Martin Woods, writer-sub on the Yorkshire Evening Post and sports writer for The Times, has died of lung cancer, aged 43.
Woods – born in Dundalk, southern Ireland – came to the profession late in life after studying science at university. Joining the Leicester Mercury in the early Nineties as a Mac operator, he quickly realised that his skills would stretch to more than just producing pages for others; and that subbing and writing was where his future lay.
In fact, Woods’ talent for turning a phrase would take him further than he imagined. His flair was so evident that, at an 1995 interview for a writersub’s job at the Press Association’s TV listings arm, he was hired on the spot.
It was resolutely unglamorous work, however, and by 1996, Woods, now living in York, had left to become a writer-sub at the Yorkshire Evening Post.
In 1998, a one-line letter from Woods landed on The Times sports desk. It read: “Last night, I had a dream I worked for The Timesâ€¦” Chief sports writer Simon Barnes was similarly impressed with his cuttings, and hired him as a freelance to cover northern football fixtures and boxing matches.
It was only later that an amused Barnes discovered Woods had written an identical one-line letter to every national newspaper in the country, “changing only the subject of his dream”. It was typical of Woods’ sense of mischief.
Woods had a fondness for hilarious surrealist imagery. Some of his match reports, remembers Barnes, included the visions of “a beleaguered manager putting out the milk bottles in a tin helmet; Naseem Hamed, the boxer, taking up basket-weaving as occupational therapy; Audley Harrison as a learner-driver in a pink Rolls-Royce.”
Even though Woods was planning a biography of a long-forgotten boxer, this was a sport he hated himself for liking. Once, after sitting ringside at a particularly bloody bout, he vowed he would never watch another fight again.
A few weeks later, he was filing another boxing report for The Times.
He was also a man of refined tastes, turning in finely crafted opera reviews for the Yorkshire Evening Post. Woods loved words. He loved journalism, too, and worked hard to fulfil his creative ambitions. A great socialiser and talker (he enjoyed get-togethers, or anywhere where there was a chance of good craic), a voracious reader and a fabulous critic, he was adept at pricking pomposity and pretension and ranting at injustice. Indeed, Woods loved a good rant and once wrote a column for Yorkshire Sport called Mr Angry. Yet, somehow, he always managed to vent his spleen in a likeably non-malicious way.
Best of all, though, he loved his family and coming home to his wife and children in the evening. It goes without saying that they – and his friends inside and outside the profession – miss him bitterly.
He leaves a widow, Lindsey, and two children, Clare, 13, and Jack, 10.
Tony Greenway, freelance