It was probably around the summer of 1991, I guess. The country was still cresting the wave of post-Italia ‘90 euphoria and football was the only show in town.
At this stage I would have been around eight. I was lining out every week in the maroon colours of Seatown FC in the Dundalk Schoolboys League.
Back then a number of the coaches and managers within the club, at various levels, including one Brian McGuinness (a tremendous ambassador for underage football in the town and county) were producing a club newsletter every two weeks which included match reports and photographs of the club’s teams and their endeavours; along with fundraising news and the club’s lotto results.
It was the highlight of my young footballing life to see a picture of myself among the team snaps, and sometimes – although very rarely in all honesty – I was even mentioned in dispatches for playing quite well.
The newsletter was basically an A3 page folded in half, so there was four pages in total packed with reports and photos.
I cherished these pages dearly for so many years. They were tucked in a treasured box full of youthful memories.
As I grew slightly older, say in my early teens, the match reports would start to appear in the local newspapers. This, I suddenly realised, opened up my limited abilities to an even larger readership.
Although it might only have been once a month, my team would show up within the sports pages. At the bottom of the report, as it remains to this day, the team list was printed. The joy and excitement for an innocent teenager to see their name there is a feeling I have rarely been able to recapture since.
It was a very real sense of enormous personal pride, coupled with the clearly ‘proud as punch’ look on my parents’ faces as the paper arrived home. If you could have bottled that feeling up, you’d be a very rich person.
Times have changed, of course. Technology has advanced and people get their local sport and news from a myriad of different sources these days.
But nothing can compare to opening the crisp pages of the local newspaper and searching and searching until you spied your name, whether it be in the team list, or, if you were in good form the previous weekend, within the lines of the report itself.
Perhaps this is all just lazy, rose-tinted nostalgia on my part. And perhaps kids these days would not have the same emotional attachment to seeing their name in the local paper; but I think I might be wrong.
Early last year (pre-pandemic), I had the very joyous job of printing photos within these very pages of a Christmas show by a local group called Dance Kids.
Discarding any sense of editorial impartiality, I included a lovely photo of my niece as part of the wider picture spread – how could I resist?
A couple of days later, with that edition completed and on the shelves in shops across the town, I received a WhatsApp message from my sister.
It was a photo of my niece sitting at the kitchen table with the Democrat wide open on that same spread of pictures from the Christmas show, she was pointing at her snap while beaming at the camera.
Sure, it might have been a somewhat staged effort to thank her uncle for including her, but her smile seemed less contrived I felt as I looked at the WhatsApp message closer, and she seemed genuinely stunned to see her face in print, among her peers.
That’s what I tell myself anyway.
One of my last missives as editor of this fine publication was a love letter to the world of local newspapers.
Right now, they are struggling more than many could ever understand. And the work being done by those remaining in the newsrooms can only be described as Herculean.
The pandemic has greatly exacerbated the inherent existential problem with newspapers trying to compete in a digital world.
Yes, newspapers have pivoted into the online world themselves, but it does not pay enough for local newspapers to remain such an integral part of local life.
During my days as editor of this newspaper there were many phone calls and emails giving out about such-and-such appearing or not appearing in an issue.
Such is the way. It’s water off a duck’s back in the industry.
But, perhaps the most consistent and emotional calls came from parents whose little Johnny or Jane was inadvertently left out of the team list in the previous week’s match report, or, worse still, wasn’t even mentioned in the body of it, despite - according to the unbiased parent anyway - playing an absolute blinder.
These calls, while onerous to deal with at times, made me smile for all the right reasons and I always said to myself quietly, after dealing with the issue, “thank god they’re still reading us.”