Ian Wooldridge a Tribute
I first came into contact with him when I was compiling No Nay Never. The success of that book depended entirely on the cooperation of people like Ian. There were so many that I had to approach to get permission to use their material, and don't forget these were the top, top people in their field. I can't think if he was second or third on the list but he gave his permission in an instant and it was just such a privilege to talk to him.
For me, an amateur writer, it was a daunting task picking up the phone to speak to these people. I had no idea what to expect, would they think me a nuisance or an irritation, would it be a curt dismissal, a polite disinterest or support and encouragement. With Ian Wooldridge it was at once the latter. He was immediately interested in the project and like all journalists of his generation had a soft spot for Burnley.
It was his account of the Orient game that I wanted to use and if there is such a thing as the definitive piece of sports writing, then the piece he wrote must be it. If you were there, and now read his piece twenty years later, I defy you not to have moist eyes or at the very least a lump in your throat, and to be able to relive the day.
It wasn't the greatest football match of all time but it was one of the truly great sporting occasions of all time and that was the point that comes through his account of the afternoon. Mind you to refer to it simply as an 'account' does it no justice at all.
Since No Nay Never and the brief conversations I had with him Ian Wooldridge has helped in other ways, although he doesn't know it. Faced with something difficult I wanted to say, maybe I'd be searching for an expression, a phrase, or a beginning. I would ask, "How would Ian Wooldridge write this?"
The playwright Tom Stoppard tells the story that his mother who lived till the age of 85 had no interest in sport whatsoever. But even at the very end she was still reading the Wooldridge column in the Daily Mail because she loved his writing. You can pay someone no higher compliment.
Ian Wooldridge. Thank you.
Click HERE to read Ian Wooldridge's account of the Orient game.