Popular columnist Jim Riordan dies

092443-2_jim 6/7/2009''Jim Riordan.''092443-2
092443-2_jim 6/7/2009''Jim Riordan.''092443-2
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Jim Riordan, the outspoken News columnist, has died at the age of 75.

An accomplished writer and academic, he mixed with the famous during a colourful life.

When he studied and worked in Moscow in the 1960s he was a fellow student of Alexander Dubcek, the man who tried to reform the communist regime in Czechoslovakia in 1968, prompting the Soviet invasion of Prague.

He met Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese revolutionary leader, and mixed socially with Cambridge spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean. He was a pall-bearer at Burgess’s funeral.

He became the world’s leading academic expert on Soviet sport and was attaché to the British team at the Moscow Olympics in 1980.

In his autobiography Comrade Jim, he recalls how he made two appearances, under an assumed name, for Spartak Moscow in 1963 becoming the only foreigner to play in the Soviet league.

On his return to Britain Jim became a professor, and a prolific author, writing more than 100 children’s books and papers on the history of sport.

His mastery of Russian led to him being a friend and interpreter for Alexei Smertin when the Russian World Cup captain played for Pompey in 2003.

That is a remarkable list of achievements for a ‘working-class oik from Portsmouth’ as he described himself.

Jim died last Friday, aged 75, from a brain tumour. He was a lifelong Pompey fan and a popular columnist with The News.

He was born in Portsmouth in 1936. His parents separated and he was brought up by his mother and stepfather in overcrowded rented houses.

After passing the 11-plus he went to Portsmouth Southern Grammar School, gaining four A-levels and a flair for languages.

He was sent to the Joint Services School for Linguists in Cornwall to learn Russian.

Fellow students included playwrights Dennis Potter, Alan Bennett and Michael Frayn, as well as Eddie George, a future governor of the Bank of England.

After demob in 1957 he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain and remained a member until it disbanded in 1991.

By then he had married: his wife Annick gave birth to two daughters in Moscow.

‘My first thought was to write home and let mum know where I was,’ he wrote.

‘She needed my address so she could post me the weekly pink football paper, so I could keep up with Portsmouth’s slide down the four divisions.’

Jim first watched Pompey when he was six. He saw them become champions after the Second World War and was a Fratton End season-ticket holder until his death.

When Jim started researching Soviet sport he met the legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin who featured in a Fratton Park song in the late 60s: ‘Aye, aye, aye-aye/Milkins is better than Yashin/Pointer is better than Eusebio-o-o/And Ipswich [or whoever] are in for a thrashing!’

Jim’s first two daughters, Tania and Nadine, were born in Moscow. They lived with their mother after Jim and Annick divorced on their return to Britain in 1965.

In 1971 he started lecturing in Russian studies at Bradford University, where he remained for 18 years. One of his children’s books, Sweet Clarinet, won a national award and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Award.

He and his second wife, Rashida, had three children, Sean, Nathalie and Catherine. They separated after 25 years and Jim married for a third time two years ago, to a Russian Elena Perchina. His wife and five children survive him.

Jim Riordan: born October 10, 1936; died February 10, 2012.