Tributes to Wooly
We remember a great journalist and broadcaster
Last Updated: September 23, 2012 1:10pm
This week on the Sunday Supplement, we remembered the man who has been at the very heart of our show over the years.
Presenter Brian Woolnough died on Tuesday after a battle with cancer and so our guests from across Fleet Street shared some of their thoughts, memories and tributes to him at the breakfast table.
As one of the most distinguished figures in sports journalism, Brian was a hugely influential writer for both The Sun and the Daily Star during his long and successful career.
And our guests told us what made him so good at his job ...
Shaun Custis - The Sun
"He was a hugely inspirational figure to a lot of us. I grew up reading him and watching him in action was an education in itself. All of us have sat in a press conference where Brian's booming voice came across the room and it was always a question that was to the point and would put managers and players on the back foot - but they always had a respect for him when he was asking those questions; they knew that he knew what he was talking about.
"He defined news journalism, certainly in tabloid newspapers. He knew the angle to go for and he knew what would make big headlines, but he loved to the game. He was hugely passionate about England - we could never quite get a handle on what club he supported, but we knew he supported England and so wanted them to do well. He'd seen England win the World Cup and I think that's what drove him on to expect and want England to do it again - and he could never understand why they couldn't.
"He was also great company and somebody we could learn off. In a way his journalism was very simple, he saw it very black and white in a lot of ways; this is wrong, this is right. 'Something must be done' was one of his favourite phrases. You could see when he did it around this table how important all the issues were to him."
Andy Dunn - Sunday Mirror
"He was a patriarchal figure for the whole press pack. He was the guy that everyone looked up to. When you get to that level in sports journalism it's quite tough; it's hard to get into and it's hard to feel instantly accepted but Brian was one of those that would embrace the younger generation. He would give them advice and as much time as they wanted to dispense advice to them.
"We should almost retire that middle seat of the front row. That was Wooly's seat. I remember the famous Graham Taylor press conference and Wooly asked the first question. He started off with 'Graham, you're a very brave manager...' which was basically a euphemism for 'what on earth are you doing?' He had a way of couching questions in a civilised and pleasant way, but getting straight to the point. He would sit there in the middle and guys would look up to him.
"He was great company socially. You would go out for dinner and every time it would be a 'Sunday Supplement'. He'd sit and ask us what we thought and he'd collate all the ideas and then he'd put his own in. You'd read his column and it would be an analysis of what we'd all talked about."
Henry Winter - Daily Telegraph
"The great thing about Brian is that he actually had a balance in his life. Whenever we'd be in airports or press boxes or waiting for press conferences to start, you'd often talk to Brian about his family and the pride he took in his children's achievements and his wife. He did seem to have that balance, but his passion for football shone through. That's why so many of the tributes from managers this week have been so interesting. Sir Alex Ferguson spoke about how Brian's questions were always big heavyweight difficult questions, but the questions that had to be asked.
"Brian had such respect in the game that even someone like Bert Millichip, the chairman of the Football Association, would take his calls late on a Thursday or Friday night. Brian would be looking for a back-page lead for The Sun and because he had this innate charm in the way he asked questions then Millichip - who was usually quite guarded with his responses - would invariably give Brian a line. It came to such a point that Terry Venables would be sending one of the FA officials down to King's Cross station to get the first edition of The Sun to see what his employer had said about him!
"For me, that shows Brian completely. He'd ask the big questions, do it in a charming way and keep people on side (even people he was criticising). You had to read him and read every word that he wrote. He inhabited an area of Fleet Street that inevitably contains fairly shouty headlines but when you read Brian he understood the shades of management, he understood it wasn't all black and white, he understood it wasn't simply about the results. He could have worked anywhere in Fleet Street and then he stepped into the television world and was a natural broadcaster."