Legendary sports writer John Mann returned from the 1974 World Cup clutching a shirt signed by Pele, only to discover a friend’s wife had popped it in the washing by mistake.
“Well the signature came off and as you can imagine, it was devalued substantially,” said his son Martin.
Mr Mann, who has died aged 89, had been covering the World Cup in West Germany for the Daily Express. Pele did not play in the tournament but was a match commentator.
“He was delighted to be able to get a shirt signed in pen by the great Pele. I think it was the 1974 World Cup. When he brought it home to Broughty Ferry he wanted people to see it and lent it to a school teacher friend to show to his pupils,” said Martin.
“It was sitting on a chair when the teacher’s wife noticed a mark on it and put it through the wash. It was one of the more memorable stories to arise from the several World Cups he covered in his career as a football writer.”
John Mann was the Daily Express’s football writer covering the east coast teams of Aberdeen, Dundee and Dundee United. He began his career with the Press and Journal and later worked for The Courier.
In his journalistic career he covered some of the greatest moments of the three teams and often had lively relationships with managers, in particular the late great Jim McLean.
“It felt like Jim had a hotline to our house. If he did not like something dad had written he would be on the phone bellowing,” said Martin.
John Mann was born in Aberdeen in 1932 where his father, George, was as a joiner and his mother Mary was a housewife.
There were four children, Jean, John, George and Molly living in a two-room flat on the top floor of 4 Stafford Street, Aberdeen. During the war Mr Mann’s father was an air-raid warden.
On the night of the Aberdeen Blitz in April 1943, the family was ordered into the air-raid shelter in the basement of Smith’s licensed grocer’s shop at the corner of Stafford Street and George Street. Mr Smith’s son, later Dr DWC Smith, was one of young John Mann’s idols as a sprinter and rugby star, latterly with London Scottish.
Mr Mann later wrote an account of that dreadful night for his family.
In it, John Mann recalled his father had been on duty on the roof of a mill and had been due home just before they went into the shelter.
“As time went past and he did not appear, my mother was agitated and I have memories of whoever was in charge of the shelter persuading her not to go out into the street to look for him.
“One man who did go out, apparently to collect his valuables from the house which took a direct hit, was killed.”
“Eventually my father arrived, explaining that he had been helping at some bomb site but hurried to find us after hearing that a bomb had struck Stafford Street.”
The Manns’ house was damaged in the raid but not destroyed. John was then sent to the safety of Inverurie where he attended the academy.
“Dad left school at 15 and in due course attended an amateur football match and then submitted a match report to the Press and Journal,” said Martin.
“They were so impressed they offered him a job. That would have been in the late 1940s. It was during his time with the Press and Journal that he was called up for National Service.
“He was groundcrew with the RAF based in Hereford and then returned to Aberdeen.”
He met his wife Helen at a tennis club in Aberdeen when he was 15 and the couple married in 1955.
Mr Mann then moved to Dundee to work for The Courier. In those days he did did a lot of reporting on boxing and travelled widely with the Scotland boxing team.
“It was during the 1960s that dad went to work for the Scottish Daily Express, which was based in Glasgow but he continued to live in Broughty Ferry and covered the east coast teams,” said Martin.
“Over the years he covered some of the glory days and glorious European adventures at Aberdeen as well as Dundee United and Dundee although I think he missed Dundee United’s 1983 league triumph because my mother was ill.”
Martin said his father covered four World Cup finals, West Germany in 1974, Argentina in 1978, Spain in 1982 and Mexico in 1986.
After his time with the Daily Express, Mr Mann went to work with the Daily Star and retired in 1990, although he continued to contribute match reports to The Observer.
In the lead up to the 1978 World Cup, Mr Mann got together with Scotland manager Ally MacLeod to write his biography, The Ally MacLeod Story.
“Much like the team during the campaign in Argentina, the book was not a runaway success but it is still available in various outlets,” said Martin.
“One story that dad liked to tell surrounds the time he was covering a match in Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, home of Real Madrid, when dad accidentally bumped into the European Cup which was on display.
“Dad liked to think he was a proficient Spanish speaker, so he apologised, saying he was very ‘muy embarazada’ which, of course, translated as being he was very pregnant.”
Mr Mann’ wife Helen died in 1987 after a long battle with illness and latterly his companion was Catherine MacFarlane. In retirement the two travelled the world extensively and were particularly fond of cruises.
“Dad was a regular at the Fort in Broughty Ferry where he was friends with John Black senior. He used to go on golf trips with the pub and played but could only be described as an occasional golfer” said Martin.
“Due to covid restrictions, we had been unable to visit dad in hospital, although I did manage to get Cath in to see him for an emotional visit the day before he died.”
Mr Mann is survived by his son Martin, daughter Alison and two grandsons, Graeme and Alan. His first great grandson is due in a fortnight.
Sports writer and broadcaster Jim Spence said: “John was a terrific writer and bloke. It is very sad news.”