Sports writer

Sports writer

Born 30 January 30, 1945; Died October 20, 2014.

Glenn Gibbons, who has died at the age of 69, was a talented and pugnacious football correspondent, who could be as fiery to debate with in person as he was infinitely readable on the back pages of newspapers which were his professional home for over 45 years.

Latterly the football correspondent of The Scotsman, Gibbons also spent decades writing for both The Guardian and The Observer, and also put in shifts on the Scottish Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph. Like many of the gifted men and women of Scottish journalism, his start came at the famed DC Thomson stable in 1967.

Talented, passionate and polemical are among the many words you would apply to Gibbons. In his lovable and sometimes infuriating way, perhaps abrasive and even crabbit could also occasionally be applied. You took on Gibbons in argument at your peril. In worldly debate he was usually right and, in his eyes, he was right even when he was wrong. His career spanned the great and barren years of Scottish football, starting out when Jock Stein was in his prime as Celtic manager, then chronicling the rise of Aberdeen and Dundee United in the 1980s, through to recent times when aspects of the Scottish game hit the buffers.

Witnessing these various football adventures, Gibbons cast a sometimes joyful, sometimes withering eye in print. For many football fans, especially those of a more intelligent nature, he was a "must-read" in the old way of it.

Gibbons' writing style could be literate, a tad scholarly, and had a penchant for throwing in references to such historic figures as Thomas More or Abraham Lincoln as a means to set him on his way to creating a column or a line of thought. He was over time undoubtedly influenced by his friend, the great Hugh McIlvanney, whose own lauded style would come to be seen in the Gibbons archives as the years passed.

Nor to Gibbons, at times, did the craft come easy. Among his many foibles was a habit of phoning up colleagues, who themselves might be wrestling with a piece, to either chat or debate or sometimes harangue until the crucial "intro" for a column finally popped into his head.

With this achieved, sometimes after an hour of Gibbons gunfire, he would bid you goodbye and hang up the phone as swiftly as if a fire had just broken out around him.

Within 45 minutes his latest column would be crafted, while you were left to pick up the pieces of your own shattered train of thought. In this Gibbons was everything: informed, engaging, colourful, witty and sometimes infuriating. From all of this emerged writing that was captivating and widely admired on both sides of the border. It was noticeable, and a great compliment to Gibbons, that his output was much admired among his peers, by those of both a broadsheet and tabloid disposition.

He was born in 1945 in Maryhill and, like many of that generation who couldn't go on to higher education, clearly had a feel for words and a flair for language. In the 1960s the newspaper business, unlike today, was jangling with opportunity and excitement, and Gibbons duly signed up to the cause. Cup finals, World Cups and European fixtures all lay ahead of him.

He often admitted to having gone through his early years "knowing his place", keenly watching the older sportswriters at work, before experience and his own talent allowed him to become more opinionated. To those of us who knew Gibbons in his prime, it is hard to imagine any youthful meekness he once had.

This week the great and the good of Scottish football have acknowledged his place in the Scottish scene. Sir Alex Ferguson - whom Gibbons came to know at first, typically, via an argument, before the two became great friends - described him as "fearless" and "simply a great journalist".

My abiding memory of Gibbons has a Ferguson context to it. I watched him, in those last, frantic moments of the 1999 Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Manchester United, when the game abruptly shifted United's way, pounding away at his keyboard to adjust his story on deadline while journalistic panic and chaos reigned around him in the Nou Camp.

When he was voted Scotland's Sports Journalist of the Year in 2000 it was a fitting, if overdue, accolade for a supremely gifted writer.

His son, Michael Gibbons, who works in golf for the European Tour, said yesterday: "To me and my sister, Samantha, he was just the most amazing, most generous man in the world."

Gibbons is survived by his wife Mary and his two children.