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‘Maverick’ sports editor who helped to launch national careers dies aged 79

Len CapelingA “maverick” sports editor whose guidance helped to launch the career of many national journalists has died aged 79.

Tributes have been paid to Len Capeling, pictured, who ran the sportsdesk at Liverpool’s Daily Post.

A former stand-up comedian who performed on cruise ships, in cabaret clubs and small halls under the stage name Tony Millier, Len later moved into journalism.

Phil McNulty, who is now BBC Sport’s chief football writer, is among those to have paid tribute.

Phil told the Liverpool Echo: “Len Capeling was a brilliant, maverick sports editor. He was eccentric, could be divisive and outspoken, but above all Len was relentless in making the paper’s sports pages the best they could possibly be.

“No-one was prouder or more protective of the Daily Post than Len. If you were on his staff he expected you to be fiercely competitive – anything less and the phone call would come in ominous tones: ‘Philip? Leonard…’

“Len was fearless, whether it was a member of the company’s management board once unwisely telling him they did not like a back page headline or if it was a high-ranking executive from one of the city’s football clubs ringing to register disapproval. He would listen and if they had a point he would accept it. If he did not accept it, they were told forcibly.

“For someone so naturally gifted, Len was a reluctant columnist and those of us who press-ganged him into doing it watched with envy as he then regularly swept up at award ceremonies.

“Len was a superb boss. He was endlessly supportive to those he felt were fair with him and even if mistakes were made by his staff, he always stepped forward to take responsibility.

“He was also hilariously funny, with the deadest of deadpan humour forged in an unlikely career as a stand-up comedian before turning his hand to being an outstanding sports editor.”

Len’s spirit of competitiveness with the Echo, based in the same office as the Daily Post, once led to him drawing up a fake back page to suggest former Liverpool footballer Ian Rush was joining city rivals Everton.

David Prentice, who joined the Daily Post in 1987 and later became Echo sports editor, told of how Len’s “near insane drive for perfection was a culture shock”.

David said: “I quickly learned he was even prepared to put his health on the line in pursuit of better sports pages.

“He once insisted on filing his weekly column from his hospital bed just hours after coming round from open heart surgery.

“When the surgeon who had performed the life-saving procedure demanded that Len rest, the stricken hack replied: ‘I am the sports editor of the Daily Post. I wouldn’t expect you to understand. It’s a pressurised job. You wouldn’t know what pressure is.’

“It wasn’t a quickfire gag. And you couldn’t argue about the drugs in his system causing him to hallucinate because Len believed it.”

He added: “For Len, the Daily Post sports desk was the most important department in the region. The Liverpool Echo was the enemy.

“We might have shared the same building but to Len the Post was the quality, high end product to a brash, boorish neighbour. It made for lively working days.

“As well as sports editing, Len wrote. He wrote brilliantly. His weekly column was a mini-masterpiece. And no-one was safe from his waspish one-liners.

“But he was more than just a hatchet man. He was constructive, too. He first noted John Aldridge’s desire to return home from Real Sociedad and suggested what a good fit he would be for Tranmere Rovers. It was a suggestion followed up by Rovers, with record-breaking consequences.”

During his career, Len championed the North Wales edition of the Daily Post with the launch of a Monday Welsh sport supplement.

He also gave former Liverpool footballers Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson, who would go on to national broadcasting roles with the BBC, their first columns.

Oliver Holt, of the Mail on Sunday, Brian Reade, of the Daily Mirror, and Simon Jones, of the Daily Mail, were among the other young journalists “who benefited from the wisdom and work ethic instilled in them by Len”, according to an obituary by the Echo’s current chief Liverpool FC writer Ian Doyle.

Len retired to the Lake District in 199 but continued to file a weekly column for a number of years afterwards.

Former Daily Post and Liverpool Echo editor Alastair Machray said: “Len was a proper journalist. Slightly mad but an example to us all in terms of dedication and determination.

“Of course, he was a truly brilliant writer with a real gift for, and love of, words and the print medium. I was really fond of him and admired him enormously.”

Paul Joyce, now of The Times, added: “He was fearless (and feared) and, as a young reporter working for him, he was the sort of sports editor you wanted. Someone who would back you to the hilt whenever a club tried to apply pressure.

“Privately, he might tell you got this or that wrong which helped you improve but he always stood up for his reporters.

” I will be eternally grateful to Len and [former Echo sports editor] Ken Rogers for giving me an opportunity when the Daily Post and Liverpool Echo competed for stories.”