Black and white
By Mark Howard
The mention of Lou Yaffa in Ranters last week reminded me of the best ever wind-up. Lou, a fanatical Newcastle supporter, was in the chief sub’s chair at the NoW on the last day of the 1992-93 season. His team was certain to go up. No-one across the entire newsroom could be in any doubt – Lou saw to that.
I’m not sure who hatched the plan. Certainly, Bob Warren and Bill Bateson were ringleaders with Alex Marunchak and Greg Miskiw heavily involved.
At the time we had a fore-runner of email: a messaging service that also ran the wire services straight to your screen. It didn’t take long before everyone learned to spoof it. Simply delete an existing message and you could over-write it convincingly. Headers, footers, the lot.
As Lou left for The Old Rose once the first edition was off the stone, the first of a series of PA Snaps was forged. ‘Newcastle player fails post-match drugs test… mfl.’
On his return, with the entire paper on board, from Patsy Chapman downwards, the forged ‘snap’ hit the screens. Lou’s reaction was predictable. But still worse was to come. As reporters hit the phones (to the speaking clock, a well-honed skills in those Nowadays) further bad news for Magpie supporters came thick and fast.
Snap after snap, take after take, the sorry saga of a club riddled with illegal performance-enhancing substances unfolded. The backbench solemnly debated ripping the book apart. At least five front-of-the-book pages, the splash, and most of the sports were binned.
Fresh pages came from the art desk with headlines that were more like darts to Lou’s soul. But, true pro that he always was, the only visible sign of his agitation was that his already phenomenal smoking rate increased to roughly 40 an hour from its usual 20.
By the time the night team came in to take over and for Lou to be chauffeured back to Manchester by Geoff Kuhillow, he was a near broken man. Keegan had quit, the FA was stripping his club of its title and no fewer than five players were exposed as drug cheats. The great and the good of football were united in condemnation.
In the car, for the long journey home, Geoff asked if he’d like to hear the radio. Lou demurred. Just as well, really; none of us could work out which fuse was the radio’s and Geoff was unwilling to risk us deactivating something else like the lights by taking out fuses at random.
After a largely silent drive, Lou was deposited at his front gate. And as he turned to go up the path Geoff wound down the window. ‘Lou!’ he shouted. ‘That drugs story. It was all a wind-up. See you next week.’
Quite what Lou must have registered on the Richter Scale no-one witnessed. But as the most minor of irritations led to violently profane eruptions with Lou – one can but imagine it would have been truly seismic.