After extra time, the whistle has been blown on the last of the UK’s Saturday evening football papers.
It’s been a while going, and takes a few memories with it. The last edition of Portsmouth’s 119-year-old pink Sports Mail had been closed a decade ago, but was miraculously revived with the support of Pompey fans.
And a miracle it was: Readers could frequently take a copy with them – complete with half-time reports and full-time scores – on the way home from the match at Fratton Park. Failing that, it was available at a newsagent (remember them?) before suppertime.
Like most journalists on what was then called the Portsmouth Evening News, I had a hand in its production in the 1960s. We would phone in reports of local matches to helpful copytakers at half-time, and usually see the weekly papers back at the office by the time we got there.
For my first year with the News, that meant reports of Newport United had been set in type, printed and delivered (via ferry steamer) to the Isle of Wight capital, to have final scores printed into the space usually reserved for the “fudge box” news using a Gestetner-like duplicator.
Truth be told, we would often file reports for both the News and the rival Southampton Evening Echo, their reporters filing for us unofficially on alternate weeks.
Over the country, similar sports editions, usually printed on coloured paper, were part of the ritual of time-worn technology being turned to deliver a weekly miracle. They too have been felled by technology – digital delivery of reports ball by ball into the smartphones of supporters – and indeed, robots that write minor sports reports are now part of that picture.
The Guardian reports that it was a Birmingham evening that had come up with the idea, launching a pink Sports Argus edition to report on local heroes Aston Villa in 1882, and continuing until 2006.
Nor has the papers’ role been merely to report the news. A celebrated educational tome by the name of ‘Lern Yerself Scouse’ offers this advice to wannabe Liverpudlians unable to get away from the match quickly enough: “Roll up yer Footy Echo”.
I’ll leave you to think about that one.