Goodbye Prenno: Everton makes transfer deal of the season as Echo legend joins his beloved club

Behind Local News challenged David Prentice, of the Liverpool Echo, to sum up his career as he heads off to work for Everton FC. His love letter to the profession will delight any fan of journalism, football, and extraordinary anecdotes

David ‘Prenno’ Prentice, Reach’s Regional Head of Agenda, is off to work for Everton FC

“Where do I begin?”

The opening lyrics to the theme from Love Story seem strangely appropriate. Because 34 years of indulging a passion for writing, often about the football team I adore, has been a labour of love.

But I’m going to go back to 2001 — and a memorable introduction by the then chairman of Everton Football Club.

“I was just telling my friend here, you’re that shit from the Echo,”* he snapped.

As introductions go, it wasn’t up there with “Dr Livingstone I presume.”
But then Everton chairman Peter Johnson was no Henry Morton Stanley, either.

Not the usual office meeting for Prenno and Peter Johnson

Just three years earlier we’d been sipping white wine together on the deck of his yacht in the Mediterranean, bobbing idly off the coast of Saint Tropez.
Now we were standing eye to eye at an Echo Sports Personality of the Year function at the city’s now demolished Moat House Hotel.
Well, not exactly eye to eye.

A drunken fan was swaying in between us and had been haranguing the former Everton chairman, prompting PJ’s decision to call over a passing reporter he treated like faecal matter.

I was clearly a decoy. Somebody to distract the shouting supporter.

To say I was apprehensive was an understatement. We hadn’t spoken since I’d penned an article about him headlined “Blundering, Inept and Crass.”

But any ice was quickly broken by the drunk, who turned, slurred and spilled the contents of an entire glass of red wine down my shirt — and didn’t notice.

I’m sure Peter smirked, although he hid it well.

But as I had learned many times in the past, PJ had a fortune-winning poker face.

He was just one of the hundreds of engaging, entertaining and riveting individuals I’d got to know in almost four decades as a sports journalist on Merseyside.

“Could you write a first person piece about your life as a football writer for Behind Local News?” I was asked.
But how to condense 34 years of sports reporting in England’s capital sports city into one first person piece?

There was the World Cup in 1998, which is how I’d ended up spending the night on Everton chairman Peter Johnson’s yacht in St Tropez.

There was the heart stirring 2012 Olympics writing about Liverpool’s gymnasts, athletes, boxers, swimmers and taekwondo fighters.

One night in Istanbul when the football club I’d abhorred as a child won the Champions League in the most astonishing fashion possible.

A night at Anfield when that same club did something even more remarkable — turning round a 3–0 semi-final deficit to beat the Barcelona of Messi and Suarez, without their two best players.

And there was perhaps the best of the lot — reporting on MY team, Everton, the club I’m now going to work for — winning the FA Cup at Wembley.

There were three years reporting on the “rocket ship to the moon” — how Tranmere’s metaphor-loving manager Johnny King likened his side’s remarkable rise from the foot of the fourth division to the brink of the Premier League and numerous Wembley finals.

Matches against the backroom staffs of clubs like Everton, Liverpool, Tranmere and Blackburn. (We even managed to win one).

And there was the day David Moyes asked me to hold back after a press briefing and asked if I’d meet his solicitor, Eddie Parladorio.

Moyes was suing his former player Wayne Rooney and the publishers of his first autobiography, “Wayne Rooney: My Story So Far”, for claims that he had told the Blues boss he wanted to quit the club after tabloids caught him visiting a prostitute.

And apparently he’d ‘leaked’ that information to me.

Happily the case was eventually settled out of court — not happily for Rooney, though, It cost him £500,000, a significant chunk of which went to David Moyes. I’m still waiting for a drink (which obviously I’d declare on Reach PLC’s ‘gifts’ form).

There was a decade following Everton at home and abroad, countless thrilling boxing bills — and there have been tragedies.

There was the horror and subsequent miscarriage of justice that was Hillsborough, and the Echo’s unstinting campaign for the real truth, there was the night a boxer, my friend Carl Wright, challenged for a British title in Sheffield, slipped into a coma on his way home and had his life saved by the wonderful neuro-surgery department at Liverpool’s Royal Hospital — and far, far too many obituaries of sports personalities who were contacts and then became friends — men like Howard Kendall, Walter Smith, Gary Ablett and Gary Speed.

It is undoubtedly people like them — and people who I worked with — who made this job the labour of love it became.

I was lucky enough to enter football journalism before football clubs had started to raise the drawbridge on journalists.

Everton had no formal press officer when I was appointed Everton FC correspondent in 1993. Now they have a media department numbering almost a hundred.

Back then I visited Everton’s training ground every morning for tea and toast with the manager, and returned at lunchtime to try and persuade a player to be interviewed. Now a barrier and a security hut bars access to Finch Farm, access to which is by invitation only.

And when it came to pre and post season tours — I travelled with the first team squad.

Which is how I ended up in a Dublin nightclub called Lillie’s Bordello and watched Everton midfielder Joe Parkinson sneaking up behind then chart topping songstress Lisa Stansfield, ducking down and repeatedly belting out the first few chords of her hit single: “I’ve been around the world and I, I, I …..” in broad Lancastrian, then disappearing.

Over and over again.

When you’ve been drinking Guinness all day such high jinks are hilariously funny.

Lisa whirled around every time, but Joe was in his Premier League prime and his speed off the mark was deceptive.

He wasn’t once caught and I still wonder what poor, puzzled Lisa made of the experience.

Joe was funny. But not as entertaining as Paul Gascoigne, Thomas Gravesen, Neville Southall or John Bailey.

A fresh-faced David prentice in the Post&Echo newsroom

Undoubtedly the most entertaining characters were employed by the Post and Echo.

My first Sports Editor was Len Capeling — who in a previous life had been a stand up comic.

Using the stage name, Tony Miller, he performed on cruise ships, cabaret clubs and small halls.

His humour during those days on stage must have been blacker than Dracula’s cloak — and Sahara desert dry.

Because Len was the Sports Editor of the Daily Post when I started supplementing my income from the Southport Visiter by doing shifts on their sports desk.

And overseeing the sports desk of a regional daily newspaper was no laughing matter to Len.

Len took his job seriously. So seriously that he once insisted on filing his weekly column — a witty, well crafted and incisive read in which he took absolutely no prisoners — from his hospital bed just hours after coming round from open heart surgery.

When the surgeon who had performed the life-saving procedure demanded that Len rest, the stricken hack replied: “I am the sports editor of the Liverpool Daily Post. I wouldn’t expect you to understand. It’s a pressurised job. You wouldn’t know what pressure is.”

It was not a quickfire gag.

And you couldn’t argue about the drugs in his system causing him to hallucinate. Because Len believed it.

But Len was far from the most colourful character who revelled in that twilight existence of working 3pm til 1am shifts on Old Hall Street in Liverpool city centre.

There was a Daily Post Features sub, let’s call him Dai (name changed to protect his long suffering wife’s reputation), who stood at his work station a couple of desks down from me. Yes, that’s stood.

He believed it was poor for a person’s posture to sit for a 10-hour shift so had his desk redesigned to enable him to stand while he worked. Stand in his brown felt trousers, stitched at home on a sewing machine, and blue T-shirt.

Dai commuted from deepest North Wales and during one particularly cold snap was found in the building’s West Yard car park, asleep in his car, having decided not to risk the icy North Wales ‘A’ roads.

The security guard who had popped out to check on his welfare couldn’t help but notice that the front passenger seat had been removed from the vehicle.

“Have you had problems with the car?” he asked.

“Of course not,” snapped the previously slumbering sub. “I had it taken out so my wife can’t sit next to me. Can’t bear that woman sitting by me when I’m driving.”

It wasn’t just his missus he couldn’t bear alongside him.

Dai endured a fractious relationship with a fellow features sub called David Stuckey, a studious and inoffensive individual who for some reason rubbed his colleague up the wrong way.

Dai’s revenge was palpable.

Underneath the leader column of every day’s Daily Post a word game was published — a puzzle which involved an obscure word, with three possible definitions printed. The reader had to guess which definition was correct.

The word Dai chose shortly before he was due to leave the company was, a “Stuckey.

Check out any Oxford English dictionary and you won’t find that word within, because Dai had invented it, as only Daily Post employees appreciated when they scanned through the possible answers:

A: A pompous know all.

B: A foolish oaf.

C: An interfering office busybody.

And the answer was revealed as: All three are correct.

But Dai was far from alone in the Daily Post character stakes.

There was the fabulously flamboyant theatre critic Philip Key, the hard-drinking cynical, world weary Scot Jim Lynch and even a librarian called Colin Hunt.

Yes, really.

Fortunately the real Colin bore few of the characteristics of the Fast Show character of the same name.

There was also a hard-drinking night news reporter called Ken Gibson who was quite possibly the first journalist in the country to hear of the Lockerbie jet disaster — and dismissed it.

Part of Gibbo’s evening routine was to call the police press office every hour and the Coastguard station at Hall Road every other hour, to enquire: “Hello Chix, what do you know now that you didn’t know two hours ago?”

Fortunately a switched on reporter called Tony Storey was sat alongside him to hear the words: “Really? No, no, it’s alright. That’s too far north for us to cover.”

“What’s that Ken?” enquired Tony, to which he received the astonishing reply: “A sodding jumbo’s just gone for a burton in jockland.”

Tony immediately scrambled a team of writers to head north while Ken got to his feet and murmured: “Spiral Staircase if you need me …” then headed over the road for the first of his evening tipples.

Brian Reade also worked at the Daily Post then. In 1987 the future award-winning Mirror feature writer and author was a charismatic downtable news sub, who used to croon passable versions of Frank Sinatra classics throughout his shift, and a genuinely decent version of Officer Krupke from West Side Story.

He was conservative and withdrawn by comparison to his peers.

And that was just the Post. Separated by a wall of cupboards was the Echo and its myriad daytime staff.

I quickly learned that while the Post and Echo shared an office, the rivalry between the 20,000 selling broadsheet morning paper and the 200,000 shifting tabloid evening paper was intense.
The Liverpool Daily Post has now gone — the Echo’s print circulation is a fraction of that 200,000 total. But the online consumption of our work is now vast — more than three million daily page views — and there’s still inter-departmental rivalry, circulation wars now disguised as the voracious quest for page views — and there are still characters. Lots and lots of wonderful, lovely, engaging people.

The unprecedented events of the last two years have brought home just how much we need those people — to talk to, engage with and work with. Cherish them, engage with them and celebrate them. Because while this is a wonderful industry we work in — it’s the people we deal with and talk to who make it that way.

Will working for a football club’s comms team see me engaging with similar characters over the next few years?

Unlikely. Because the last 34 years have been an absolute blast.

David Prentice’s book ‘A Grand Old Team’ charting his years of covering Everton FC, is available now

  • In 2022, Behind Local News aims to celebrate local journalism in all its forms through our 365 Acts of Local Journalism Project. Lets us know what you think should be included. You can email us here or contact us via Twitter on BehindLocalNews or on Facebook here.

>> See the series so far, here




The stories behind the stories, from the regional press in the UK

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