He is the man who took one of the most legendary telephone calls in the history of Sheffield Newspapers. Martin Smith talks to former Green Un editor Ian Vickers.
It was around noon on Christmas Eve 1973, The Star printers were already in the pub, most of the sports department had drifted away.
Then Ian Vickers answered the sports desk phone. It was the old Sheffield Wednesday club secretary Eric Taylor.
“Hello,” he said, “This is Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and we have two announcements to make. The first is that Arthur Broomhead has been made vice chairman and the other one is that team manager Derek Dooley has been relieved of his duties.”
It sounds like a no-nonsense telegraph message from the 19th century in its brevity and phrasing but it meant a new front page for the late edition of The Star that Christmas Eve night.
It also meant that softly-spoken Ian Vickers had to go and get the printers out of the Dove and Rainbow to change the print plates.
Not the easiest job he ever had but not one to forget.
“There had been some talk as to whether Dooley could hang on to his Owls job and there had been some close escapes but we never thought it would be decided on Christmas Eve!” said 64-year-old Green Un editor Ian who retires this week after almost 44 years at The Star.
“It was a huge story for us but things were different in those days. I would imagine that’s just the order they made the decisions in but to have the sacking of your manager, a legendary former player and a big figure nationally done in such a low-key way at that time of year was amazing. It’s easy to forget sometimes just how different things were in those days.”
Indeed it is. It’s also hard to imagine the way communications have changed - especially in villages like Clay Cross in Derbyshire where Ian Vickers grew up.
“When I was young you actually had to wait for people to get off the bus in Clay Cross to find out the scores from the Derby County game. It’s not that far removed from the day earlier in the 20th century when reporters used to send the scores from games via pigeons which would fly back to the loft on top of The Star building.”
Formerly a fan of Ernie Moss’s Chesterfield side, Ian was the Wednesday reporter from 1974 to 1980 and he certainly knew how to pick the good ones. As well as the Dooley sacking story Ian was on duty at Hillsborough on Boxing Day 1979 to witness what has been known since as The Boxing Day massacre when Wednesday beat top of the league United 4-0.
“I was the Wednesday man at that time and it was an eleven o’clock kick off. I don’t remember the game being all that special but it’s one of those things that have grown in significance since. Obviously it was a big win for Wednesday but it’s when they gave it the Boxing Day massacre name that it started to mean so much more.”
Former Tupton Hall Grammar School boy Ian started his working life in a very different direction - although sport was a common factor.
“I was training to be a PE teacher in Chester but one day I stopped to think: ‘I’ve been at school and college for all these years and I think I want more from life than this’“ said Ian, the son of plumber George and teacher Kath.
“I had always liked the idea of sports reporting and I used to watch motorbike scrambling on a Saturday afternoon and write reports from it – I think it all started then.
Ian’s career got a huge boost when he was at Richmond College to do his journalism training and wrote to local football managers to do an interview as part of his project.
He got to see Danny Williams at Wednesday and John Harris at United but also got a reply from one Brian Cough at Derby County.
“He wrote back to me – and I still have the letter – and said that I could go down to Derby and have a chat with Peter Taylor.
“I went down there and I was so nervous. My dad was a Derby fan and I had been brought up on tales of Raich Carter and Peter Doherty. Taylor was brilliant. I spent all morning talking to him, I’ll never forget that.”
Something else he won’t forget is a later meeting with a member of the Taylor family.
“I was in the Clay Cross office where we were kept busy by then councillor Dennis Skinner and his brother David. One day I went to cover a court case at Alfreton and Peter Taylor’s daughter Wendy was there covering the case for the Derby Telegraph. I took her out one night and got a couple of tickets for the Derby v Juventus European Cup semi-final off her. We only went out that once and she told me that she had told her dad she was going out with a journalist and he wasn’t too pleased, though he didn’t realise he had already met me. Years later I bumped into her again at a Wednesday game in Brighton and we had a chat.”
Of course there have also been days to forget. Like the Saturday the Green Un had the wrong results in.
“We printed the previous week’s,” says Ian in hushed tones. “The response was amazing, the phone didn’t stop ringing the following Monday. It was embarrassing and every Saturday after that I had to go down to the press as the first Green Uns came off to check that all was right.
“Theoretically I had chances to say: ‘Hold the back page’ but printers were always difficult to talk into stopping the press.”
There have been other hairy moments too when the lines of communication between Green Un, reporter and reader were close to breaking.
Like the time when Les Payne’s train broke down on the famous Settle to Carlisle railway line while he was on his way to cover Carlisle v Rotherham United.
Or the day James Shield’s car conked out en-route to cover Bradford City v Sheffield United.
Les was there late and soon caught up and at Bradford Ian was able to contact another journalist covering the game and the day was saved.
Ian was a sub-editor on the day of the Hillsborough disaster but doesn’t remember too much about it.
“The thing I remember most was going to see my dad who was in hospital in Chesterfield after a hip operation and telling him all about it that night,” said Ian, husband of Diana, father of Sian and grandad to Elsie and Ralph.
“It’s a shame the way things have gone for the Green Un. I suppose it’s just a victim of history and the way things have changed in the media.
“I had some great times though and met some real characters. I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to carry on covering Wednesday.
“But what I have enjoyed most about my time at The Star and Green Un is the Saturday afternoon buzz when you’re working on the Green Un,” said Ian.
“It’s busy and things are moving really fast towards the end as final scores start to come in and match reports are filed.
“I’m glad I was a part of that history and I wouldn’t change that for anything.”