Final whistle blows for Richard Sutcliffe at The Yorkshire Post

In the press box: Richard Sutcliffe at Valley Parade. 'Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
In the press box: Richard Sutcliffe at Valley Parade. 'Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe
0
Have your say

Hello, good evening, welcome… and goodbye.

So sang Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine when the moshpits of London’s music venues were the place to be during my three years at Poly during the early Nineties.

Probably my highlight of each year has been the Christmas lunch that the Yorkshire’s press corp put on for the managers and their staff.

Richard Sutcliffe

Jim Bob and Fruitbat, the duo behind the band, may not have been to everyone’s liking. But I loved Carter and their lyrical puns, not least the ability to crowbar different parts of the capital into a song title or chorus.

Hence how the band’s reworking of ‘Rent’ by the Pet Shop Boys came to name-check ‘a restaurant on Fulham Broadway’ rather than its more famous American namesake. And why Carter’s back catalogue includes such classics as ‘24 hours from Tulse Hill’ and ‘The Only Living Boy in New Cross’.

The sign-off to the latter is actually the line that began this piece. Those six words are also my own way of saying, ‘Adiós’.

After nigh on 15 years as chief football writer of The Yorkshire Post, tomorrow will be my 1,239th and final game in the press box for this newspaper.

A new, exciting challenge awaits covering Sheffield United but, before I go, please indulge me this final trip down memory lane.

My first day in the concrete carbuncle that was the old YP building on Wellington Street in Leeds turned into rather an eventful one. Not least because the editor who had appointed me was clearing her desk by noon.

I was already nervous at starting a new job. So, John Ledger – the paper’s then rugby league reporter and, in his mind, resident comedian – did little to soothe those butterflies when he lent over later that afternoon to tell me, ‘I don’t think the editor leaving is totally down to your appointment’.

After such an inauspicious beginning, things could only get better. And they did. Having a ringside seat as Hull City, Huddersfield Town and Sheffield United made the jump to the Premier League was a privilege.

As has been sharing in the joy of so many other promotions for our clubs. Or the stirring Cup runs that took the likes of the Tigers, the Blades, Bradford City and Barnsley all the way to Wembley.

The flipside, of course, is witnessing at close quarters the devastation that relegation can wreak. Interviews can feel like an intrusion on private grief, especially if the manager or player trying to articulate their feelings is someone I like and respect.

One such chat with Richard Cresswell in the wake of Leeds being relegated to League One in 2007 springs to mind. The poor chap was distraught and seemed in need of a consoling hug. “I’m glad you didn’t,” was his reply when talk turned to that downbeat interview a few years later.

I felt similarly bad for Steve Bruce and Neil Warnock when Hull and Sheffield United tumbled out of the top flight. Likewise, Stuart McCall after Bradford City had lost the League One play-off final a couple of years ago.

Getting to know genuinely good guys such as Bruce, Warnock, McCall, Chris Wilder, Simon Grayson, Phil Brown, Phil Parkinson and a multitude of others has been a pleasure.

All were kind enough to take yours truly into their confidence and I relished those times, invariably spent in the manager’s office or on the ’phone, spent putting the football world to rest.

Being told Hull’s team for the 2014 FA Cup final three days before the players on the insistence nothing be revealed publicly is just one such example of the trust that can still exist even in a world where the most mundane item of ‘breaking news’ gets the full yellow ticker treatment from Sky Sports.

In an age when some clubs seem intent on keeping the Press at an arm’s length, building those relationships is getting harder.

But it is still possible here in God’s Own County and probably my highlight of each year has been the Christmas lunch that the Yorkshire’s press corp put on for the managers and their staff.

Not all attend in Sheffield but those who do enjoy an event that is very much off-the-record, with all notebooks and dictaphones left at home.

A steady flow of booze – plus the annual competitive game of ‘killer pool’ – fuels a bonhomie between those present that not so long ago was taken as read by journalists and managers alike.

Not that some managers felt sharing a drink with the Press should be restricted to just an annual get-together. Colin Todd, when in charge of Bradford City, insisted any chat about a forthcoming game should be done over a dram of whisky in his office.

A tough job but someone had to do it, even if the sports editor did keep questioning why I was heading to Valley Parade on a Thursday lunchtime when there were much bigger stories out there than the fortunes of a team that finished 11th in League One two years running.

Football may be an increasingly serious business but there is still plenty of fun to be had. Even among those at clubs where things are not going so well.

After acting as an intermediary in the appointment of one particular manager who subsequently struggled, I grew used to the chairman in question answering my ‘phone calls with the words, ‘You b******, Sutcliffe, this is all your fault’.

Mind, it has not all been sunshine and smiles in this job. Covering a patch the size of England’s biggest county means umpteen hours every week are spent out on the road. That is even before being left irate by the motorway closures at the dead of night that the Highway Agency seem to specialise in when thousands of football fans are trying to get home.

Days off are often cancelled at very short notice, too, thanks to a remarkable number of chairmen believing Sunday to be the best time of the week to dump their manager.

Wednesdays – my other usual day off – also proved annoyingly popular for wielding the axe, which is how I came to miss the lion’s share of arguably the finest innings in Yorkshire cricket history.

I had been at Headingley when Darren Lehmann strode to the crease against Durham just twenty minutes into the morning session.

He was still there at the close, well on his way to posting the highest ever score on the Leeds ground of 339. I saw about 60 of those runs, having had to dash back to the office on hearing Kevin Blackwell was about to be sacked by Leeds.

Missing out on a slice of cricket history, of course, was nothing compared to the sadness of someone losing his job.

I liked ‘Blackie’ and was sad to see him go. But that has been this job for nigh on 15 years, to put aside any personal feelings and chronicle the considerable ups and downs that have been Yorkshire football. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride as much as I have. Goodbye.