The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 19

August 16, 2009

The Forgotten Ones – Number 19 – Arthur Montford

arthurIn the early days of TAG such colossi of communication as Alistair Dewar, George Davidson and Fraser Elder received the “forgotten ones” treatment I’ve been prompted to exhume the grand-daddy of them all, Arthur Montford, as a result of his recent cameo appearances on BBC during Morton’s “cup-run” (ie they won one game). Arthur was introduced as Morton’s most famous supporter, just in time to witness them being shunted right off “the road to Hampden” by Kilmarnock. His appearance was the cue for Chick Young to run through his repertoire of “checked jacket” jokes. You know the kind of thing “Here’s the man who many remember as looking like a mobile test card. He’s got more checks in his jacket than David Murray, and more lines than Hamlet. His dress sense makes Derek Johnstone look like Beau Brummel and his jackets are even more dazzling than the top of my head” etc, etc, bore, bore, puke.

Arthur’s main claim to fame is, of course, the many years he spent as a commentator, and then frontman, for STV’s Scotsport programme. In the sixties, television coverage of football wasn’t the slick, all-seeing, multi-camera, instant-replay, slow- mo, fast-mo, wee-mo, creation that we all know and love today. On the contrary, STV were equipped with a single, static, monochrome camera which someone had found in John Logie Baird’s garden shed, stamped “early prototype. 1921- ­totally buggered”.

Most of the time the film quality was literally laughable and Scotsport was universally know as “Montford’s Mad Movies”. The alarming variability in the speed of the film contrived to make your average Dundee vs Third Lanark game look like an episode from the Keystone Cops. The slapstick atmosphere was merely emphasized by some truly madcap editing, where a shot at goal at one end of the ground would be interrupted in mid-flight and be stitched straight on to the ball landing in the net at the other end. Equally entertaining were those zany occasions when the cameraman was apparently a bit “over-refreshed” and the highlights would consist of crazy zig-zagging movements across the back of the terracing as he made a vain attempt to locate the whereabouts of the ball.

Sometimes the “highlights” would come to an abrupt halt half way through the first half while Arthur solemnly announced that regrettably a heavy snow-storm had at that point made further filming impossible – ­this coming as complete news to those punters who’d actually been at the game, basking in sunshine throughout. Occasionally, Arthur would put his hands up and admit to the viewers that “as a result of technical difficulties we are unable to bring you any of the goals from this game, which, incidentally, finished 4-3 for Thistle “. One such occasion (the precise details escape me) involved showing a Rangers goal in an Old Firm game, but “due to technical difficulties etc etc we are unable to bring you the two Celtic goals. I do hope that hasn’t spoiled your enjoyment of the game”. Even 25 years later some still suspect a Masonic conspiracy.

Straight Jacket?

Like all commentators, Arthur had his own verbal idiosyncrasies. The slightest hint of more than two players challenging for the same ball gave rise to the exclamation, “What a stramash “, while the scoring of a goal was almost always accompanied by the cry “It’s a sensation “. Any sort of high cross ball into the box was punctuated by the description, “Up go the heads”, while at the end of every match Arthur routinely persuaded himself that there were “sporting handshakes all round”, when what the viewer could actually see were snarling, spitting players, gesturing and swearing at each other against a backdrop of opposing fans fighting it out on the terraces. Another baffling verbal tic was the way in which he introduced highlights of English football by saying, “We join the match halfway through the first half, WHERE AS YOU CAN SEE, there’s no score”. What? How could we see that? I never figured that one out at all.

Arthur truly came into his own when it was his turn to commentate on matches featuring the Scottish national team. Not for him the namby-pamby objectivity and impartiality which are currently fashionable. Instead, Arthur wore his lion rampant on his sleeve, and you would never have caught him describing an opposition goal as anything other than “extremely lucky, one might justifiably say jammy”. Limb-rupturing tackles performed by those in Caledonian blue were “robust, but perfectly within the rules “, while similar operations carried out by the opposition were, “vicious, violent, thuggish, morally reprehensible and entirely the kind of criminal behaviour we’ve come to expect from (insert name of opposing country) “.

His shameless bias reached its spectacular zenith during the nerve-shredding match with Czechoslovakia in 1974 which Scotland had to win to qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time since nineteen­canteen. Never was the saying about “fans with microphones” so true. The obvious nervous tension and near-panic in Arthur’s voice was a perfect companion to what was happening both on and off the pitch. He sounded just like I felt. When the Czechs scored first, you could actually hear Arthur battling to keep his emotions under control ­and losing. ”Disaster for Scotland, disaster for Scotland”, he wailed in near hysterical tones. The commentary degenerated into a series of “C’mon Scotland” pleas. Jim Holton’s equaIising goal was accompanied by the sound of Arthur’s head hitting the roof of the commentary booth. As the Scots desperately sought the winner, Arthur became more and more agitated until it became quite obvious that he was temporarily insane. Kenny Dalglish was substituted by Joe Jordan. As the two shook hands on the touchline Arthur raved madly,
“Kenny says to Joe, ‘Stick one in the net for me, Joe ‘. Joe says to Kenny, ‘I will, Kenny, I will”.

As time ticked by, all pretence at commentary was given up and Arthur joined the rest of us in yelling the team on. A Bremner shot hit the post. As it was cleared out of the box, Arthur was practically weeping as he attempted to encapsulate the cruel, cruel fortune to which the Scottish race had been subjected for millennia. The ball was swung back in. Arthur screamed, “JORDAN – GOAL “.

As Hampden Park exploded into a sea of flags, a seething mass of bodies hugging each other, and a full-throated roar from 100,000 fans, the television viewer was treated to the sound of Arthur falling off his chair followed by a series of strangulated, gurgling noises, which sounded like an animal in its final extremities. Arthur readily understood that this was no time for dispassionate analysis, and instead he just wrapped himself in a tartan scarf and “Remember Bannockbum” flag, and gave it laldy on the old “Marvellous, fantastic brilliant, brilliant Scotland” routine. His finest hour.

After that, it was off to Germany for the Finals. By the time of our third group game we were unbeaten, but had to defeat Yugoslavia to qualify for the quarter-finals. After a brave, brave performance we were trailing 1-0 with only seconds remaining. The Yugoslavs brought on a defensive midfielder called ‘Killer’, prompting Arthur to comment, “Killer by name, Killer by nature. C’mon, Scotland”. Jordan equalised. Too late. We all knew that. Arthur knew it. Billy Bremner knew it. Bremner’s celebratory lunge at Jordan, and the extravagant, despairing, hugging which followed, were eloquent of the most acute emotional pain couple with a fist-shaking defiance in the face of adversity. The final whistle blew. If words were needed, Arthur supplied them. “That’s it, it’s all over. We’re out, they’re through. It’s so, so unfair. We haven’t lost a game, but we’re out. It’s so unfair… “. His voice tailed off as he gave way to the same tears the rest of us were weeping.

Czech Jacket?

montford2There are many reasons why I have happy memories of Arthur Montford. His passion for the national team for one. His passion for football for another. He never made any pretence about finding the statutory coverage of other sports as being an irritating necessity. But most of all, I remember him for his decency and civilisation. He was a gentleman. At a time when a troupe of gibbering baboons currently monopolise the airwaves, it is pleasant to recall how it should be done. While Chick, Gerry, Jim, Derek and Hazel et al jostle with each other to express what are laughingly called “their opinions”, and compete with each other to trivialise the game with a series of puerile puns and pithy anecdotes, let us celebrate Arthur Montford as one of the last of the genuine communicators (the other one is Bob Crampsey, but that’s another story). I’ll round this “forgotten one” off by recalling the occasion when Scotland played Czechoslovakia away from home in a stadium which was undergoing reconstruction. There were no spectators on the nearside of the pitch with the consequence that the TV microphones were able to pick up the voices of the players when they were near the touchline. Naturally, Scotland found themselves a goal down with time ticking away. The ball went out of play on the nearside. Denis Law dashed over to take the shy. The wee Czech boy who was supposed to be retrieving the ball was not displaying the necessary urgency. The camera had zoomed right on to Law’s face at the moment when he shouted,
“Hey, ya wee bastard, geez the fuckin’ ball”’.
With his customary urbanity Arthur commented, “Denis urging the ball-boy, quite correctly I may add, to get a move on with it”.

First published in TAG 38 – May 1994


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