Rob Batiste

Rob has been a sports reporter for many years following on from John Le Poidevin at the Guernsey Press. They have both been dedicated to cricket and contributed to decades of reports, scorecards, analyses and nostalgia as well as stories and passionate interest. In the many articles in this collection he warrants one of his own, being instrumental in the history of cricket on the island. He collated a list of the best 100 footballers which created a huge interest and led to to a similar 100 best cricketers, all set out in a series of articles after considerable research.

The following was published in The Guernsey Press on Monday 29th January 2024

Rob Batiste at Cobo

IRONICALLY for a man so steeped in newspapers, it was a television series which changed Rob Batiste’s career – indeed, it changed his whole outlook on life.

Nearly 20 years ago, when he joined five million others watching the first episodes of the BBC’s Coast, Rob was increasingly frustrated, restless even, after three decades as a sportswriter and editor. But the programme sowed the seeds of an idea which would restore his love of writing and give him a new perspective on his island home. His wide range of features – and there have been hundreds of them now – on the places we have loved, and people we have known, have also earned him a well-deserved place among the Guernsey Press’s best read and most popular journalists of all time.

‘I needed a change,’ says Rob, recalling that period. ‘After maybe 10 years, the pressure of the sports editor’s role got to me. I looked around and put out a few feelers about doing something else. Around that time, I watched Coast on the BBC and pretty quickly I thought a Guernsey version would be good. I went into a morning conference here [at the Press] and suggested it. The feedback was basically “good idea but who’s going to do it?” After going in and mentioning it two or three times more, probably in one of the fits of pique I’ve had occasionally, I said “OK, I’ll bloody well do it myself”. I set out to research and write the first one and I realised, coming up to the age of 50, that I had been walking around my island with my eyes closed. Since then, I haven’t looked back. It’s been like a second career, and I’ve loved every minute of it.’

For more than a decade, Rob combined writing features, primarily ‘Coast’ and his nostalgia series, ‘Lookback’, with running the sports desk. Today, in a retirement which doesn’t look much like retirement, he concentrates on the features only, and he hopes to continue for some time yet. ‘There are many more good stories in those archives to be found and brought up to date and retold. That’s what I try to do – bring nostalgia to life, making the stories relevant to today. When I’m researching, my golden rule is that if I come across a story and enjoy it myself, I’ll tackle it for the paper, but if not, I won’t do it. Even then, there are some good old stories but written as dull as dishwater, so it’s about giving them a modem twist and making them relevant to our readers. I never stop stumbling across fascinating material’.

As the island has gradually become older, and with more baby boomers in retirement and their post-war years of spectacular growth behind us, at times nostalgia has felt more like a belief than entertainment. ‘Quite often people say, “I really like your stuff”, and I joke with them and say “ah, you’re getting old”,’ says Rob.

But one should certainly be cautious about the past. As Julian Barnes wrote in his Booker prize-winning novel The Sense of an Ending, ‘what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed’. Part of the appeal of Rob’s writing is that he is chronicling the past, not venerating it.

 ‘I know what you mean. I don’t look at things as being better years ago. I don’t go along with that at all. When I was a boy, we didn’t have an inside toilet (are you reading this, Peter Ferbrache?) and upstairs we didn’t even have electricity. That wasn’t that long ago, and it was quite a common experience. The island has become much more prosperous. Look at buildings in Town, for instance. A lot of them were ugly and dilapidated. Parts of Town were a dump. The condition of a lot of the island was a mess. I haven’t become nostalgic in that respect. Yes, it’s a more hectic life, there’s too much traffic and so on, but in terms of prosperity we’re laughing, or we should be.’

Rob is a Cobo boy. His childhood home was a rented cottage 100 yards behind the Rockmount, until the family moved to Les Genats estate when he was about 11. Sport was his first love, inherited from his dad, who played for Guernsey in what was then known as the Schoolboy Muratti and then in Sylvans’ Priaulx team of the 1950s. ‘Dad played against Jersey, when he was 14, with a hat on because he had to protect a hole in his skull. Given the story behind that, I’m lucky to be here. In 1946, when I think Dad was nine, one day he and some mates ran down from Castel School to Albecq to play around. There was a wooden dinghy on the headland at Fort Hommet, but it was an area still mined from the Occupation. Being a bit of a rascal, Dad said “let’s take that dinghy and row to Cobo”, but when they got to the dinghy the whole thing blew up. He ran blinded up to Wally Chick’s house at Retot Lane. The Chicks phoned for an ambulance.

‘Dad spent more than two weeks in a coma with shrapnel in his skull. Luckily, in the end, he was fine, but for many years he had a weakness in his skull and had to protect it.’ In 1957, only a month after Rob was born, his dad was one of the founder members of Cobo Cricket Club. Rob recalls many happy summer evenings at the KGV watching his dad play. Rob captained Guernsey in the first under-23 inter-insular and at one time was on the brink of the full inside side. For 20 years, he helped run Cobo. ‘I was selfish really, spending so much time at cricket. Sports reporting meant a lot of weekend and evening work anyway and then, when I had spare time, I chose to play cricket rather than, say, going to Herm with Julie [Rob’s wife] and the kids in my father-in-law’s boat. I wish I’d spent more time with them, but you get wrapped up in things.’ Today, Rob and Julie’s daughter, Emma, is a well-respected physiotherapist, and their son, Michael, is a talented sub-editor at the Press.

Rob thinks he was a slightly better footballer than cricketer. He was a very promising junior footballer. He followed his dad by playing in the Schoolboy Muratti. In the mid-1970s, he was part of Rovers’ first-ever Priaulx side, and he was banging in goals with sufficient regularity to be selected for a senior island training squad while still part of the Junior Muratti set-up. Sadly, a dreadful injury intervened. ‘It was two weeks before the Junior Muratti. We were playing a crack public school from England on a cold evening at the Corbet Field. We were winning 4-1, I’d scored a hat trick, and about 10 minutes from the end I got my leg smashed, snapped in half basically.’

Rob was as disappointed to miss out on a YMCA national final at the Royal Albert Hall as he was on the Junior Muratti, which reveals much about the prestige and ethos of Capelles Youth Club in those days. He got to the Royal Albert Hall in the end, a year or two later, but only to hold a ladder for a Capelles gymnastics display. Rob’s injury did not heal well. ‘I had two years of misery really,’ he says. Everything that could have gone wrong in recovery went wrong, and he eventually required 10 operations on his left leg. ‘I ended up contracting a rare bone disease, which in pre-penicillin days would have killed me. They say it’s the bone version of polio. To all intents and purposes, that was the end of playing football for me. I came back and played a bit, but nowhere near the same speed or fitness or standard.’

However, out of this adversity came an unexpected job offer which would lead Rob into his career in journalism. He had spurned a job in a bank to work in greenhouses – ‘we were young lads picking tomatoes, carefree, having a whale of a time’ – but when he broke his leg he found there was no sick pay. ‘I then did a myriad of little jobs, including six great months running the cargo office at the airport for British Airways, which was a wonderful job involving very little work and lots of drinking coffee, and working for Dave Falla, a wonderful man, moving plants around on his vans, when totally out of the blue I got a phone call at home from John Le Poidevin, who was creating the sports department at the Press, and he asked me if I wanted to have a go at sports writing.’ Rob’s first task, ‘very much on trial, was to report on an exhibition snooker match between the world number one and two at the North Social Club. ‘I was gobsmacked. I thought “this is all right”. I never looked back.

For years, before department himself, Rob worked alongside sports writing greats, such as ‘JLeP’, Rex Bennet and Dave Edmonds. ‘What I learned from them was not to be afraid to write what I thought. You have opinions. You can’t sit on the fence all the time. Sometimes that would mean people thought you were a so-and-so one week, until you praised them the next week, but you learned to live with all that. And I think people in sport accepted the praise and criticism a bit more back then. Things were also different in the sense that it was much easier dealing with sports authorities then. There was more openness, like reporters being able to attend Guernsey Football Association Council meetings. In the end, I think some of the political issues around the bigger sports, football and cricket, wore me down and led to the frustrations I spoke about earlier.’

Rob has not left the sports scene altogether. He remains involved in football, assisting Rangers in their recent efforts to return the club to past glories, and what he describes as ‘a bit of bowls’, but he is more careful to retain a balance between sport, writing, family life and other interests. Last year, he published his latest book, Greats, and he says he would like to do ‘a couple more’ books.

‘There are a couple of big subjects I’d like to tackle, if I can find the time. I’m a granddad and spend quite a bit of time looking after the grandkids, which is great fun. I don’t want to be stuck inside researching every day of the week. I’ve got a good balance at the moment, which makes it enjoyable’.