Obituary: The Sporting Life

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The Independent Online
THE SPORTING LIFE, which appeared for the last time as a racing paper this morning, was born into a volatile mid-19th century publishing market in which the longevity of new arrivals was often measured in months rather than years. It was the same year, 1859, that the Jockey Club banned the racing of yearlings, and six years before Gladiateur became the first foreign-bred colt to win the Derby, thus earning the nickname "the Avenger of Waterloo".

The competition was fierce, but racing was enormously popular, with off- course bookmakers, despite their illegal status, doing a roaring trade. Accurate information on such vital details as entries and weights was often difficult to come by, however, and by both improving the service and reporting results and starting prices reliably and accurately, the Life soon carved a valuable niche in the market.

Other racing publications, such as The Sportsman, either struggled or were absorbed by the Life. Whether in the drawing rooms of country houses or the back rooms of illegal bookies, the Life was the absolute authority on the daily news of the Turf. Bets - often huge - were struck, lost and paid entirely on the basis of the information in the Life.

Even when it was well past its century, and racing coverage had extended to the mainstream daily press, the Life was still seeing off the competition. With writers of the quality of Jeffrey Bernard on its books, the Life seemed set fair for another 100 years, and there was even an award for the Campaigning Journalist of the Year in 1979, awarded to the paper's chief reporter, John McCririck.

The rival which would be its nemesis, however, appeared in 1986. The Racing Post was funded by the Maktoum brothers, who did not always agree with the opposition's analysis of their position in British racing (the Life was actually banned in Dubai for three weeks in 1988). Just as the Life swallowed Victorian competitors, now it too has succumbed, and it is anyone's guess how long its name will last on the Post masthead.

Yesterday it was announced that John Mulholland, media editor of The Guardian, had been appointed editor of the Life and that the paper would return as an all-sports daily in October, with a target circulation of around 80,000 to 90,000 and a staff of 80.

Mirror Group deputy chief executive Kelvin MacKenzie said the new Life would be "neither upmarket nor down, but accessible to all sports fans".

In the meantime, there is one place where you will be able to take the Life - the Internet site (www.sporting-life.com). The Life which was born in the age of Empire and the Industrial Revolution is no more, but its electronic little brother will live on in cyberspace.

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