Branching out into sports publishing and meeting my footballing heroes

  Posted: 07.04.21 at 20:26 by Philip Evans

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Nub News editor Philip Evans continues his series looking back over his 55-year career in journalism, many years of which have been spent covering East Devon.

Whilst a bit of a cultural shock, moving to East End with an office in Dagenham had its benefits, especially for someone who was mad on football.

The Dagenham area produced some fantastic footballers – Jimmy Greaves, Terry Venables, Bobby Moore, Harry Redknapp. The list was never ending.

The two main newspapers in the group I was managing were the Dagenham Post and the East London Advertiser and in keeping with the strong sporting ties with this part of London, the sports pages were avidly read.

Boxing was also big in the East End and in Len Whaley we had one of London’s top boxing writers.

Not long after joining the company I was invited by West Ham’s club chairman at the time, Terence Brown, to join him for lunch at The Boleyn Ground and to watch the game afterwards.

But as they say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch and over a drink in the director’s lounge I was asked if we would take an advertising board at Upton Park.

I suspected it would be something like this and had a counter proposal instead. I said we would take a board if they allowed us to print a monthly newspaper called Hammers News, the profits from which we would keep, convincing them it would be good publicity for the club.

I employed the former editor of the West Ham match programme, Tony McDonald, a mad West Ham fan, whose father Terry played for Leyton Orient when they were in the old First Division.

I also transferred one of the sales girls, Heather Simpson, to look after promotions and advertising.

Within less than a year we had done deals at Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal and spread our wings to the north, picking up contracts with Manchester City, Leeds United and Blackburn Rovers.

Before this, we had turned them into glossy magazines. We ended up with an executive box in each of the clubs and for the next few years I spent every Saturday afternoon in the winter entertaining advertisers and rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names in football.

I even became a vice-president at Spurs during the period when Terry Venables was manager and often ended up after a match at his members’ club, Scribes, in West Kensington to the early hours of the morning.

Venables was a great crooner and would often get up and entertain his guests with a song or two. He was such a nice bloke.

Things were not so jolly when the Sugar family took over the club and parted company with Venables. But I had some happy times at White Hart Lane – and especially at Scribes, where occasionally I was able to take some of my friends from home.

It wasn’t easy negotiating with football clubs. They run them like no other reputable business and often ignored contracts without giving any prior notice.

The best club to deal with was Arsenal, very professional; the worst, Leeds United. A big club but impossible to build a working relation unless you were prepared to chuck around a few brown envelopes.

One incident I will always remember at Upton Park happened after a game. On match days my small team, including myself, wore claret blazers with a blue badge. We looked like a load of Dorset & Wilts bus drivers!

After a game we would always congregate for a few drinks in the lounge bar of the Boleyn pub, which was just outside the ground.

This was at the time of the ill-fated bond scheme which caused a great rift between the supporters and the board.

One of the ardent supporters drinking in the main bar saw us all in our claret blazers and thought we were West Ham staff. He started remonstrating about how unfair the bond scheme was and I was trying to calm him down by saying it was nothing to do with us but why didn’t I buy him a drink.

I remember distinctly he had West Ham tattooed on his lip. Then he pushed me in the chest with such force I went flying out the lounge door. It just happened that parked outside was my driver, Timmy, who could handle himself, and he pulled the West Ham fan out of the pub and floored him with one punch.

When the guy came round he thought I had punched him and for the next two hours I was his best friend. He held me in a vice-like grip and poured gin down my throat until I could take no more.

I mentioned that Leeds United was a difficult club to deal with but I always enjoyed my visits to Elland Road because the club staff were so co-operative.

Nothing was too much trouble for them. Our executive box was at the back of the family stand and it was designed so the guests ate inside the stand but their seats to watch the game were outside.

We often entertained a few well-known faces and on this occasion Leeds were home to Manchester United. Coronation Street star, Michael LeVell, was a massive United fan (as I am, well not quite so mad this days) and joined us for lunch before watching the game.

The match could not have been going for more than five minutes when the Leeds fans clocked him and realised he was a Red. The abuse he received was unbelievable, especially as most of it came from the kids in the family stand.

It got so bad we had to insist that Malcolm watched the game on a television set in the box.

I enjoyed these years immensely. They say don’t get too close to your heroes. I met most of mine during this time and in the main thoroughly enjoyed their company.

Next week I recall how I thought my days were numbered in the dangerous streets of Johannesburg.

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