David Lacey obituary | Soccer

It’s not customary to sit up for Monday mornings however, within the heyday of the Guardian’s print gross sales within the late Seventies and 80s, many readers relished Monday’s paper greater than the rest.

On a options web page could be Posy Simmonds’ weekly dissection of middle-class life. And, additional again, stretched throughout the width of the primary sports activities web page, David Lacey would supply his weekly dissection of soccer. Like Posy’s cartoon strip, this was one of many nice establishments of British journalism.

Lacey, who has died aged 83, was an establishment in himself. His first Guardian match studies appeared within the winter of 1964-65 and already, in a downbeat report on Portsmouth versus the outdated, fatalistic, Manchester Metropolis, one may detect flecks of gold in his prose.

By the point he changed the ailing Bert Barham as chief soccer correspondent in 1973, he had hit the motherlode that might maintain him for 30 seasons within the job and one other decade as an emeritus columnist. His writing was the antithesis of the sports activities pages’ different star flip, his virtually actual modern Frank Keating. Whereas Keating was a cavalier, stuffed with thrilling thrusts and parries whereas typically falling off his horse, Lacey was extra Cromwellian; he wrote with precision, quiet class and sly wit.

And the Monday column was his showcase. He would attend the match of his selection on Saturday, watch Match of the Day, and subsequent morning pull collectively his ideas on the weekend and the state of the sport crisply and analytically, slipping in discursive similes, metaphors and cultural references with out ever troubling Pseuds Nook.

In a single piece, Lacey seen Ron Atkinson consuming gin and tonic out of a papier-mache cup (“like Beau Brummell visiting the 50-shilling tailor”); in contrast West Bromwich Albion’s relationship with Liverpool to a person within the Avon Gorge staring up on the Clifton Suspension Bridge; and threw within the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 for good measure. And all of it labored.

The Sunday obligation sports activities subeditors had two issues. One was to seek out any flaw within the copy to justify their existence. A misplaced comma? Hardly. The opposite was to write down a headline to do the piece justice. “Lace the Ace,” he was known as within the workplace.

Sadly, the swap of massive video games to Sundays in 1992 ruined the symmetry of those items and he was obliged to do match studies for Monday’s papers. He was ace at these too however they attracted partisans greater than the neutrals who beforehand learn Lacey for his personal sake. The game part was by no means fairly as wealthy once more.

Lacey was born into newspapers. He was the oldest of three sons of Les Lacey, editor of the Lewes-based Sussex Specific, and Hilda (nee Roberts), a librarian after which full-time mom. His two brothers, Jeremy and Roger (who had a spell on the Guardian), additionally went into journalism.

Aged 16, David went straight from Lewes county grammar college to the Brighton Night Argus, the place he quickly discovered himself reporting Brighton’s modest adventures earlier than becoming a member of the Guardian. Other than nationwide service within the RAF, he by no means labored for anybody else, and should by no means have contemplated it.

David Lacey in Monday’s Guardian was for decades one of the institutions of sports journalism
David Lacey within the Monday Guardian was for many years one of many establishments of sports activities journalism. {Photograph}: Frank Baron/The Guardian

In 1966 he was assigned the north-east group on the World Cup in England and thus noticed Pak Doo-ik’s unforgettable purpose at long-gone Ayresome Park that enabled North Korea to place paid to Italy. (“One would have thought Middlesbrough had received the FA Cup.”) 4 years later he went to Mexico as Barham’s No 2. He lined 10 World Cups in all, and for the opposite eight he was the unassailable No 1.

Inside soccer, the tabloids attracted extra consideration however he had a small however elite fanclub among the many extra considerate managers – Bobby Robson, Ron Greenwood, Dave Sexton, Invoice Dodgin – who learn him avidly. Earlier than changing into Liverpool supervisor, Joe Fagan borrowed a replica of the Guardian to whereas away an idle second: “I didn’t even know there was soccer writing like this,” he stated.

What was additionally noticeable was the awe that attended Lacey from his colleagues throughout the press field. In addition to being revered as a author, he was additionally – within the days earlier than ubiquitous replays made focus an optionally available additional – the go-to man to resolve, say, a posh sequence of passes. “He had an icy mind,” stated Patrick Barclay, who was his deputy for a decade. “He liked precision. He would discover a new path to Villa Park or the Dell that might shave two minutes off the journey, and also you needed to observe it. He was a GPS system years forward of his time.”

“After a sport I might at all times say ‘What did you make of it, David?’,” stated the Mail on Sunday columnist Pat Collins. “He’d give me six phrases and two verdicts and I’d stroll away wishing I may rewrite what I’d already despatched.”

He didn’t do information tales: managerial hypothesis and what the desk dismissively known as “groin-strain journalism”. Another person may chase that stuff; he would make his judgment on what he noticed. However his territory was very a lot his, and he didn’t relish the corporate of different fancy Guardian writers at huge video games. “I’m coming to the Cup closing with you, David,” Keating informed him cheerily in the future. “Very good for you, Frank,” was the reply.

He might be way more withering than that. In 1986, the passionate and voluble Barclay informed the calm and composed Lacey that he was leaving, having lastly been supplied the No 1 soccer job elsewhere. “It’s the top of an earache, Paddy,” he replied. (That is Paddy’s story, by the way in which.)

The one wobble in his personal tenure was a suggestion, circa 1981, to change to cricket, a sport he relished and performed socially. He determined in opposition to, although he did like to spend a few summer season weeks protecting county video games, ideally in Sussex. Lewes grammar performed rugby, and his lively soccer was largely confined to refereeing. He additionally retained an enthusiasm for ice hockey, which he lined in Brighton. And he adored outdated movies, which knowledgeable a very good a lot of his gags. However probability and selection meant he utilized his genius to soccer; he may have written as properly on virtually something.

Lacey lived alone, surrounded by his soccer programmes. Although at all times enigmatic and self-contained, there was enjoyable in addition to barbed wit. Through the 1978 World Cup, he was applauded by a bar-room filled with raucous Argentinians for his wine-fuelled rendition of “Sussex By the Sea”. In his final years, he moved near Jeremy’s household in Cambridgeshire, delighting in being Uncle David. Later he moved to a care dwelling the place, his short-term reminiscence fading, he may nonetheless reminisce in regards to the Matthews closing, Pak Doo-ik, and far more in regards to the sport he himself adorned. Belatedly, he received two sports activities journalist of the yr awards, which is as if Liverpool had solely ever been granted two League titles.

Jeremy, a monetary journalist, predeceased him. He’s survived by Roger, a niece and three nephews.

David Edward Charles Lacey, sports activities author, born 4 January 1938; died 15 November 2021

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