A MOVING funeral service has been held for a veteran North-East sports reporter.

Family, friends and former colleagues of Frank Johnson said a final farewell on Friday as they celebrated his life.

The 78-year-old, who died earlier this month, worked for the Northern Echo, covering Sunderland AFC for 42 years.

The devoted grandfather, who retired in 2002, was born in Sunderland and was married to Brenda, with whom he had four children.

His coffin was brought into St Barnabus’ Church in Bournmoor, near Chester-le-Street, to Nimrod, by Edward Elgar.

The congregation sang Lord Of All Hopefulness before readings from his daughters, Ashleigh and Lucy.

Mourners then rose again for the hymn, Blessed Assurance, before Mr Johnson’s brother-in-law, Brian Lister, gave a eulogy.

He said: “He became a reporter for the Northern Echo and after a couple of years he was given the job of looking after Sunderland Football Club.

“Sometimes it was a treat, and other times it was a punishment, but in all of the 42 years he never stopped loving Sunderland Football Club.

“He saw them through highs and lows and it was all worthwhile on when he saw the victory of victories on the 5th of May, 1973, when they won the FA Cup final.”

Mr Johnson, who was diagnosed with cancer three years ago and underwent surgery, became ill again this summer.

Mr Johnson was well-respected by former footballers and managers from the club, as well as colleagues, and tributes flooded in following his death.

Mr Lister said: “It was nice to hear from those who spoke of the help Frank gave to them as young reporters.

“He told his family and friends it was important to report the truth because the public have a right to know.”

Mr Lister said Mr Johnson was an avid fisherman and gardener who enjoyed holidays in Scotland and Northumberland as well as Malta, but, above all, he was a devoted family man.

After prayers, the congregation sang Abide With Me, and, following the committal, left to You Needed Me performed by the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band.

Mr Johnson was cremated at Durham Crematorium and loved ones then gathered at The Chilton Country Pub and Hotel to celebrate his life.

Donations are going to the Oesophageal Cancer Fund.