Jeff Powell of the Daily Mail is awarded the MBE
By James Blears
Journalists' Journalist Jeff Powell, the most brilliant wordsmith of British Sports Writing, has been awarded an MBE in the New Years Honors list.
Some would prescribe to the view: “And about bloody time!”
Jeff himself is far too much of a classy old school gentleman to ever say such a thing.
But he did significantly comment: “I think it's good for working front line journalists. The people who are at the coal face of the game. Very, very few writing journalists get awards. They give a lot to the television journalists who are basically TV celebrities. A lot of my colleagues/road warriors say thank God. You've proved that it can be done.”
After golfing genius Arnold Palmer once sank a particularly long putt, someone laconically remarked: “That was lucky!” The Great Man readily agreed, also wryly observing: “The more I practice… the luckier I get.” Jeff concurs: “The more you do, the more likely you should get better.
“The famous saying is that practice makes perfect, and Terry Venables said to me that practice never makes perfect, it makes permanent. And if it's bad practice it will be bad permanent.”
Jeff, aged 81, who is still at the very top of his game, producing brilliant stories, exclusives and articles for the Daily Mail on soccer and boxing, has been at the paper trail game for a while now.
He started at the Walthamstow Guardian one week shy of his 17th birthday. Man and boy, he's worked for the Daily Mail for 57 years! Over the decades he's reported upon 13 World Cups, starting with England`s 1966 triumph.
He's covered countless world title fights and is greatly respected by the entire boxing world. He was invited to Muhammad Ali's 70th birthday.
Jeff said: “Being the Greatest of all time involves more than just being able to hit someone in the face. It covers how you conduct yourself, the impact you have on society, the power you bring to your sport, your personality. So, Muhammad Ali had to be the best all round figure.”
David Haye praised Jeff for the rapport he builds with athletes from all spheres of sport. This essentially involves decency and loyalty. Jeff insists; “You never betray a confidence and you never betray a contact.
“A year later, down the road that person might have one of the biggest stories in the game and would have given it to you, if you hadn't let him down. You have to make your judgments as you go along, but the fundamental thing is to never betray a contact.”
As a journalist, I myself always get nervous at press conferences, almost like a cat on a hot tin roof. Jeff is far too much an old hand to succumb to such nerves, confiding; “I don't find anything nerve wracking about press conferences. At huge events, I don't know about nerve wracking, But the adrenaline flows, particularly working against deadlines, when the timing is very tight.
“Mike Tyson coming into the ring, was a very big adrenaline rush. The same is true for any huge fight or any huge football match, or any great event in the Olympics.
One journalist wrote of Jeff, that he's one of the last great sports scribes and there have been some giants: Ian Wooldridge, Reg Gutteridge, Hugh McIlvavney, Harry Carpenter. Colin Hart is still with us. There seems to be a void which hasn't been filled?
Jeff puts it this way: “I think the pressures are different. In a way less resistible, on younger writers. There's definitely talent. How far are you prepared to go in order to develop a relationship?
“It's become much easier for people to say there's no point in trying to build a relationship, because the David Beckhams of this world live in their ivory towers and behind the stained glass windows of their limousines. The only contact is if the Agent sets up the deal and then it's a controlled interview. You certainly don't end up going out to dinner with them.
“It wasn't that easy in the older days. I think what's become easier is to make the choice that it's impossible, so after the match I'll go home rather than going out until three or four o'clock in the morning and risk the wrath of the Wife!”
It's been such a long time since England won the World Cup. Captain Bobby Moore so famously wiping his hand before shaking hands with the white gloved Queen, who presented him with the Jules Rimet Trophy. Jeff and Bobby became best friends. Jeff is the author of: Bobby Moore – The Definitive Biography. Bobby was the Best Man at Jeff's February 20th, 1987 marriage to beautiful Maria, who is from Mexico.
The inscription on the 20-foot high bronze statue of Bobby Moore at Wembley Stadium was written by Jeff. It reads: “Immaculate footballer. Imperial defender. Favorite son of London's East End. Finest legend of West Ham. National Treasure. Master of Wembley. Lord of the Game. Captain extraordinary. Gentleman of all time.”
Bobby died of bowel cancer aged just 51 and Jeff read the eulogy at his funeral. The saddest day of Jeff's life.
Of late, we've also lost Pele, Bobby Charlton and Franz Beckenbauer. As Oscar Wilde observed: “No one is indispensable. Some people are irreplaceable.”
I selfishly ask Jeff if England will ever win the World Cup again? And he replies: “I'm not Nostradamas and I can't predict the future.
“Will we win again? Yes… I'd like to think so. Am I certain? No, because the rewards are much greater now and it takes a very special type of player to maintain the ambition and the hunger, the drive and wanting to achieve the legacy over a period of time.
“The likelihood diminishes with the wealth and the quite absurd celebrity which surrounds them. Money changes lives. Huge money, but also ego changes lives. People come to think they are great before they are.”
The essence of journalism which Jeff has long since mastered and embodies, involves maintaining contact with people. As great soccer coach, Terry Venables once advised Prince Albert of Monaco, who was asking him if he might one day: “Manage my little team?”
“I'm pretty busy right now, but if you don`t mind, give me your card. In this game you never know.”
Indeed you don't.