Press delete

The decline of three o’clock Saturday football has claimed another victim, to Peter McParlin’s regret

On Saturday December 17, 2005, 110 years of Tyneside tradition came to an end when the last edition of The Pink, the Saturday evening results paper published by the Newcastle Evening Chronicle since 1895, rolled off the presses. The paper has become obsolete in an age when mobile phones can deliver instant goal alerts from hundreds of miles away. Who needs a late edition for the results when that little piece of gadgetry in your pocket can even replay the goals on its mini LCD screen? But to those of us of a certain age, new technology can never replace what The Pink, and its like elsewhere in the country, used to add to Saturday nights.

Apart from reporting on a fine 4-2 win at West Ham, the final edition was expanded to include a lavish “Farewell to The Pink” pull out. John Gibson, the Chronicle’s veteran reporter, soon to retire himself, wrote about the distinguished history of the paper. The double-page spread was adorned with the covers of famous editions – Newcastle’s three FA Cup wins in the Fifties, Malcolm Macdonald’s sensational hat-trick against Liverpool on his home debut in 1971.

There were even the headlines to several momentous Saturdays I could recall. Kev’s Big Day a Hit and It’s a Kracker! were from Kevin Keegan’s two Newcastle debuts, as player and manager. Seventh Heaven related to Keegan’s final game at United, a 7-1 thrashing of Spurs, and Cloud Nine recalled a dramatic yet almost forgotten 5-4 epic against Leicester in January 1990. Even that final edition had a memorable headline. Owe Yes! referred not only to Michael Owen’s hat-trick at Upton Park, but also, as revealed on the BBC’s Look North on Monday, to the fact that veteran match reporter Alan Oliver, faced with a late rewrite, had screamed “Oh no, don’t score!” as Owen prepared to slot into an empty net in injury time.

My first acquaintance with The Pink came at the age of eight near the start of the 1974-75 season. The August weather had encouraged me to stay out playing football, so I completely forgot about Grandstand and Final Score. In the days before teletext this was a potential disaster, but luckily my parents knew how to avert it – I was given 5p, sent to the garage round the corner and told to ask for The Pink. Over the ensuing years, the paper would become a perennial antidote to missing a final score.

A decade later, I was now a regular at St James’ Park and on my way home from the match I would always buy a copy from the paper-seller opposite the entrance to Central Station. Crossing Manchester from Piccadilly to Victoria stations en route from an away game, I discovered that it, too, had a football pink. Within 12 months I found myself working there – many a dull Saturday evening following another dismal Toon defeat was brightened slightly by a read of the Manchester Evening News’ Pink Final.

In a year away, I discovered the Sheffield Star’s Green ’Un; then I was back in the north-east as the post Italia 90 football revival bolstered the fortunes of “pinks” everywhere. Preston’s Lancashire Evening News, which had lacked a late results paper throughout the Eighties, re-launched its pink. Back in Newcastle, The Pink, already boasting colour photographs beamed from Newcastle matches home and away, now included stacks of features, with in-depth grass-roots coverage, everything from the Northern League down to under-tens.

By the end of the decade, though, advancing technology was beginning to make legions of results papers redundant across the country. If the new texting phenomenon had slowly been killing the concept of letters pages, the continued trend towards kick-off times at anything but 3pm on Saturday was rapidly putting paid to a pink’s raison d’être. The Newcastle Pink’s letters page had disappeared by 2000, about the same time as Manchester’s Pink switched from Saturday evening to Sunday morning. There was no such opportunity for the Chronicle: its sister paper, the regional Sunday Sun, already held that slot. The end was nigh.

The Manchester Evening News Sunday Pink published its last edition on May 22, 2005, after being “the Manchester sports enthusiast’s bible” for 40 years. At its peak it had sold as many as 15,000 copies, but new trends had severely eroded its sales. Seven months later, the Evening Chronicle followed suit and announced that it, too, would end more than a century of tradition. The Chronicle’s editor, Paul Robertson, summed up: “Last season, only 14 out of Newcastle United’s 38 league games were played on Saturdays with kick-offs at 3pm. It is a similar story this year, with ten blank Saturdays out of 21 up until the end of 2005.” It was the end of an era. I just hope that the 3 network’s “goals on your mobile” can stand the test of time the way that football pinks did. Somehow, I doubt it.

From WSC 229 March 2006. What was happening this month