New Mail on Sunday sports editor Alison Kervin is facing the ultimate challenge

Even a cursory examination of Alison Kervin’s career credentials leaves a man consumed by inadequacy.

A former gymnast, Kervin boasts an impressive Times and Telegraph writing pedigree; she’s completed several books, managed the PR of the England rugby team, become the first woman to referee at Twickenham, and secured an unlikely interview with Catherine Zeta-Jones in a ladies’ toilet.

The ultimate challenge still may be ahead of her, however.

As incoming sports editor of The Mail on Sunday and therefore a prototype for Fleet Street’s distaff side, she’ll be expected to transform a section that has traditionally thrived on predictability (the splendid Gary Neville column is exempt from such criticism).

Even more significantly, Kervin must negotiate with an ageing male reporting staff that views the winds of change in the manner of Boris Johnson contemplating another collision with Eddie Mair.

Here, in an apartment that looks out onto the glorious vista of Scotland’s Western Isles, I’m trying – but probably failing – to resist the embrace of old age and its various instabilities. Yet I’m smiling.

I was Daily Mail head of sport for four years. The path to Paul Dacre’s office, known as the Scary Corridor (see Fingerprints of a Football Rascal), provided excitement on a 24-7 basis… One day, having at last fashioned a highly-motivated sports desk from what was a de facto gentleman’s club, I walked along that corridor and suggested that some remedial work would not go amiss upstairs. His vulpine smile told you everything.

The MoS incumbents became suitably nervous about that prospect. I was told that they had decided I was the anti-Christ. How was that for hyperbole? Did I deserve such a billing? Remembering the expert tutelage of people like Charlie Wilson, Martin Clarke and the aforesaid Dacre, I was admittedly aggressive and demanding, but I always tried to be fair.

The fact is Northcliffe House had a small but influential cabal of journalists who decided that working out their various luncheon campaigns would be the most important tasks of their day. They were inevitably positioned behind the black ball. Can you believe they had to be almost press-ganged into believing that Jean-Marc Bosman’s freedom of contract victory was a huge story?  

Thus, backsides were kicked and kilos of flesh demanded as Sportsmail annulled the immediate past and moved towards an energetic, issue-driven future.

Enough of Memory Lane, however: let’s fast forward the situation to 2001. After my retirement through ill health, I was asked to become a judge in the Press Gazette awards. Three of us, all refugees from the Daily Star, later went for a drink.

Chris Anderson, then an MoS executive, confessed that a new strategy, modelled on my stewardship of the daily paper, had been decided. Hence the appointment a somewhat pugnacious sort from the News International stable. An informed source rang me to say that the puglilist had become part of Associated’s history. It was almost impossible to credit: How long had he been there? In modern-day terms, not much longer than it takes to read a Martin Samuel column.

It was claimed that the new executive was too much for those poor dears on MoS sport, and that they had gone to the management to register their protest.

Malcolm Vallerius, a decent and tolerant man, was quickly appointed. Malcolm’s marathon – 12 years is an incredible lifespan for any sports editor – has run its course and good luck to him.

My best wishes are also extended to Ms Kervin. She is said to be feisty and fearless, and one glimpse at that curriculum vitae seems to validate these claims. You suspect both qualities will be needed when she arrives in Derry Street.

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