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Great Scots! Sports page stars who carried the saltire

What could be scarier for Scots ahead of next week’s referendum than being approached by “effing” David Cameron and Gordon Brown? This website may have the answer, with an impassioned plea for unity from NORMAN GILLER, who also commemorates the 50th anniversary of a newspaper closure which would see Fleet Street changed forever

I am not sure this is the right platform, but I would like to add my little Cockney voice to the Scottish independence debate. Please say “No”. Both Scotland and the Union will be weakened by a “Yes” vote, so there would be no winners on September 18. We would be like a divorced couple, with both paying alimony for the rest of time. It’s just that no one seems to know yet in what currency.

The majestic Hugh McIlvanney: a Scot who has long graced the pages of British newspapers
The majestic Hugh McIlvanney: one of many Scots who have graced the pages of British newspapers

Throughout my sportswriting life I have scratched in the shadow of great Scots, from John MacAdam through to the majestic Hugh McIlvanney, from Sam Leitch up to Paddy Barclay, and from John Fairgrieve to Bryan Cooney. I could go on and on (Ed: You normally do).

Some of the finest journalists I have been privileged to call colleagues include Scots James Cameron, John Junor, Ian McColl, Alastair Burnet, Bob Findlay, Charlie Wilson, Andrew Neill, Tom Brown, George Hunter, all of them talented, all of them dynamic.

Old Fleet Street was built on a foundation of words and newspapers generated by exceptional writers and deskmen from o’er the border. Fleet Street often sounded like Saucheihall Street, and you could not find a pub that was not being warmed by our Scots brothers (and occasionally, sisters).

Among the Scots I have worked with on autobiographical books are Tommy Docherty, George Graham, Jim Watt and Ian St John. My all-time favourite sportsmen include Scots Dave Mackay, Denis Law, Alan Gilzean, Charlie Cooke, Allan Wells, Ming Campbell in his sprinting days, bang up to date with Andy Murray, and the Four Musketeers of outstanding managers in Bill Shankly, Jock Stein, Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson.

I love Scots, their flair, their humour, their loyalty, their inventiveness, their pride and passion, even in some cases their dourness. I enjoy calling them fellow Brits and would hate to think of them as “foreigners”.

If any Scot with a vote is reading this and is undecided, please come down on the side of commonsense. Simply vote ‘No.’

 

I SAID a sad farewell to a dear old friend 50 years ago next week. That was when the Daily Herald died and briefly became the broadsheet, unloved Sun.

The Herald was a quirky, quality broadsheet with which I broke into the national newspaper world back in 1962. Among our writers were masters of the craft like James Cameron, Dennis Potter, Geoffrey Goodman and Jon Akass, with the television column in the hands of the untouchable Nancy Banks-Smith.

Sports supremo Sam Leitch had just been snatched by the Sunday Mirror, and our sports columnist was Peter Lorenzo, heading a team of gifted writers who included Tom “I Put My Shirt On …” Phillips (boxing) Charles Bray (cricket), Ian Todd (rugby), Steve Richards, Roger Malone, Frank Taylor and Peter Corrigan (football), Laurie Burrills (motor sport), Lionel Cureton (racing), Dennis Busher (Wales) and Dennis Shaw (Midlands). Colin Hart was night news editor and Peter Batt a roving (often raving) news reporter. Tom Tickler was sports editor and about to make way for the earthquake that was Frank Nicklin.

We were all kept organised by PA Gerry Skinner, who is now pushing 90. He has recently surfaced on Facebook and is a mine of revealing and amusing anecdotes on the history of the Herald and both Suns. He knows where all the bodies are buried, and created some sort of record by seeing off more than 20 sports editors during his long, eventful Fleet Street career.

Our editor was the cerebral Sydney Jacobson – later Baron Jacobson of St Albans – with Tony Boram and Ted Castle alongside him on the backbench. Ted was the husband of Barbara Castle, and I spent many an hour listening to them putting the world to rights in the Cross Keys bang opposite the old Herald editorial building in Long Acre. Harold Wilson and a usually inebriated George Brown were regular visitors.

The Herald, of course, had its start in life as a mouthpiece for the early trade unionists and was always loyal to Labour, and many of the journalists chose to work for the paper because of their left wing views.

We were a happy band of brothers and enthusiastically produced a paper that did not quite know its identity, not sure whether to go up or down market; finally finding a place in no-man’s land in between but often setting the political agenda with biting leaders.

It was ripe for an IPC change of direction in 1964, and after an initial spurt the revamped paper made even less of an impact in its new guise as the broadsheet Sun. It was then given the kick of life when a young Aussie called Rupert Murdoch bought it on the never-never for £800,000, beating off a rival bid from the openly ambitious Robert Maxwell.

I will think back to those happy, eventful days next Monday on the 50th anniversary of the demise of the Daily Herald and the rise of the old, new Sun.

Tempus fugits when you’re having fun.

 

  • As with all authored pieces on sportsjournalists.co.uk, the views expressed here do not represent the views or policy of the SJA. Readers are always welcome to post their comments on the content of this column and the rest of the site

UPCOMING SJA EVENTS

Thu Dec 11: SJA British Sports Awards, sponsored by The National Lottery, at the Grand Connaught Rooms

 

 

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