It was with great sadness that we learnt of the death of former Sunderland Echo journalist Geoff Storey on Tuesday morning. The much-loved popular writer has passed away aged 83 following a short illness, having taken early retirement from his post as chief Sunderland AFC reporter shortly after Christmas 1996 when only 57.
Just before the festivities that year Sunderland took on Chelsea in what proved to be a memorable 3-0 win. That day’s edition of the Roker Review featured a loving tribute to Storey from his old colleague Jeff Brown, who pulled together several heartfelt comments from the region’s scribes following Geoff’s decision to step away from the press box. It was clear from the quotes just how highly regarded he was as a man and a journalist.
The day before Storey’s death was announced, Brown was recognised by his old comprehensive school alongside another ex-pupil Melanie Hill for their achievements and successful careers. The pair both went to Monkwearmouth, which happens to be my old school too, and I mention that because it was during this period of my life when I truly fell in love with the Lads – and Storey was a big part of that.
It is not just the talent on the pitch that sucks you in, and whilst Storey was apparently a good player himself in his youth, it was his articles and reports that helped me start understanding what SAFC was all about and what it meant to our community.
Like so many families, we got the Echo delivered every day and once I started following the team the Sports Echo soon followed – in a time before full radio commentary and TV coverage of away games, it was his words that would provide not only me but the rest of Wearside with the much-needed detail behind both the good news and the bad.
Matchday programmes and the Sunderland Echo were the primary sources of information about the team at one point, and that made Storey’s an influential position.
Prior to the appointment of Peter Reid though there were some difficult times to endure, and whilst Storey would always fulfil his duty and tell it like it was, I don’t ever recall him doing a hatchet job on individuals or trying to stir things up.
Coming for Ryhope, he was a local lad himself and his passion and respect for both the club and his responsibility to its followers always came through the pages.
At that point, Storey was only the third person to cover the club full-time in the history of the paper. Having worked previously for the accounts department, he started migrating to the sports desk and in 1978 began writing about the Lads before replacing the departing Bill Butterfield the following year.
Butterfield, and his predecessor Captain Jack Anderson, had both gone under the famous byline ‘Argus’, a name that came from Greek mythology surrounding a creature with many eyes.
Storey however forged his own identity, and by the time I was reading, football reporting had changed drastically. His eye remained fixed on SAFC, and his style remained accurate and thorough, yet still warm. No matter what aspect of the club he was writing about, I was always desperate to read it and so, for that, he will always remain a part of my relationship with Sunderland AFC.
Rest in peace Geoff, and thoughts with his loved ones.