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Man at the Met still flying the flag

ALBERT PATRICK made a very big impact on Scottish sport.

LET ME HELP YOU WITH THAT:  Robert Maxwell bounds on to the Meadowbank track as Albert Patrick's Saltire and pole go their separate ways in 1986. Picture: James Galloway
LET ME HELP YOU WITH THAT: Robert Maxwell bounds on to the Meadowbank track as Albert Patrick's Saltire and pole go their separate ways in 1986. Picture: James Galloway

It could hardly be otherwise, standing 6ft 3ins tall and weighing in at more than 20 stone. He competed as a superheavyweight wrestler in three successive Commonwealth Games: Edmonton, Brisbane and Edinburgh, winning silver, bronze, and then silver again.

Yet it was during the closing ceremony on a squally day at Meadowbank in 1986 that he made his most memorable public contribution, as Scotland's standard-bearer at the closing ceremony. As he approached The Queen, he raised a meaty fist, and clenching the pole at arm's length, shook it in time to the rhythmic clapping of the 22,000 crowd.

"The wind was howling and the flag just went off the end," he recalled this week. "I still have the video."

Like a wounded bird, the Saltire fluttered along the track, swept by the wind through puddles as officials looked on aghast. Suddenly, another giant (though less-muscular) figure sprang forward: Robert Maxwell. Stooped, at times almost on all fours, Fat Bob scrabbled on the track, trying to retrieve Scotland's honour.

Maxwell tried in vain to re-attach the banner, before Patrick himself succeeded. Maxwell returned, beaming, to his place beside Her Majesty.

It seemed a metaphor for the fiasco of the Games themselves - Maxwell, erstwhile financial saviour when the boycott struck, emerged ultimately as a fraud, though without his intervention it is very possible the 1986 edition might not have gone ahead.

Like most of the former Mirror Group proprietor's interests, nothing was actually as it seemed. Maxwell's financial support evaporated, as did that of his crony, Ryoichi Sasakawa, a Japanese billionaire "philanthropist" who had escaped hanging despite having been indicted as a class-A war criminal.

Within days, Games staff were fired and sent packing with overtime outstanding. Debts topped £4m and many suppliers were never fully paid. Captain Bob infamously raided his employees' pension fund and eventually disappeared at sea, presumed drowned.

No Scottish wrestler has won as many medals as Patrick, and none in 20 years, but he has "lost touch" with wrestling, and will miss Glasgow 2014. "The drugs annoy me. The only tablet I ever had was for a headache. They're just cheats. People took drugs in my time. One of the guys in my day - he's dead now - got caught." Perhaps more pertinently, he is too taken up with his grand-daughters and a still-competitve career as a rugby prop at the age of 65.

Patrick took up rugby at 21, having moved to London as a police cadet. He dabbled in basketball, hockey, javelin and hammer, and with the Metropolitan Police tug-of-war team, he won national and European titles. He is a judo black belt, and was nine times British wrestling champion. Boxing? "It never took to me," he says. "I ended in hospital with a broken nose."

But all except rugby have gone by the board. Patrick played 10 years for the Met XV, and for Kent. His last senior game was 10 years ago, but he still turns out for Blackheath Veterans. "We have a cup match on Saturday [April 26] against Doncaster. If they win, they go up. Then a month off and we start pre-season training. But this might be my last game. Or perhaps not."

He spent 10 years travelling up and down the M1 and M6 to Lilleshall, trying to get into the Olympic wrestling squad. "I think the English had the hump at me, because I went for Scotland rather than England. Perhaps that's why I never got selection. I qualified for England through residence, but I asked to go for Scotland before England came knocking at my door."

His Commonwealth debut in 1978 was: "the best holiday of my life. I was able to train, and relax - no problems from her who must be obeyed, or the kids - and just enjoy the Games. I'd wrestled in Europe, but not at that level before. To win against the Pakistani in 30 seconds, in front of the Prince of Wales and Duke of Edinburgh was great. The Canadian [gold medallist] cleaned me out. They'd a full-time squad.

"To have won gold in Scotland would have been great. Mum and dad would have enjoyed it - he was groundsman at Howe of Fife.

"I was team captain, flag-carrier. I'd have had a medal of each colour. With more competitive experience around the world and, if I'd gone to the Olympics, I might have been mentally harder. I was physically fit, but the Canadians were too strong."

The Fifer went to London as a cadet on leaving Bell Baxter High at 16, became a constable in Bethnal Green, rising through the ranks - CID, Flying Squad, superintendant on murders in the East End, then chief superintendant in the south-east. After "31 years of nicking villains" he was assigned to a desk job, helping pioneer a cold case review unit. "I'm a New Tricks officer now - still working, employed by the Met. I was one of 15 retired cops engaged to look at unsolved cases in 2000, and three years later I was employed full time deal with reviews."

So how authentic is New Tricks, with Dennis Waterman and Amanda Redman? "They've got a female boss, and so have we. That's about as close as it gets." Among several high profile cases worked on by the team was the Rachel Nickell murder. But he says: "You don't solve every one you look at, and the frustration is finding something new. We can't take it any further and have to hand it over to teams up to their necks in work already."

He interrupted a school run for his two grand-daughters to recall his career. His younger daughter gets married in September. "I will wear my Edinburgh '86 kilt, but I'll need a new jacket. The original doesn't fit."

And the closing ceremony flag? It now has pride of place at Blackheath Rugby Club, between the two bars, though it briefly went missing: "I think Mickey Skinner had something to do with that," explains Patrick - England flanker Skinner, a clubmate, still turns up at the club.

But how did it get there?

"After the closing ceremony, we were all told to hand in the flags. I followed The Queen's carriage out of the stadium, managed to stuff the flag up my jumper, under my jacket. I gave them the bare pole back, and said: 'I'm sorry. The Queen nicked it!"

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