THE sad passing of Michael Foot left everyone in our office feeling sombre today. The normal rat-a-tat-tat of press day was there, but the atmosphere was muted, the seat to my left empty. I was lucky enough to visit Michael at his home in Hampstead a couple of times in recent years and even in his 90s, he had a subtle dry wit and perceptiveness which revealed a spell-binding brain at work. So welcoming in his home, he said some very warm things about the New Journal and stuff we have achieved as a group of reporters together, when I wanted to be using the short time we shared saying warm things about the things he had written.
He also seemed to want to talk football, football and more football, and his devotion to Plymouth Argyle was unswerving. It was appropriate then what turned out to be one of his final interviews was on this subject alone and granted to his great-nephew Tom Foot, our assistant editor at the New Journal. (The picture above is the one we used, it’s Michael on the far left with his brothers and father Isaac at Home Park, the Plymouth ground). We just couldn’t resist the temptation to hear his recollections when Argyle were drawn against Arsenal in the FA Cup last year.
A piece Tom should treasure, it gave Michael the chance to re-tell one of his favourite stories: how he got the name of his street, Worsley Road in Hampstead changed to Pilgrims Lane in 1969. He used complaints about confusion at the post office over addresses in NW3 to convince neighbours the street should get a brand new name, something more poetical. He kept it quiet until after the switch had been made that his street would now share the nickname of his favourite football team, the Pilgrims.
But Michael also raised a bittersweet smile with another line, which is heavy on the heart to read again on this sad day.
“I often said I wasn’t going to conk out until Argyle was up there in the top division, playing against these decent teams like Arsenal – and of course that could happen,” he said. “They are running it a bit close now though.”
That rich sense of humour was still shining through. Tom Foot says in an article in tomorrow’s New Journal: ‘It will be a terrible thing waking up in a world where there’s no Michael Foot’. He means it personally, but there will be millions who feel the same.