Frank Keating dies: Sir Ian Botham leads tributes to top sports writer

Frank Keating

Figures from across the sporting world have paid tribute to the wit and warmth of Frank Keating, one of Britain’s most celebrated sports writers of the past 50 years, who died on Friday at the age of 75.

A fixture in the pages of the Guardian and the Observer across five decades, bar a six-year spell in television in the 1960s, Keating’s death sparked a wave of reminiscence and heartfelt tributes.

Sir Ian Botham, the subject of a 1986 book by Keating called High, Wide and Handsome, said he was “a great gentleman”. “Frank and I had a great relationship going back to my very early days. He used to come along with that pipe in his top pocket or hanging out of his mouth. He was a loyal friend, through thick and thin. We had a great time. He wrote with a genuine love of sport. He was an infectious writer, he was unique.”

Keating joined the Guardian in 1963 as a subeditor, leaving a year later to go into television as editor of outside broadcasts for Rediffusion TV. In 1968 he moved to Thames TV, becoming head of special projects and then news editor. But in 1970, Keating returned and continued to write for the Guardian and its sister paper, the Observer, until December last year.

Bill Beaumont, the Rugby Football Union chairman and former England and Lions captain, said Keating “was an outstanding sports writer with a true understanding of his subject and many friends throughout the sporting world … I always enjoyed reading his articles, which had a great style and exceptional depth of knowledge, and always enjoyed spending an hour or two discussing the game with him.”

Amid an outpouring of tributes on Twitter and the internet from friends, colleagues and readers – Piers Morgan called him “truly one of the greatest sportswriters ever” – the former England cricketer David Gower said he had a rare ability to get on with almost anyone: “He was a gentleman and a gentle man. Whimsical, knowledgable, with a lovely turn of phrase. He loved the game, seemed to understand the people who played it and was always very easy to get on with. If one was interviewed by Frank it was a gentle pleasure. There was no sense of interrogation,” said Gower. Another former England cricket captain, Graham Gooch, said Keating was “a wonderful writer as well as a great character”.

Giles Clarke, the England and Wales Cricket Board chairman, said: “Frank Keating was a great Gloucestershire man and a terrific, lyrical writer. He loved life. Put simply, he went everywhere and wrote beautifully about it. He was a great guy and a great journalist.”

The Football Association chairman, David Bernstein, said: “On behalf of the Football Association, I would like to pass on my sincere condolences to the family of Frank Keating. A truly great sports writer, he will be much missed across the football world and beyond. His lasting legacy will be the tremendous pleasure his words brought to so many over half a century.”

Many paid tribute to the warmth of his personality and his generous spirit. The former England bowler Bob Willis recalled “dinner parties in Holland Park with copious quantities of red”. “He was a marvellous writer, he mixed sentimentality with all that was good in sport. He always looked for the good in everything, never sniping at anybody,” he added.

Alan Rusbridger, the editor in chief of the Guardian and Observer, said: “Frank was an immense figure in sports journalism for more than 50 years. He was a unique character, combining sophisticated sporting knowledge with a deep empathy and understanding of the human side of sport. Frank was also universally popular with an inspiring and uplifting personality that was infectious.

“As a writer, Frank deserves to be placed in the very elite of British sports writing in the last century – and amazingly, though ill, was still writing his wonderful weekly column in the Observer up until a few weeks ago. Our thoughts and condolences are with his family at this sad time.”


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