Halcyon days of the ‘Green’Un’ newspaper – the Saturday night paper so loved by football fans
If, like me, you remember the Green’Un Saturday night football paper, produced here in Ipswich, you probably do so with fondness.
It was a regular and important part of Saturday evening for many fans of football, both professional and non-league here in Suffolk and north Essex – and for a period of years I was the proud editor of it.
Looking back, it was a happy time for me and the many who worked on what was a close-knit Green’Un team.
While much of the paper was put together during the week, it was always a feverous Saturday afternoon that followed as the last few pages were ‘put to bed’ – live match reports involving not just Ipswich Town and Colchester United but plenty of non-league reports t’boot.
It was 1997 I was appointed editor and from then on, five years of fun and frolics followed – I was lucky enough to be editor at a time when ITFC got promoted into the then Premiership in 2000 and finished an incredible fifth a year later. Great results on the way to Wembley 2000, then even greater ones a season later... halcyon days.
Not that the Green’Un was all ITFC mind you.
Non-league played a very big part in its success and I’m still convinced that while the paper, which was out on the streets by 6.15pm on a Saturday night, didn’t contain every single local football result, it certainly contained more match reports that one can find now, either in print or on-line on a Saturday night at the same time!
OK, so many of today’s reports on individual clubs’ websites are more detailed – us journos would say, ‘over-written’! – back in the Green’Un print days, it was 75 words first half, 50 words second and we had shedloads of reports, from the Conference to the SIL and Border League and all leagues in between.
However, it was Ipswich Town’s success (or not) that determined big shifts in sales.
A good result for the Blues could generate a few thousand extra Green’Uns finding their way into homes in the region. Our non-league sale was always solid.
One of my highlights as editor was when Ipswich Town beat Norwich City 5-0 at Portman Road in a Division One clash.
It was back in February 1998 and the Blues and Canaries played on a Saturday afternoon back then – perfect Green’Un timing!
An Alex Mathie first-half hat-trick put Town on their way to one of the best Derby Day victories ever. Bobby Petta nabbed two.
The front page poster page that happy Saturday night was ‘BLUE HEAVEN’, with Mathie and Matt Holland starring joyfully down the camera of our Green’Un snapper who was positioned perfectly for such a celebration.
It was pure joy.
The Green’Un was the Saturday night football publication for the Evening Star, and then Star editor, Nigel Pickover, was soon on the blower to me as Mathie struck his third, dreaming up ideas on how we could sell ‘Derby Day Massacre’ metal badges in the Star the next week (by collecting a couple of vouchers – teased firstly, of course, in the Green’Un).
When it went to 5-0, Nigel was on the phone again.
“How many Green’Uns are we printing, Mike?,” he asked.
“I’ve put it up 3,000 to 14,000, Nigel,” I replied.
“Make it 18,000,” came the reply.
Now, me and Nigel had our run-ins over the years, but he knew how to sell newspapers and taught me more than anyone in the newspaper game on how to engage with readers and take pride in my work. I respected him a lot for that.
And while there was a look of astonishment in the EADT press room as I relayed the message of 18,000, we went for it.
Sure enough, when the figures for Green’Un sales of the ‘Derby Day Massacre’ came out seven days later, instead of a solid 9,000 as we used to sell, we had sold just over 16,000 – a figure most daily local newspapers would be proud of today!
Ipswich Town’s relationship with the Green’Un was always strong and we had many players write columns for us on a regular basis, including Mark Venus, Mathie, Marcus Stewart and most interestingly Kieron Dyer – who continued to write for the paper, even after he had been sold to Newcastle for £6m. We just changed the name of the column from ‘Special K’, to ‘Haway the Lad!’
Alan Brazil, a well known host of Talk Sport these days and former Ipswich Town star striker, began his journalistic career with a column in the paper.
Indeed, for 85 years the Green’Un, or Football Star as it was originally called, delighted and informed Ipswich, Suffolk and East Anglia’s football folk.
Back at Carr Street, in Ipswich in the ‘50s and ‘60s, huge queues were readily formed as the Football Star rolled off the presses on a Saturday night, at the old East Anglian Daily Times offices in the town.
For many people, it was the first time they knew how Ipswich Town had got on!
For most, it was certainly a first look at that day’s national and local results.
Well loved and well respected, a move onto green newsprint heralded a new name, Green’Un, and it wasn’t until green newsprint was considered ‘environmentally unfriendly’, as well as expensive, did the Green’Un revert back to white newsprint in the ‘90s.
Contributors of non-league club notes from all over north Essex and Suffolk, with nom-de-plumes such as ‘Rhode Island Red’, ‘The Ploughman’ and ‘Ben The Dog’, all delighted us with their contributions on a weekly basis, as well as a mass of ‘junior notes’, from clubs in the lower echelons of non-league.
Youth football was getting bigger too and it proved an ideal opportunity to print youth team photographs and match reports. I can hear Nigel Pickover now... “Faces and names sell papers, Michael, faces and names”!
I had realised the importance of non-league at a very early stage of my editorship and I was also fortunate because my deputy was the experienced Neal Manning who, despite covering the halcyon days of Ipswich Town through the Bobby Robson era and an exciting spell as Colchester United reporter when the U’s were in the Conference, was now into his non-league.
Neal never did anything by halves!
If he was covering non-league, Ipswich Town or Colchester United, then he gave it both barrels – and I loved him for it.
I was always in the office on a Saturday afternoon and Neal was always at a non-league game, so we used to go out on a Tuesday night together to watch a non-league match and meet committees, players, managers and chairmen – many of whom I still have good contact with today.
Yes, back then you didn’t wait for a ‘tweet’ to tell you the news, you went and met people and found it yourself.
In non-league circles, the FA Vase was always an important competition, but became very special in my eyes.
I didn’t know much about it when I took over as editor, but soon got into it and realised that it was a very important part of non-league for our teams in the area.
The region had huge success in the competition too and I covered five finals, three with AFC Sudbury, one with Tiptree United and one with Lowestoft Town throughout the 2000s, sadly never seeing one of them victorious!
When AFC Sudbury met Tiptree in the Vase semi-final of 2002 – with one obviously guaranteed to be in the final, myself and Dave Vincent, another esteemed Green’Un colleague, took sides to promote each club... I was on Tiptree’s side... And ‘we’ won 2-0 on aggregate to get to Villa Park and the final against Whitley Bay – which ‘we’ lost 0-1.
But it wasn’t just about the Vase finals at the likes of White Hart Lane, the Boleyn Ground and the new Wembley Stadium, among others, I was on Vase duty in earlier rounds too, at the likes of Devizes, in Wiltshire, with Maldon Town and Ampthill Town, near Luton, with Hadleigh among many Vase journeys made over the years.
One Vase highlight I remember and a big coup for me as Green’Un editor involved Sudbury Town and Sudbury Wanderers before their merger in 1999.
Neal and Green’Un colleague Elvin King both covered Vase clashes on the same afternoon – both in Sudbury – with Town and Wanderers at home! I think it was in the last 16.
Our photographer Warren Page skipped from the Priory Stadium, where Town were playing, to Brundon Lane, where Wanderers were in action.
It made two double-page spreads that evening and was hailed in the business at Archant as ‘brilliant’ local football coverage for a Saturday night sports paper.
And we got more sales, as you can imagine..
The FA Cup wasn’t as big, or as financially important in the early millennium as it is to our non-league clubs today, while it is only in recent times the FA Trophy has become many prominent in Suffolk, with so many clubs moving up the pyramid.
Non-league remains close to my heart and if I had a quid everytime someone has stopped me at a ground and said, “can’t you bring that Green’Un back, Mike?,” I’d be a rich man.
Sadly, in 2008 the last print edition of the Green’Un, here in Ipswich ended and with it went something that will never be replaced.
Around the country, from Portsmouth to Newcastle, Norwich to Sheffield, Saturday night ‘Football Specials’ were knocked on the head as sales diminished and the Internet took over.
At their peak however, they were fantastic newspapers.
THIS article first appeared in Kings of Anglia issue five.
Issue six is OUT NOW, order here