Nigel Pearson will be laid to rest this Thursday in his adopted village of Wombourne following his sudden and dreadfully sad recent passing. His funeral cortege will take in a lap of Wombourne including the Cricket Club where he spent so much happy time before a service at St Benedict’s Church, followed by a private committal.
Nigel was a friend to so many former Wolves players, and indeed so many people across the sporting spectrum, and all at Wolves FPA send their sincere condolences to his wife Kerrie, daughter Sarah, and sons Jake and Liam.
This tribute article appeared in Wolves’ matchday programme for their Premier League fixture against Brighton.
Nigel Pearson would light up any press room.
So warm and approachable, always smiling, never downbeat.
“I was always happy to see Nigel’s name on the press list,” says former Wolves Head of Communications Lorraine Hennessey.
“I always knew that if the day or the game didn’t go well, Nige would be the first to try and cheer me up.”
And that is a sentiment shared by so many.
Nigel had the ability, a natural ability and personality, just to cheer people up, to make them feel better about themselves.
An incredible gift – unique perhaps – to be able to progress through a career in a fiercely competitive, pressurised and sometimes brutal rough-and-tumble industry and yet never lose his element of fun or boyish charm and enthusiasm.
Just a vibrant and animated presence, fuelled by so much energy and bounce. Not to mention the odd pint of Guinness here and there.
Which is why, his sudden and devastating passing just over a fortnight ago at the age of 52 has had such a shattering effect on so many people from the world of sport, the media and his local community of Wombourne.
Of course, it is Nigel’s family who are feeling it most, and it is impossible to imagine what they have been going through over these last couple of weeks.
Hopefully the outpouring of such powerful and heartfelt tributes has provided some small crumbs of comfort to the family during such a cruel and painful time, whilst also demonstrating to the wider public just how much Nigel Pearson was both admired and loved.
And within all those tributes are so many stories and anecdotes. So many wonderful memories.
Many include Nigel’s wide array of catchphrases regularly shoe-horned into commentaries across the three sporting disciplines in which he worked and excelled – football, speedway and darts.
‘Right place, right time.’ ‘No mistake at all.’ ‘Our favourite time of the week.’
Wolves TV’s Mikey Burrows had thought of Pearson when using one of his trademark phrases in commentary on the very day he passed away, prior to hearing the tragic news.
Those catchphrases would become not just a staple part of the pinpoint Pearson delivery but also a regular and delightful source of conversation with colleagues, as his great friend and fellow talkSPORT broadcaster Ian Danter explains.
“When we saw each other, it always prompted the same intro,” says Danter.
“I would point and bellow in my best Nigel voice, ‘Nigel Pearson that’s right’, to which he would loudly respond in kind with ‘No mistake at all’.
“Following about 20 seconds more of ‘Nige’s Catchphrase Tennis’ we’d laugh, hug and actually find out how each other was doing that day.
“I’m going to miss that silly, pointless, self-indulgent interaction with my friend more than you could ever know.”
And therein lies the rub. However you felt, however things were going, good, bad or indifferent, Nigel would always cheer you up. He would make you feel better about yourself, better about life.
“’Hey up fella, you o-k?’ That was always the text or call of support you would get from Nige if something good or bad at happened in your life,” adds another close friend and talkSPORT colleague Geoff Peters, who faced an emotional afternoon sat in the press box reporting for the station for Wolves’ game with Brighton.
“That was the measure of the man – he looked out for others.
“There were few with a better sense of humour and while he took the genuinely important things in life seriously, everything else was fair game.
“He knew how to make me laugh but he was such a professional and to say he was much-loved is a huge understatement. He was the very best, on and off air.”
Nigel was part of the talkSPORT team right from the station’s launch back in 1995, and he would regularly work the Midlands footballing patch alongside others in a close-knit team such as Danter, Peters, Dave Rowe, Adam Bridge and Tom Ross.
His loss has hit the station hard, main live football presenter Adrian Durham heading to the Hawthorns to lead the coverage as Nigel’s beloved Baggies paid their respects to him last weekend and breakfast show presenter Laura Woods delivering a heartfelt and tearful on-air tribute earlier in the week.
Nigel also worked for many other publications and broadcasters, from penning columns in the Express & Star and Birmingham Mail to delivering word-perfect commentaries on Sky Sports, BT Sport and Eurosport.
He was always a hugely popular figure in any pre or post match conversation, whether with those from other radio stations such as BBC WM and others across the network, contemporaries young and old, from the local, national or international media.
Whether it was football, speedway or darts, whether it was hosting, reporting or commentating, he was peerless. Very few had his talent to cover such different sports with such precision and enthusiasm. Not to mention his relaxed and expertly light touch handling of press launches and Q&A nights.
Only last week, at one of his favourite venues where he hosted so many wonderful evenings, the Cleveland Arms, former Wolves goalkeeper Matt Murray and guests paid tribute with a minute’s applause following emotional words from close friend Ian ‘Porky’ Jones.
Little wonder that Nigel covered all the aforementioned sports at their very highest level – world level – and that some of their very top names from Phil Taylor to Michael Van Gerwen, Tai Woffinden to his regular speedway partner-in-commentary Kelvin Tatum, added their own words to the vast array of tributes.
But his talent in the press box was matched by his selfless personality, of always being ready to impart some words of wisdom and invaluable advice.
He knew, having initially set off as a rookie speedway reporter on the Stourbridge News, what it was like to start out in need of a helping hand or two to climb the media ladder.
Also working in Hospital Radio, this native Yorkshireman who moved to the Black Country as a teenager, soon became a football reporter for BRMB – donning the headphones for the first time for an FA Cup tie between Halesowen Town against Tranmere Rovers – also progressing to providing reports for the telephone service ‘Clubcall’, a media mainstay of the 1990s.
Bill Hatton, formerly a Wolves commentator on the Wolf and Beacon Radio, remembers one of those Clubcall reports in particular, after Nigel joined him and co-commentator Pete Moody for a car trip to Charlton.
“We were just about to go through the Blackwall Tunnel and all of a sudden, without a word to us, Nigel jumped on his phone,” Bill recalls.
“He delivered a pitch perfect report about a speedway meeting being postponed before signing off with: ‘this is Nigel Pearson, reporting live from Glasgow’.
“By this time Pete and myself were already in fits of laughter but without pausing for breath Nige, in deference I think to Beacon Radio Gold where he had worked, uttered the immortal words, ‘good tunes, great records, here’s Lena Martell’.
“Regularly during those trips he would gently mock our commentary by saying something like, ’20 minutes into the car journey, how’s it going’? and would refer to us as ‘tin pit local radio’ while we would respond by calling him a ‘Big Time Charlie’.
“Those were such brilliant times and Nige was such a brilliantly funny man.”
The irony of the good natured ‘Big Time Charlie’ barb is not lost on Bill nor any of Nigel’s other friends and colleagues.
Because, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
In an industry which is often so fiercely competitive, inhabited by big characters, affected by personality politics, there was literally no side to Nigel. No ego or sense of entitlement, just very low maintenance and always respectful of other people’s jobs.
Where managers could sometimes be tetchy or downright rude, as others in the media corps – perhaps understandably – moaned and groaned, Nigel would quietly pack up his kit, bid everyone a cheery farewell, and head for a swift nightcap on his way home.
Yes, he was a consummate professional who strived to provide the best coverage, but as long as knew he had done his job, to the best of his ability, if others didn’t want to play ball then that was their loss, not his.
Because while work was important, telling the story for the listeners was important, there was always, always, more to life.
“We used to joke about me calling Nigel big time, from the moment I went to the Grand Slam of Darts at the Civic Hall and found him by the bar with a small queue of fans asking him to sign their ‘180’ cards,” says Steve Madeley, Albion reporter with The Athletic.
“From that moment I took the mickey out of him being a celebrity and would talk about him being the Lord of Wombourne and adding extra annexes to the West Wing of Pearson Hall.
“I used to rib him about a time I was on a ‘get away from it all’ holiday in Albufeira and, less than an hour after checking in, strolled to the bar to begin the escape from reality only to hear Nige’s voice booming out as the speedway was on TV.
“’There’s just no escape from you’, I would tell him, and that was the last phrase I said to him just a few weeks ago when regaling someone with that story within his earshot.
“Of course, there was actually nothing ‘big time’ about Nige.
“He was a lovely, down-to-earth bloke who loved his sport, loved his job and loved his family.”
He also loved helping others land that first crucial breakthrough with their career aspirations and, particularly in speedway, would offer many young reporters the opportunity to write or tweet about the sport, via his company Nigel Pearson Media.
One such beneficiary Ryan Guest, who led the tributes at the first meeting at Perry Barr following Nigel’s passing, said he grew up, “wanting to follow the career path of Nigel Pearson” and will be “forever in his debt”.
When Chris Lepkowski, a former reporter with the Birmingham Mail and now journalism course director at Birmingham City University, was looking for a mentor for one of his final year students, he knew exactly where to turn.
Chris says: “I remember what a great help Nige was to me when I joined the Mail and also because of his personality – he was warm, had an infectious enthusiasm and encouraged people to prosper.
“I am so grateful he agreed to help and he was such a great mentor to the student who he was paired up with.
“I will also remember him for so many other things as well – he wrote such a warm testimonial for the back of a book I wrote and was such a great guy who had time for everyone.
“His versatility was incredible as I think it is very seldom that you find a professional broadcaster who can specialise across so many different sports.
“You think perhaps of someone like Barry Davies but for the most part, all the great commentators such as Murray Walker, John Motson and Peter O’Sullivan would specialise in one sport.
“For Nige to able to hone his craft as he did across three different sports in both television and radio shows remarkable versatility and brilliance and is something I always admired.”
Nigel was certainly a great role model, but nowhere was the Pearson mentoring more keenly enjoyed and cherished than when spending time with his beloved family, precious moments away from work whether at home in Wombourne or further afield.
He had a wonderful relationship with wife Kerrie and was so proud of grown-up daughter Sarah and younger sons Liam and Jake, regularly detailing their latest achievements in those priceless pre-match conversations.
Liam had followed in Dad’s footsteps as a passionate Albion fan, while Jake’s decision a few years ago to request a Wolves strip caused plenty of merriment as Nigel was forced to part with some hard-earned readies to snap up the famous gold shirt.
Albion did him proud with their tribute last weekend and, despite those strong Baggies allegiances, in just same the way as with all the clubs he covered, Nigel has always been a huge friend to the Wolves media department from past through to present.
Back in the day he was particularly close to former Wolves press officer and club historian John ‘Fozzie’ Hendley, a shared love of football, speedway and a pre-match pint enough to overcome their separate tribal allegiances! That will have been some reunion over a cold one somewhere.
From my own point of view, a glance back through shared messages shows how, very often, I would just receive a picture of a freshly poured pint of Guinness, accompanied by Nigel’s favourite #GTBI hashtag – ‘Get the Beers In’. Simple pleasures, which he savoured so much.
At the same time, I am also so grateful that back in January, I was out driving and just randomly stumbled upon him calling the final few minutes of added time as Kidderminster Harriers upset Reading in the FA Cup. He was, as ever, immense on commentary.
Nigel was great fun and could perfectly strike that balance of working hard and being so damned good at his job, but also being able to switch off and make the most of time away from the microphone.
“I remember a day at the Pie Factory at Tipton, when Wolves Speedway captain at the time Steve Johnstone turned up with his bikes in his van, having been at a school fete,” recalls Scott Field, another of Nigel’s close friends who is now Director of Communications and Marketing with Team GB.
“He had only popped in for ‘one’, but we ended up having a few beers in the beautiful sunshine, resulting in Johnno getting his bikes out on the car park and Nige sat astride one, revving the engine and shrouding the outside diners with clouds of methanol fumes!
“We always had great fun whether at work or away from it, and that’s how we will all remember him, I am sure.”
It is indeed, and while it is often said, amid the shock, the sadness and the grief, his is a legacy that will long live on into the future.
There are so many people within the media who owe their career to having Nigel Pearson as a boss or father figure.
So many viewers or listeners who owe their love of sport to having Nigel Pearson as a commentator.
And so many people whose lives have been enriched with so much fun, so many smiles, never-ending laughter, by having Nigel Pearson as a friend.
Right time, right place? No mistake at all.