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Journalist Don makes a footballing comeback

Former Matlock Mercury editor and ex-professional soccer player Don Hale has signed a one-off deal for the great Dutch football legend Johann Cruyff.

But Don, a former youth and reserve player with Bury, Blackburn Rovers, York City and Shrewsbury Town, isn’t expecting to make a comeback – he’s to be featured in one of Cruyff’s media empire magazines.

Don’s campaign for justice for Bakewell man Stephen Downing has already been highlighted on Netwerk, the Dutch public TV channel, and several times by European news outlets and the foreign press.

Cruyff, a World Cup and European Cup winner for Holland and Ajax, has followed the progress of Don’s lengthy investigation into Downing’s claims of innocence for the 1973 Bakewell cemetery murder.

The former football star has made comparisons with the exploits of another journalist and former Dutch soccer player, Kick Geudeker, who also helped solve a murder riddle 77 years ago.

Reporter Erik Brouwer was called in to relate the story of Geudeker, a striker who played for Ajax for six years from 1919-1924, scoring 11 times in 19 appearances, before leaving to become an apprentice journalist.

He then worked for one of Holland’s major newspapers ‘Het Vrije Volk,’ The Free People.

Cruyff and Brouwer were fascinated that several former footballers have since made the grade in journalism and his article looks at several successful examples from different countries.

The pair thought the story sounded very familiar to Don’s own investigation in which he has had to continually fight authority, before finally persuading the Birmingham based Criminal Cases Review Commission to refer Downing’s case back to the Court of Appeal last November.

Downing was eventually released on bail in February after serving more than 27 years in jail for a murder he has always claimed he did not commit.

Don, (49), first began his investigation in 1994, whilst editor of the Mercury, after Downing’s parents came to him with some new allegations.

The Dutch media remain fascinated by this case and have promised to highlight Downing’s High Court appeal, when it is anticipated his conviction for the murder of ‘Bakewell Tart,’ Mrs Wendy Sewell, will finally be quashed.

Don was shocked to receive the call and explained: “Cruyff is still a legend in football. I was surprised and delighted by their interest. The Dutch have always been very supportive and I recently took part in a news programme that attracted millions of viewers.

“There was a great feeling of camaraderie and I feel honoured to be even compared with one of their football heroes – and highlighted by another hero. It all seems a rather bizarre coincidence.”

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