Express & Star

Happy memories from a long sporting life with Cloughie’s sparring partner Gary Newbon

Gary Newbon, the unruffled face of West Midlands sport for over half a century, has learnt to laugh at himself. And he laughs loudly.

Still going strong – Reporter Gary Newbon pictured at his book launch

The head of sport at ATV, then Central quickly developed the skill after taking his seat at a local football ground to a chorus of: “Gary Newbon, you’re a w*****, you’re a w*****.”

I empathise and sympathise. One prolific shoplifter – a very familiar face at the magistrates’ court I covered – once tailed me relentlessly through a shopping centre chanting: “Mike Lockley, b******s reporter.”

At Tesco’s frozen foods aisle, I’d had enough, rounded on my stalker and pointed out: “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”

He mulled over the advice for a few seconds, then shouted: “Mike Lockley, b******s reporter.”

An audience with Newbon is a glorious journey through a yesteryear where footballers sported tight shorts and even tighter perms, managers wore sheepskin coats, boxers entered the ring to the stirring renditions of a military band, not rap.

And darts players swilled pints and chain-smoked on camera.

Television sports presenter Gary Newbon talking to Adam Le Fondre of Wolverhampton Wanderers.

For years, Gary has been a friend and advisor, our conversations invariably descending into a belly-laugh recital of the broadcaster’s anecdotes. An accomplished mimic, he impersonates each legend – from Black Country boxing hero Pat Cowdell to maverick football manager Brian Clough – with polish.

This is not a sporting story, though it is built on sporting stars.

It is a glance at a very different time, a time before those in the media spotlight were trained to be bland by PR gurus. A time when stars had not learned to erase anything controversial or entertaining or passionate from their public proclamations.

A time when footballers were not afraid to be “as sick as a parrot” – and letting viewers know it.

The glint in 78-year-old Newbon’s eye shines brightest when discussing Clough, the eccentric genius who led Derby County and Nottingham Forest to glory.

The pair became “must watch” sparring partners. “Cloughie”, when grilled about a particularly lacklustre performance by Forest players, clutched his shocked interrogator, uttered “because they’re just like you and me, Gary – a bunch of pansies”, then planted a kiss on Newbon’s cheek before walking away.

Brian Clough

Today, Clough’s antics would trample through so many “isms”, the politically correct brigade would bestow pariah status on the man.

Back then, it was simply glorious TV.