Socrates MacSporran

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

Monday, 18 September 2017

Meadowbank Will Be Missed - We Should Build More Of These Not Demolish What We Have

OCCASIONALLY, I like to indulge myself, by blogging on an issue other than football. This particular post, while it does touch football to an extent, should be considered such a post, so, please bear with me, should you decide to read-on.

Doug Gillon - hard at work

This week-end, the great Doug Gillon, an excellent sports writer who takes his status as: “semi-retired” even more-seriously than I take mine, made one of his sadly too-infrequent appearances in The Herald's sports section. It was well worth reading, as Dougie paid tribute to Meadowbank Stadium, which will, apparently, be demolished in December.

I have fond memories of Meadowbank, having worked there covering various sports – athletics, basketball, football and rugby, to name but a few. I have always thought it a wonderful facility, but, like so many in Scotland, probably badly managed.

Meadowbank is one of those multi-sport, multi-use sports facilities of which there are too-few. I have never been comfortable with the way sports in this country operate in splendid isolation. If the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and AC Milan can successfully operate over several different sports – why not Celtic, Rangers, Hearts or Hibs? After all, these football clubs used to brand themselves “football and athletic clubs”, and the annual Rangers Sports, for instance, was for many years one of the top athletics meets in the UK, with Olympic Champions regularly taking to the Ibrox track.

I have been to Meadowbank to cover local basketball and athletics teams winning national titles; I have been there to cover football; and I was there when it was a regular stop-off on the world athletics circuit. It was a great place for sport, and what short-sightedness and lack of ambition that it should be on the verge of demolition, for what purpose – we hear to feed the Edinburgh housing bubble.

My top Meadowbank memory. Well, nothing quite gets me welling-up like a wonderful Scottish athletics moment. Take your pick from:

The two Ians, Stewart and McCafferty - one-two in 1970

  • Ian Stewart and Ian McCafferty going for gold in the 1970 Commonwealth Games 5000 metres
  • Lachie Stewart charging away from Ron Clarke to win the 10,000 metres at the same games
  • Liz Lynch, as she then was, blitzing the rest of the Commonwealth to win her 10,000 metres gold at the 1986 Commonwealth Games
  • The reception the scandalously overlooked Allan Wells received as he brought the Commonwealth baton into the stadium in 1986.

    Allan Wells - got a fantastic reception in 1986

There were a couple of others from the athletics stadium which have lived long in my memory:

  • A kilted Sir Yehudi Menuhin walking on to join the fiddle orchestra at the 1986 Games opening
  • The young and virtually unknown Michael Johnson bursting clear to win the 200 metres by a huge margin at one of the athletics grand prix there. His sub-20-seconds time still stands as a Scottish all-comers record. I had never heard of him before, but, boy did he make me sit up and pay attention. More than 25-years later, I still find his performance remarkable.

    Michael Johnson - a quite remarkable run at Meadowbank

In the Games Halls, I covered a lot of Scottish Cup wins for Cumnock Academy, Cumnock Curries Basketball Club and St Mirren Basketball Club. I remember one night, when Cumnock Academy went through to contest the Scottish Schools Under-13 and Under-18 finals. The Under-13s was a given, because no other school took it as seriously as Cumnock. But, there was a slight concern over the Under-18 final. On paper, the two teams, Cumnock and a school from Dunfermline, seemed fairly evenly-matched. However, Cumnock had six-foot eight inch centre Alan McBeth, who played in the National League for Cumnock Curries. He was the key, except, he had been off school with chicken pox and was doubtful for the final.

The doctors at Cumnock Surgery assured the school, Alan was no longer infectious, so, while off-school, he could play, but, he would not last long. So, Tommy Campbell the coach and I, as the local paper who would cover the final, hatched a plan. I would collect Alan from his home and drive him to Meadowbank. There, he would be kept out of sight of the opposition, and enter the hall at the very last minute, wearing, rather than his school basketball uniform, his Cumnock Curries' track-suit.

The teams came out for the warm-up, the opposition saw the big boy was not there, and their confidence lifted. Then, with a couple of minutes left of the warm-up, I went and got bit Alan in. He did two lay-ups, then a slam dunk, and, as he dunked, you could feel the confidence fizzle out of the opposition. Even then, Tommy Campbell didn't start him. In fact, Alan didn't get on until, in the second half, the opposition mounted a fight-back.

On he went, to slap away two shots, then block a third, before venturing up-court to dunk one shot. Job done, the opposition collapsed and Alan retired to the bench, before collecting his winner's medal.

Highlight of that night, however, was when one of the security staff entered the hall, huckling in front of him, a couple of Academy first years, wearing that year's unofficial school uniform (this was in the 1980s) – 13-hold Doc Martens, skin-tight jeans and donkey jackets.

Who's responsible for Seb Coe and Steve Ovett here?” He asked. Apparently, bored with the basketball, our two heroes had found their way out onto the track, completed a quick lap, then tried-out the long jump pit. They had a very painful interview with Academy Head of PE Bill Baillie the following morning.

Then there was the Boroughmuir tournament, sponsored by Edinburgh Ford dealers Alexanders, which came down to a final between David Murray's MIM and Sunderland, the English champions. Sunderland had this big, black American forward who had terrorised every player in England. He was a dirty big so-and-so, I say was, because he elbowed one of the Murray guys on the nose – never a tactic you should employ against a Paisley Buddie.

There was a top-of-the-range white Ford Granada behind the goal at one end of Hall One, which, a few seconds after the elbowing had a nice red blob in the middle of the bonnet – that was blood from the American's nose, after our friendly Paisley Buddie re-arranged it for him. Not perhaps basketball's non-contact, family-friendly image.

Football at Meadowbank, however, meant Meadowbank Thistle. I only ever covered one football match there, a St Mirren game which they lost to their hosts, who might by then have switched identity from Meadowbank Thistle to Livingston. That defeat precipitated a full and frank exchange of views between manager Jimmy Bone and one of the St Mirren defenders.

 Jimmy Bone - had a full and frank exchange of views with one of his defenders

St Mirren managed to put an almost-total news black-out on the disagreement, so, while there were plenty of rumours circulating around Paisley, it took some weeks to establish that the pair had indeed come to blows – by which time, peace had broken out – another front-page “splash” missed.

Truth is, being designed primarily as an athletics venue, Meadowbank was not the best stadium at which to report football. The press box, for instance, is lined-up alongside the start-finish line, which makes sense for athletics, but, is hopeless for football. The same problem, by the way, applies to covering Glasgow's rugby matches at Scotstoun.

But, as we are all aware, the press are too-often seen in Britain as a barely-necessary nuisance, to be tolerated rather than encouraged. I will not miss Meadowbank from a work point of view, but, from a purely-sporting viewpoint, the old place will be sadly missed.

The normal fitba rubbish will be back tomorrow.

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