Former referee celebrates 25 years as school lollipop man

ALEX McGunnigle used to be responsible for keeping order on the pitch during some of Scotland's biggest football games, but for the last quarter of a century he has undertaken a completely different challenge '“ ensuring children find their way safely to school.

Alex outside Hampden Stadium. Picture: Supplied

The 83-year old former Scottish Fottball League (SFL) referee from Cathcart is set to be honoured for his tenure with a Long Service Award from his employers, Cordia, the organisation which manages school crossing patrollers across Glasgow.

As a well-known name in Scottish football, Alex grew through the ranks, refereeing some of the highest-profile top tier games between 1966 and 1984. In 1978 he adjudicated the Scottish Cup Fourth Round game between Kilmarnock and Celtic – the away team’s first defeat (1-0) against a lower league side in 31 years, resulting in Kilmarnock earning the right to play Rangers in the next round, losing 4-1. The career allowed Alex to travel around the world and meet many of the era’s most famous footballers including George Best, Kenny Dalglish, Bobby Murdoch and Davie Cooper.

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Meanwhile, Alex still worked as a bricklayer to trade and would referee at night after his shift ended.

Alex also had a twin brother, Harry, who pursed a career as a linesman. The twins occasionally worked together during senior games and were part of the Glasgow Referee Committee. One of the highlights of Harry’s career was running the line in the Scottish Cup Final in 1974. Harry was also a Cordia school crossing patroller during his later years. Sadly, he passed away last year.

In 1983, three referees from Scotland were invited to the Arab Emirates to take part in the United Arab of Emirates League, where they spent six weeks on the pitch in the scorching heat. The final was held in Abu Dhabi where Al Ain FC won the title. For his hard work, Alex received a gold medal and watch.

His last professional fixture was between Morton and Alloa in 1984, hanging up his whistle at the age of 50 before taking on a post as a school crossing patroller with Cordia seven years later.

Alex, who has no plans to retire, has become a key figure in the Southside area of Glasgow and covers a total of three schools – Our Lady of the Annunciation Primary School, Merrylee Primary and Holyrood Secondary. This year he celebrated his 61st wedding anniversary – he’s happily married to Anna, mother to three daughters – Yvonne, Janice and Irene, who, unfortunately died aged 59.

Helping generations of families across the same road safely each day is what Alex describes as “extremely fulfilling”.

He said: “I really enjoy my job as a school crossing patroller – it’s highly rewarding and I’ve become a well-known face in the local community.

“I’ve been manning crossings for over 25 years so it’s become a big part of my life. I’ll always be a big football fan but this is something a bit different to keep me busy.”

Julia McCreadie, of Cordia, said: “We pride ourselves on the fact we have so many long-term employees and would like to thank Mr McGunnigle for all his hard work and commitment over the last 25 years. Being a school crossing patroller is a rewarding and enjoyable career path. It continues to play a vital role in the community by keeping children safe on their way to school.”

“With no upper age limit on the role, many of our team have led extremely interesting lives.”

Cordia employs more than 400 school crossing patrollers who operate at over 350 crossings throughout Glasgow.