Socrates MacSporran

Socrates MacSporran
No I am not Chick Young, but I can remember when Scottish football was good

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

The Grass v Plastic argument will probably never end

TERRY VENABLES is now one of football's “Yesterday's Men,” but, back in 1970, he co-authored, with Scottish writer Gordon Williams, one of the few believable examples of football fiction.

Terry Venables - was ahead of the game 40 years ago

'They Used To Play On Grass' was a world away from Roy of the Rovers, or Nick Smith and Arnold Tabbs, or “Limp Along” Leslie – some of the staples of football fiction in the DC Thomson comics of my youth. It is up there with the likes of Bob Crampsey's fitba novel: 'The Manager,' a terrific tale, well-told, except, and it almost seems blasphemous to say this, Bob was a gentleman, and sadly, his attempt to write a sex scene was a rare failure; Brian Glanville's two full-length efforts at the football novel: 'The Rise of Gerry Logan,' and 'Goalkeepers Are Different,' also a stand-out in a fairly thin field.

They used to play on grass was written at a time when Venables was still playing – with Queen's Park Rangers, who were the first senior British team to introduce a plastic pitch, and it forecast the day would come when every pitch was an artificial one.

Now, as we know, the Loftus Road pitch was pretty ropey and was dug-up, to be replaced by a grass one, but, that was nearly half a century ago, and, technology has moved-on somewhat since then.

Allan Massie, best-known as a writer of historical fiction, writes a very erudite Saturday rugby column in The Scotsman. A decade or so back, he introduced me, when reading his column, to an old Borders tradition which, up to then I was unaware of. This was “Aye Beenism,” which can be explained as someone suggests an innovation, only to be told:

Naw Son, ye cannae dae that, it's aye been and aye will be done this way.” This is particularly true in Borders rugby.

But, events this week have convinced me, Aye Beenism is not restricted to rugby – it happens in football too. That's the only reason I can come up with for PFA Scotland's petition to try to force Hamilton Academical, Kilmarnock and Livingston to rip-up their state-of-the-art 3G and 4G pitches and revert to grass – for what looks to me to be no other good reason than: “It's aye been and aye will be grass we play on.”



ONE AYE BEEN which I am certain Aye Will Be is that we will always be stuck with bad behaviour from a minority of Scottish fans – and, and not only because there are more of them – the majority of these unsavoury incidents will involve followers of the Bigot Brothers.

Equally certainly, even when confronted by pictures, such as those on social media of those broken seats at Rugby Park on Sunday, and the video footage of Kris Boyd being struck on the elbow by a coin, flares being thrown from the Celtic support, and pitch invasions you will find the Celtic Apologists attempting to cling onto the moral high ground and playing down the incidents.

James Kelly MSP, led the campaign to get rid of OBFA - and how have his fellow Celtic fans thanked him?

Remember, it was the “Celtic-minded” MSP James Kelly, who led the ridiculous decision to get shot of OBFA (the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act), without replacing it adequately. Kelly, I have to admit, comes across as an idiot, but, I doubt if he is as daft as those Celtic fans who misbehaved at Rugby Park.

Of course, the self-styled Greatest Fans In The World, will ignore these “minor” incidents and insist: they are not as bad as the other lot. A plague on both their houses.

I have said before, and will surely say again – until the SFA grows a pair and calls the Big Two and their fans to account – there will always be bad behaviour at football.

Strict Liability will go a long way to curing the cancer. If clubs lost points for fan misbehaviour, they would actually start to treat the fans well, give them a bit of a say in how the club is run, and I would suggest – benefit financially and in other ways.

For instance, given the season ticket numbers of both clubs are higher than the maximum capacity of every other club ground in Scotland, Celtic and Rangers HAVE to operation a rationing scheme for tickets to away games.

It stands to reason, season ticket holders and members of official supporters clubs have a far-greater chance of getting tickets for away matches involving the two clubs. Therefore, the clubs have a fairly good idea of which of their fans and supporters clubs are at any game.

So, they must know which season ticket holders and supporters clubs were in the vicinity of the areas from which the flares and coin were thrown and the seats wrecked.

It the clubs tell these clubs/season ticket holders: you were in the vicinity, you're on-suspicion, so, you're not getting into the away ticket ballot for X number of games – the knock-on effect would be on these individuals and clubs to self-police, start identifying the hooligans and getting them banned.

That's what would happen with Strict Liability – and, I am sure, before ere long, Scottish football would be a far happier and safer place.

However, there would need to be a pay-off. Registration of official supporters, allowing the clubs to target their market with offers etc, surely discounts on admissions, club merchandising and so forth would be a bonus for the fans as well.

The clubs accept a lot of love from their fans, without being too giving in the opposite direction. A wee change there might give our clubs a big boost.



MIND you, expecting any kind of meaningful change for the better to come out of the Hampden sixth-floor corridor is asking a lot. That lot up there definitely could not run a menauge.

Scott Brown got a second yellow, then a red for this celebration, but, should have been red-carded earlier

I have yet to hear of any action being taken on Scott Brown's straight-leg take-out of Greg Taylor on Sunday. That challenge was, to me, an even-clearer straight red card than the Allan McGregor challenge on young Ferguson in the Aberdeen v Rangers game. Maybe it's because I'm a goalkeeper, but, unfortunate though the contact was, I saw nothing wrong with McGregor going for and getting the ball as he did. Yet the compliance officer, who has never been closer to the field than the spectating areas, landed him with a two-match ban.

The Brown assault on Taylor was a red card every day of the week, but, nothing happened. Nae wonder Scottish football is in a mess, when assaults like that go unpunished.

I appreciate SFA special by-laws 16.90 and 18.88 ensure, normal rules do not apply to the captains of Rangers and Celtic, but, come on – enough is enough.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Banks Of England Has Gone

ANOTHER of the all-time legends has gone, as, inevitably, time caught-up with Gordon Banks overnight. The tributes have been lengthy and fulsome, and, as a former goalkeeper, albeit of less-stellar status, I felt I had to add my twopence worth.



Gordon Banks OBE – goalkeeper

Born,Sheffield: 30 December, 1937

Died,Stoke-on-Trent: 12 February, 2019, aged 81



GORDON Banks, who was diagnosed as suffering from kidney cancer in 2015, has died after a short illness, is best-known for making: “The Save of the Century,” when he kept out a Pele header during the England v Brazil World Cup game in Mexico in 1970. He may not be the GOAT (Greatest of All-Time) when it comes to goalkeeping, but, he is on the short leet along with Lev Yashin, Dino Zoff, Gianluigi Buffon and Peter Shilton – the man who succeeded him for club and country. And, none of them pulled off a stop to equal that one from Pele.

He back-stopped England's World Cup victory in 1966, when he was named as Goalkeeper of the Tournament, confirming that, at that time, he had overtaken Yashin as the game's leading active custodian.

Banks was born in Sheffield, the son of an illegal street bookmaker. Gordon left school to work in a coal merchant's, a job which he credited with building-up his upper body strength. He had played for Sheffield Schoolboys, but this cut little ice with professional clubs and, as a 15-year-old he was playing non-league football for Millspaugh FC. Alan Hodgkinson was a near-contemporary, but, while “Hodgie” was quickly picked-up by Sheffield United and went on to become a club legend, neither the Blades, nor local rivals Sheffield Wednesday showed any interest in signing Banks.

He was still with them, working as a hod carrier and playing on Saturdays, when he was spotted by Chesterfield, who gave him an extended trial, then put him on a £3 per week contract as a part-time player in 1953.

National Service with the Royal Signals saw him taste success for the first time, as they won the Rhine Cup, and, then, back in England, he helped them to the 1956 FA Youth Cup Final, where they lost to a team of “Busby Babes” which included future England team mate Bobby Charlton.

Chesterfield's Scottish manager, Doug Livingstone, gave him his first team debut in November, 1958, against Colchester United and, after just 26 appearances, in the close season of summer 1959, another Scottish manager, Matt Gillies of Leicester City, paid £7000 to take him to Filbert Street, where he was competing for the first-team slot with two Scots, the long-serving Scotland cap Jock Anderson and Dave MacLaren. By the end of that first season, however, Banks was first-choice.

Many people point to Banks as the founder of Chesterfield's legacy of great goalkeepers. Maybes aye maybes naw. He was not the first England goalkeeper to emerge from the Spirerites, but, his predecessor, the great Sam Hardy, was strutting his stuff for the club half a century before Banks, prior to going off the glory with Liverpool.

Since Banks, Scotland's Jim Brown, capped just the once, against Romania in 1975, has gone on to win a full cap, and, while he never played for the club, Bob Wilson was raised in Chesterfield, while several other former Spirerites, such as Steve Osgrizovic have gone on to have food careers.

Banks went on to play 356 first team games, in eight years at Leicester, during which he was twice a Wembley loser, in the 1961 and 1963 A Cup finals, in which they lost to double-winners Tottenham in the first final and Manchester United in the second. He did, however enjoy League Cup success over Stoke City in 1964.

With Leicester challenging for honours, he began to be spoken-of as a potential England player. He made two Under-23 appearances before Alf Ramsey handed him the first of what would become at that time an England record for a goalkeeper of 73 caps, for the 1963 game against Scotland. Ironically, his final cap was also against Scotland, at Hampden in May, 1972.

Jim Baxter beat him twice as ten-man Scotland won, but, Banks would go on to quickly establish himself as England's undisputed number one for the remainder of the decade and beyond. He faced Scotland 11 times, and, after losing three of his first five games against us, he was never again on the losing side, finishing with a record of: p.11 - w.5 - d.3 - l.3 - goals conceded 13. Mind you, 11 of goals went past him in those first five England v Scotland games. After 1967, we only beat him twice in six games.

He even, in 1967, survived being dropped by Leicester, in favour of the teen aged Peter Shilton, a set-back brought on when Shilton, who always had a firm belief in his ability challenged City to play him or sell him, so the directors decided to keep Shilton and cash-in on the established Banks, who was sold to Stoke City for £50,000.

In retrospect, this was a bargain, since around the same time, West Ham paid £65,000 for Kilmarnock and Scotland 'keeper Bobby Ferguson who, good though he was, was no Banks.

Tony Waddington the Stoke boss built a “Dad's Army” squad of experienced professionals, which proved hard to beat, but, as with Leicester, Banks, at club level, had to be content with just one winner's medal, when they beat Chelsea in the 1972 League Cup final.

The move to Stoke in no way harmed Banks' England prospects as Ramsey continued to see him, Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton as the spine of the side which, although they lost to Scotland, at Wembley in 1967, finished third in the 1968 European Championships, went to Mexico for the 1970 World Cup as one of the favourites.

 Gordon Banks makes that save from Pele

That save from Pele in Guadalajara was the highlight of a difficult tournament for Banks, who struggled with the heat and humidity, and was then knocked-out by a bad attack of “Montezuma's Revenge,” and executing the “Mexican two-step between his hotel bed and the toilet as West Germany knocked-out England in an epic quarter-final.

If the Pele save has defined him, it allegedly brought the comment from the watching Bobby Moore: "You're losing it Banksie - at one time you'd have held that," he was also guilty of at least one grave mistake, when, having noticed a peculiarity of how Banks cleared from hand, George Best nicked the ball off him and scored in a Northern Ireland v England international. However, the referee rescued Banks, by deciding Best's foot was dangerously high when he stole the ball off him.

Stand-in Peter Bonetti had to carry the can for England's loss in Leon, and, to this day there is a belief in England, had Banks not been laid low by that stomach bug, they would have won.

The 1972 European Championship qualifiers, in which England again lost to the Germans, would be his final international tournament, as, in October, 1972, returning home from treatment on a shoulder injury, he was involved in a car crash, sustaining injuries which included the loss of his vision in his right eye. He formally retired in the summer of 1973.

He played 250 games for Stoke and when later cameos in the US and Ireland are included, in his 25-year professional career between 1953 and 1978, he played over 750 games.

He did not convert well to coaching, or management, unlike the likes of Hodgkinson or Wilson, he never cashed-in on the fashion for specialist goalkeeping coaches, and, after being sacked by non-league Telford United he largely turned his back on the game.

If playing honours largely eluded him, one World Cup winner's medal (which he later sold for nearly £125,000), two League Cup winner's medals and 73 caps seems a small return for such a great player, he garnered off-field honours.

In addition to his OBE, an honorary doctorate from Keele University, the Freedom of Stoke-on-Trent and being appointed Life President of Stoke City in 2000, in succession to Sir Stanley Matthews, he was an inaugural inductee onto Sheffield's Walk of Fame and won the following honours: FIFA Goalkeeper of the Year: 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971; member, FIFA World Cup All-Star team member, 1966; Daily Express Sportsman of the Year 1971 and 1972; Football Writers Association Footballer of the Year 1972; Football League 100 Legends, 1973; North American Soccer League Goalkeeper of the Year 1977; the FIFA 100, 200; PFA Team of the Century 2007.

There is a statue of Banks outside Stoke City's home ground. It was unveiled by Pele in 2008, but, ignore what you read in many newspaper obituaries, it does not depict THAT save, instead it shows him holding aloft the Jules Rimet Trophy (the World Cup) in 1966.

He met his wife Ursula while doing his National Service in Germany, she survives him with their three children,Julia, Wendy and Robert.

Gordon Banks never had a goalkeeping coach, he worked-out the special needs of the position on his own, and did this very well indeed. Arguments about who is the GOAT will continue, but, when it comes to goalkeeping – Gordon Banks will be a contender.


Monday, 4 February 2019

The Ibrox Penalty Boxes - The Fifth Dimension

BIG” as opposed to “Wee” - there are two of them: Kenny MacDonald, long-serving News International football writer, has a nice wee cottage industry on the side, publishing books of Scottish Football quotes.

Mind you, he has never published what I still consider the best one of all, Hugh Burns' take on what it meant to make his Rangers' debut (and rotter that I am, I am not using it here). But, until Hugh's brilliant statement is published, I suppose Ivan Golac, the former Dundee United manager, will hold the Number One spot.

Ivan Golac - a statement of the bleeding obvious

After a magnificently brutal and cynical Ian Ferguson “tackle” went unpunished in a Rangers v United game, Golac nailed it in his post-match press conference, saying:

All over world was penalty – never at Ibrox though.”

Well, I suppose, if he hadn't been struggling to keep his temper and sense of grievous injustice in check, on Saturday night, St Mirren boss Oran Kearney might well have said something like:

They were only ever penalties at Ibrox.”

Mind you, Andrew Dallas is not the first referee to lose the plot when it comes to awarding Rangers penalties at home, and he will not be the last, but, one wonders what his post-match de-brief with his supervisor was like. Let's just say, from the TV evidence, Saturday was not Andrew's best performance, and I wonder what his father – who really was a marvellous referee – made of it.

Dissing” Scottish referees is almost a national obsession, and the Blessed Sir Stephen Clarke, the Kilmarnock manager, was on the case on Killie TV on Monday, in an interview which will probably see him invited up to Hampden for a wee chat and a big fine.

 Steve Clarke - can expect a "come up and see us" letter from Hampden

You see, that's one of the many things the stumble bums who run Scottish football get wrong – they fail totally to see, facts are sacred, but, opinion is free.

FIFA thoughtfully put the latest version of The Laws of the Game, in the writing of which Scotland, via the SFA, has a major say, us being members of IFAB, The International Football Associations Board – the supreme law-making body in the game, on the internet. And from these, I quote from Law V, which covers referees.

  1. The authority of the referee
Each match is controlled by a referee who has full authority to enforce the Laws of the Game in connection with the match.

  1. Decisions of the referee
Decisions will be made to the best of the referee`s ability according to the Laws of the Game and the ‘spirit of the game’ and will be based on the opinion of the referee who has the discretion to take appropriate action within the framework of the Laws of the Game.

The decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play, including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match, are final. The decisions of the referee, and all other match officials, must always be respected.

The above, to me, are the key points when it comes to referees. That second part, about decisions, is one of the crucial areas of the game, highlighting as it does:

  • The seeming acceptance, referees are not going to get every decision correct, Law V (2) mentions decisions being made: “to the best of the referee's ability and the 'spirit of the game'”

  • But for me, the crucial line in Law V (2) is that bit about: “the opinion of the referee.”

The law book goes on to make the crucial point, which sadly is too-often overlooked: that bit about the referee's decision being final, and about respecting that decision.

As one retired former Grade One official said to me: “A referee is never more right than when he gets it wrong – the decision must still be respected.”

I often feel, in today, under the seeming all-seeing eye of the television camera, and from the seeming overpowering desire of some retired player turned pundits to be “edgy” or “controversial”, we no long accept:

  • Referees are human, and nobody gets every decision correct

  • shite happens and we need to move on.

But, having said all that, I do not see why a manager, whose opinion differs from that of the referee, cannot have the freedom – always provided he does not slide into personal invective – to disagree, and say-so, without being invited up to Hampden to answer for his comments.

I also feel, football could learn from rugby when it comes to enforcing respect between referees and managers/coaches. Many a Saturday night, I have gone into a rugby club bar, to see the referee sitting down, having a beer with often both coaches, and explaining contentious decisions to them. I have yet to see such discussions not end amicably.

It is a side issue here, but, in rugby, we match reporting journalists are also free to approach the referees after the game and have things explained to us. I have never been told to go away by a referee, indeed, some of the nicest guys in the game are referees, and I find they are always willing to talk to the press.

The only time I can recall, in many years of covering football, of a referee voluntarily coming into the press room post-match, was the occasion of Willie Young's final game – Kilmarnock v Hibs at Rugby Park.

We asked if Willie would come up, he did, and his brief press conference was a joy. That is something the SFA should consider making more than a once in a career event.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, Rangers getting handed a stream of contentious penalties at Ibrox, conspiracy theories – even Masonic conspiracy theories, are a handy wee diversion for the numpties along the sixth-floor corridors at Hampden.

For as long as our press corps are obsessed by and building up these incidents into major issues, they are not looking at the many other, more-serious issues which continue to bedevil the national game.




Friday, 1 February 2019

Own Goals - An SFA Speciality

AS I have been insisting for years, when it comes to intelligence, good sense and doing the right thing, the sixth-floor corridor at Hampden is a genuine desert. Never mind Flower of Scotland, their anthem appears to be 'My Way', and probably the Sid Vicious rather than the Frank Sinatra version.

Is Sid Vicious an SFA role model - they want to run Hampden his way

Take the latest own goal from our high heid yins. If reports today are to be believed, the sensible deal for the SFA to buy Hampden Park and redevelop it appears to have stalled, because of the governing body's refusal to allow Glasgow City Council a seat at the top table.

FFS, do they not realise – Glasgow has turned SNP, they are the Masters now; the days are past when sweetheart deals could be concluded over a half-time pie in the corporate seats at Celtic Park, by coonsillors who got a Parkhead season ticket along with their seat in the Council Chamber.

Who will have the big shout when it comes to redeveloping the now faded Old Lady? Why, the City Council. The most-spectacular own goal I ever saw was a rocket, past Alan Combe into the postage stamp corner of the St Mirren goal, by Jamie Fullarton, at Tannadice. Jamie's rocket was a tap-in compared to this SFA own goal.

Mind you, being around Hampden too long does strange things to football administrators' limited supply of brain cells. Why, I still remember that great line reported by the late Hughie McIlvanney, as he departed Hampden after the European Cup Final of 1960, to be told by a then service SFA councillor: “Of course, the Scottish football fan would not pay to watch that kind of football every week.”

If only he had given us the chance to prove him wrong.

Hopefully, common sense will win in this latest Hampden stand-off, but, as ever where the SFA is concerned, Ah hae ma doots.



WEE LUGGIE,” or Paul Whitehead Sturrock, to give him his Sunday name, had a wee rant on the 'Scottish Football of Yesteryear' pages of Facebook this week – about the mind-numbing, boring, lack of invention in today's top football.

Paul Sturrock

The Dundee United and Scotland legend had a point, when he wrote: I watch football most nights and must admit that I am becoming more disheartened by the style of play and the system which most teams adopt. Square and back passing seems to be the main element of the modern game which I believe is detrimental to the fans enjoyment and dare I say it, I am becoming bored of. I thought i would never see the day I would make comment of the game I love but I have seen many changes over the year so I hope time will again make our game enjoyable to watch.”

Well said Wee Man, and he didn't find any dissenting voices, with several other weel-kent former players weighing-in in support.

Sammy McGivern was quick to say: “Don't hold your breath Paul.”

Simon Stainrod joined in, adding: “All because it is coached by educators not footballers.

“It is criminal how boring some of these people have developed the way of playing.
Get rid of them and get some fun, character and excitement back.”

Simon then added this helpful nugget: “Actual conversation with top scout at top English Premiership club: 'Simon can you look out for players in France that haven't had the flair and individuality coached out of them, we can't get them in England any more'.”

Austin McCann joined in with: “Used to watch every game going on the TV. Find it a struggle now.”

 Joe Harper doing what Joe Harper did



Joe Montgomery Harper, that man of many clubs and many more goals, mainly for Aberdeen, Hibs and Scotland offered this pearl of wisdom: “The more times you get the ball into the box the more chance you’ve got to score “ SIMPLE“.”


Mind you if you found goal-scoring as easy as wee Joe used to make it appear, everything is simple.

Another former Pittodrie favourite, Ally Shewan, offered this contribution: “I agree with you Paul, the game has been spoiled by the foreign managers , we miss the likes of Jock Stein and Eddie Turnbull and of course Sir Alex Ferguson.”

Yet another contributor offered some criticism of Pep Guardiola, but did not find much support, indeed, David Winnie, a Scottish Cup winner with St Mirren, now a lawyer specialising in sporting matters and one of the small number of Scottish coaches to have coached in Europe, with KR Reykjavik, came up with this telling contribution: “The game evolves and will continue to do that. Blame cannot be attached to Pep Guardiola. He's taken the game to another level frankly.

The problem as far as I can see in Scotland is that there isn't an identifiable style to the way we play. Frankly, our players don't have the nous or technical ability to match the Spanish, Germans or English for that matter. But yet, we haven't found a system that we're comfortable with.

Our climate doesn't help and the lack of decent facilities. However, getting the ball forward at the earliest chance is also foolhardy. Do that against a decent Euro team and they outwit you and let you run around for 5 mins trying to get it back again. In short, no easy answer!”

M'learned friend Mr Winnie's contribution brought Luggie, who had kicked the whole debate off, back to the table with this: “David I agree Barcelona is the complete team due to the quality players, for example Neymar leaves, Coutinho takes his place. My problem is with coaches trying to put square pegs into round holes trying to force players who are incapable of a high standard of passing plus trying to play a system that they are uncomfortable attempting.

We played one player up the park who got early support from four players. When out of possession one player was left up the park - again positive forward passing and running.

When out of possession Barcelona are the best pressing side in the world, which was the reason our team defeated so-many European sides.”

I commend the Scottish Football of Yesteryear Facebook site to anyone with an interest in our game. To see what legends such as Luggie, Wee Joe and  others think of today's game is an education, and Luggie, one of the official moderators of the site, is hoping to see more, similar debates, kicked-off in the future.

Scottish football needs such sites, and more discussion on fitba above the "personality" guff and Old Firm nonsense which is the staple diet of our mainstream media.

Friday, 25 January 2019

A Legend Has Gone

PARDON the self-indulgence, but, I could not allow his passing to go unremarked, without paying tribute to one of the giants of my craft, and a fellow Ayrshireman.




Hugh McIlvanney OBE – sports writer


Born, Kilmarnock: 2 February, 1934

Died, London: 24 January, 2019, aged 84


IN Ayrshire, 25 January, 2019 is as good a day as any to reflect on the life of a giant of literature – Hugh McIlvanney, who died last night.

McIlvanney was a unique talent, the only sports writer ever to be named Journalist of the Year, a man who, for over half a century was at the peak of his craft in describing sport, that religion of the masses.

Yet, he himself would point-out, he wasn't even the best writer in his family, giving primacy to his late younger brother Willie, one of Scotland's greatest novelists. The McIlvanneys were born in Riccarton, which locals will tell you is the true heart of Kilmarnock. Hughie shone at Kilmarnock Academy, leaving to begin his long career in journalism as a trainee reporter with the local paper, the Kilmarnock Standard.

From there, by now a news reporter, he moved on for a short spell in the Glasgow office of the Daily Express, before heading along the A8 to North Bridge and the impressive offices of The Scotsman.

It was here that he became a sports writer, and a very good one. His report on the legendary real Madrid v Eintracht Frankfort European Cup Final of 1960, a “runner” - that is, a series of short paragraphs, dictated down the telephone to a copy-taker in the office while the game is in progress is often held-up as one of the finest examples of this now lost art.

His final paragraph stands-out as a fitting tribute to one of the greatest matches ever:

“Fittingly, the great Glasgow stadium responded with the loudest and most sustained ovation it has given to non-Scottish athletes. The strange emotionalism that overcame the huge crowd as the triumphant Madrid team circled the field at the end, carrying the trophy they have held since its inception, showed they had not simply been entertained. They had been moved by the experience of seeing sport played to its ultimate standards.”


Almost as good was his follow-up, a report on a short conversation he had as he left the ground, with one of the then movers and shakers in the SFA, who McIlvanney reported as saying:

Of course, the Scottish football public would not pay to watch that kind of football every week.” Aye right!!

Scotland could not hold that level of talent, so he took Johnson's High Road South, to The Observer, where he quickly became Chief Sports Writer, a post he filled with distinction for over 30-years. He travelled the world, covering World Cups, Heavyweight title fights, major golf tournaments and Olympic Games. Bringing to every report his unique insight and his great gift for having the exact phrase for the occasion.

He was a keen student of the Turf, making significant financial donations, at least to the bookmakers' profits, and revelling in the atmosphere of Aintree on Grand National Day, Derby Day at Epsom, Royal Ascot and, perhaps his favourite occasion – the Cheltenham Festival.

His description of “Himself,” the great Arkle, running-down Mill House is perhaps the best example you can find of descriptive big race reporting:

“As Arkle jockey Pat Taaffe, who had planned it all that way, began to close on the turn at the top of the hill, the incredible Irish support, the farmers and stableboys and priests, roared in unison: ‘Here he comes.’ It was like a beleaguered army greeting the hero who brings relief. He came all right, to run the heart out of Mill House, and that great horse was never the same again.” That takes you right there.

Has anyone ever captured the genius of George Best with the same elan as this McIlvanney piece on the Irish legend:

Best had come in along the goal line from the corner-flag in a blur of intricate deception. Having briskly embarrassed three or four challengers, he drove the ball high into the net with a fierce simplicity that made spectators wonder if the acuteness of the angle had been an optical illusion.


What was the time of that goal?” asked a young reporter in the Manchester United press box.

Never mind the time, son,” said an older voice beside him. “Just write down the date.”


Or there was his take on Muhammad Ali thrashing George Foreman in “The Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974:

“We should have known that Muhammad Ali would not settle for any ordinary old resurrection. His had to have an additional flourish. So, having rolled away the rock, he hit George Foreman on the head with it.”


After that fight McIlvanney demonstrated he had mastered old-fashioned foot in the door news reporting, pounding the streets of Kilmarnock and Glasgow all those years before. He took a taxi out to Ali's villa, blagged his way in, got an exclusive interview and life-time admission to The Greatest's inner circle. Gallus or what.

And, did any of the many Scottish journalists there capture the magic and insanity of Lisbon, 1967 quite as well as this extract from McIlvanney's Observer piece:

"At the airport, the impression is of a Dunkirk with happiness. The discomforts of mass evacuation are tolerable when your team have just won the greatest victory yet achieved by a British football club, and completed a clean sweep of the trophies available to them that has never been equalled anywhere in the world.


They even cheered Helenio Herrera and his shattered Inter when the Italians left for Milan yesterday evening. "Inter, Inter, Inter." The chant resounded convincingly through the departure lounge, but no one was misled. In that mood, overflowing with conquerors' magnanimity they might have given Scot Symon a round of applause.


"Typically, within a minute the same happily dishevelled groups were singing: "Ee Aye Addio, Herrera's on the Buroo." The suggestion that the most highly paid manager in Europe is likely to be queueing at the Labour Exchange is rather wild but the comment emphasised that even the least analytical fan had seen through the hectic excitement of a unique performance to the essential meaning of the event.”



Even his one-liners were special: Joe Bugner – the physique of a Greek statue, but fewer moves.” Or his take on Carlos Teves' departure from Manchester City: “Whatever it costs Manchester City to get rid of him is a tolerable outlay on disinfectant.”


He had a volcanic temper, he could be a handful in drink, and the denizens of Irvine, who witnessed the dispute still speak in awe of a full-out argument/scrap with brother Willie, when they fell-out at a Burns Night dinner.

But when, cigar clamped between his teeth, he sat down at his typewriter or lap top to write his match reports – and at his best he was a match reporter – he immediately went into the “zone”, from which he did not emerge until he was happy with every word, comma or full stop. He was a perfectionist.

But, he wasn't perfect. His Scotsman character assassination of poor Frank Haffey after Wembley 1961 was verging on the cruel – we Scottish goalkeepers have never forgotten.

He was showered with honours: made OBE in 1996, the Scottish Press Awards gave him a special Lifetime Achieve Award in 2004; a year later came that Journalist of the Year Award; in 2008 he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. And a record seven Sports Writer of the Year awards.

Somewhat embarrassingly, in 2011 the Scottish Football Hall of Fame secretly inducted him into membership. It had to be done secretly, since he was Chairman of the Induction Committee, who acted without telling him. He is also in the Press Gazette and English Football Museum's Halls of Fame.

After 30-years, he left The Observer in 1993, for a short spell as a Correspondent at Large for the Daily Express, before settling down to 23 years with the Sunday Times, only finally logging off in 2016. Along the way, be wrote with insight and feeling about the great Scottish football men: the great players: Baxter, Johnstone, Law and Dalglish, but more clearly the great managers – Busby, Shankly, Stein and Ferguson.

His books: 'McIlvanney on Boxing,' (1982), 'McIlvanney on Football,' (1994) and 'McIlvanney on Horse Racing' (co-written with another master, the late Sir Peter O'Sullivan in 1995) are “must haves” for every serious collector of writings on sport.

That said, he was, at his best a reporter – the most information and colour in the fewest words – while other great Scottish sports writers: Norman Mair, Bob Crampsey or Ian Archer, were more essayists.

Hugh McIlvanney was married three times. He is survived by third wife Caroline, and Conn and Elizabeth, the children of his first marriage. The McIlvanney literary legacy is in the safe hands of his nephew, Willie's son, the New Zealand-based novelist and crime writer Liam McIlvanney.