A LEGEND REMEMBERED POST MATCH:
By David Walker
A friend to most, a mentor to many, Ron Scott was a great sports writer, more than that he was a great man
This page normally carries The Voice of Experience, an insightful, thought-provoking and entertaining column, written by Ron Scott.
It’s absent today, leaving a void in this newspaper which will never adequately be filled.
Ron, Ronnie, Scottie, Scotia – he answered to them all – passed away last Saturday afternoon at the age of 70.
The previous day, he had filed his final column from his bed in Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, having asked his brother, Bruce, to fetch his laptop from home, even though his health was ailing.
That was Ronnie all over, always going the extra mile to make sure his copy reached the office in good time.
His last piece of work landed in my Inbox at 12.35pm a week past Friday.
A little over 24 hours later, Ronnie was gone.
His passing reverberated throughout Scottish football, and beyond, unleashing an outpouring of heartfelt praise from all walks of the game – fellow journalists, players past and present, managers, administrators and supporters.
He was a friend to most, a mentor to many and essential company whenever journalists got together to discuss the game, be that socially or professionally.
Ever the traditionalist, Ronnie didn’t have much time for the perpetual debate about summer football.
That, however, didn’t dissuade him from declaring seasons of his own – Johnnie Walker Black Label in winter, Tanqueray gin in the summer.
Unique, funny, reassuring, gregarious, legendary, immortal.
Just a few of the adjectives used to describe Ronnie amongst the many messages I have received in recent days, and those posted on Twitter.
Sadly, that final adjective was inaccurate.
It was ironic that his death had such an impact on social media, something Ronnie considered “a pest”.
Never slow to have a laugh at his own expense, he would have had chortled over that.
In the latter years of his working life, Ronnie was a reluctant convert to modern technology, preferring the old school way of notebook, pen and landline to laptops and mobiles.
Indeed, he was the last Sunday Post journalist in the 100-year history of this paper to phone his match report to a copytaker.
His Sports Editor for 28 years, and a pal for longer, I was happy to help him create another milestone in his life. And what a life Ronnie had. Born in his beloved Dundee in 1947, his father, Jimmie, was the Scottish scout for Preston North End, and Ronnie was a promising full-back himself.
He earned a trial for St Johnstone. Unfortunately for him, the venue was Ibrox and his direct opponent a fleet-footed youngster called Willie Johnston.
Already serving an apprenticeship in the Process Department of DC Thomson, Ronnie was given another trial, this time as a reporter.
The first match he covered for The Sunday Post was a pre-season friendly in August,1968 between Arbroath and Shrewsbury Town at Gayfield.
He was duly given the opportunity to create a niche for himself on the Sports Desk, with the rider from one of my predecessors: “If it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to your trade.” Ronnie didn’t look back. Wembley Wizard Jack Harkness was The Post’s chief football writer at the time, with another former player, Doug Baillie, being readied to assume Jack’s role while Ron was growing his career and contacts book.
Those under Jack and Doug all aspired to being given the house by-line “Bill McFarlane”, afforded the next in line on the sports desk.
Ronnie’s eye for a story and skill at cultivating contacts – often in a nearby hostelry – soon stood him out from the crowd.
He duly acquired the moniker in the mid-1970s, and with it the unenviable task of having to explain to managers, players and the like why they were being interviewed by Ron Scott, but that the story would be written by Bill McFarlane.
Most took it in their stride, many with good humour.
And even when, in the mid1990s, company policy changed and Ronnie’s by-line matched his birth certificate, Dundee United boss, Ivan Golac, with a glint in his eye, would always greet him with: “And how are you, Beel?”
Another manager, whose view of a game differed from Ronnie’s, told him: “You were better when you were Bill McFarlane.”
Whatever his name, Ronnie became a trusted confidant and mentor for a succession of managers, players and colleagues.
He developed close relationships with many, including Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen, Jim McLean at Dundee United, plus Walter Smith and Gordon Strachan when they were setting out on their playing careers on opposite sides of Tannadice Street.
Fine dining and long, boozy nights with newspaper colleagues were de rigueur. But the job always got done
That allowed The Sunday Post to lead the way with breaking stories when the so-called New Firm were on the rise in the early-1980s.
Indeed, Ronnie was first with the news that Dundee United had sent Hamish McAlpine home from a tour of Japan, thanks to a call he received from Walter Smith in a Tokyo railway station.
Ronnie covered the two clubs’ memorable runs to European club Finals, with Aberdeen in 1983 and United four years later.
He also got close to the Old Firm and, thanks to Ronnie, The Post was also ahead of its rivals on breaking some of the biggest transfer deals to take place between Scotland and England.
The fact he had been entrusted to act as the middleman – basically “tapping” a player on behalf of a manager – may have had something to do with that!
Ronnie loved his job, and never really came to terms with the fact that he actually got paid for watching football.
There were lows, of course. He was at Hillsborough in 1989 when a FA Cup semi-final was rendered meaningless and he became a news reporter for the day.
Ronnie covered Scotland’s progress, or lack of it, at the World Cup Finals in 1990 and 1998, was at Euro 96 and visited some weird and wonderful places, from Amsterdam to Zagreb, covering Scotland, the Old Firm and our other European representatives.
Fine dining and long, boozy nights with newspaper colleagues were de rigueur. But the job always got done.
Ronnie never forgot his roots, and was a lifelong Dundee fan, as well as serving on the committee of junior outfit, Dundee Violet. Or Dundee Violent as he liked to call them!
Ronnie assumed the role of Chief Football Writer for The Sunday Post in January, 2002.
Even failure to qualify for major tournaments these past 20 years didn’t dent Ronnie’s air miles.
He covered countless club trips in Europe, North America, even Asia, and persuaded me it would be “a splendid idea” to convince my superiors to send him to the World Cup Finals in Germany in 2006 and the Euros in Austria & Switzerland two years later.
Symptomatic of the regard with which he’s held in Scottish football and beyond, Ronnie was elected President of the Scottish Football Writers’ Association in 2007, a position he held for three years.
He retired from full-time employment in 2012.
Ronnie did so with no regrets – but confided in me he was jealous of cricket correspondents from the early part of the 20th Century.
“Imagine it,” he would say, wistfully. “Off to Australia, on a cruise liner, to cover an Ashes series. Out of the office for weeks, no phone contact while at sea – and a bar. Wonderful!”
Ronnie enjoyed hitting a golf ball as much as the sound of leather on willow, but football was always his first love.
It was a measure of his standing that on the day Ronnie vacated the office, a bespoke message from Sir Alex Ferguson was played on DVD.
A tragic irony, therefore, that the medical demons that visited Sir Alex last Saturday were similar to those that ended Ronnie’s life.
Tonight the Scottish Football Writers’ Association will hold its 54th annual dinner in Glasgow.
More than 600 glasses will be raised in Ronnie’s honour, and our thoughts will turn to his family.
And I’ll see the big man there, a glass of Rioja in one hand, a fine cigar in the other.
And I won’t be alone in smiling, or shedding a tear, at the memory of a great man.
Ron Scott in the middle of the sort of company he kept, before the 1983 ECWC Final. To his left is Aberdeen manager Alex Ferguson, and on his right, Ian St John, together with journalist pals Ian Broadley and Ken Gallacher