May 16 2017: when Sky was the limit

Vic Wakeling, the man credited with revolutionising sport on television, has died. He was 73, and never did cough up for Evenwood v Durham City.

Vic was born in Low Westwood, near Consett, orphaned when he was eight, began his journalistic career on £3 19s 6d a week – even less than I did – as a 16-year-old on the Blaydon Courier and Consett Guardian.

He covered Consett matches at the old Belle Vue stadium, liked a Newcastle Brown (and a few accompanying tabs) in the Miners Arms.

He became managing director of Sky Sport and later of both sport and news divisions, powerful enough even to have bollocked Jeff Stelling. “Hartlepool United are getting more mentions than Manchester United,” he said.

I’d gone down to London to interview him in January 1998, the week that Sky had offered Stevenage £150,000 for live coverage of their FA Cup tie with Newcastle United, the team which Vic had supported since Jackie Milburn’s day.

So what’s all that to do with Evenwood Town? Their preliminary round tie with Durham had been the first of that season’s FA Cup competition, Friday August 29 1997. Sky attended, showed highlights all the next day. Surely it must be worth a fiver for a tub of line marker, or something?

“They said the pies were great,” recalled the late Jim Coates, the club secretary. “They never actually talked money but we’re a small, hard up club and thought we might get a few bob out of it.”

Four letters to Sky all went unanswered. Then club chairman Gordon Nicholson – for 21 years the Northern League’s formidable secretary – heard that I was going down to see the boss of bosses. Could I put a word in?

The interview followed a lengthy meeting between Wakeling and Rupert Murdoch, It went well. We talked of everyone from Best to Botham and of how, when he covered Whitburn cricket for the Shields Gazette, he’d watch Wes Hall begin his run-up by pushing off from the sight screen.

Finally, apprensively, I raised the matter of the FA Cup preliminary round tie, competing with Friday night bingo in a west Durham village. Vic was curt: nothing to do with him, he said. FA matter, he said.

Not so much as a tub of line marker? Not a sausage (which would probably have made a change from the pies, no matter how good they were.)

He was appointed CBE in 2011, a visionary and a greatly powerful man. Back in Evenwood, though, I’m not sure if Gordon Nic ever forgave me.