Wooldridge: 'One of the greatest sportswriters the world has known'

Daily Mail sports writer and Press Gazette Hall of Fame member Ian Wooldridge wrote his final column by hand from his hospital bed just over a week before he died.

Wooldridge was named sportswriter of the year five times, sports feature writer of the year four times, and twice awarded columnist of the year. He was also awarded the OBE for services to journalism.

He arrived at the Mail as a sports columnist in 1960 when it merged with his then employer the Daily Sketch and was said to have been worried that he knew too little about sports other than cricket or golf.

Despite this, he went on to cover every major sporting event of the past 30 years for the paper.

One of his biggest scoops was news of Australian businessman Kerry Packer’s move in 1977 to form a breakaway oneday cricket league, securing lucrative contracts with leading test match players, including the then England captain Tony Greig. No one knew of his source – cricket broadcaster Henry Blofeld said this week he was sure the secret has died with him.

When conducting a one-minute TV report for ITV on a match during Marylebone Cricket Club’s trip to South Africa in 1964, with the Londonbased anchor and millions of viewers expecting a humdrum report of the game, Wooldridge started his piece: “The evil face of apartheid was shown here today…”

That day black fans had been banned from the Port Elizabeth stadium and South African officials’ attempts to change the report had not worked.

Close friend and fellow senior Daily Mail sports writer Jeff Powell said Wooldridge was old-fashioned but an inspiration to everyone around him.

“He invariably wrote by hand – he had no time for modern technology.

Only recently did he activate his mobile, which had been lying around for years.

He never used a laptop… he mostly wrote by hand and dictated his copy.

“I joined the Mail full time in 1966 and we worked together for a hell of a long time. I was younger than him and he was very helpful to me.

“He was an inspiration… no one who asked for help from him ever lacked it.

If you’ve got talent like that you can afford to give it away.

“He was great fun – you had to have a good liver to be his friend. But it was always ‘job first’ with him. He was not driven by any false ego… and of course he was a beautiful writer. Irony was his great strength. He could fillet people without them even knowing. It was almost a privilege to be taken apart by him.”

Former Australian cricket captain and TV pundit Richie Benaud, a longstanding friend of Wooldridge, told the Mail: “He is rightly regarded as one of the greatest sportswriters the world has ever known.”

Full obit by Jeff Powell next week

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