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- British sports commentator
My friend and former colleague Colin Slater, who has died aged 87, reported on more than 3,000 Notts County football matches, first for local newspapers and then, over a span of more than 50 years, for BBC Radio Nottingham, following the club’s fortunes as they rose and fell from the fourth to the first tier of English football and back again.
Few football journalists can have so clearly embodied the institution on which they reported in the minds of supporters, players and officials. When Colin wrote a memoir of his time at Meadow Lane in 2011, he gave it the title Tied Up With Notts. He was proud of his close and warm association with what was, until recently, the world’s oldest professional league club, founded in 1862, but he never forfeited his journalistic objectivity and was as critical as any disaffected fan on the occasions when the team fell into the hands of unscrupulous or negligent owners.
When, during one of the odder periods in the club’s history, Sven-Göran Eriksson, the former England manager, was appointed director of football at a club then in the fourth tier, lured by what soon turned out to be nonexistent financial backing from North Korea, Colin was given the first one-to-one interview. He was pleasantly surprised when the Swede opened their conversation by asking a question of his own: “I hear you’ve been here a long time and attend every game, so I want to know something about you. Tell me about yourself.” No one, Colin reflected, had ever asked him to explain his background. An outsider might add that this was their mistake.
Colin was born in Shipley, and went to Belle Vue grammar school in nearby Bradford. After training on local weekly newspapers, covering Bradford City, he moved to Nottingham, where he joined the Evening News, becoming their Notts County correspondent in 1959. As early as 1965 he was helping to save the club from extinction by persuading a local car dealer to write a cheque for £10,000.
In 1968 he accepted an offer to become the first press officer – later chief information officer – of Nottinghamshire county council, while taking on commentary duties on Notts for the newly created BBC Radio Nottingham. In the summer he would commentate on the cricket at Trent Bridge, sometimes acting as the PA announcer, and running Nottinghamshire CCC’s marketing department from 1988-96.
He never lost the trace of West Yorkshire, either in his gentle conversational voice or the more urgent tone that came through the radio on the occasions when the Magpies did something worth getting excited about. The club named a suite after him, making him a lifetime honorary president; he chaired their former players’ association and was a trustee of the Notts County Foundation. John Motson called him “a doyen of the broadcasting industry”.
A tall man of great humour and unfailing courtesy, he chaired the local bench of magistrates, helped found the east Midlands branch of the Lord’s Taverners charity, and was a trustee of Nottingham’s day centre for homeless people. Active in the Christians in Sport organisation, in 1995 he was elected to represent the diocese of Southwell and Nottingham as a lay member of the General Synod. In 2001 he was appointed MBE for services to radio broadcasting and the community in Nottingham.