What Happened to the Giants of Scotland?
Life after Archie, Arthur and Bob Crampsey
The Scotsman, August 13th 2009
The big boys football season starts this weekend. All across Scotland, football fans will be tuning in their radios, watching TV results, and turning to newspaper back pages and special supplements.
Another year, another season, and yet something has gone wrong with the way football is presented and reported in this country. It has come to represent a very unflattering, unattractive aspect of ourselves which should give us pause for thought.
It wasn’t always like this. Once football was portrayed as part of a grown up, adult conversation. Anyone over the age of forty will feel a sense of reverence and respect for the names, Archie Macpherson, anchor of BBC’s ‘Sportscene’ in the 1970s and 1980s, Arthur Montford, presenter of STV’s ‘Scotsport’ from 1957 to the end of the 1980s, and Bob Crampsey, writer and broadcaster.
These three defined the ‘golden age’ of TV broadcasting and became part of our national psyche and collective memory. They were there at the advent of football on TV, and covered many of its great moments from Real Madrid winning the European Cup at Hampden in 1960, to the Lisbon Lions in 1967, and Scotland’s various World Cup adventures from 1974.
Today things are immensely reduced and diminished. We have Stuart Cosgrove and Tam Cowan’s ‘Off the Ball’ and the idiocies and inanities of Real Radio and Radio Clyde. BBC Scotland and STV’s main evening news programmes have become dumbed down caricatures far removed from the informative shows they once were. Larger and larger segments of the shows are given over to following even the most banal items of football, dressed up in sensational, populist language.
Why has this shift happened to a coarser, more base and nasty journalism? Archie, Arthur and Bob were men of the world, who were not ashamed of their knowledge. They were erudite men, polymaths and scholars. It was no accident that Archie and Bob were former headmasters (the latter Brain of Britain and Mastermind semi-finalist).
Bob Crampsey wrote prolifically, from books on a history of the Scottish league, to Jock Stein, Queen’s Park, golf, cricket and the 1938 Glasgow Empire Exhibition. He was in the words of The Times, ‘a much loved Scottish cultural institution’.
Archie and Arthur were the face of football on TV and both became known for their trademark dress sense, Archie with his sheepskin jackets, Arthur with checked sports jackets. Macpherson in the last few years has written a biography of Stein and a history of the last forty years of the Scottish game, both beautifully and lovingly written books.
All three of these men were giants who reflected back something on who we were as a nation, and gave a voice, face and character which reached out across the globe. It was a voice that we can feel proud of, filled, as it was passion, education, humanity and a real sense of grace.
Today, we can survey a landscape without any equivalent giants. Instead, the dominant voice is a vulgar, mean, ironic, ‘knowing’ attitude. There is the paradox in an age of expanding knowledge and the internet of triumphalist ignorance, cantankerousness and macho-bullying.
Cosgrove and Cowan’s ‘Off The Ball’ may get a Saturday audience on BBC Scotland that the station finds hard to reach in other ways, but that rationale would lead to American shock-jocks and public hangings. There is something deeply unattractive in two middle aged, intelligent men, pretending to be so unintelligent, and supposedly playing in an Alf Garnett/Rab C. Nesbitt act of sexism, laddish attitudes and other infantile behaviours. Then there is Real Radio, Radio Clyde, the Daily Record and The Sun.
There are still some alternative voices which present a more considered approach: the brilliant footballing analysis of Graham Spiers, the quiet, calm of Pat Nevin. Both of these men know what they are talking about when it comes to the beautiful game in a way the pub bores never could, but sadly they seem the exception, rather than the rule.
The Scottish game is in a perilous state and more than ever we need to ask difficult questions and initiate serious debates, rather than engage in another round of sexist banter. It is 24 years since a team other than one of the ‘Old Firm’ won our senior league, with no prospect of serious competition. This year is the 100th anniversary of the modern meaning of the phrase, ‘Old Firm’, as Celtic and Rangers drew twice in a Scottish Cup Final with widespread suspicion that the two were doing so to guarantee more money. The result was a riot and the Cup withheld.
It is not an overstatement to say that Bob Crampsey, Archie Macpherson and Arthur Montford are woven in to the very fabric of what made Scotland a modern nation. They had an endless curiosity about the game and life, that is not reflected in the modern day commentators.
Our game with all of its limitations, financial crises and ‘Old Firm’ dominance, still has a richness of stories and experiences which touch so many human emotions, from the romantic to the tragic and comic, and so many of them more often than not go neglected. There is the story of the dire years then recovery of East Stirling. The miracle of Fort William’s continued existence (with just one draw out of 28 league games last season). Then there is Brechin City’s battle with UEFA to keep their ancient hedge which runs parallel to one side of their ground.
Stuart Cosgrove once lambasted ‘the monochrome culture’ which dominates so much of public life in Scotland. As an educated, intelligent man, could he not recognise the caricatures and stereotypes he is reinforcing? We all have a part to play in showing the different voices and ways Scotland can be. In this the examples of Archie, Arthur and Bob should give us some cause for hope.