Belfast Telegraph

Gordon Hanna: Top journalist who made his own headlines

By Jim Gracey

Gordon Hanna, who died on Wednesday after a short illness, aged 70, was one of a rare breed of sports journalist who not only reported the news. He made it happen.

An exceptionally industrious, talented and well connected sports writer, who counted some of the game's legends among his closest friends, Gordon Hanna covered football and golf at the highest level in a career spanning over 50 years.

Northern Ireland football, local and international, was closest to his heart and none more than his beloved home town Glenavon FC.

Gordon's extensive contacts book was always open to successive managers of the Lurgan club, quietly acting as a go-between in numerous transfer deals – and two in particular provided him with his biggest scoops.

The first came in 1990 when he persuaded his long-time pal, 1982 World Cup hero, Gerry Armstrong to sign on for Glenavon in an Irish League title push against Mid-Ulster rivals Portadown, in probably the local game's biggest coup since Linfield's famous 1950's capture of Jackie Milburn.

The following year Gordon was at the heart of an even more audacious move, helping secure the signing of former Celtic and Scotland captain Roy Aiken for an Irish Cup Final showdown against Portadown.

Having quite literally made his own headlines, Gordon and the club he followed loyally from boyhood were disappointed yet again by a disapproving Irish FA hierarchy who unearthed an archaic rule to prevent Aiken playing in the showpiece.

Ironically, Portadown were the team who gave Gordon the break he dreamed of as a promising young footballer in the same team as current Ports boss Ronnie McFall.

"Gordon was a decent player in an era of exceptionally high standards," McFall remembered. "He was also a brilliant journalist from the old school, one you could trust. His affinity was to Glenavon but he would have helped any manager who asked for a telephone number or an introduction to one of his contacts.

"Above all, in the 50 years I knew him, Gordon was always a gentleman, courteous and a pleasure to work with. I cannot recall him ever uttering or writing a malicious word about anyone."

Gordon's easy way drew people to him, an invaluable gift in the journalistic profession. Players at all levels counted him as a friend and confidante from the big names like Armstrong, Jennings and Best to the Irish League journeyman.

Gordon made no distinctions and was also helpful beyond the call of duty to young journalists learning their trade.

His guidance, advice and often calming influence on my own career path will never be forgotten, nor the many fun-filled hours we spent chronicling the fortunes of Northern Ireland club and international teams at home and abroad.

Journalistically, he was at the top of his profession, respected by colleagues and readers as a brilliant wordsmith and endless source of breaking news.

His first job was on his local Lurgan Mail, progressing within the then Morton Group to Editor of the Lisburn-based Ulster Star. But it was as a freelance that he made his name, principally with the Sunday People, later branching out to file stories to virtually every daily and Sunday paper across the British Isles and Ireland, including a long association with the Belfast Telegraph.

Away from football and family, his main interest was the work of the Rotary Club in his adopted Lisburn.

His last Sports Editor, Paul Ferguson, of the Sunday Life, said: "Gordon was a humble man of integrity, honesty and a master of his craft. A devoted family man and absolute gent, he will never be forgotten."

Gordon is survived by wife Anne and daughter Judith, having been pre-deceased by PR Executive son Jonathan in 2006. His funeral service takes place today at 1.30pm at Hillsborough Elim Church on Moira Road in the town.

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