Friday, February 23, 2024

70 YEARS ON DENNIS STILL LOVES SPORT AND REPORTING

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DENNIS Nash’s career as a sports correspondent with the Spectator Newspaper Group is the stuff of legend – and quite possibly of world records too. The former school teacher has been contributing match reports and updating readers with his local sporting news for 70 years, an achievement which his son intends to contact the Guinness Book of World Records about. “I started at the tender age of 15,” explains Dennis, “and put my first report into the Spectator because the Spectator had offices in Newtownards at that time.” That football report, published on September 26, 1952, was just 154 words long and was despatched to councillor Sam Fowler in Ballywalter who included the piece in the Ballywalter Jottings column he collated at the time. Dennis’ match reports became a regular fixture in the Ballywalter Jottings until he was promoted to the coveted back page of the sports section by then Chronicle editor Norman Boal.

The elevated profile came as Dennis set up the Cardy League, the first locally organised winter football competition. “When I started up the league, it meant there were more matches and football progressed quite considerably from the late ‘50s and ‘60s. “I think people were quite surprised to find out that I was in my late teens and running a winter league. We had Portavogie and Ards Olympic, quite a famous team, joined. “Norman Boal recognised there was such potential here that it was worth more than the Ballywalter Jottings,” says Dennis.

More than 60 years ago, Dennis also set up the Newtownards & District Primary School League which opened up a new world of competitive football opportunities to the borough’s young boys. Dennis explains: “When I joined the staff at Victoria [Primary School], there was no football on a competitive level and then St Comgall’s and Bangor joined the League and it started to grow. “I played rugby for Ards Seconds as well and did rugby reports. Then I started a charity committee and there were athletic fun runs and all the rest of it and it became much more than football. “It kept me out of mischief in many ways,” he laughs. Of course the more football leagues and other sporting events he set up around the borough, the more copy Dennis had for the sports pages of the Spectator and Chronicle newspapers each week.

These days, that first report he wrote as a 15 year-old has grown to a regular weekly contribution of around 4,000 words a week, split between a weekly feature match report and his Sporting Snippets pages. He never struggles for copy thanks to his local sporting contacts, says Dennis, adding that he is always keen to cover a broad range of local interests. In recent weeks he has not just covered football but also netball and pickleball and he talks with enthusiasm about the softball played locally by the Buccaneers Club which trains at Ward Park. The week before we spoke, Dennis had covered the Ards v Comber Rec pre-season friendly and he was looking forward to the upcoming Borough Cup final between Portavogie and First Bangor and the Steel & Sons Cup at Abbey Villa. He has covered many matches outside the borough too, including games at Windsor Park and Ballymena and Portadown’s grounds.

Now aged 85, Dennis remains as passionate as ever about sport and says that every weekend is a highlight in his life. He admits, however, that these days it’s getting harder to stand for the length of a full football match and he can often be seen reporting on matches while leaning against a wall or perched on a camping chair. It has been an important year of significant anniversaries in Dennis’s life as on August 2 he and his wife Jennie celebrated 60 years of marriage, having first met in the staff room at Victoria Primary in Newtownards where they both taught. A charity breakfast in aid of NI Air Ambulance was held in the Regency Restaurant on Saturday to mark Dennis’s 70 years with the Spectator and Chronicle Group.

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