FIRST there was a text message through to my trusty Nokia 6310. Complete gobbledygook, something about attending my place of work immediately. Eh, at four o’clock on a Sunday morning? Then a phone call. No number came up, and anyway, it only rang three or four times. Someone looking for a taxi probably.

And then it rang again; my editor, hissing down the phone asking where I was and that they needed to get moving on the Di news. This threw me. The paper I was working for at the time had managed to come up with the cash to pay Paolo Di Canio, ex-Celtic and now of Sheffield Wednesday, for an exclusive series. Five grand got us three days of content, on both sides of the border, although to be perfectly fair, this was more of a marketing ploy up here than in England, especially with an Old Firm game on the Monday evening.

“Why do you need Di Canio so early?”

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“Di Canio? Di, Lady Di, Princess Diana, she’s dead.” So began the most bizarre week of my journalistic career, still as vivid twenty years on from the tragic event.

The phone call I had missed was picked up by our news editor, as he stumbled out of Cleopatra’s (Clatty Pat’s for local readers) in the wee small hours. Almost immediately, he took a call from a trainee, north bound for a three month stint in Glasgow. “What will I do?” he enquired. “Head for Balmoral,” was the reply.

Celtic and Rangers had announced almost immediately the cancellation of the Old Firm fixture. Understandable, and no bad thing considering Scotland had a crucial World Cup qualifier on the Saturday at Pittodrie against Belarus. But if Sunday was manic, Monday was just crazy.

The SFA and Jim Farry were defiant; there would be no switching of the game. The consensus, even on the sports desk, was that this wouldn’t go down well in certain places. We took our concerns to the editor. Surely the SFA should be held to account, or at least asked questions? This was a story. He however, was having none of it, stating only ‘moaning West of Scotland minis’ would see anything wrong.

By the next day, our editor had been forced to change his mind, rapidly. The eyes of the UK, the world, were on Scotland, the SFA and particularly Farry. Our English desks – both news and sport – down in Canary Wharf, fluctuated between bemusement and being incandescent with whatever emotion was passing at the time.

No-one was quite sure where this story was; Park Gardens, Glasgow, Westminster, Aberdeen or Balmoral. Out of those four, the Granite City appeared the least fraught. Well, it was on the Tuesday.

Wednesday arrived and so did another twist. The Rangers triumvirate of Ally McCoist, Gordon Durie and Andy Goram informed manager Craig Brown that, if the game took place on the Saturday – regardless of timings –  they’d be unavailable. The ‘gang of three’ held an impromptu press conference to state their case. Their grievance was genuine,  as McCoist confirmed years later, rather than playing to a particular audience.

If the situation looked confused close up, 500 miles away in London it appeared shambolic. Piers Morgan told me so. Things were serious if he rang. Then another call.

Forks, knives and even glasses were dropped as the football journalists were summoned to the lobby of the team hotel. A statement was read out by the SFA’s press officer Andy Mitchell. It was his first week in the job. He looked shattered. Simultaneously, Farry, interpolated on the steps of Park Gardens. At both venues, spats broke out as tired journos tried to hear the decree delivered.

It would be a Sunday game.

Wee Broon looked equally frazzled, but, was his usual, professional, phlegmatic self.  “The SFA has told me the game is now planned to go ahead on Sunday. I’ll have my team ready.”  And he did.

On the Thursday, life was almost returning to normality, summed up by an urgent call through to the news desk in Glasgow; our trainee operative in a B&B near Balmoral was standing down for a few hours to go an purchase some new, fresh boxer shorts.

I headed home on Friday, then travelled back on the Sunday. Scotland won 4-1.

In reflection 

The entire Diana episode was a unique event. Jim Farry was castigated by many from all parts of society, and the globe. However, in his defence, Farry was a rules and regulations man, who, found it impossible to deviate too much from his norm. Like the Royal household itself.

With the game finally moved to the Sunday, the Scots produced a great performance to see off Belarus, with Kevin Gallacher and David Hopkin, who had come on as substitute for Gary McAllister, both netting twice. Despite that performance, Hopkin didn’t make the World Cup in France the following year.

Neither, for that matter did, McAllister, Ally McCoist or Andy Goram, McAllister through injury, McCoist omitted from Craig Brown’s squad and Goram withdrawing for personal reasons.

And for the record, Di Canio wasn't paid as they never ran. I still have them ...