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Matt Maher: Thank-you Nigel Pearson, you were a truly great sporting voice

When Cradley Heathens promoter Colin Pratt and outgoing announcer Laurence Rogers met in early 1989 to discuss the latter’s replacement, they were about to help launch the career of a Midlands broadcasting icon.

Matt Maher: Thank-you Nigel Pearson, you were a truly great sporting voice

“I’d been doing it for about six years but was having to pack it in and we needed a replacement,” explains Rogers.

“We were discussing possible candidates and at one point I said: ‘Hang on a minute. What about that lad Nigel Pearson at the Stourbridge News? He knows the sport and I think he’s done a bit of hospital radio’.

“We interviewed him. He had a big smile on his face and was looking forward to it. It all went from there.”

Rogers, now boss of Birmingham Brummies, remembers seeing something special in Pearson’s style right from the start, though he adds: “I sat in with him for the first couple of meetings just to help him along and at one point I recall telling him to stop shouting. He didn’t listen, which was probably just as well!”

Pearson would quickly become established as the Voice of Cradley and then later the Voice of Speedway and much more, during a career which also saw him commentate at World Cups and alongside the legendary Sid Waddell as an established part of Sky Sports’ darts team. His death last week at the age of 52 hit like a hammer blow to all who knew him, the outpouring of tributes since testament to a man who despite tremendous personal success remained firmly grounded.

The loss to sport, broadcasting and journalism pales in comparison to that felt by his family and friends.

And yet it still feels significant, such was his presence. Though born in Yorkshire, his father Dave having moved from Cradley Heath to Hull, Pearson was very much a son of the Black Country and the Midlands and a huge supporter of its sport and people.

Scott Field would count himself among the latter. A Heathens fanatic, who has gone on to enjoy a hugely successful media career himself, he first heard Pearson’s voice stood on the Dudley Wood terraces before later meeting the man when working in The Hawthorns press box, after which they developed a close friendship.

“Like many who have spoken of him so glowingly this past week, Nigel helped me with opportunities,” says Field, now director of communications for the GB Olympic team.

“He pointed me in the right direction. I ended up writing columns for Wolves Speedway and contributing to a variety of things he worked on because we had this mutual love for the sport.

“It’s a mark of the man that he touched so many people’s careers, even in the smallest ways, whether it is launching them, supporting them or just being there for a bit of advice. Isn’t that a great thing?

“We are not talking about giving people jobs, we are talking about someone who was willing to give people the time of day to lend his experience and knowledge and just help. A hard-working bloke who recognised people had helped him along the way and wanted to give something back.”

Pearson was a huge Albion supporter but never allowed his work to be influenced by bias and was hugely respected at Molineux.

A supremely talented commentator, he was a central part of TalkSport’s football coverage right from the station’s launch in 1995.

Yet speedway, which he first experienced as a youngster watching Hull Vikings, remained his biggest love and his contribution to the sport is difficult to sum up in words. Press officer of Wolves since the 1990s, Pearson carried out the same role for British Speedway for more than two decades, wrote columns in the Express & Star and countless other regional newspapers, while most famously being the voice of the sport’s domestic TV coverage with Sky, BT Sport and more recently Eurosport.

“He developed, without question, into the greatest media representative speedway has ever had,” said Wolves promoter Chris Van Straaten. “We were so fortunate someone so talented had such a deep-seated love for our sport. My god, were we fortunate.”

In 2010, Pearson, Van Straaten and Gary Patchett were responsible for reviving the Heathens name, putting the club back on track 15 years after Dudley Wood had been sold for housing.

For the next decade the team raced at Monmore as the trio worked tirelessly to find the club a permanent home of its own. Pearson took on the role of chairman, talking to councillors, politicians and supporters.

“The vision was to bring the club back permanently and sadly it didn’t happen,” said Van Straaten. “But the team enjoyed some success on the track and we had an enjoyable time working together.

“Nigel was such a generous person. You only have to look at the many tributes from people who are now well established in the media industry that he helped along the way.

“If people were having a rough time, who was straight on the end of the phone to them? It was Nigel.

“I experienced that myself when I had a period of serious illness. He was the finest media ambassador we’ve ever had.”

Speedway is in mourning but Pearson’s willingness to give opportunities has left a legacy which should serve the sport well in the long-term.

“When you look at the median age of journalists in the speedway world it has come down considerably over the past decade because of the people Nigel has given a chance,” explains Ryan Guest, one of several journalists who worked regularly for Pearson’s own media company.

“There are so many people he opened the door for. Every year he introduced new faces and he was willing to give anyone an opportunity if they proved themselves. “You always knew you were going to have a laugh with Nige. Obviously, he had that strict professional side as well. But you always knew working with him would be fun. He’d be telling you rubbish jokes and doing rubbish impressions.

“He would light up a room. He was an infectious character who you just couldn’t help get on with and laugh at and with.

“It is a legacy which can live on. He was a role model and a mentor and an inspiration to me and my colleagues.”

There may be few people who loved sport quite as much as Pearson. Yet while passionate and proud of his profession, his primary devotion was always to his family, his wife Kerrie, their sons Jake and Liam and his daughter Sarah.

A sponsor of Wombourne Cricket Club, a short walk from the family home, he loved nothing more than being with his friends.

“He never forgot his roots,” says Field. “He was the kind of person you looked at thought: ‘I need to ground myself a bit more.’

“He was popular and famous but he was also very accessible. He could easily have been aloof but he was quite the contrary. He loved nothing more than being around people. If you knew Nige, you were a friend of Nige.

"It’s terrible it takes something like this to truly understand the measure of a person. But it is wonderful he was as loved universally and as respected as he was.”

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