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Former England manager and captain lambast Express owner Desmond for cutting sports staff

© Tom Halliday

16 January 2015

Former England manager, Graham Taylor, and former England captain, David Platt, have criticised billionaire newspaper owner Richard Desmond over plans to cut the Daily Express sports reporting staff.

Desmond wants three of the nine remaining Express sports reporters to be made redundant as part of his overall plan to cut journalist staff on all four Express Newspaper titles by a third to help save £14 million a year.

That could mean that the newspaper will struggle to cover Premiership football and there are fears the paper, which has abandoned sending reporters to cover Formula 1 motor racing and some major tennis tournaments abroad, will have no specialist writers left to cover other sports, such as cricket, golf, boxing, and athletics.

Graham Taylor said:

  “As a former contributor to the Daily Express sports football section and a buyer of the newspaper, which shows I do not hold grudges, I am showing  my concern at the consistent dismissals of sports journalists since the takeover by the present owner. I am hearing that there are more cuts to be made and this is likely to include three sports reporters.
"I do hope very careful thought, other than just saving money, is put into the decision of dismissing any number of sports journalists as, for me the present sports coverage in the Daily Express is as good, if not better, than any other comparable newspaper. That is why I buy it. In my opinion, if these dismissals take place the quality of the sports coverage will be impossible to maintain.”

Former England captain David Platt is another Express reader and he is also concerned by the savage reduction in staff.  He said:

“The Daily Express, in my view as a reader, cannot afford to see a reduction in its sport staff. I understand that three reporters are to lose their jobs. The current standard of the Express sports coverage cannot be maintained with those losses and can only lead to, in my view, a loss in readership.”

David O’Leary , former Leeds manager and Arsenal and Republic of Ireland international echoed his comments:

“I’m sorry to hear sports reporters will be leaving the Express. I think they do a fantastic job and surely that is going to weaken badly the excellent sports coverage they provide.”

Four Express sports reporters have already left, one just before the current cull, but senior executives at the newspaper group, which produces the Daily and Sunday Express,  Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday, have decided even that is not enough.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"Cutting sports staff to the bone is a sure sign that Desmond does not care a fig for the paper. The Express and Star have a fine tradition of sports reporting and the fact that people such as Graham Taylor, the former England manager, David Platt, the former England captain, and David O'Leary, the former Republic of Ireland footballer, are speaking out, is a sign that Desmond should sell the paper to somebody who cares about what the readers want to read.

"Sport is the lifeblood of the Express titles. Many readers start reading from the back pages, wanting informed comment, gossip and reports about their favourite team, plus the whole range of sports, including flagship events such as the Olympics, World Cup, Test matches and Formula 1. By cutting the three of the nine remaining Express sports reporters, major sports events simply cannot be covered. There will be nobody in the soccer hotspots of Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, or Newcastle to cover Premier League football."

Graham Taylor was a football columnist for the Daily Express until last year and was let go as part of yet another round of Desmond cost-cutting. His father was a sports journalist, covering Scunthorpe United for many years, and Taylor has a regard and feeling for newspapers even though he was lambasted in print towards the end of his reign as England national team manager. He is also a Daily Express reader and is alarmed at the way the sports pages will be affected by these savage cuts.

The nine journalists were waiting to hear their fate today but Taylor urged Desmond not to go through with the redundancies.

Some 150 journalists have left the four titles in voluntary redundancies since October. But Desmond, whose key lieutenants suggested journalists should cover sport by watching it on television when he took over in November 2000, still wants around 25 further to go in compulsory redundancies.

The Daily Express sports department is bearing a quarter of it, with three reporters plus two out of the three remaining staff sports page editors under threat.

Staffing levels at the paper and its sister titles are already miniscule compared to their tabloid rivals. The Daily Express has one columnist, Mick Dennis, in addition to the nine reporters. The Sunday Express has two reporters and the Daily Star has five. In comparison, the Daily Mail has 24 sports writers, The Sun has 20 reporters and eight columnists working for both its daily and Sunday papers, and the Daily Mirror has 13 sports reporters in addition to its columnists.

Desmond, 63, seems to have lost interest in his newspaper titles and is believed to be looking for a buyer. In the meantime, he is running the papers into the ground.

Tags: , express, star, express newspapers, desmond, redundancies, cuts, sports, graham taylor, david platt, david o'leary