Paul Tully, former Newcastle United publications editor and football fanatic, has died suddenly. He was 61 and, truly, a prince among men.
We were Northern Echo colleagues back in the 1980s, remained good friends, frequently crossed paths at Northern League grounds. Paul always twinkled, always enthused, frequently had a pie in his hand.
If it may not be said that he ate all the pies, he certainly saw off a canny few.
Though the Magpies had been his lifelong passion, he loved football at every level, was a member of the 92 Club by the time he was 30 and in 2007 reclaimed the “set” – having taken in 46 “new” grounds and been generally unimpressed.
“With the exception of places like Bolton Wanderers and Huddersfield they’re all so boring,” he said. “They’re just like warehouses. There’s more atmosphere on the surface of the moon.”
Still he tried to top up the 92, even planning a return to Wembley – where he’d been many times – because he’d never seen it as Spurs “home” ground.
He also counted the number of grounds at which he’d watched Newcastle United teams – by 2003, when he saw the reserves play Bishop Auckland at Shildon, the total had risen to 121.
Others shared that particular passion. “It’s almost like an Olympic sport,” said Paul.
The publications editor’s job was, of course, a dream. Round peg, round hole. The programme won the pro game’s top award; other magazines bore the Tully imprint of journalistic excellence and Magpie mania. One of my columns described him as “near-omniscient”, but had probably understated it.
He was thus devastated to be made redundant, seldom watched his beloved team thereafter, became a Blyth Spartans season ticket holder and a greatly familiar and always cheerful face around the Northern League.
We’d exchanged emails just the other day: Paul had already been on 16 different NL grounds this season, could have told an entertaining tale about all of them and looked forward with customary fervour to the next.
Come to think, I don’t think I ever heard him swear. Paul’s expostulation of choice was “Yer bugs.”
He’s grown up in Denton Burn, Newcastle, in the same street and with the same passion as Paul Joannou, who has written many books about the Magpies.
“Nobody could ever have had a bad word about Paul, he was just a lovely guy,” says his friend. “He was a great journalist, believed in integrity and honesty, always strove to get the story exactly right. The programme content was top notch. He coped with the pressures and the difficulties of Newcaste United very well.”
From the Echo, Paul had joined the Evening Chronicle – a bit closer to where his heart lay – and from 2010-2013 became The Journal’s man in the Tyne Valley. He never married – the suggestion that he was married to football obvious but undeniable – lived in Hexham with his mum, for whom he was principal carer.
Always, it seemed, I had a question of him. Without exception he’d answer knowledgably and affably, usually with another couple of anecdotes or nuggets of information.
Just a couple of weeks back, through Paul, the blog recounted the story of how the Braille edition of United’s programme was left in referee Jeff Winter’s dressing room – and Jeff’s good natured reaction to the joke.
Though often urged formally to mine his rich seam of football travels and knowledge, Paul only formally put his name to one book. Paul Joannou fishes it from crowded shelves . It was called The All-Time Greats, a title which could hardly have been more appropriate.
If ever there was an all-time great it was Paul Tully. May he rest in peace.