Aidan Smith: Remembering Arthur Montford

Arthur Montford, left, and Archie Macpherson at Hampden Park in 1985. Picture: SMG
Arthur Montford, left, and Archie Macpherson at Hampden Park in 1985. Picture: SMG
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AMID the stramash of football mementoes in the spare room, I have things that are older, more notable and more personal and, in purely monetary terms, more valuable. But in my occasional nightmare – a tsunami sweeping away match programmes and bicycles and children – it is The Scotsport Football Annual, 1965 edition, compiled by Arthur Montford, that I glimpse disappearing in the torrent and am most upset about losing.

You might suspect I’ve suddenly upgraded the annual now that Arthur is no longer with us, but I’m not kidding – the book is my bible, my votive object. With the possible exception of The Beatles Monthly, issue No.5, long since lost, it says more about who I am than anything else in my possession. It says: “I love Scottish football, loved it most then, believed in Arthur implicitly.”

For the benefit of younger readers, this is how life was: if you were lucky, you attended a game, always Saturday afternoons, always 3pm. Then you rushed home for Sportsreel, the results round-up on BBC Scotland. In regional studios when the Beeb bothered with them, men in sports jackets would report on-the-hoof and off-the-worsted-cuff. Alastair Dewar in Edinburgh could be gloriously unmoved by 4-4 draws. Fraser Elder in Dundee, always in the boldest of checks, would crack a joke or two. Jack Webster in Aberdeen, though tragically I missed this edition and had to be told about it by my father, once jumped out of his chair screaming like a girl when a lightbulb exploded. Gordon Hewitt was in the classic line-up, along with Brian Marjoribanks. And then on Saturday night Archie Macpherson took over for the highlights.

Archie was king of Saturdays while Scottish TV’s Arthur, who of course out-jacketed everyone, ruled on Sundays. These men were gods. The tea-time reports, breathlessly intoned, were vital, but then we were devouring everything to do with football because there was so little of it on the goggle-box. Real, actual, moving-picture, wonky wooden-tripod match action, on Sportsreel, later Sportscene, and Arthur’s Scotsport was what we lived for.

It didn’t matter that the games were in black and white so we struggled to distinguish between Dundee and Hearts. That the cameras were sited behind pillars. That editing was done with a bread-knife and some Bostik. That the highlights were brief. That only one or two games were featured. For there was Harry Hood and Orjan Persson and Morton’s Scandi stars and Dunfermline’s Callaghan brothers and big Jackie Copland and Frank Beattie and Derek Whiteford and gallumphing Ernie Winchester and that mean critter Davie Robb and Pat Stanton surging upfield like he was on ice-skates, which perhaps he should have been – power and grace while linesmen’s knees knocked together in the cold and chittering ballboys hugged themselves and frost formed on bunnets.

You were either an Arthur man or an Archie man. Briefly, this was the great debate, in the style of those Beatles vs Stones arguments, or tapioca vs semolina. But it was a phoney debate. We loved them both because, with televised football strictly rationed and no live matches even if the only conflict was a Glenbuck Cherrypickers closed-doors game, we needed them both.

Archie sometimes liked to pronounce or try for some lyricism; Arthur was more couthie. The abiding image of Archie is of him standing, a bestriding colossus right enough. Arthur we always see behind his desk, like he was at the counter of a hardware store, an avuncular smile inviting us to help ourselves to 15 raggedy minutes of Clyde vs Kilmarnock enacted in a Shawfield pea-souper, heroically narrated by our man.

If the 1980 Old Firm Scottish Cup final had been an STV match, Arthur wouldn’t have described the fans’ riot as “like Paschendale” as Archie did, or expostulate: “Let’s be clear: these people hate each other.” Arthur might, I suppose, have called the afternoon “a disaster for football” as he would talk of a reverse for the national team as being “a disaster for Scotland”. Archie wanted Scotland to win but Arthur really wanted us to win. He was a fan with a microphone, frequently letting slip fan anxiety or bursting into fan exultation or fighting back fan tears (“Brave, brave Scotland”, he almost sobbed when we refused to be beaten by Yugoslavia in the 1974 World Cup but couldn’t quite get through our group).

An entire generation of supporters will probably laugh at the idea of one game, one man, one sports jacket. They’ll wonder: “How on earth did you lot become enraptured with football when it wasn’t every match covered, multiple graphics, pop music, hunky presenters, ex-pros displaying the breadth of their opinions and the width of their thighs, yes/no tweet opportunities on all the key incidents, endless replays and absolutely no one being terse like Big Jock?”

Well, we quite liked Big Jock being terse, and Big Arthur being prim and precise and perjink and paternalistic. That was TV presenting, any kind, in those days. We didn’t want him to try to be our friend, or one of the lads in skinny breeks. And, even though the SFA were a bit like the Wee Free Church of Park Gardens, we didn’t want more games, didn’t dare ask for all games, because, well, that was the kind of decadence which caused great empires to crumble.

Down the years a strange and wonderful thing happened to Arthur and Archie. In our youth we thought they were great, bearers of wonderful gifts. Then, as we got older and acquired cynicism, they became figures of fun to us. Latterly, though, we came to treasure them, pioneers in their way, our guides for the golden age.

Four days before Arthur died, I bumped into Archie, who was covering Hearts v Rangers for the radio. Before kick-off, underneath the decrepit old Tynecastle stand, him more upright at 87, he held court and everyone listened. He pronounced, but it was good stuff, on exactly what was wrong with Rangers. Now there’s only Archie left.

Archie managed to complete his memoirs, a rollicking read about football, television and its vanities and being Archie he managed to work into the text Torquemada, Tommy Cooper, Genghis Khan, Euripides, Ben Turpin and the Count of Monte Cristo. Arthur never quite got the story of his life finished but at least we have The Scotsport Football Annual. “Hello there, and a really warm welcome,” he says in the introduction to pages I know off by heart.

Arthur had the best seat in the house for the best of our game but would never have boasted about this. Being a fan first and foremost, he would have wanted to see another golden age for Scottish football, even more glistening. Right now on TV we copy other more successful countries and show it all, warts and mostly empty grounds. This doesn’t serve the game well. Not all progress is good and sometimes less is more. One macaroon bar, a three-bar electric fire and two matches – that was always quite fine.