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07/08/2010

AP sportswriter Robert Millward, 58, dies after covering World Cup soccer match

July 8, 2010 |  3:51 pm

Robert Millward, a longtime Associated Press sports writer whose passion for soccer and love of life endeared him to colleagues and competitors alike, died Thursday in South Africa. He was 58.

Millward died apparently of natural causes in Johannesburg. He had just returned from Cape Town, where he covered the Netherlands-Uruguay semifinal in his seventh World Cup.

He was found in his hotel room, and an emergency medical team was unable to revive him.

In a well-traveled AP career spanning three decades, Millward, of Birmingham, England, thrived on big events like the World Cup, the Olympics and the British Open. He joined the AP in London in 1984, left for a brief period in the late '80s and returned in 1990.

He recently counted the sports he had chronicled for the AP and came up with an astonishing total of 52. He had been the AP's chief soccer writer for the last several years.

"Robert was a lovely man who truly had a zest for life," Sports Editor Terry Taylor said. "He had a twinkle in his eye, a sly sense of humor and, usually, a self-deprecating remark that made him an irresistible magnet for all of us. We loved his company as much as he loved big assignments, especially the World Cup. We will miss his good cheer, and we are very, very saddened by his loss."

Millward had a deep and widespread knowledge of all international sports, including soccer, cricket, golf, rugby, boxing and horse racing. His main interest was soccer and, in particular, his beloved local team, West Bromwich Albion.

"Robert's sudden death is a blow to all his colleagues and friends at AP," International Sports Editor Simon Haydon said. "He was a gentleman among British sports writers, always ready to help and always willing and excited to cover new stories.

"Robert's enthusiasm was legendary, and in South Africa he had been at his most versatile, filing impressive footballing stories until hours before his collapse. The Associated Press and sports journalism is a poorer place for Robert's death."

Millward filed his last story earlier Thursday, a preview of the World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands. He wrote that it shaped up as a "potential classic."

Millward's wife, Pauline, said she was arranging for his body to be cremated in South Africa and his ashes returned to England. She said she would like to have them scattered at West Brom's ground, The Hawthorns.

His wife said she spoke with her husband the day before he died. Millward was due to return home this weekend and then travel to St. Andrews, Scotland, for the British Open.

"He was very happy, laughing and joking," she said. "He seemed to be enjoying himself. He was looking forward to coming home."

Before joining the AP, Millward worked at the Birmingham Post. He also worked briefly in Birmingham in the late 1980s as news editor of Caters News, Britain's oldest independent press agency.

"He was such an affable guy, hail fellow well met," said Chris Johnson, a former co-owner of Caters. "He was a real genuine guy and a dedicated professional, somebody who took great joy in doing a job and doing it well and thoroughly. He never left anything half done."

Though he made a full recovery, Millward suffered serious head injuries when he was hit by falling scaffolding while walking down a Birmingham street in the late 1980s.

In addition to World Cups, he covered numerous Olympic Games, both summer and winter, specializing in weightlifting and Alpine skiing.

As a fan, he avidly followed the fortunes of West Brom, which last won the topflight English league title in 1919-20 and the FA Cup in 1968. The club, known as the "Baggies," has bounced back and forth from Premier League promotion and relegation in recent years.

In the workplace or in the pub, Millward was quick with a quip and told a good tale.

"Bob was a great friend to many of us, a genial guy who was always there with a cheery word even to the competition," said Paul Radford, sports editor of Thomson Reuters news agency. "I knew Bob for more than 20 years, and he was a good friend and companion and someone who enjoyed great respect in the agency world."

-- Associated Press

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