TRIBUTES have been paid to former Glasgow Times sports reporter Bert Mitchell following his sudden passing at the age of 56.

Stirling-born Bert, an outstanding squash player, came to journalism later in life after spending 12 years working as an officer with Strathclyde Police.

But he threw himself into his new profession with gusto. He initially covered football, predominantly Partick Thistle, but later branched out into boxing, rugby, and tennis.

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He covered Ricky Burns from his amateur days and was ringside at the Kelvin Hall in 2010 when the Coatbridge boxer beat Roman Martinez to lift the WBO Super-Featherweight title.

Bert, who graduated from Glasgow University with an MA Honours in British, European, and Scottish Medieval History, had corresponded with the Scottish historical novelist Nigel Tranter in his teenage years in the 1980s.

He left the Glasgow Times to write a series of crime fiction novels, which drew on his time in the police and centred around the adventures of Detective Sergeant Gus Thoroughgood, under the name RJ Mitchell. Tommy Jordan, who was Bert’s colleague at the Evening Times for many years, remembers him being a tenacious reporter as well as a larger-than-life character.

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“You never properly appreciated how hard-working Bert was until you had to cover for him on a day off or annual leave,” he said.

“He had by far the most amount of clubs to cover and somehow managed to touch base with all of his clubs before most of us had finished breakfast.

“I remember him saying he was going to meet a contact and came back a couple of hours later sporting a fresh haircut.

“When joking about his contact being his barber, Bert replied, ‘He spends all day speaking to everyone in Maryhill so he is one of the best people to speak to about Partick Thistle. That’s what you call thinking out the box and that was pretty much Bert.

“When in the police, Bert decided he wanted to become a journalist and he had to do it the hard way. He achieved that objective through nothing other than sheer determination and that was the type of colleague he was.

“He was very much his own man, he was strong enough to stand by the courage of his convictions but more than anything, he was someone who lived for his family - Arlene and Ava.”

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BBC Scotland sports journalist and presenter Phil Goodlad got to know Bert well when he was reporting on Burns’ first world title fight and became a close friend. “We met when Ricky had his world title shot against Martinez in the Kelvin Hall,” he said. “Every title defence thereafter, we would share a ringside seat and occasionally go out for a bite to eat beforehand. We would chat about what we were hearing as journalists on the same beat.

“He was a very talented squash player back in the day and was a sports journalist who valued all other sports. In Scotland, football dominates society and every other sport is a minority sport, whether it be rugby, squash, athletics. You have to fight hard to get some focus on it.

“I always felt that Bert cared about getting that sport the column inches that he could. Boxing was his big passion. I, along with a number of other journalists, followed Ricky when he was world champion. But Bert had followed him as an amateur coming up through the ranks.

“He was invested not just in the individual, but in the sport. You always got the impression that when he covered an event he was trying to give the sport, not just the event, some publicity. That is not to say that he didn’t appreciate football and rugby. But for him covering a big fight was as much about promoting boxing as anything.”

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Phil added: “His irreverence always used to make me smile. You could be chatting away with something and suddenly he would come out with something right out of leftfield that would make me chuckle.

“I always remember when Ricky was world champion there was a line put out before a fight against an challenger from Africa by a London-based PR man about how a cursed pigeon was flying from Africa to Glasgow and this was going to end Ricky’s reign.

“Bert was appalled with the total garbage that was being put out in an official press release. He was a serious journalist and he was having a write about a cursed pigeon! He made me laugh.

“He wasn’t just a sports reporter. He studied medieval history and spent years working in the police. He had lived outside of sport. He subsequently used his experiences when he authored his brilliant DS Thoroughgood books. They leaned heavily on his own personal experiences.”

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Bert is survived by his wife Arlene and daughter Ava.

His funeral will be held at Bridge of Allan Parish Church and then Logie Kirk Cemetery on Thursday at 11am.