My Part in Celtic’s Hampden Year

A tale of my brief encounter with Celtic’s Fergus McCann with passing mention of Dion Dublin. First appeared in Issue 4 of Nutmeg Magazine.

A quiet Friday afternoon in April. The square, grey BT-issue phone on the corner of my desk suddenly chirped into life. I was manning – or rather womanning – the fort in our little rented office on the top floor of an elegant Edinburgh townhouse. My boss and his wife had taken the afternoon off. The two creatives were still in the pub – this was 1994, so what else would you expect from a marketing agency? We were a fledgling business, carrying out direct mail and insert campaigns for a couple of large financial organisations. Part of a UK network, we relied on sister agencies in London for media buying and Leeds for production services. I was diligently checking over the media schedule for my main client, ruler sat on top of paper, pencil comments scribbled in the margin.

Dropping the pencil on the second chirp, I grabbed the chunky phone receiver and clutched it to my ear. “Thank you for calling WWAV Scotland. Heather speaking. How may I help?” My polite introduction was met with a brusque response: “You’re a direct marketing agency, aren’t you?” I confirmed that indeed we were, as my mind whirred, struggling to identify the vaguely familiar transatlantic twang.

“This is Fergus McCann. I’ve bought Celtic Football Club. We need some direct marketing. Can you come in and see me next week?”

I replied somewhat hesitantly that of course we could, I’d just need to check with my Managing Director as he would always attend a new business meeting. “What was your name again? Are you an Account Director?” I barely had a moment to confirm before the demanding Scots-born Canadian continued: “We’ll say 2pm Tuesday at Celtic Park. You just come along on your own if necessary.”

With that he hung up.

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Brighton v Charlton 1983: Putting the Boot in

The boys in Belvedere were always playing football in the road just outside our house, but I never joined in. I had managed a kickabout on the beach with a few friends over the summer holidays, and I wasn’t too bad – lots of chasing around rather than skill, it has to be said, so perhaps more like Steve Gritt than Carl Harris. I also had no idea which my best position would be, so just like Steve Gritt, then: the utility player who defined the term – he had not only played for Charlton in every outfield position – but also in goal.

University loomed on the horizon. “Student life – it’s whatever you make it”, warbled the blurb in the prospectus. “It’s not just about lectures and seminars, it’s your chance to get involved in all sorts of other sports or pastimes. If the society doesn’t already exist, all you have to do is start it – after all, there are thousands of other young people just waiting to have fun.” The thought crossed my mind that I could finally have a go at playing my favourite sport properly, albeit as a rather late starter.

That first evening in the college bar, I casually mentioned the idea to my new friends. Immediately one of the boys offered to coach us, and most of the girls who played hockey decided they would give it a go for a laugh.

The prospectus was right – I wasn’t just going to be playing football, somehow I was the founder and captain of my own team. Now I would just need to learn how to kick the thing, never mind head it. After all these years watching Charlton – and Steve Gritt – I must have picked up a trick or two…


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Charlton v Chelsea 1977: Looby Loo’s Little Trip

Saturday afternoon, late March 1977 in our little council house in Belvedere; Charlton hadn’t had a home match for ages. I picked up a recent programme to check the next fixtures. Two big games at The Valley – Good Friday v Millwall and Easter Monday v Chelsea. Those were going to be fun –sure to be loads of goals. Then I shuddered. What were those dates again?

I mulled things over until tea-time: Mum’s Saturday special spread of salad with boiled potatoes and corned beef. I ladled out some Piccalilli, and waited for a quiet moment. “You know that school trip I’m meant to be going on to Brighton…well, do I really have to go?”

“It’s all booked now, isn’t it?” said Mum, “What’s the matter? There’s nothing wrong, is there? John – you don’t think she’s being bullied, do you?”

Dad was obliviously tucking into a salad-cream-covered boiled potato, but Mum dragged him into the conversation. “You’re not, are you, Heather?”
“Well, no, of course not,” I said. There was a long pause.
“It’s the football, isn’t it?” Dad joined in at last.
“Yes, Dad. I really don’t want to miss the Chelsea match on Easter Monday. I’ve only just realised it clashes. So is it OK if I don’t go on the school trip?”

Mum glowered across the table at her husband.

“Well, it’s all paid for now, Heather, I think you’ll just have to go,” Dad said quietly, staring at the potato on his fork.


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The Truth about Gentleman Jerry

The achievements of Jerry Kerr are such that he deserves to be lauded as one of the pioneering Scottish managers alongside the likes of Jock Stein and Bill Shankly. But for decades he was not even welcome at Dundee United, the club he helped shape.

A poignant story based on interviews with the family.

First published in Nutmeg Issue Three, March 2017, and featured in Scotland and Sunday.

“As a manager, he never swore, never lost his temper, was never rude to anyone. He was respected as a gentleman and there aren’t many managers of the modern game you can say that about.” Rhona Haston, an elegant lady in her seventies, talks with warmth and passion about her late father, Jerry Kerr.

I am meeting Rhona and her son, Ross, to hear more about this intriguing man, who clearly meant the world to them. Rhona hands me several black and white photographs. Despite my keen interest in football, I am embarrassed to admit that I know next-to-nothing about the balding, well-dressed figure, sometimes sporting a trilby, nearly always puffing on a pipe, usually managing an affable smile. Yet this is a man whose achievements in transforming his club should be lauded in the Scottish Hall of Fame alongside Jock Stein’s Celtic triumphs and Bill Shankly’s galvanising of Liverpool.


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Charlton v Middlesbrough 2016: Stay or Go?

Article originally written for Charlton Athletic Supporters’ Trust.

The TV camera zoomed in on the North Upper at the Valley to show supporters straggling their way to the exits just after the 74th minute. It then lingered for a moment on what, for me, has become the abiding image on a day of so many: the Grim Reaper, still sat in his seat, furtively glancing around.

You could clearly sense the dilemma – was it the moment to up and walk out in pre-planned protest with fellow fans or stay put and cheer on the team to an unlikely victory?

From my sofa – no, not that incongruous one by the corner flag – far away in Scotland I felt total empathy with this sinister black and white figure. If I’d managed the trip to London for this game, instead of the Reading humdinger a couple of weeks before, I’d be there now, near the front of the North Upper too. Would I get up and depart?


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