A Game of Two Halves

 by Archie Macpherson
Black & White, £17.99
Reviewed by Archie MacGregor
From WSC 278 April 2010

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As unlikely alliances go, learning that Archie Macpherson was once good pals with Jeremy Paxman during their days on breakfast TV in the late 1980s must rank right up there as one of the most bizarre double acts in the history of tele­vision. There's no suggestion that they've remained close buddies ever since, rather the rapport was a fleeting mutual support mechanism designed to help both of them deal with the mind-numbing ordeal of early morning broadcasting. Look what it did to Frank Bough after all.

This book is full of odd snippets like this and other tales, where bonhomie is conspicuously absent as Macpherson takes us through over 40 years' worth of collisions between monstrous egos (his own included) in the worlds of media and sport. Those looking for an in-depth analysis of the traumas and transformations that have impacted on the subject with which he is still most readily associated – Scottish football – will be disappointed. Or forced to ponder that having previously churned out three perfectly respectable volumes on aspects of the Scottish game Macpherson is perhaps being forced to delve into outtakes to pad out this particular tome.

Indeed, it's not until nearly 100 pages have been racked up that his career as a commentator starts to take off. In fairness, Macpherson's previous life as a teacher in the west of Scotland is not without interest. A recurring theme is the grim omnipresence of sectarian division. This manifests itself in ways that most sane folk would surely deem to be beyond parody, such as the Lanarkshire mining village where he once held a teaching post which featured a pub with separate entrances for Catholics and Protestants. Or his visit from a local priest one day being followed up by another from a member of the local Lodge in the interests of what could only euphemistically be called even-handedness.

The subject was far from left behind when Macpherson entered the ostensibly refined world of BBC Scotland in the 1960s. Instead he paints a depressing picture of institutionalised bias against both Celtic and the employment of Catholics within its sports broadcasting wing at the time. The role of the cunning and pugnacious Jock Stein in demanding change to all of this is impressively recounted. It's a mark of just how formidable the barriers were that for all his achievements it took the BBC until 1973 – seven years after the triumph of Lisbon – to get round to inviting Stein to be a studio pundit for an international match.

No self-respecting reporter's memoir would be complete without a recollection of a vein-bulging shouting match with Alex Ferguson and sure enough it's here along with amusingly terse exchanges with everyone else from Kenny Dalglish to Captain Mark Phillips. There's plenty too on the essentially transient nature of the broadcasting profession and as Macpherson's career winds down with stopovers at Eurosport and the last ever edition of the once revered Scotsport programme there's more than a hint of Alan Partridge-style pathos in the air. Even Norwich's finest might struggle to outdo Macpherson's longevity however – or that oft lampooned hairstyle for that matter.

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