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My friend Arnold, an enemy of dullness

ON September 9, 2002 the finest Scottish journalist of his generation, Arnold Kemp, died.

Over the next few days many people in the Scottish press and many more in many other walks of life will remember with affection this most expansive and outgoing of Scotsmen. He edited this newspaper with flair and distinction for 13 years and I had the privilege to be his deputy for 11 of them.

The last thing Arnold would want would be any po-faced encomia. Deep down, he was a very serious man but he didn't like too many people to know that. He loved life and he loved enhancing it for others. He regretted that in journalism it was inevitable that you'd make a few enemies along the way, but he was never malevolent. The worst he would wish on anybody was a little mischief or confusion. His favourite toast was "Confusion to our enemies" and this is the splendid title of an excellent collection of his writings that has been collated by his daughter Jackie, and which will be published next week.

If Arnold were with us today he'd be very happy about much that has happened in Scotland in the past decade but he'd also be worried about some aspects of our national life which have gone into decline, not least our football. He regarded football as a kind of mirror of the Scottish soul.

Arnold was for many years a Hibs supporter – he was brought up within a mile of Easter Road, Edinburgh, and he remembered as a wee boy hearing the roar of the crowd when Hibs often played before 25,000 or 30,000 fans.

When he was interviewed for the Herald editorship one of the panel, a senior Glasgow businessman, demanded to know why he had supported Hibs rather than Hearts. There was maybe in this a whiff of the old "Which school did you go to?" query. Arnold blithely ignored that: he simply told the truth as he saw it, which was that Hibs played more bohemian, adventurous and watchable football.

That summed up Arnold's approach to journalism, work, politics, life: he disliked the meanness of spirit which he saw as a constantly lurking downside of the Scottish character. He wanted each new day to be a happy adventure, and the paper he edited reflected that.

He had a vast treasury of anecdotes about football and the Press. One concerned a venerable Scottish hack who for many years moonlighted on Saturdays for a certain Sunday paper. Eventually the old boy had enough and to amuse himself sent in a match report in which every single sentence was a cliché. His report actually began: "This was a game of two halves." That evening the ecstatic sports editor phoned him and said he'd never read such a stunningly well-written piece. A staff job was there for him if he wanted it.

When he moved to Glasgow Arnold took some time to get used to the Old Firm rivalry. He instinctively disliked tribalism and while he understood the intensity with which the two clubs were supported, he always wanted football fans to be Corinthian. That might seem ingenuous but one of his personal triumphs was that he could persuade many people that this was indeed the best way, not just to support a team, but to live.

He once went with me, an Aberdeen fan, to see Liverpool play the Dons. This was a European Cup game at Anfield in the autumn of 1980. On the way home, in the small hours, we got lost in Widnes. This was the last straw for me; I was already depressed, having seen the Dons thumped 4-0. Arnold, typically, insisted that I should be cheerful as I'd just seen a masterclass provided by the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen and Graeme Souness.

And he was right. He could always look on the bright side. He was the constant foe of dullness and dourness.

The Herald will publish extracts from Confusion to Our Enemies, selected journalism of Arnold Kemp edited by his daughter Jackie Kemp (Neil Wilson Publishing), in Saturday's Arts section.

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