TRIBUTES have been paid following the death of a respected North-East football writer who worked for the Northern Echo for 43 years.
Frank Johnson’s career took him to Wembley to see England win the World Cup in 1966, returning seven years later to see his beloved Sunderland lift the FA Cup.
The 78-year-old’s death from throat cancer on Monday has led to glowing tributes from leading figures in North-East sport and journalism.
During his long career with the paper, Mr Johnson was the Sunderland AFC reporter for 42 years.
Sir Bob Murray, former Black Cats’ chairman, said: “I knew Frank from my very first day at Roker Park and through many up and downs over the years. 
“He was always his own man, forthright and never afraid to speak his mind.
“It was a different era without instant technology and 24-hour news, when relationships mattered and press access was different to that of today’s game.
“The Northern Echo is a great newspaper and Frank was one of its finest servants.”
Rob Mason, Sunderland AFC’s club historian, described Mr Johnson as a ‘fully paid up member of the old school’ in terms of sports reporting, whose most precious technical aid was his pen-knife. 
He said: “Depending on how emphatically it was pulled from his pocket before he began to sharpen his pencil with it you knew how vitriolic the criticism was going to be. 
“He didn’t suffer fools gladly, especially if they were wearing red and white stripes.” 

The Northern Echo:

Frank Johnson, pictured in 1972

Mr Johnson joined the Northern Echo at its Sunderland office as a teenager before moving to the Darlington head office and later Guisborough.
Mr Johnson, who also covered athletics and greyhound racing, enjoyed fishing in his spare time and when he retired colleagues presented him with a new pair of wading boots to replace his old pair.

The Northern Echo:

Frank Johnson, centre, with former Northern Echo Peter Barron, left, and managing director, David Kelly 

His former editor, Peter Barron, said: “Frank was from the old school of journalism and will be remembered by many as a great character. 
“He spoke straight from the heart, and was always passionate about Sunderland.”
Mr Johnson lived in Bournmoor, near Chester-le-Street, with his wife of 54 years, Brenda.
The couple had two sons, Tony and Simon, and two daughters, Ashleigh and Lucy, as well as eight grandchildren.
He was diagnosed with cancer three years ago and underwent surgery, but he became ill again around two months ago.
Mrs Johnson said: “He was a great family man. We are coming to terms with what has happened together, but we cannot get over the response from people who knew him.
“He was well-respected and there were lots of people who have been helped by him.
“It has been a great comfort.”