Aidan Smith: I'm not pining for Sarah O - but where are our TV companies in time of greatest need?
Just some of the words which confirm: a Scot’s a Scot for a’ that. Phrases which instantly, unmistakably mark the author as a son or daughter of Caledonia. Or a pretend one (spot the line from Brigadoon) or a wannabe. Funny or profound regarding the Scottish condition. Mirthful or momentous.
And if I may be so bold, here’s another: “There’s an overlap!”. Actually, not one but two, the second taken from the same glorious night – 12 October, 1977 – just moments later: “Ar-gen-tina, here we come!”
Football fans of a certain age will recognise the former as Archie Macpherson and the latter as Arthur Montford. The national team were in their pomp 46 years ago and so were BBC Scotland and STV with these commentary colossuses high in the Anfield gantry and high on King Kenny Dalglish’s stupendous, soaring header.
The memory can fade, play tricks and embellish like a Brigadoon set designer obsessed with heather. Did one network show the World Cup qualifier live and the other screen highlights later? Or did both pipe the entire match against Wales into our parlours, making us feel like we were the principal characters in a lovely old song who were confronted by an impossibly blissful choice?
High road or low road? Arthur or Archie? Either way, we won. For we could see the match on TV for free. Both the national broadcaster and, at the time, the only commercial channel deemed it of vital importance to our health, sense of self and joie de vivre.
Oh that we could be back there. Back to the days of terrestrial tartan football. This is the cry now that Viaplay have failed us, the Swedish broadcaster snaffling the rights to Scotland games and requesting that fans stump up £14.99-a-month for subscriptions, only to skedaddle after a year.
Politicians want us to be back there, with SNP MP Pete Wishart of Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee speaking of “opportunities for free broadcasting” and urging everyone to “get together to do justice and give proper service to Scottish football”.
And obviously the fans do. The Tartan Army, forever coming down the road, will be present at the games. The armchair division will have stumped up for Viaplay grudgingly. The won’t-pays will have announced: “Darling, I’m not proposing we spend any more for TV on top of Netflix, Prime and the rest so that’s me off to the pub to watch Scotland.” But with the can’t-pays missing some stirring dark blue triumphs recently, many of the next generation haven’t had the chance to turn up at school the next day excited by Andy Robertson, John McGinn and the rest – a minor tragedy for sure.
It irks that Channel 4 – with their commitment to what they call the “Nations and Regions”, with the division of that name being based in Glasgow, and with their soft spot for awkward upstarts fighting to be heard, which pretty much nails us – chooses to broadcast England matches live but not ours.
But it irks more that Beeb Scotland and STV, responsible after all for having our best interests at heart, are not showing Steve Clarke’s team as they near what we devoutly hope will be a wonderful conclusion to this campaign.
The Beeb, it’s true, provide highlights of internationals, on top of their coverage of the domestic game, although these are invariably late at night when small boys – and girls – should be tucked up in bed.
But where the hell are STV and, really these days, what the hell are they for? Output is minimal and sport, as far as I can see, is non-existent. It’s been so long since the Sarah O version of Scotsport that I’m almost nostalgic for it.
Steady, I said almost. It was in 2004 that the channel decided the old dependable was in need of a revamp. A lot of traditional programming was jazzed up around this time, usually with funky sets, gimmicky games and youthful presenters, so that pretty much everything looked like kids’ TV.
The studio was transformed into a football terracing. Bused-in fans wearing replica polyester would lean awkwardly on stanchions for Sarah O to indulge in stilted flirting, pronouncing names wrongly. There was a roving reporter called Julyan Sinclair who quizzed kit ladies about how they managed to get the muddy shirts clean (“Son, we just chuck them in the washing machine and turn it on”). An appalled viewing nation wanted rid: petitions were organised seeking to have the chumps removed. But, looking back, “wacky” Scotsport was better than nothing. We didn’t realise that before long on STV, regarding football, there would be nothing.
This is wrong. In fact, it’s sacrilegious. The original Scotsport made dreary Sundays worth living. And when STV got their hands on a vital Scotland game, Montford would rise to the occasion splendidly, such as the 1973 World Cup qualifier against Czechoslovakia: “Still dangerous … the ball’s flicked across … the keeper can’t reach it … it’s there! Jordan scores! Superb header, the ball’s in the net and it’s 2-1! Magnificent, Scotland. Magnificent!”
So how about it, TV companies? If you love Scottish football deeply enough, anything is possible.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.