David Welch 1948-2011: Sports journalism visionary - Press Gazette

David Welch 1948-2011: Sports journalism visionary

A huge array of tributes from the world of sport and journalism have been paid to David Welch, the Daily Telegraph’s sports editor from 1989 to 2004 who died on Wednesday night.

Former Daily Telegraph editor Sir Max Hastings said Welch was ‘the man who made Daily Telegraph sport what it is’and Sir Michael Parkinson said: ‘He has a particular place in the history of sports journalism because it was his idea to have a sports supplement contained within the main paper”.

Born in Lewes, East Sussex, in 1948 Welch joined the Telegraph from the Leicester Mercury in 1984 and became sports editor in 1989. He left to start his own business acting as an agent for sports stars and journalists when he took redundancy in late 2004 following the Barclay brothers take-over of the Telegraph titles.

The Telegraph devoted four pages to tributes on Friday and described Welch as a ‘remarkable spotter of young talent’responsible for signing Henry Winter, Paul Hayward, Martin Johnson, Sue Mott, and Giles Smith to write for the paper.

Celebrity sports columnists, he signed up included: Michael Johnson, Seb Coe, James Hunt, Imran Khan, Alan Hansen, James Cracknell, Denise Lewis, AP McCoy, Frankie Dettori, Stuart Barnes, Cathy Freeman and Ed Moses.

Telegraph editor Tony Gallagher said: ‘We all owe David a huge debt for the way he established the Telegraph as the pre-eminent sports newspaper. He was a true revolutionary and the fruits of his work are still evident today, in our newspaper and in those of our competitors. He changed the game and he will be much missed. Our thoughts go out to his family.”

Welch began his career in journalism after answering an advert for a racing correspondent for the Leicester Mercury.

According to the Telegraph, he achieved national renown after tipping Snow Knight to win the 1974 Derby at 50-1 and then predicting that the Grand National would finish in a dead heat between Sabastian V and Lucius. It nearly did, with Lucius winning by a quarter of a length. He rose to become sports editor of the Mercury before joining the Telegraph in 1984, becoming sports editor in 1989.

Writing in the Telegraph Sue Mott described how Welch persuaded then editor Max Hastings that the sports pages could be the making of the newspaper.

‘There followed the creation of a department, run by a benevolent dictator, which was ground-breaking in its promotion of young talent, recruitment of star-name columnists, emphasis on feature writing, exploration into sports beyond the culturally-dominant football and, by 1990, production of the first broadsheet sports supplement – fronted by a dramatic full-length picture of (inevitably a horse) Desert Orchid.

‘The adventure was deemed so successful that the Monday sports supplement was swiftly followed by a Saturday supplement and, eventually, became a daily event. It was governed, always, by a man who combined meticulous planning of the smallest detail with the far-sighted view of a visionary.

“Like the athletes he admired, he felt preparation was everything. He never travelled anywhere without half-a-hundredweight of documents in his briefcase and his reputation for sending memos, later emails, to cover every minuscule eventuality was legendary.”