The death of former Guardian chief sports writer Frank Keating last week at the age of 75 prompted some eloquent tributes from his collegues in the sporting press.
…he effectively invented modern posh-paper sports writing. In 1971, when the sports editor John Samuel discovered he was harbouring a genius among his sub-editors and unleashed Frank on the unsuspecting public, posh papers had a time-honoured way of reporting sport. The Guardian way was more elegant than anyone else's but it was still mainly formal and the players were largely anonymous: they had surnames and perhaps initials but they rarely had personalities.
Frank simply tore up the rulebook. Firstly he reinvented the language, turning adjectives into nouns and nouns into adjectives, and making everything fizz with the sheer joie de vivre of word play. For some time the subs in Manchester, who still produced their own version of the paper, refused to have anything to do with this stuff. Secondly he treated competitors as real people. Many of his greatest pieces were interviews, in which his disarmingly gentle manner lulled his subjects into revealing themselves, often just by what they ordered for lunch.
Few modern sports writers have brought alive sporting people, past and present, champions and also-rans, as Keating did. Few have written with such sympathy, able to laugh with them, not at them, at the same time minting fresh, inventive phraseology. He created a new language for the nation's sporting press. He was unique, and beloved by contemporaries, who saw his writing skills and awards as a guiding path for their own.
Some aspects of modern sport – its avarice, its abandonment of its own traditions and history – plainly pained Keating. But he retained the schoolboy’s sense of wonder. The game was about heroes. Dreams were to be followed; the quest for the epic something to be cherished. There were halcyon days too numerous to be counted. Romance was the essence of sport.
Droll, romantic, sharp and quirky, he possessed the priceless knack of finding jewels where nobody had thought to look and describing them with a brilliance which nobody could hope to rival.
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