Sheffield Wednesday: The fan who covered his club

Star sports reporter Paul Thompson at Hillsborough
Star sports reporter Paul Thompson at Hillsborough
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Paul Thompson has retired after 34 years covering Sheffield Wednesday for The Star. Martin Smith talks to the man who has seen off 17 Owls managers.

He’s reported on some of the most turbulent times in the club’s history, seen off 17 managers, numerous chairman and 1,000 players.

Sheffield Wednesday Civic Reception...Lord Mayor of Sheffield Cllr Roger Davison holds the Play Off trophy with skipper Lee Bullen and Owls Director Ken Cooke

Sheffield Wednesday Civic Reception...Lord Mayor of Sheffield Cllr Roger Davison holds the Play Off trophy with skipper Lee Bullen and Owls Director Ken Cooke

In 1980 Paul Thompson agreed to be The Star’s Sheffield Wednesday reporter for five years and ended up doing it for 34 years.

But the Star’s Owls man Paul Thompson has finally called it a day.

No more relegation battles, boardroom skirmishes or will-they-won’t-they managerial changes, Tommo’s handing in his notebook and press pass and heading into retirement.

Not that he’ll be doing a lot of resting.

A keen runner and lover of the countryside, RSPB, Woodland Trust and WWF member Paul, now aged 62, will be spending more time in Loxley Valley which reminds him of the Gleadless Valley fields he roamed as a boy.

So how does he feel to be ‘leaving’ the club he’s supported all his life and the job he started at The Star in 1971.

Fairly happy it seems.

“I won’t miss the late nights coming back from away games, that’s for sure,” laughs father of two and soon-to-be grandfather Paul with typical candour. The hanging around after games, the loss of Saturday-evening social time, and in particular having to spend all Sunday morning writing up, all became a chore over the years.

“It’s hard to see it as a fan, you can’t do the job and have it be your hobby as well but I’ve got lots of good memories.”

And a lot of those memories have nothing to do with Sheffield Wednesday.

Paul started his journalistic career after training at what was then Richmond College in Sheffield and was soon shipped out to The Star’s branch office in Worksop where he shared a flat with former Daily Mail sports reporter Peter Ferguson and worked with Neil Wallace, who went on to be executive editor of News Of The World and was recently cleared of any wrongdoing in the phone hacking scandal.

There was even an early-career encounter with trad jazzman Kenny Ball ​who was nicked in Worksop on minor motoring charges on Tommo’s watch while he was a young news reporter – though it’s not recorded what happened when Kenny faced the music.

After his 18-month stint in Worksop and a spell in the Star’s Sheffield newsroom Paul did occasional shifts on the sports desk.

“I used to read Tony Hardisty in The Star and Green Un and I was keen to have a go, though it did mean that I couldn’t play football so often on Saturdays,” said Paul who played in various Sheffield teams including Sheffield Centralians in the County Senior League.

“The first professional games I covered were Doncaster Rovers and in those days you did a bit of everything, football, cricket, athletics, boxing. I think there was more time to do things in depth in those days, it was less of a grind.”

It was around this time that Paul met a young man called Sebastian Coe.

“He was a nice lad, a polite young man from a good family and was a big Chelsea fan and jazz lover,” adds Paul.

“I remember going to interview him at home in Broomhill after he won the Emsley Carr Mile. He went stratospheric after that and went on to win Olympic golds.

“I later went to London to interview him and managed to get half an hour with him. He was a big star by then but we talked about football for almost the whole time.”

Tommo also covered the career peak of one of the city’s best boxers Herol Graham.

“Brendan told us he was going to be world champion. He should have been, he was a genius, no-one could hit him, he was like lightning.

“I finished up watching him get knocked out by Julian Jackson in Spain in a world title fight. He got caught with a beauty.

“I remember afterwards following the car they were taking him to hospital in. I had my foot to the floor in this tiny Fiat trying to catch a flash BMW on what they call the Highway of Death.

“They lost us at some lights but he was OK and we interviewed him next day.

“I covered Brian Anderson, Mick Mills, Johnny Nelson and Naseem Hamed as a young amateur but I think Bomber is the best fighter I’ve ever seen live.”

Though it is for his consistent and detailed Owls coverage that Paul Thompson will be remembered by Star readers he’s known in York Street for being on holiday when big stories broke.

“I get teased about this but I always booked my holidays at the beginning of the year and couldn’t have any idea what was to come.

“Having said that I missed some crackers including:

* Jack Charlton being sacked as Wednesday manager

* Ron Atkinson leaving the first time

* Trevor Francis’s sacking

* Chris Turner’s sacking

* Bryan Laws’ unveiling

* Des Walker’s signing – then a club record £2.7m

* Paolo Di Canio pushing the referee Paul Alcock over.

Apart from those I didn’t miss much at all!”

When he WAS working, Paul always preferred to report the action on and around the pitch rather than in the boardroom.

“All that power struggle stuff became a bore to me over the years, it went on for so long it was like being on a treadmill,” he added.

So will he miss it all?

“I might do later but I’m glad of a break now and people soon forget what you did.

“As the former Blades writer Tony Pritchett – the best writer I have worked with by miles – used to say: ‘Nobody is indispensable and everyone is soon forgotten,’ And he was right.”

What they say about Tommo

Ron Atkinson

“Paul was terrific to work with and one good thing about him is that he was trustworthy. He never misquoted me or anything like that even though he sometimes had to write things we didn’t like. But that’s part of the game.

“He was somebody I could trust and he was very accurate and if he could say something good about the club he would do. I really wish him all the best in whatever he does.”

Chris Turner

“Crikey, Paul must have seen more managers off than I’ve had hot dinners! Paul was always an enthusiastic journalist and always supportive when he could be.

“He was very knowledgeable and saw a lot of ups and downs at the club when I was there as a player and later as a manager. He will know a lot of good stories about chairmen, managers and players over the years. A nice fella and good to work with.”

Tommo picks his best

* Best Player: Chris Waddle. “Trevor Francis said he was the best player in the country – he was right, Waddle won footballer of the year in 1993.”

* Best Manager: Howard Wilkinson. “Meticulous and did a brilliant job winning promotion to top flight in his first season on limited resources after a 14-year exile. Guided Owls to fifth place in 1986.”

* Best Player interview: “Terry Curran. Great player, unorthodox and plain-speaking, always had something interesting to say.”

* Best Wednesday team: “Trevor Francis’ team that got to two cup finals in 1993 and had five players in the England squad. They were among title favourites for following season finished seventh.”

Tommo’s beers and cheers

Three managers to have a drink with:

Ron Atkinson: tells brilliant and hilarious stories.

Chris Turner : a real Wednesdayite, Sheffield lad and a good bloke.

Jack Charlton : great character – as long as he remembers his wallet!

Tommo’s most memorable games:

FA Cup Final 1966 (Went as a fan).

League Cup Final 1991: beat Manchester United 1-0.

Play-offs at Cardiff 2005: beat Hartlepool 4-2.