be published next year by Great Northern Books

Click on the gallery above to see the drawings


I love this sketch – it's great fun for an artist to do a reverse image. Why did Pele like it? Because I did a Michael Jackson for him – I have made him white. He loved that because it's a striking image. I've met Pele lots of times and the essence of him is he is still nine years old. That is why he still looks so young, and I've never known anybody with such enthusiasm. I once asked Pele's mentor, Professor Julio Mazzei, who coached him at New York Cosmos, the difference between him and Maradona. He said Pele could not move at the speed Maradona did, but Maradona did it all on his own, whereas Pele didn't have to. Pele did the assist for the greatest goal in World Cup history by Carlos Alberto in the 1970 final – I was talking about that when I met Carlos Alberto at Soccerex in Manchester the other week. I asked him: "What's your memory of Pele?" He said: "I was the only one in the team who was allowed to say, 'Come and do some work' because he would never come back and help the defence."

George Best

I used to go to the Cliff at Man United to see Besty and he'd always be the only one left, kicking a ball about with some kids outside. I worked with George for 20 months, doing a strip called "The Best way to play football" in the Sunday People. I drew this when I was with him, and Gordon Taylor now has the original in the PFA offices. I sent a copy to his sister and she said: "That's my brother." He could draw a bit himself – he once told me he did the drawings of the Snow White dwarves as a boy. He was the best-looking guy I've ever seen and he never said no. When you were sitting with George, a girl would come over and he'd say: "I'll be with you in a minute, love." And then another would come up. There'd be about six of them in the end and George would say: "But which one do you think was the best?" Sometimes when we were doing the strip he would phone me up in the middle of the night and give his excuses – I had not seen him and had to do the sketches blind. I'd say: "George, it's four in the morning." And he'd tell me: "I've just come back from a morning run." He was sleeping with all these birds.

Gary Lineker

My father wouldn't let me paint in oils, because if you paint in ink you are finished, that is the end of it. But this is one of the best things I've done in oils, even if when I look at it I want to do the ear better. I did Lineker's "Striker" handbook in the early '90s and went to his house. He was like Noël Coward, the way he picked everything up [mimes dainty movements]. He had these lovely paintings of animals by the wildlife artist, David Shepherd – the tiger, the elephant. Gazza's house was the opposite – he was my neighbour when he was at Spurs and he had a massive China leopard in the house and there was a Mars bar in its mouth. I went on the training ground with them at Tottenham, and Lineker was the master of reading the ball in the air. He told me his brother was 10 times the footballer he was but he wanted to be the best and he used to run as if there was a shelf under his chin, so he knew where the ball was. He could read the flight of a ball better than anyone. Paul Stewart hit one ball and as soon as it left his foot, Lineker said to me: "Paul go over there" and I could have caught it.

Oscar De La Hoya

I love boxing and Oscar De La Hoya is the best-looking boxer there's ever been – you wouldn't think he'd ever been in a fight. I spoke to his agent and he told me to come up to Bear Mountain, where he was training in California. "He will give you five minutes," he said. I watched them bandage his hands. Then I wanted to see how quick he was so I got in the ring with him. I said: "Just throw one." He said: "I've thrown it." I never saw it. He said: "The opponent doesn't see it either, he just feels it." He showed me the cream on the back of his glove – the sun cream from my skin. When I showed him the picture, he laughed and said: "I've got four hands." I said: "You're that good, you're that quick." I did a drawing for the invitation for his foundation's dinner where he sat me next to Nicole Kidman. She asked me to draw her with her make-up pencil. I got a contract from Oscar to do all his programmes but I wanted other challenges.

Sir Alf Ramsey

I grew up on Love Lane, Tottenham, and my father took me to my first game at White Hart Lane when I was three. When I went to football, the first thing I wanted to do was come home and draw the footballers, and I used to draw all the Spurs players. In 1949, I drew Alf Ramsey heading the ball and presented it to him. He wanted to tear it up and told me: "I don't head the ball. If you want a picture of someone heading, do Nat Lofthouse, do Jackie Milburn, don't do me – get me passing." I learnt a big lesson from that. For this picture (above), I drew him in the sun. I showed him it after a game at Wembley. He'd left the England job by then and was walking to a car park away from the stadium. I asked him: "Why aren't you parked in Wembley?" He said: "I'm no longer the manager." I asked him what he thought of the picture and he said: "You can finally get me."

Alan Ball

This was done in five minutes – they called him the "Ball of fire" and this was a ball of fire. He is very red, he had red hair and I drew it like a circle, but a circle of lines. Bally watched me do it and laughed. Everything on it is round. I do a lot of straight lines in my work and Milt Neil, the Disney animator, said to me: "You do mini-animation." I said: "What do you mean?" He said: "You cheat with your movement. You do three movements in one. You start a movement and take it to the next stage and finish it in a third stage. It is a mini-animation – that is why they move." I don't do better than Alan Ball. He loved it – he had it in his hall.

Evonne Goolagong

Before Wimbledon one year in the '70s I did this sketch of Evonne Goolagong in the nude for The Sun. It caused a controversy and was even raised in Parliament, but she had the greatest body I've ever seen. If I don't see them I won't draw them so I met her before drawing her. I said: "Your backhand is so good, it's such a hard shot." She said it was the easiest shot. She got a hat and put it on the hat stand like that [mimics backhand movement]. As she was moving I was watching her body. I asked her to stand up for a moment and to turn around. "Why Paul?" she asked. "I just want to look at you." Then she saw herself in The Sun – she really believes I saw her in the dressing room with no clothes on. I didn't. I know bodies enough. In most of my drawings there are no clothes on before finishing.

Don Revie

I came back from the States where I'd worked for Mark McCormack and seen how much fun sport was over there – before and after the actual game. I wanted to do something here, getting players to run out together. I went to Don Revie and he laughed and that's why I drew him laughing. He said: "You've convinced me, now convince the boys." And I did. They ran out 15 minutes before kick-off and there were 12 of them, four in each corner, and then they all joined up. Les Cocker, Revie's coach, did the choreography. I started this sketch in 1972 but never finished it until I found it again recently. I gave it to Duncan Revie at Soccerex and he said: "That's the smile I saw – it's my dad, not the football manager." I saw something at Leeds I'd never seen before – they all got on. It was like a family and even Duncan said to me: "I was the 18th son."

Alec Bedser

When England regained the Ashes for the first time in 19 years in 1953, I was at the Oval and did a drawing of Alec Bedser. It was raining and I thought the rain had ruined it but I showed it to him and he said he liked it and wrote on it: "Best wishes Alec B." I had wanted to draw him so much but in my life I couldn't draw as badly as I did then. I was determined to draw him again. I went up to him with this in 1998 and he said: "That's fantastic" and signed it. I like the movement in cricket and he loved the bowling action. I showed him the original one and he said: "I still prefer this one!" He wondered why I still had it and I said: "Because you signed it."

Tiger Woods

It is not the movement with Tiger, it's the stare. I like the way he steps into his own vacuum. I know the man who manages Tiger at Nike and they arrange for me to go over there when he is practising. I just sit and watch him, and that is how he looks. It is no good saying "hello Tiger" – I've talked to Tiger and he's just not heard me. He is in his own world. I watch Lee Westwood and see him looking at the scoreboard; you put Westwood with Tiger and he is thinking about what Tiger is doing. But there is nobody there when Tiger plays. When Tiger leaves the course people say, "Oh he doesn't sign autographs" but to him they're not there. Concentration is the key. I used to work with Lee Trevino and he was the master of cracking a gag, he would laugh with the gallery but then suddenly – whoosh – he was gone. He could turn his concentration on and off. If Westwood had half that concentration he might win things.

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