Reg Drury made the headlines with a series of exclusives as the News of the World football correspondent for nearly 30 years.
Last week, 10 years after he retired, he made them again alongside David Beckham – this time in tragic circumstances. Reg, 74, died instantly in a road accident near his Finchley, North London, home and an inquest will be held.
Chairman Gerry Cox announced the news on the Football Writers’ Association website and contacted national papers. Within an hour, calls of disbelief were flooding in from football writers and top names in football.
Most national papers paid tribute to a peerless rival, almost unprecedented. Former colleague Fred Burcombe referred to him as “a legend” in the News of the World.
The Sun, which wasn’t around during Reg’s early career, headlined “Reg Drury dies at 74”. Des Kelly called him “a giant of Fleet Street”. The Times carried a column-long obituary of the football writer “who kept ahead of the game for 50 years”.
Reg’s contact book was a Who’s Who of the football world. Managers, players and administrators knew and respected him and the highest accolade one can give was the acknowledgement by his peers over the years that if the name Reg Drury was on a story it was right.
Reg left school at 14 and went to work for Sport Weekly without the academic qualifications journalism later adopted. If there had been A and O levels in those days, Reg and a generation of top-notch journalists would have missed out.
By 16 he was reporting on Tottenham Hotspur from the White Hart Lane press box and earning a guinea a thousand words from provincial papers. He made his mark at the old Reynolds News before switching to the NoW.
Reg got to know and became friends with most of the soccer legends over the years, from Tom Finney and Stanley Matthews to the Charlton brothers, Bobby and Jack, to Jimmy Greaves and George Best and Pat Jennings, with whom he collaborated when the Northern Ireland and former Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper wrote a book. Reg was, in the football writing field, a superstar himself.
The NoW, which had a circulation of seven million in its heyday when Reg was No. 1 football man, utilised contacts he picked up throughout his career: the late Bill Shankly (when he was manager at Workington); Brian Clough (from Hartlepool United days); and Terry Venables, who Reg knew from his days as a young player, attended his first wedding and stayed with him when he became manager of Barcelona.
Days before England won the World Cup in 1966, manager Alf Ramsey decided to get away from the pressure and walked from Hendon Hall Hotel to the nearby Drury home to spend a couple of hours over tea and biscuits with his pal. Reg never divulged a word of the conversation.
He was old school. He believed that news was the essence of newspapers and he spent countless hours on the phone over the years cultivating contacts and getting soccer chat and stories and then clattering out his scoops on a typewriter – scoop was the name before exclusives and world exclusives became a daily occurrence. Reg reckoned that six back-page lead scoops represented a good season – he never paid a penny for a story in his career.
He played it close to his chest. He would never tell the office what he had until he got over the Saturday morning hurdle of ensuring that he had the story on his own.
His former sports editor, Bill Bateson, recalled last week how sometimes he would fret on a Friday that it looked like a quiet week. The best he would get from Reg was a knowing wink and “I might have something for you tomorrow”.
He fought for every word of his stories. If Bateson suggested a different intro or a change of emphasis Reg would argue, before pronouncing: “If you are going to alter it take my name off it.” Bateson admits: “I never did.”
Reg, who always a wore a collar and tie and was proud of his profession, was twice chairman of the FWA and was a mentor to many up-and-coming youngsters. His reaction when told that a colleague was a good writer was to reply: “He might be … but he doesn’t get stories.” His other great love was his family. He and Cepta were preparing to celebrate their 47th wedding anniversary last week with daughter Lucy, twin sons Niall and Wayne and their seven grandchildren.
Fleet Street and football mourned a legend and a friend at Hendon Cemetery last week and afterwards the mourners went to Hendon Hall Hotel for a toast to a peerless pal.
Dennis Signy, former chairman, Football Writers’ Association