Hugh McIlvanney was, arguably, the greatest sports writer Britain has ever produced. He was certainly its most-loved among fellow journalists. This entry could easily be filled with the various anecdotes that have peppered his obituaries over the past 24 hours, but I can offer one I was told that hasn’t appeared elsewhere.
A young sub was told to ready for McIlvanney’s copy late on a Saturday night. The only advice the editor gave him was “don’t change a single fucking word”. When the column came through, it contained a minor factual error somewhere among the seventh paragraph. Agonised over what to do, the sub editor phoned McIlvanney up. McIlvanney’s response? “Oh you can correct the copy as much as you want, just don’t change a single fucking word.”
McIlvanney went toe-to-toe with Ali, beat up Norman Mailer, ran up drinks bills that would bankrupt most modern media organisations, and provided the definitive texts on, among others, Ferguson, Stein, Shankly, Vincent O’Brien and Johnny Owen. It’s very unlikely, in this era of “TEN 22-YEAR-OLD LIGUE 1 CENTRAL DEFENDERS YOU MUST SIGN ON FIFA” content, we will see his like again.