Saturday 15 October 2011

Homage to Hugh McIlvanney: Simply the greatest

Terrific article on the Sports Journalists' Association website by Norman Giller on why Hugh McIlvanney is our greatest sports journalist.

What I like about Giller's piece is the colour he adds about the antics sports journalists get up to in their spare time and how he once tried to chuck McIlvanney out of his house at knife point.

"In the dim and distant past Hughie and I have had some wild adventures," Giller writes. "Once, with a bread knife in my hand, I invited him to leave my home after he had punctured a party mood with his kilned-in-Kilmarnock threat of violence.

"Some time later we were legless members of a press corps who disgraced ourselves by our raucous behaviour during a Geoff Hurst testimonial dinner at the London Hilton. That was the night a pissed-as-a-pudding Peter Batt insisted on singing My Way with the band, and fell head first off the stage after completing the line, “And now the end is near …”

"Our unrehearsed and unwanted cabaret continued with wild fistfights (I floored Straw Dogs author Gordon Williams with an ABA-perfect left hook), and Hughie stripped down to the waist, prepared to take on all-comers. And we call the fans hooligans!"

Sounds like a fun evening.

Of McIlvanney's journalism, Giller says: "For more than 40 years, I have scribbled in Hugh’s writing shadow. He is up there with my all-time heroes like Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Daman Runyan, Red Smith, AJ Liebling and the only two British sportswriters in the same street, Ian Wooldridge and George Whiting.

"Yes, the likes of Pat Collins, James Lawton and Martin Samuel are class acts, but I know they will concede they have to bow the knee to McIlvanney."

He gives a number of great examples of "the master's" work.

My best of McIlvanney, now with the Sunday Times, would have to include his description of the Welsh boxer Johnny Owen who died of injuries sustained in the ring. "It was boxing that gave Johnny Owen his one positive means of self-expression... It is his tragedy that he found himself articulate in such a dangerous language."

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