Football, as they say, is all about opinions so we stand today, the new season just upon us, as a nation divided. There is no universal agreement over the best moment in the Sportscene at 40 programme and this debate may never be settled.
In the one camp there are those of us who believe that for daring, cunning, urgency, agility and sheer love for football, it was the ticketless fellow clambering across the rooftops to seek out the best vantage point for Dundee United’s winning of the 1982-83 Premier League.
This clip was so evocative that a back-story for this fan was quickly assembled. He was born in Bonnie Dundee only to be plucked from the bosom of his city for a tug-of-love drama which took him to 17 different countries and only on that day of days did he finally manage to get back home. No, he’d always stayed locally, was a figure of some notoriety, answering to many names, one of which was Thomas O’Malley, after the most streetwise of The Aristocats, because he was so nifty going up drainpipes and across tiles – usually making good his retreat before the man of the house returned from the nightshift.
But there is also huge support for another nugget from the archives, again demonstrating unalloyed joy for the national game. This guy, I think, was an aficionado of Hearts. He was also enjoying an unrivalled view – atop a kiosk at the back of a high terracing. A goal had just been scored and he was going crazy. His attire – from the bubble perm down to the leatherette loafers worn with white socks – was spectacular. But here it was the occupant of the kiosk who was deserving of the back-story: what did he or she sell? Pies, programmes, lucky white heather, The Wee Red Book or macaroon bars? And just how hellish was that box when some clown jumped up and down on it?
Memories. As Barbra Streisand once sang: “Misty slurry-puddle memories of the way we were”. But whichever was your favourite moment from Saturday’s anniversary retrospective, there can be no doubt about the most thrilling five minutes in the first edition proper of the new season the following night – Archie Macpherson back at the microphone for the Dundee United-Aberdeen game.
“There’s a shot!” Just three words – well, more like one word actually, “THERE’S-A-SHOT!” – but they mean so much to Scots of a certain age. “THERE’S-A-BALL!… THERE’S-A-CROSS!… THERE’S-A-CHANCE!… ” Oh, how we’ve missed the wise ginger owl of the commentary-box eyrie. How many of you want him back on Sportscene every week, not just for that guest appearance to mark the show’s 40th? I thought so: everybody.
The campaign starts here.
To hear Archie rasp and woof and break off to ponder a literary reference then rush to catch up with the action again was to be transported back to a sunnier, happier time. For those blissful five minutes I was in my parents’ house, in front of the three-bar electric fire, dressed a whole lot snappier than that fan with the perm (Oxford Bags, Ben Sherman, College V), passing round the Matchmakers and not yet sated from the classic Saturday night telly schedule because the football was coming and as usual it was going to be brilliant.
The trouble with Sportscene as it exists currently was summed by Stuart Cosgrove, our guide for the exercise in nostalgia. Less is more, he remarked, meaning that when the show only broadcast highlights from one match, back in Archie’s pomp, that was absolutely fine and all we ever wanted. No one was heard to grumble: “Give us all the matches. Give us all the goals. It doesn’t matter that we’re left no real impression of how even a single game ebbed and flowed, its true narrative. Just give us the goals.”
This is what’s come to pass. It’s not Sportscene’s fault; the trend everywhere is to feed goals – lots of goals, all of them – down the gullets of fans who crave the money-shot of the ball rippling the net, again and again. But I don’t think in Scotland this has done the national sport a great service.
Sportscene makes the boast that more people view the show than watch games in the raw, but I don’t see that as something to boast about.
My deep love of football was not further enhanced by being able to view the lowlights from the 0-0 draw between Hamilton Accies and Partick Thistle and I bet supporters of these clubs weren’t in a tearing hurry to see them either.
I would much rather the show returned to the traditional model by which it took a decent run at one game, two at most, and cut down on the self-evident chat and numbing over-analysis.
Honestly, you’d think Sportscene was road-testing the very first action-replay facility. Archie had them in his day as some neat retro-graphics on Sunday reminded us by posting a great big clunky “R” in the corner of the screen.
I’d also be very happy to see the show return to Saturdays, bumping Match of the Day into the wee small hours. We in Scotland are under no obligation to gaze in awestruck reverence at England’s Premier League. I have absolutely zero interest in the outcome of Stoke vs Leicester – not since Keith Weller hung up his tights, anyway.
Are these the dribblings of an inveterate and incorrigible nostalgist? Perhaps, because as Cosgrove reminded us, Archie started out as a schoolteacher. He belonged to an era when people respected and listened to teachers; this is a different age. Now, everyone’s got an opinion and thinks it worth airing.
Archie bestrode Sportscene like the only colossus who ever wore a sports jacket: presenting, commentating, interviewing and, finally, sermonising. Such omnipotence wouldn’t be allowed now.
It might be fun, though. Archie recently turned 80, yet he is still striving for the literary reference to end them all. Last year he published his first novel. The other day he turned up in broadsheet opinion pages, comparing Alex Salmond to Bonnie Prince Charlie and Nicola Sturgeon to Flora Macdonald.
When I phoned to congratulate him on his return to the mic, he said he had greatly enjoyed the afternoon but considered it a one-off.
Well, I don’t. Get writing those letters, everyone. Archie Macpherson – THERE’S-A-MAN!-