Not Afraid To Mention The War
Stirring Memories Of Writer Trained In Wolverhampton
Continuing our occasional series on media personnel with interesting stories to tell, we home in on a man who part-learned his trade in Wolverhampton and went on to travel the world for decades as a Fleet Street reporter and then a prolific author.
It has to be one of the most original titles ever put on a sports-writer’s memoir…….’Thank You, Hermann Goering’.
Brian Scovell, once of this ‘parish’ and of the Express & Star in particular, had much to pack into the 284 pages of his life story – and didn’t have to worry about whether the wording on the front cover was original.
But how did someone mesmerised by the floodlit Molineux and who later became well acquainted with Billy Wright, Rachael Heyhoe Flint and Albion’s Wolverhampton-born full-back Don Howe come to hark back more than 60 years to the war?
“I grew up in the Isle of Wight and Goering, as Hitler’s deputy, visited there in 1936 for a conference held half a mile from where I was born,” he said.
“In 1943, he ordered a Luftwaffe raid on a radar station on the island and I was struck in the knee by some glass.
“I spent the best part of two years in and out of hospitals after contracting a form of sepsis and it was there that I learned to appreciate the work of Tom Phillips in the sports pages of the Daily Herald and to follow football, boxing and cricket.
“I got hold of the only portable wireless in the hospital and became so hooked on wanting to be a sports reporter. My mother had wanted me to work in a bank but that difficult experience opened my eyes to a more exciting world, hence the title of my book.”
Wolves were on the way to retaining their League Championship crown when Scovell, having written to 150 newspapers on the mainland while employed in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight Guardian, was taken on by the Express & Star in 1958-59.
It was one of only three papers to reply to him and he admits to nearly turning back when seeing the industrial grime of the West Midlands for the first time through the train window. But he found solace in his adopted area’s sport.
“I was living in freezing digs on the Tettenhall Road and was on £11.18s a week, mainly as a news reporter,” he added. “I was shipped off to Halesowen before long but the sports editor was George Gillott, who encouraged me to go to Wolves games whenever possible.
“I remember thinking how magical their ground was. It was such a thrill to be there, especially with the lights on, and the atmosphere was absolutely electric. Most of my career has been spent in London and I always thought Molineux was very similar to White Hart Lane.
“I was quite timid then but spoke to Stan Cullis and was impressed by his helpfulness. I also met Commander Charles Reep, an eccentric character from Plymouth who had worked out that three was the optimum number of passes in the creation of a goal.
“Although I was never able to straighten my leg after the accident during the war, I played cricket for at least another 40 years and opened the batting and bowling in the Express & Star side with Don Howe, who became one of my closest friends.”
The Norwich Evening News was the next stop in a career that led to national papers, namely at the now defunct Daily Sketch and the Daily Mail. As well as providing his living, they were also a passport to the world.
In his book, Scovell reveals that he has visited nearly 90 countries, covered hundreds of Test matches and five World Cups. He has also written 28 books, including biographies of Bobby Robson, Trevor Brooking and Gary Sobers, sat next to Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher at functions or meetings and served as the long-time chairman of the Football Writers Association.
“I got to know Billy Wright more at Arsenal than at Wolves,” he recalls. “He was such a nice guy, too nice to handle the pressure of management, and the team suffered.
“I was there reporting for the Sketch the night they played Leeds at Highbury in 1966 and there were under 10,000 present. They were hard times for the club but Bully put a lot of the building blocks in place for the success Bertie Mee and Don Howe had.
“I met Joy as well and seem to remember their honeymoon was one night in Bournemouth before he had to dash back for training for a game.
“I met Rachael Heyhoe early in her cricket-playing career, partly because I organised the Cricket Writers’ team for about 30 years. I think it was 1982 when the England women’s side had a trip to Jamaica cancelled, so she asked me to raise a side to go and play a couple of games against them in La Manga.
“The sports complex there had just opened but Rachael was ill during our stay and couldn’t play in either match.”
Brian, now approaching his mid-80s and living in Kent, also well remembers covering the famously delayed England v Poland under-21 international at Molineux in 1996 but his links with the town weren’t restricted to visits here.
“I was travelling home by train once from a match at Norwich or Ipswich and found myself with Enoch Powell in a first-class compartment,” he added.
“As I was on a right-wing paper, I asked if I could interview him and he agreed. He was a remarkable man, an intellectual with some charm. I thought he might be the sort to lead the country, although he didn’t always have an easy way about him.
“He used to ask the Express & Star editor, Clem Jones, and his wife to read speeches before he delivered them – and they told him that his career would be destroyed if he said in public what he showed them in his famous race relations address.
“As Football Writers Association chairman, I also went to 10 Downing Street and sat next to Margaret Thatcher at a meeting following the Hillsborough disaster. She had piercing eyes and was very dominant but knew nothing about football.”