If you walked into a press box at any time in the latter half of the last century, you were always glad to see Derek Wallis. He was a good man to sit next to, in the car, in the plane, in the box, at the table, by the bar.
Like all top-class journalists he had an instinctive ear for news, a talent for sniffing out information, a delight in trade gossip, and a fund of stories. Half an hour with Derek and you were up to date with all that was going on, on and off the field, with almost every northern football club, and probably at the other Old Trafford, too.
For much of that time he was the Daily Mirror’s top sportswriter in the North despite being a native of Slough, the possessor of a West London accent. He engaged Geordies, Tykes, Scousers and Mancs with equal aplomb.
He started with the Slough Observer, then moved to the Portsmouth Evening News before joining the Daily Mirror in London. Sixty years ago, when the Manchester offices were almost as big in staff as Fleet Street’s, it was usual to farm out promising youngsters to the northern office – a practice that was of benefit to all, not least the readers because when those aspirants returned to London, often to a senior position, they brought a point of view developed from north of Watford. Derek, despite offers to return, stayed in the north, living with his charming and brilliantly supportive wife Betty, in Sale, Heaton Moor and Macclesfield.
He was a scrupulously accurate reporter, for which he was hugely respected in football. Like most of his generation, he was derisive of the then growing style of reporting football through the words of managers and players.
When The Independent began in 1986, Derek and I were briefly colleagues in writing about northern football, after being deadly rivals through the 1950s and ’60s, but the relationship changed not a jot – we still took the mickey out of each other’s stories. In his latter days, before illness took a grip, Derek liked to sit in the sun in front of the pavilion at Old Trafford, watching Lancashire. He was well-presented to the last.