Arthur Montford, the man who lit up Sundays

Archie MacPherson presents Montford with a Special Merit Award. Picture: SNS
Archie MacPherson presents Montford with a Special Merit Award. Picture: SNS
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Archie Macpherson pays tribute to ‘immensely popular’ fellow presenter, writes Alan Pattullo

Sunday football now tends to mean wall-to-wall coverage. The ugly phrase “Super Sunday” has entered the lexicon thanks to Sky, whooshing into the football dictionary. But Arthur Montford never had to worry about creating elbow-room for himself in packed schedules, even if the patches on his jacket suggested such exertion had perhaps been necessary.

For two generations of Scots, Arthur was Sunday football. He presented the only sports programme shown that day – well, the only one showing football (Ski Sunday didn’t cut the mustard for those of us more concerned with the state of Jim Duffy’s knees than Britain’s downhill slalom hopes).

Scotsport formed the staple diet of the football-obsessed who grew up in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties (although Montford’s own broadcasting career had begun even earlier). That means there were a lot of people who had reason to mourn the news on Wednesday evening – about the time midweek games were ending, the results coming in. Arthur was gone. The final whistle, indeed.

For a long time, it was mostly the two AMs – Arthur Montford and Archie Macpherson. They were our football tutors. We learned at their knee, and Montford’s grandfatherly bearing was perfect for this calling. The memory of him looking up from his desk after the title credits had finished while still shuffling his papers is still seared in this writer’s mind. It was as if he’d been disturbed in his study by an insistent grandson urging him to come out and play.

Then would come the genial smile, welcoming the viewer to the delights ahead. It was, indeed, time to be entertained – and entertained we were, even if it was a grubby goalless draw beamed in from somewhere like Fir Park. The main course was always extended highlights from a selected Premier League match, hopefully with more goals than the match shown on Sportscene, the Macpherson-hosted vehicle, the previous night.

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Were Montford and Macpherson really very different? They were in sartorial style, certainly. Although he may have worn a checked jacket at times, it never became Macpherson’s calling card, the way it did for Montford. But contrary to what people might imagine, they did not consider each other to be the enemy, despite occupying different slots. Ratings was not such a consideration then because everyone watched both programmes.

Macpherson ruled Saturday night, while Montford was king of Sunday late afternoons, a more comfortable home for his slightly less abrasive, less critical style of presenting. Going back further, however, Montford and Macpherson were often sharing gantries at football grounds – in Scotland and around the world.

“The enemy in those days was the fourth estate, not each other,” recalled Macpherson yesterday following news of Montford’s death, at the age of 85. “The technology was basic. We were often evoking derision from written journalists, who were worried about the effect we would have on their trade, and on football, which they thought would be pretty nefarious. Some things were written that were frankly despicable. They wanted to do us down.”

Not Arthur, surely. Not the man who welcomed you with such charm into the world of Scottish football on a Sunday afternoon. Not the man Macpherson recalls as a gentleman, someone who, he accepts, was cut from slightly different cloth to himself. Even if too young to remember Montford’s excited yelp of “Ar-gen-tina! HERE. WE. COME!”, such phrases are hard-wired in the head of every Scottish football supporter.

Montford sounded just as the fans felt. He once told me he used to wear a Scotland rosette under his jacket, sometimes a tartan scarf as well. “And I can hardly look,” he cried, as Don Masson prepared to take a penalty against Wales at Anfield in 1977 – the first goal in a 2-0 win which sealed Scotland’s qualification for the Argentina World Cup in 1978.

“Disaster for Scotland, disaster for Scotland!” he wailed as Scotland went 1-0 down against Czechoslovakia in the vital World Cup qualifying clash in 1973. “Come on Denis!” Montford urged of Law, running around like a teenager in a bid to get Scotland back into the game. And “watch your back Billy!” he warned, as Bremner, the skipper, risked being scythed down when lingering on the ball.

“He was very much involved in the game, while I tried to do the reverse of that and hide that, to be objective,” continues Macpherson. “He was a Scottish punter, a Scottish supporter. I was a bit more neutral. I tended to be much more critical of Scottish performances than he did.”

Having met Montford on a couple of occasions, and interviewed him several times on the phone, I am confident that he would agree with this assertion. But he would also feel no need to apologise. And rightly so, contends Macpherson. “That was his preferred way of doing things, there was no right way,” he says.

Scotsport, perhaps, became slightly harder-edged in Gerry McNee-times, in the 1990s. But when Montford was involved, it reflected his smooth, comforting tone. You only need to watch clips from the show’s end-of-year reviews, with the presenters, including Montford, journalist Ian Archer and commentator Jock Brown, all kitted out in knitted sweaters, beside a log fire, to know that. “It was more relaxed, it was armchair viewing, and in that respect it had a different feel to it,” says Macpherson. “And Arthur, because of that, became immensely popular.”

Both Macpherson and Montford became as well known as the stars of the game on which they reported. “Both of us enjoyed popularity but we also had to take it on the chin from time to time,” says Macpherson. “It would be dishonest to say Arthur didn’t lap it up, as I did. We both enjoyed that kind of celebrity in an age when there were only two commentators, whereas now you can have about ten over a weekend.”

Macpherson got to know Montford better on trips abroad with Scottish teams, and notes that his main passion was golf. “There was barely a conversation I had with him which did not turn towards golf,” adds Macpherson, who describes Montford “releasing himself from the tyranny of television” to head gladly towards the golf course upon retirement in the late 1980s. The game, Montford sensed, was changing – by which he meant broadcasting as well as football. It was too early in Macpherson’s opinion, and too early in the opinion of countless others as well.

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