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Ritchie to rags: Four turbulent decades are chronicled in a new book on Morton

AS sports editor of the Greenock Telegraph, Roger Graham spent 36 years of his life covering Morton matches.

Andy Ritchie clashes with Willie Miller. Benny Rooney, above, one of many Morton managers. Pictures: Herald Archive
Andy Ritchie clashes with Willie Miller. Benny Rooney, above, one of many Morton managers. Pictures: Herald Archive

Some might say that is akin to a life sentence, but it was mostly a labour of love. I say mostly because, for all the high points, like dealing day-to-day with the wayward genius that was Andy Ritchie or Allan McGraw's flying Finns of the mid-1990s, his affection for the place was sorely tested by Hugh Scott, the controversial former owner. This was the man who took the club into administration, alienated the support, threatened to sell up to all manner of shadowy figures and generally seemed to pioneer the Craig Whyte blueprint for running a football club.

"I spent four years where I felt more like a war correspondent than a football writer," said Graham, who has compiled his memories into a book, Following The Ton, which also neatly serves as volume two of the club's history. "I could paper my house with lawyers letters from Hugh Scott, threatening to sue me and all this sort of stuff. When Morton eventually went into administration it was something in the football world which was little known about," he added. "It all came back to me with what happened at Rangers, but it was a terribly complex business and a real job trying to unravel all these connections and expose them. I felt really drained after all that, and even took time off from football for a season, going to cover the Greenock Wanderers rugby matches."

A sign of things to come was the banning of the 'Tele' by Scott early in his tenure when one of their news reporters had the temerity to report that he had failed to adequately settle his bill for a squad get-together at a Brodick hotel. After a brief discussion about whether Graham should simply pay admittance and file copy from the terracing, an alternative approach was pursued.

"My view was that we shouldn't be bullied," he said. "Because of the big Rangers and Celtic support in Inverclyde I decided we will go up to Ibrox one week and Parkhead the next and that will put pressure on them. The first game after the ban was at Partick Thistle, but the next week I went to watch Rangers v Motherwell, with a line at the bottom of the report with the Morton score against Dundee. The ban was lifted the following week."

Far more pleasurable journalistic interaction was provided by the Ritchie era of the late 1970s, early 1980s, where the club played five memorable Premier League seasons on the trot and even headed the table at the halfway stage. There was the game, for instance, where Ritchie helped opposing goalkeeper Alan Rough set up a wall and discussed a wager with the referee before curling a free-kick into the top corner; or the day he joked he must have 'fallen in a puddle' when someone noticed him sweating after a match.

"I remember Ian Archer, the best sports writer around at the time, saying to me, 'Roger, you are a hell of a lucky man, because you get to watch him every week'," says Graham.

If Morton are one of the Scottish game's traditional yo-yo clubs, the era of Alan McGraw – who writes the foreword to Graham's book – saw things moving in the right direction again. The man who scored a record 58 league and cup goals for the club in 1963-64 took Morton to the cusp of the old Premier League-First Division play-offs in 1995-96. "Allan was running a scouting system which worked because of his contacts and because they were willing to work for very little. When Hugh Scott came in they all pretty much left with him."

Twelve eventful years have now elapsed since Douglas Rae prised the club from the clutches of Scott at the 11th hour. The club's recovery has been drawn out, but Morton are now on the coat-tails of Partick Thistle and Dunfermline in the Irn-Bru first division, and are into the last 16 of the Scottish Cup.

"I reckon Douglas loses about £350,000 a year running Morton and the best they have ever done is sixth in the first division," said Graham. "But they are doing better this season than at any point under his tenure and, hopefully, they can get back into the top division at some point."

Graham, who was made redundant in 2010, may no longer be there to chronicle it all, but the next few chapters of the Morton story should make interesting reading.

n Following the Ton – A career covering Greenock Morton (1974-2010) by Roger Graham, is published by Bright Pen

INTERVIEW Four turbulent decades are chronicled in a new book on Morton. Stewart Fisher reports

AS sports editor of the Greenock Telegraph, Roger Graham spent 36 years of his life covering Morton matches. Some might say that is akin to a life sentence, but it was mostly a labour of love. I say mostly because, for all the high points, like dealing day-to-day with the wayward genius that was Andy Ritchie or Allan McGraw's flying Finns of the mid-1990s, his affection for the place was sorely tested by Hugh Scott, the controversial former owner. This was the man who took the club into administration, alienated the support, threatened to sell up to all manner of shadowy figures and generally seemed to pioneer the Craig Whyte blueprint for running a football club.

"I spent four years where I felt more like a war correspondent than a football writer," said Graham, who has compiled his memories into a book, Following The Ton, which also neatly serves as volume two of the club's history. "I could paper my house with lawyers letters from Hugh Scott, threatening to sue me and all this sort of stuff. When Morton eventually went into administration it was something in the football world which was little known about," he added. "It all came back to me with what happened at Rangers, but it was a terribly complex business and a real job trying to unravel all these connections and expose them. I felt really drained after all that, and even took time off from football for a season, going to cover the Greenock Wanderers rugby matches."

A sign of things to come was the banning of the 'Tele' by Scott early in his tenure when one of their news reporters had the temerity to report that he had failed to adequately settle his bill for a squad get-together at a Brodick hotel. After a brief discussion about whether Graham should simply pay admittance and file copy from the terracing, an alternative approach was pursued.

"My view was that we shouldn't be bullied," he said. "Because of the big Rangers and Celtic support in Inverclyde I decided we will go up to Ibrox one week and Parkhead the next and that will put pressure on them. The first game after the ban was at Partick Thistle, but the next week I went to watch Rangers v Motherwell, with a line at the bottom of the report with the Morton score against Dundee. The ban was lifted the following week."

Far more pleasurable journalistic interaction was provided by the Ritchie era of the late 1970s, early 1980s, where the club played five memorable Premier League seasons on the trot and even headed the table at the halfway stage. There was the game, for instance, where Ritchie helped opposing goalkeeper Alan Rough set up a wall and discussed a wager with the referee before curling a free-kick into the top corner; or the day he joked he must have 'fallen in a puddle' when someone noticed him sweating after a match.

"I remember Ian Archer, the best sports writer around at the time, saying to me, 'Roger, you are a hell of a lucky man, because you get to watch him every week'," says Graham.

If Morton are one of the Scottish game's traditional yo-yo clubs, the era of Alan McGraw – who writes the foreword to Graham's book – saw things moving in the right direction again. The man who scored a record 58 league and cup goals for the club in 1963-64 took Morton to the cusp of the old Premier League-First Division play-offs in 1995-96. "Allan was running a scouting system which worked because of his contacts and because they were willing to work for very little. When Hugh Scott came in they all pretty much left with him."

Twelve eventful years have now elapsed since Douglas Rae prised the club from the clutches of Scott at the 11th hour. The club's recovery has been drawn out, but Morton are now on the coat-tails of Partick Thistle and Dunfermline in the Irn-Bru first division, and are into the last 16 of the Scottish Cup.

"I reckon Douglas loses about £350,000 a year running Morton and the best they have ever done is sixth in the first division," said Graham. "But they are doing better this season than at any point under his tenure and, hopefully, they can get back into the top division at some point."

Graham, who was made redundant in 2010, may no longer be there to chronicle it all, but the next few chapters of the Morton story should make interesting reading.

Following the Ton – A career covering Greenock Morton (1974-2010) by Roger Graham, is published by Bright Pen

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