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North Stander: The stories behind that Batistuta transfer tale and putting Royle in lingerie – my two most embarrassing gaffes

PUBLISHED: 15:04 06 April 2020 | UPDATED: 15:04 06 April 2020

Gabriel Batistuta, who didn't join Town! Photo; PA

Gabriel Batistuta, who didn't join Town! Photo; PA

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North Stander TERRY HUNT looks back at two rather ‘embarrassing gaffes’ he was at the centre of when editor of the Evening Star...

Argentina forward Gabriel Batistuta, right, is congratulated by team-mate and former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino during their 2002 World Cup match against Nigeria in Ibaraki, Japan. Argentina won 1-0. Photo: PAArgentina forward Gabriel Batistuta, right, is congratulated by team-mate and former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino during their 2002 World Cup match against Nigeria in Ibaraki, Japan. Argentina won 1-0. Photo: PA

There aren’t too many laughs around in these tough times, so I’m giving you two reasons to have a chuckle at my expense.

I’ll tell you the grisly behind-the-scenes details of two of my most embarrassing gaffes as a newspaper editor – and they both involve stories about my beloved Ipswich Town.

Allow me to get my excuses in first.

Newspaper editors have to make lots of quick decisions. There just isn’t time to cogitate – there’s always a deadline looming. A decent editor will get the vast majority right – but when things go awry, thousands and thousands of people see your blunder. There’s no hiding place.

The first one goes all the way back to the autumn of 1994, but I’m still reminded about it today.

Yes...it involved legendary Argentinian striker Gabriel Batistuta.

Adrian Paz, his time at Town was not memorable. Photo: ARCHANTAdrian Paz, his time at Town was not memorable. Photo: ARCHANT

My paper, the Evening Star, shouted “It’s Batistuta” in a headline, strongly suggesting that the star would be joining Town from Florentina.

Looking back, it seems ridiculous. Why would Batistuta leave Serie A, only months after top scoring for Argentina in the World Cup, to join Town?

But actually, back then the rumours appeared to have some credibility. Batistuta had spent the previous season, 1993-94, in Serie B with Fiorentina. His goals got them promoted back to the top division.

The word among the Fleet Street papers was that he had signed a pre-contract agreement with Ipswich.

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So, when word began leaking from Portman Road that the Blues were on the verge of completing a deal with a South American star, excitement reached fever pitch.

Mauricio Taricco in mid flight after scoring in Town's 5-1 win over Exeter City in August 1998. Taricco came to Town along with Adrian Paz. But while Paz disappointed, Taricco became a Town favourite. Photo: ARCHANTMauricio Taricco in mid flight after scoring in Town's 5-1 win over Exeter City in August 1998. Taricco came to Town along with Adrian Paz. But while Paz disappointed, Taricco became a Town favourite. Photo: ARCHANT

I had a couple of off-the-record conversations with people close to the club, who assured me that, yes, the new man was South American and, yes, it was a BIG name.

So, we had the rumours circulating in Fleet Street, and we had confirmation, of sorts, from Portman Road.

Impetuously, and foolishly, I went for it - and some Town fans have never let me forget it!

Of course, the “big name” turned out to be nothing of the kind. It was Adrian Paz, a Uruguayan striker who, bluntly, no-one had heard of. Town had been desperately short of goals the previous season, and manager John Lyall hoped Paz would solve the problem.

Alarm bells starting ringing almost immediately for me, when we watched a compilation of Paz’s goals for Estudiantes in Argentina.

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They almost all started with this slight figure cutting in from the right wing before scoring. But Town fans thought we’d signed a target man!

Suffice to say, Paz was a disaster for Town. He scored just one goal in 18 appearances as we were relegated.

The only good thing to emerge from the whole sorry – and, for me, highly embarrassing – saga, was the other player who arrived as a makeweight in the Paz deal. None other than Mauricio Taricco. He was unheralded then, but was to become an absolute Town legend, still revered today.

I will never know whether Batistuta really came close to signing for Town. My hunch is that, if Fiorentina had not been promoted back to Serie A in 1994, then he would have moved, perhaps to the Premier League and maybe, just maybe to Town.

One very painful lesson learned by a rookie newspaper editor.

The other episode which still makes me cringe involved genial Joe Royle, one of the nicest guys in football. It all started innocently enough, with EADT football writer Derek Davis affectionately nicknaming Town manager Royle and his first team coach Willie Donachie as “The Odd Couple.”

Joe Royle, smiling here, but the Town boss  did not see the funny side of a mock-up of him in the Evening Star. Photo: ASHLEY PICKERINGJoe Royle, smiling here, but the Town boss did not see the funny side of a mock-up of him in the Evening Star. Photo: ASHLEY PICKERING

The pair shared a house just outside Ipswich, and the nickname was a reference to the famous Jack Lemmon/Walter Matthau film about two middle-aged men with different personalities who find themselves living together, with hilarious consequences.

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So far, so good. It all started going awry when, for reasons which I still don’t understand, someone in the office mocked up a “comedy” photo of Joe in skimpy ladies’ underwear. Quite what that had to do with anything, I’m not too sure, but it looked quite comical. Or so we thought...

With such a good sense of humour, surely Joe would find it hilarious...wouldn’t he? So we ran the photo.

Big, big, big mistake. The next morning, I was told in no uncertain terms that Joe had not seen the funny side of the mock-up one little bit. In fact, he was furious.

It led to my Sports Editor and I meeting Joe face to face in his office at Portman Road, and with him telling us he could not imagine what on earth we had thought we were doing, publishing the mocked-up photo.

By then, neither could I...

It was a big shame, because Joe is such a nice guy, always helpful to the Press, and I don’t think he ever quite forgave me.

Two really stupid misjudgements, which I have to live with. But even newspaper editors are only human...Apparently.

Finally, a word of thanks to Jim Magilton.

I wrote last week about how I called for Jim to go, two months before Marcus Evans sacked him in 2009.

A few days ago, Jim put a message on Twitter, basically saying that we had both been doing our jobs as we saw them.

Thank you, Jim, much appreciated. Class, as always.


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