It’s the hottest day of the year. So it’s impossible to avoid noticing there isn’t so much as a bead of sweat forming on the face of the coolest customer in Scottish football.
The conditions were slightly less clement several years ago at Gayfield, Arbroath. Scarves, gloves and chunky overcoats were the order of the day on a November’s night in 2013 when Rangers rolled into town. Darrell Currie remembers it well. He was forced to think on his feet as he fronted an on-pitch presentation for BT Sport with former Rangers player Gavin Rae and Stephen Craigan. Midway through a half-time discussion about picking up Jon Daly, a fan invades the pitch and shouts something that is fortunately incomprehensible. Currie proves unflappable. He barely pauses as he notes the intruder looks a bit like Paul Sheerin, the Arbroath manager whose team were trailing 3-0. This observation – and it wasn’t contrivance, the miscreant did look a lot like Sheerin – then led into a seamless link: “So Paul Sheerin, that would have been his absolute nightmare, he would have said to his players...” And we’re off again on the subject of defending set pieces. Often, it isn’t only those on the pitch who have to demonstrate agility.
“If the guy had run over and thrown a punch at one of the pundits it might be different,” reflects Currie. “But my point of view is most people are harmless and want to have some fun. We had something like it happen at Morton when someone came on and labelled Alan Stubbs something. Alan laughed, so did I. You apologise and move on. You can’t get fazed by stuff.”
It’s a requirement of the job to keep one’s composure, even in extraordinary situations. Currie was working at the game when Bolton Wanderers player Fabrice Muamba collapsed after suffering a cardiac arrest in an FA Cup tie against Spurs six years ago.
“They had the defibrillator on him in the tunnel,” recalls Currie. “Myself and Les Ferdinand, who worked for Spurs at the time, were there, two feet from where he was lying on a stretcher. There was not an ounce of life in the guy. We feared the worst. I had to go on TV. They were throwing down to me from the studio and I was thinking: what will I do if the news comes in this guy has died.”
He was also on duty in Germany before a Champions League clash when an attempt was made to bomb the Borussia Dortmund coach. “You fear the worst,” he says. “Anything can happen. It is about how you deal with any situation. If someone jumps from the crowd, your split second judgement is: is this a bit of fun? Let’s hope so.”
Currie is wearing a crisp white shirt and sharp suit. He has a short, voguish haircut. We’ve come a long way since Arthur Montford was one of the faces of Scottish football. Dear old Arthur was always fiercely defensive of the Scottish game, one of the great apologists. Not that there was as much need to promote the game in his heyday. On-pitch achievements spoke for themselves. Players from the second best team in the country did not tend to choose to sign for fifth-tier English sides. Adam Rooney’s move to Salford City has been portrayed as the equivalent of ravens leaving the Tower of London: Scottish football has fallen.
Currie, who lives in London with his Scottish wife Jenny and their two young children, is particularly alert to the dismissive attitude of many in England towards the game in Scotland.
“It is wrong what most people have said down south,” he says. “Salford are not acting like a National League club. They are acting like a League One club. Gary Neville will not want us to get into budgets, he will be tweeting and having a go if we delve into their finances. Had Adam Rooney, who was slightly on the fringes at Aberdeen remember, gone to a League One club, no one would have blinked an eye. Because it is National League and it is Adam Rooney and it is the second top team in Scotland last season everyone has kicked up a stink. It is unfair and perpetrated by people who do not know Scottish football.”
But Jim White, the TalkSPORT/Sky Sports broadcaster who fanned the flames initially on Twitter when he described the move as “flabbergasting” and a new low for the game north of the Border, knows a lot about Scottish football. Or at least is meant to.
“Jim does know a lot about Scottish football, absolutely,” responds Currie. “Whether he wants to make headlines I do not know – he is a fantastic broadcaster, still is one of the best Scotland has produced. Equally, maybe working at a radio station, he wanted to get people talking. He has defended the game a lot of times. On the Adam Rooney thing, maybe it was not the best comment…”
Controversy is something Currie is happy to leave to his BT Sport cohorts although he is expert at stoking the flames. Once done, he stands well back and watches as Chris Sutton, Ally McCoist and Craigan joust with one another. These are the core pundits as BT Sport prepares to showcase Scottish football for another season, with the league campaign kicking off a week today.
They’ve already been hard at work covering Betfred Cup games and Currie and co will be at Turf Moor on Thursday for the second leg of the Europa League second qualifying round clash between Burnley and Aberdeen. We are talking at Clyde’s Broadwood stadium ahead of today’s Group G clash with Motherwell. Tomorrow’s vital game between Hearts and Inverness Caledonian is also being shown live.
They’ve devised some sort of reference to this week’s ongoing debate about the merits of Scottish football compared to the game south of the Border for shortly after the opening credits have rolled. “Just a wee jab back at those who have been putting Scottish football down this week,” promises Currie. He’s unsurprisingly enthusiastic about the merits of the ex-footballer pundits alongside him, including Sutton and McCoist.
Of Sutton, he says: “He is a really good friend of mine. He has improved a lot since we started working with him. He came in as a very inexperienced broadcaster with a good stature in the game up here.
“You could see there was a drive, as there was as a player, to make himself better right away. He wanted to at least make people listen – he does that very well. He has built his own brand as a broadcaster now. He had a brilliant World Cup as well for BBC radio.
“A lot of the clubs I go to now give Chris total respect, fans are starting to understand what he gives back to the Scottish game. He is very supportive of Scotland as a national team – I know he is still very much English – and our clubs… Rangers fans would not admit it, he might not admit it, but he wants them to win these big European games and probably wants them to win every game apart from Old Firm ones. He wants to see progress up here. He probably is on the front line of this battle more than anyone else.”
It’s interesting that Currie should describe the campaign to promote Scottish football as a “battle”. It can prove tough work, particularly given the aforementioned naysayers. Currie contends we should be glad to have guys like Sutton doing the heavy lifting, and he’s probably right.
BT Sport are certainly doing their bit even if it’s possible to have some misgivings about the extent of their influence. The broadcaster calls the tune to the extent that the League Cup format was rejigged with them in mind and league play-offs brought in too. But it’s clear BT Sport are a force for good as the appetite for Scottish football wanes elsewhere. Sky Sports’ idea of variation these days is showing Celtic v Rangers as well as Rangers v Celtic. Even then, they can’t wait to get away quick enough.
BT Sport will be increasing their coverage this season. News just in: the broadcaster will show the Irn Bru Cup final, as well as other games in a competition set to be augmented by two teams from the Vanarama National League.
“We have a brilliant relationship with the guys from the league, like Neil Doncaster,” says Curie. “They respect what we are trying to do. “Our board will have meetings with them,” he adds. “They will talk about the best thing for broadcasting and Scottish football together. The Friday night fixtures have been developed by BT. We have pushed hard for them because the audiences have been good. The play-offs were something the league wanted but they needed a backer – they needed someone to buy them. We were very keen to do that.”
BT Sport are literally showing the Scottish game in a better light this season. “Every single league game is in 4K UHD [Ultra High Definition] – Scottish football has never been broadcast like that before,” reveals Currie. “UHD is four times the resolution of standard HD TV. The next thing is 4K: the definition is unbelievable. This season we have more cameras at every game, more pundits, longer build-ups…”
So if you’re not a fan of Currie’s bright-eyed enthusiasm, Sutton’s often seemingly orchestrated rants, Craigan’s shtick including taking out Sutton with a sliding challenge before one game at Fir Park, then, well, you know where the off switch is.
Perhaps Currie’s deftness when negotiating potentially difficult situations stems from his past as a full-back. Not the type that used to have a No 2 or 3 on his back either. He wore No 15 – and did so with aplomb.
Yes, the new-ish face of Scottish football – Currie turns 37 next month – is a former rugby player from a fee-paying school in Glasgow.
He broke his leg days before captaining Scottish schoolboys against English schoolboys in Preston when he played in an inconsequential seven-a-side competition. The High School of Glasgow, where he was a pupil before heading to university in Manchester, ordered their star player to appear.
“It was a silly tournament,” he recounts. “Because I was captain of the school team they said I had to play. About two minutes in my studs caught in the turf which was rock solid and I felt the snap twice – my leg and my ankle were broken.”
He was also due to fly to New Zealand with a team called Glasgow Thistles. “Chris Cusiter was scrum-half, Ali Kellock went on that trip. Who knows if I’d have come back in one piece,” he says. Weighing in at not even 13st, he was the smallest player in the team – even with Cusiter. Still, he wasn’t for giving up. Not quite then at least. After arriving in Manchester to attend university it still seemed as though rugby was the more likely game to provide him with a living.
“I trained with Sale Sharks for six months,” he says. “I played for the development side. At the time Jason Robinson was [Sale] full-back, he had just been away with the British Lions.”
Currie had started working for Radio Clyde by this point, travelling up and down every weekend to help out on the station’s Super Scoreboard programmes. He was already finding it a struggle to juggle everything, including rugby. “One rainy Tuesday night we had a development game against the Sale first team and I was fully beaten up by Robinson,” he says. “The pace was incredible, his side step was unstoppable. I thought: this is not going to be a career for me.”
Instead, football, Currie’s first love, was. He’s understandably cautious when explaining how – and where – he first fell for the game. Somehow he has avoided the brickbats hurled in the direction of most broadcasters who work in Scottish football. The first two search terms when you type his name into Google says it all: Darrell Currie Celtic fan, Darrell Currie Rangers fan. Well which, if either, is it? Currie, who grew up in Bearsden, is coy.
“I won’t tell you who my dad took me to see when I was younger,” he says. “I was taken to a lot of football matches. Genuinely, there were people in my family who supported Rangers and Celtic.
“My grandfather was quite into one, my father was big into another. But my dad for instance… and this is the genuine truth, he grew up when Rangers and Celtic were both phenomenal teams.
“They used to do well in Europe every year. He used to go away with Celtic and Rangers, with fans of both. He tells me back in the day it was more normal. We are talking 50 years ago, maybe slightly less.
“He said there was more unity for the Scottish national team as well, because all these great players were feeding back into the national team. He certainly has more of a desire to go and watch one side of the Old Firm more than the other. But he always brought me up to know that anything goes. Whoever I wanted to support I could.” Like the good, nay excellent, professional he is, Currie still won’t let on.