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Roy Collins obituary | The Guardian

My friend and colleague Roy Collins, who died at the age of 73, was one of the most gifted, and probably the most underrated, of the happy band of Fleet Street sportswriters who traveled the world during of the last decades of the 20and century.

Roy was the sports editor of the mid-market start-up tabloid Today throughout its almost decade of existence (1986 to 1995). Today was a pioneer of new production methods but struggled to make a name for himself in a crowded market so that too few people appreciated his sharp eye, his fluid and witty style and his vast sporting knowledge.

Among his peers, however, Roy was considered very special: even in a profession full of character, he stood out as an instinctive and glorious crackpot. In his looks, build and character he had more than a touch of Basil Fawlty and his bar anecdotes about the last outrage he suffered tended to be detailed but always gripping.

He was born in London, the son of Charles, a typographer, and Lilian, who died aged 14. Roy’s school days were short but he turned to journalism and came naturally. He trained on the Southend Evening Echo and left for a job that never materialized. Roy’s former position having been filled, the editor contacted a companion on The People, a Sunday paper with a massive sale in 1975, and recommended it.

Starting with a footnote report of “an appalling game” between Fulham and Blackpool, he quickly worked his way up the pecking order before landing the starring role in Today. And although football was always his No. 1 sport, he was a good judge of all. Matthew Engel, as the Guardian man, sat next to Roy in the Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas fight in Tokyo in 1990, boxing’s biggest shock. Matthew recalled: “It was about the second round and Roy said, ‘I think Douglas is winning. He figured that out much faster than me and I guess faster than almost anyone.

When Today folded, he returned to freelance work, which included seven years as the Guardian’s football feature editor. He brought with him the best skills of popular journalism, including a well-filled contact book (he ghosted George Best’s autobiography) and a reluctance to take no for an answer. But he fitted in perfectly with the newspaper’s more detached and elegant approach and could have made an excellent successor to David Lacey as No. 1 correspondent. Instead, he left in 2003 just as PR men were becoming ubiquitous, making candid interviews with footballers nearly impossible.

Roy married Sheila Love in 1987 and she survives him, along with their daughter Lucy and granddaughter Eva. In 2010 Roy and Sheila moved to Spain. By then he had been diagnosed with leukemia, which plagued his later years, but he remained in good shape and still very much himself: Surrounded by expats who were mostly Remainers, Roy voted Leave. Typical.

Margarita W. Wilson

The author Margarita W. Wilson