In April 1980, in his first week as Ham & High sports editor, Pat Mooney strode into his boss’s office and asked if he would pay for him to go Italy to for the day.
The 26-year-old had just covered his first Arsenal match – the first leg of the European Cup Winner’s Cup semi-final against Juventus – and he thought it would be best if he was allowed to go to Turin for the return game.
His boss Gerald Isaaman, one of five editors Mooney has worked under, agreed, and the young Irishman from County Kildare never looked back.
Last month he was invited to Tottenham’s FA Cup tie with Reading as a special guest, to celebrate, slightly belatedly, his 25th anniversary of working for the Ham & High.
He was joined in the executive box by his wife Cathy and his son Darragh. On the day he was handed £500 worth of sports vouchers by Ham & High editor Geoff Martin, and Spurs legend and TV pundit Clive Allen presented him with a commemorative team shirt from the club’s 125th anniversary, with the name Mooney and the number 25 on the back.
Mooney said: ‘It was a nice touch and the whole day was really enjoyable. It was strange watching the match from somewhere other than my usual seat in the press box.”
Mooney, a life-long Manchester United fan, has spent half his life working at the Ham & High, covering Spurs and Arsenal as well as local sports clubs.
Arguably his greatest achievement was persuading his bosses to put the sport on the back page, instead of inside. Over the years he has managed to double the coverage dedicated to sport and gained the Ham & High such a strong reputation for its football reporting that he was given press passes to two World Cups – Italia 1990 and USA 1994.
During his time at the Ham & High, Mooney, who previously spent six years at the Harrow Observer, has covered the comings and goings of 13 Spurs’ managers, and five at Arsenal.
He remembers the days covering Arsenal when they had many Irish in the squad, including Liam Brady and David O’Leary, and the days when managers would make time to talk to him.
He said: ‘The first manager I dealt with at Spurs was Keith Burkinshaw, who was arguably their best since Bill Nicholson. I came to an agreement with him that I would pick up the phone at 9.55am each Thursday for a story, and for the best part of eight to 10 years I was able to do that.
‘We built up a good relationship and he trusted me and would give me numerous exclusives – like the time he dropped Steve Archibald for disciplinary reasons. That story scooped all the nationals. Getting access to managers these days is almost impossible.”
But for Mooney it has not just been about the big names and the big games: ‘The prime function of a local paper is to report on local clubs. This was something very close to my heart from day one.
‘I think we have managed to get a pretty good mix.’