Tony Pritchett, The Star and Green ‘Un’s Sheffield United man for almost 30 years, has died, aged 69, after an 18-month battle against cancer.
The son of a Derbyshire miner, Tony became one of the best-known faces in British sports writing circles and one of the true characters in football. His sharp wit and mischievous sense of humour ruled the Bramall Lane press box for a generation and everyone who met him has a Pritchett tale to tell. Over the years, colleagues and visiting reporters – and club directors and managers – would ask his advice and seek his approval, willingly risking his barbs for the wisdom they could glean.
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Tony – or TP as he was known – was an old-school gentleman with golf club
manners and strong views on every subject. He was waspish and critical one minute, considerate and supportive the next, but all done with a humour and warmth that made him wonderful company and a brilliant journalist.
Tony grew up in Stanley Common, near Ilkeston, Derbyshire. His grandfather, father and brothers were colliers but TP began work as a junior reporter in his home town in 1949, moving to the Nottingham Evening Post in 1955 after completing two years in the RAF. He came to The Star as Sheffield Wednesday reporter in 1968 and moved across the city to Bramall Lane in 1972. He went on to become the paper’s chief sports writer, travelling the world to cover World Cups and Olympic Games in his own inimitable style.
He met Pel, George Best, Eusebio, Dennis Taylor and Alex Ferguson. Or, rather, they met him. He picked up a host of top awards during his career with his original, incisive and always entertaining pieces and was widely acknowledged as being one of the best sports reporters outside Fleet Street.
Like many of his generation, National Service left a lasting impression. Military expressions peppered his banter and his early morning greeting as he strode through the office bang on time was a simple: "Troops."
TP’s charisma was built on a relentless repertoire of old punchlines, catchphrases and invented acronyms delivered with the timing of a music-hall comedian. By quoting a set of initials, a simple "what’s happening now" or "how does that one go?", Tony would conjure up 30 years of sportsdesk humour in the twinkling of an eye. His unique energy and personality gave him an unshakeable affection for the Conservative Party, the NUJ and his place at the "coalface" of life.
But his greatest loves were his family, golf and Sheffield United – in that order. He also – although he would often swear otherwise – loved life at The Star.
He retained a drive and enthusiasm for journalism up until his retirement and once confessed to having butterflies in his stomach every day when he walked to his desk in case he’d "missed anything".
In 30 years he rarely did.
He retained his drive and enthusiasm for journalism before finally calling it a day in 1999 and ending a magnificent career.
Sports minister Richard Caborn MP said: "We have lost a Sheffield institution. He was a great character and a great journalist and professional."
Former Sheffield United manager Steve Bruce said: "It isn’t always easy dealing with members of the media in football but speaking to Tony was never a chore."
Star editor Peter Charlton said: "Tony was the consummate professional. He was a tremendous journalist with a wonderful writing style that earned him many followers. His love for soccer, and Bramall Lane in particular, dictated the course of his professional career.
The fact that he counted several managers among his personal friends and admirers is testimony to the status which built around him as Sheffield’s leading sports journalist.
"It was more than just knowledge of the game or reporting skills that made TP such an influential figure. It was his insight and wisdom, coupled with his natural charm, that set him apart."