DID Arthur Montford really open an edition of Scotsport with the words: “Good evening, and a warm welcome from Paisley Ice Rink”?
It’s a story, perhaps apocryphal, that has become part of Scottish sport folklore, alongside Jim Baxter sitting on the ball at Wembley (myth).
People want to believe the tale because not only is it funny, it also epitomises the Arthur, who died this week, that we knew and loved: warm and welcoming, and at the sharp end of STV’s live outside broadcasts which didn’t always go as planned. There are other immediate points of reference: the goalmouth “stramash”, his famous sports jackets, and a rivalry with Archie Macpherson, his counterpart on BBC Scotland. Again, they are all happy memories for viewers. In truth, Arthur didn’t care much for the fuss. But like the gentleman he was, he would answer each query about these quirks politely, although also with brevity.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
Arthur’s long career in broadcasting had come and gone before I first met him, and I was fortunate to get to know him over the last five years of his life. He approached me with a desire to recount in The Scotsman his career in broadcasting. When we met for the first time it became clear that the material he could offer would be the basis of a fascinating memoir, which could also be serialised. With reluctance, he agreed to have the idea run past a publisher, but by the time a positive verdict arrived, Arthur had already made up his mind: no book, just a serialisation. That was enough for him.
The resulting five-parter was a wonderful trip down memory lane: following Ben Hogan at Carnoustie in 1953, a Bobby Jones “scoop” interview in 1958, Real Madrid v Eintracht Frankfurt, lunch with Sean Connery, meeting Sugar Ray Robinson, Gordon Smith and George Best, the 1978 World Cup finals… and scoring a penalty in the Maracana. The serialisation was a hit, and Arthur was a happy man.
Every part was crafted by Arthur himself, at the age of 80, on his faithful typewriter. His script would become a familiar sight on my desk, as he kept in touch and wrote to me regularly – two sides of A4, with every line filled. At other times, he would phone for a chat. It was always a treat to hear his voice, or see his typed envelope in the mail bag.
Looking back at those letters today is difficult. Amid themes such as Greenock Morton, golf, Scottish football, journalism, the issues of the day, and more golf, one theme stands out: family. He would always ask after my own, and my in-laws; he would talk of the support from his family following the deaths just months apart of both his wife and his former wife (“an awful year”); and he offered sincere and touching congratulations upon the birth of my youngest son, with a few words of encouragement. “Enjoy the kids when they are young, Donald, because they aren’t wee for very long.” It was a piece of advice that he would offer gently from time to time. I must admit, I’ve shed a tear today.
His last letter was marked by sadness although not pity, about loss, changing circumstances and harsh realities, but was lightened by typical humour too. I’d love to recount one funny story he told against himself, but I had better not. It was typical Arthur, and it was true to the advice given to him by his father as he started in broadcasting: always try to be positive. And he did. If anyone could possibly provide a warm welcome from an ice rink, it was Arthur Montford.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS