Yesterday, with a bright winter sun bursting through the stained-glass windows of St Mary’s Church in Nottingham, the city’s football fraternity waved goodbye to one of their own.
Colin Slater MBE – affectionately dubbed “Mr Notts County” – passed away on January 10, aged 87.
His face may not have been the most recognisable; his voice, however, certainly was.
Colin was the BBC Radio Nottingham commentator for Notts County for almost 60 years. His familiar tones were first heard at Meadow Lane in August 1959 and his last outing behind the microphone was at Rodney Parade in May 2017, when an 89th-minute volley from Mark O’Brien kept Newport County in the Football League.
Fans gathered at both Meadow Lane, where the funeral procession started, and outside the 15th-century church in the city centre to pay their respects.
“If you think how many things have changed in the last 60 years – in life and in football – he was the one thing that remained the same,” said his successor, the current BBC Radio Nottingham commentator, Charlie Slater.
Colin’s coffin entered the church – draped in Notts County scarves – to the sounds of applause from outside and Beethoven’s ninth symphony from inside.
The service, a pertinent reminder of his faith, was live streamed on YouTube by the football club for fans to follow online. He had provided a service for the club to supporters, now it was time for the club to repay his dedication to the Magpies.
If Notts County were a country, this was a state funeral.
Outside the church, Notts manager Ian Burchnall chatted with the man he succeeded Neal Ardley, and current players Kyle Wootton and Kyle Cameron mixed with legends Ian (Charlie) McParland and Ian Baraclough. It was a grand stage for a grand man.
Charlie Slater added: “No matter what I do from here on in, it will be the greatest honour of my professional life to step into his completely un-fillable shoes.”
In 2001, Colin was awarded an MBE for his services to radio and the community.
The service was littered with anecdotes from his long broadcasting career.
Peter Smith, who worked closely with Colin on his commentaries over the years, recounted a tale from the day the Magpies were promoted to the Division One in 1981. “The second half began and Colin started speaking – and he didn’t stop until Notts were in the First Division.”
He was revered by his commentary peers, the legendary John Motson described Colin as “A wonderful presence around the Nottingham scene – a wonderful gentleman in every sense.”
Colin was far more than a commentator to County, he helped save the club on more than one occasion and was instrumental in the set-up of Lifeline, a scheme introduced in 1983 to stop the club going into administration.
“He was such an integral part of the club that the managers, including Sam Allardyce, used to come up to the press box to do the post-match interviews. I can’t imagine there will ever be anyone like him ever again,” said Charlie.
Colin reported on Notts over seven decades and covered close to 2,700 matches.
At Meadow Lane fans paid tribute.
“It’s a bit weird because he’s such a legend and a hero, but he isn’t a player or a manager,” said Josh Brewer, who travelled down with his father from Cheshire just for the day.
“He’s more of a legend to me than some of the players. I remember the first time I met him, I was in complete awe of him.”
The number of people at Meadow Lane who either knew Colin well or had met him was a testament to his friendly character. Gwen Brumfield said: “I first came in 1947 with my father and I have been coming ever since. I spoke to him, he was always very friendly and would happily pass comments about the match.”
Ian Freeman, who has been supporting the Pies for 50 years, said: “He has been a constant as long as long as I have been supporting them. Managers, players, and owners have come and gone, but Colin has always been there – he is just someone I have grown up with really.”
Colin was not just a key part of Notts County, he was a key part of Nottingham as a city.
In April 1969 he became Nottinghamshire County Council’s first public relations officer; he was sworn in as a magistrate on July 20, 1977; he became marketing manager of Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club; over two years from 2003 and 2004 he was elected chairman of Nottingham magistrates and from 2005-2012 he was chairman of the Nottinghamshire Courts Board. He was so closely intertwined with Nottingham, that it is a surprise to discover he wasn’t born here.
Colin was born in Shipley, West Yorkshire and served as a choir boy at Bradford Cathedral. Perhaps it was here that his love of words began. The Rev Liam Boyle – wearing a Notts County scarf – said: “Colin loved to paint pictures with words.”
After Nottingham Forest defeated holders Liverpool in the first round of the European Cup in 1979, they drew AEK Athens. The Athens fans arrived in London and only travelled up to the East Midlands on the day of the game, meaning Nottingham didn’t reap the benefits of the travelling supporters. Colin then took it on himself to attend each of the draws, handing out booking forms for Nottingham hotels to whoever Forest drew.
Mark Stallard, who made just over 200 appearances for Notts from 1999-2005, became co-commentator to Colin after he retired. “As a player, he was the journalist, the commentator, the voice of Notts County,” he said.
It is certain that in today’s age of football club and media relations that we will never see another Colin Slater. “He is a one-off and we may never see the likes of him ever again. After I retired, we spent many an hour travelling the country and he was a truly fantastic man,” Mark said.
Having spoken to fans, friends and colleagues it seems the only fault anyone could find with Colin was his slightly wild driving style.
Colin will leave a hole not just at Notts County, but in Nottingham as a city as well.
It seems fitting to end this piece with the same way he closed out an illustrious broadcasting career – “Memorable matches, marvellous memories and wonderful friends,”
Colin Slater, MBE, you will be missed.