PUBLISHED: 11:11 05 May 2018
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Every journalist will have a mentor in the early part of their career, who helps guide and shape them into the best they can be.
Peter Butcher was my mentor and I dare say a key influence in the careers of several others under his tutelage. His passing is very sad news.
I was a fresh-faced 22-year-old back in 1996 when I noticed the Romford Recorder had a vacancy for a sports reporter.
I had graduated from Nottingham Trent University the previous year with a BA Broadcast Journalism degree and freelanced for Sky Sports on their British Ice Hockey Superleague coverage.
But as much fun as that was, I wanted to write and applied for the position at the old River Chambers office in the town centre.
I was invited to attend an interview and can still remember that part of the process was to rewrite a football report, while also being quizzed by Pete and then editor Mark Sweetingham.
I was offered the post – which had been vacated by Dave Kidd – and the rest is history.
Suddenly, I was being paid a wage to write about sport and, in particular, cover the Romford Raiders, who I had been following since their debut season and writing about for almost as long.
Pete allowed me to indulge in that, while also helping to strengthen my love of non-league football, covering Collier Row & Romford’s FA Vase run with the likes of Wade Falana and Vinny John scoring for fun at Sungate.
And sitting in the press box at Wembley Stadium within a matter of months of joining the Recorder ‘team’ as Dagenham & Redbridge took on Woking in the FA Trophy final. If I remember correctly, we produced a special pullout ahead of the big day.
But while I would sit taking copious amounts of notes during matches, in order to then write my match reports, I was always amazed how Pete would leave the press box in the opening minutes and wander around the perimeter of the pitches, chatting to supporters, scribbling the odd short note on his own pad, and yet still be able to conjure up a detailed recollection of the action.
In the early days (before email!) we would spend time on the phones chatting to club press officers and taking down notes to write a version of events for the paper, weekly calls to the likes of Norman Posner, Terry King, Mick Ewen and ‘Nipper’ Norman among others.
Pete helped me learn the basics of page design using Quark Express and, after I left for a brief spell at the Peterborough Evening Telegraph, was happy to have me back in 2001, following Tom Hopkinson’s departure to the nationals.
We even played cricket together one summer for Havering-atte-Bower 3rd XI, under the captaincy of future Mayor of Havering Melvin Wallace.
Pete was a devilish swing bowler, who would claim plenty of wickets, and one game sticks vividly in my mind away to Grays, when he came in at no.11 to help us clinch a one-wicket win in a low-scoring thriller.
The Romford Recorder sports desk was a three-man team for some years, as Gary Haines and then James Colasanti also spent time learning their craft and developing their love for sports journalism under Pete, and at our peak I can recall 20 pages of sports news in a weekly newspaper selling over 30,000 copies.
I almost left in 2007 but plans to emigrate to Canada fell through, after Pete had penned some very kind words on the back page of the Recorder. I have kept a photocopy in my wallet since.
But the industry was hit hard as the digital age took hold and Pete, very sadly, was lost to local journalism around 10 years ago.
He went on to serve Hornchurch well as secretary and programme editor, arguably putting out one of the better products, and had plans one year to write a book about seeing games at all 66 Ryman League grounds with an embryonic title of ‘Route 66’ if memory serves. It would have been a great read.
With my own role having changed in recent years I have not got out to as many matches as I would’ve liked. I think our last meeting at a proper match was at Witham, when Leon McKenzie scored a hat-trick for Hornchurch in a 5-1 win.
We had a quick catch-up at Elliot Styles’ testimonial a few weeks later at Bridge Avenue and Pete certainly would have been delighted to see Urchins clinch the Bostik North title this season, as well as Romford avoid relegation I’m sure, but I dare say less pleased with Leyton Orient’s recent struggles.
It’s indicative of the man, though, that so many in local non-league circles, especially, will feel his loss.
A true character and great writer, the grounds on game day will not be the same without his wise presence.
If there is a team of legends up there looking for someone to pen their match reports, Pete would be the only candidate in my opinion.