Full name Ian Edmund Wooldridge
Born January 14, 1932
Died March 4, 2007, London (aged 75 years 49 days)
Nickname Woolers, Drummer
Batting style Left-hand bat
Other Journalist, Author
Education Brockenhurst Grammar School
The word 'greatest' can be applied properly to very few - Muhammad Ali for a start. But in sports journalism there is just one: Ian Edmund Wooldridge. He loved life, his job, his family, his friends. Nine days before he died his last column appeared in the Daily Mail. He went the full distance, almost every minute an enjoyable one before cancer finally overwhelmed him after 10 years of remarkable resistance.
'Woolers' - everyone called him that - was born in Wootton in the New Forest and started out the traditional way, leaving school at 16 with two O-Levels (English and Art) before joining the Dickensian office of the New Milton Advertiser, a weekly, at a salary of 50 pence a week. His first scoop came when he was playing cricket - he was a useful left-handed batsman who played a few matches for Hampshire Schools - when a prototype Vulcan bomber passed overhead in flames and crashed in a nearby field. Seeing the fire engine approaching, he waved the driver down and was first to arrive to break the news to the nationals.
He earned his schoolboy nickname 'Drummer' from playing with a local cadet band before moving on to more exciting matters, like taking out girls, playing football and table tennis and reading good literature. His favourites were Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and the US sportswriters like Red Smith and that helped to fashion a style of writing which enraptured millions of readers, many of them women, when he finally arrived at Fleet Street. His first job there was as a football reporter at the News Chronicle in 1956. In 1961 he moved to the Daily Mail and from 1963-71 he was their cricket correspondent.
He was a slow writer, not a dasher. He aimed for quality and abhorred clichés. My best anecdote about him concerned South Africa's victory over England at Trent Bridge in 1965. With the Pollock brothers Peter and Graeme starring, Peter van der Merwe's side won late in the day by 94 runs. I was working with the Daily Sketch and reported the match, wrote a quotes piece and also ghosted Sir Learie Constantine's column before driving home. Next morning the phone rang and Bob Findlay, the Sketch sports editor, said: "You've missed a great scoop. Woolers has written a story about the South Africans coming out on to the pitch at eight o'clock and peeing all over it to celebrate their win." I said: "Great, but only Woolers would have been still at the ground. Good luck to him!"
Woolers loved cricket. His friends Denis Compton and Keith Miller were heroes to him - debonair, couldn't-care-less and very entertaining cricketers and men, rather similar to himself. David English, who came from Bournemouth, a few miles from New Milton, was the inspirational editor of the fading Sketch in 1971 when it was swallowed up by the Mail, where he took over as editor. One of his best ideas was to offer Wooldridge a column and every column proved a winner, right up to his last.
Wooldridge's secret was to get to the heart of stories, express a strong opinion, good or bad, in beautifully crafted English. He never waffled. He won countless awards but shunned the celebrity path. Many of the 350 people who attended his funeral at New Milton were friends from his teenage days. They revered him and he played an important part in persuading the local authority to pay for a £1m pavilion at the New Milton Cricket Club which he opened in 2002.
The reception afterwards took place at the club and, with the support of Sarah, Ian's wife, I plan to arrange a commemorative match between the Cricket Writers' Club and his old club in September. Ian would like that. We need a good side. Volunteers, please!
Brian Scovell, The Wisden Cricketer
Appointed OBE in 1991
BPA Columnist of the Year 1975 and 1976
Sportswriter of the Year 1972, 1974, 1981, 1989
The Sports Council Sportswriter of the Year 1987, 1988, 1996
Books included Cricket, Lovely Cricket (1963); Mary P (with Mary Peters, 1974); MCC: the Autobiography of a Cricketer (with Colin Cowdrey, 1976); The Best of Wooldridge (1978); Travelling Reserve (1982); and Sport in the Eighties (1989).
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