Michael Scrivener

Michael Scrivener, who has died aged 59 after a short illness, enjoyed the dual distinctions of being refereed in a junior football match by a teenage George Best and of being owed £600 by Robert Maxwell.

Mike, who spent more than three decades working on newspapers in Belfast, London, Dublin and South Africa, failed to recognise the 17-year-old Best as he ran out at inside right for Braniel Boys.

The match was held at Cregagh Boys — Best's old team. Best signed professional forms with Manchester United only days before.

"That's George Best!" exclaimed an awe-struck team-mate. "George who?" replied Mike.

The encounter with Maxwell came nearly a quarter of a century later, in February 1987, when Mike took shift work on the ill-fated London Daily News. The paper closed after five months, leaving him £600 out-of-pocket.

Born in Belfast's Shankill Road area in October 1946, Mike attended Belfast High School, where Stephen Rea, later to become an award-winning actor, was his scout troop leader.

He attended Trinity College, Dublin, where he was a contemporary of Ted Oliver, later of the Daily Mirror, and played sport with law student Pat Finucane, later murdered by loyalist paramilitaries.

He graduated with honours in history and politics in 1969, taking as the subject of his final dissertation Patrick Pearse, "Blood Sacrifice" and the 1916 Easter Rising. His fascination for the period stemmed, in part, from a belief that his grandfather was among British troops ordered to Dublin to quell the revolt.

At Trinity, he worked briefly for the Irish Labour Party before joining Eamon de Valera's Irish Press Group as a reporter in 1969. The newsroom at Burgh Quay in the late '60s was described by his colleague and friend Michael O'Toole as "full of cheats, scavengers, sycophants, bohemians, cute hoors and the odd saint."

In 2003, Mike told a researcher of newspaper history: "I was thanked by the editor Tim Pat Coogan for working late to summarise a 64-page papal encyclical and he apologised for not giving me a byline because I had a Protestant name. I also reported from the magistrates and the coroners courts. Sex cases were a daily event, and on one occasion, there were seven suicides, but it was policy that these did not appear in the Press. I made extra cash selling the stories to the News of the World."

As the Troubles engulfed Northern Ireland, he was dispatched as a "fireman" to assist the Belfast bureau. Disillusioned with events in Ireland, however, he packed his wife and young family off to South Africa, where he found work on Johannesburg newspapers, including a stint as turf correspondent of The Star.

He returned to London in the 1980s, and worked for Mirror Group Newspapers before his unrewarding experience at the London Daily News. He moved back to Belfast at the end of the decade, taking a job as a reporter on The Sunday News.

When the paper closed in 1993, he switched to its sister title, The News Letter, as a business reporter but was then made redundant. In 1996, he joined The Belfast Telegraph as a sub-editor, where he worked until his last illness.

He was at ease in the company of the many wealthy and influential people he met during a varied career but was at his happiest enjoying a bit of craic, a modest flutter and a Bushmills' whiskey — "just a small one for me" — among his friends in The Mermaid Bar, Belfast.

He is survived by his wife Pippa, daughter Julie and sons Peter and John.

 

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