Why David Lacey is irreplaceable

By Myles Palmer

David Lacey retiring after 38 years on The Guardian?

I was absolutely stunned to read this online today.

It was like being hit by a Graham Roberts tackle. Always a shock, especially at 7.30 a.m. This guy has been an inspiration to me for 30 years and I cannot do justice to him in a 20-minute piece here.

His style was so droll that I thought of David as the P.G. Wodehouse of football writers.

He had a wider range of reference than most hacks, so there were thousands of gems. He once wrote that Perry Groves buzzed around “like a wasp in a bottle.”

Tiny Scot Paul Dickov “was five foot two inches of pure spite.”

The latter comment was a bit harsh and wholly untypical of Lacey, a humane writer who gave us a benign but perceptive overview of the whacky world of football.

Most of us, including yours truly, are too judgmental, too unforgiving, far too quick to punish and dismiss.

Back in February, when David Ginola was hired to help

Everton’s fight against relegation, Lacey’s warning was typically understated: “So it could be that the days of paying a 35-year-old French matinée idol £27,000 a week are numbered.”

EXACTLY! Where others were cruel and cutting, Lacey just made the point.

In press boxes in the Eighties and Nineties I would ofen tell David that I had especially loved a piece, or line, that he had written the day before, and he accepted these compliments graciously and modestly. He is a really nice guy.

Occasionally, after writing a piece for The Scotsman, I would read Lacey and find that he had written something very similar.

I was always chuffed when that happened.

One night at Vicarage Road we were sitting together and Watford got a free-kick on the left side, near the corner flag.

I sensed that Mo Johnston would get on the end of it and score at the near post, As the kick was about to be taken, I said, “This will be a goal.”

When Mo volleyed the ball into the net from eight yards, David said,”You’re not wrong.”

In football it is those tiny personal moments that I often remember, rather that the big games or pulsating dramas.

Of course I have often said,”This will be a goal!” and it wasn’t.

In The Guardian today Frank Keating says he is amazed that no publisher has anthologised Lacey on football.

I always found that quite incredible and thought it was because The Guardian refused to have his stuff re-published. Like Keating, I’ve read a few Bedside Guardian books and have been astounded that Lacey was missing.


As a sportswriter his main fault was that he was too charitable and that is the best fault you can have. I wish I had it!

David Lacey is a remarkable Englishman who should be honoured. He should get an OBE, if he doesn’t already have one.

New Labour should wake up and get something right for once in their lives.

15th July 2002.