Former Daily Express sports writer
The death of Derek Potter last month, at the age of 75, was the breaking of another link with the days, in the ’60s and ’70s, when English football seemed to be alive with legends.
One of them, the great Manchester United and Scotland striker Denis Law, attended the funeral in Cheshire, together with many of the journalist’s friends and colleagues.
Potter was a quiet, warm man, in a business that could be ruthless, but he acquired a reputation as a great newsgatherer – one that was augmented by the award of sports reporter of the year for his revelation that Robert Maxwell was attempting to buy Manchester United – a story of the ’80s that anticipated the corporate future of England’s major football clubs.
In a stream of tributes from football and journalism, there was one constant theme – Potter was a man who could be trusted.
He spent his entire career in his native Northwest of England, the perfect place for a football reporter determined to operate at the heart of the national game.
He travelled widely across Europe with all the leading clubs and was close to all the great managers – and their players.
Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Fooballers’ Association, attended the funeral and said: “Whenever you were interviewed by Derek, you knew whatever you said would be faithfully reported. He didn’t spin the news, he reported it, operating on the basis that there is never anything so sensational as the truth.”
Potter started his career on local papers in Cheshire, but quickly graduated to the Daily Mirror in Manchester, from where he was soon signed by that paper’s greatest rival in those days, the Express.
His enduring ability to land the big story led to his one mis-step in a superbly professional career. Soon after he won his sports reporter of the year award, and long after becoming a senior and much respected figure in the Express’s famous glass-fronted office in Ancoats Street, Manchester, he was tempted to join the new Today newspaper.
At the time, he said he welcomed a new challenge, but unfortunately he fell victim to redundancy measures when the newspaper slipped towards extinction. The manner of his parting spoke of harsher days in the newspaper business. Such a career development would have embittered a man of less grace; instead, he shrugged his shoulders and worked as a freelance.
Former Express writer Derek Hodgson spoke of the dilemma faced by Potter’s family and colleagues, debating whether or not something representative of a great reporter’s life should be placed in the coffin. One suggestion was that it should be his mobile phone, but Vera Potter demurred. “I don’t see the point,” she said, “Derek always had it switched off.”