An appreciation

ONE of Inverclyde’s most famous sons, the football commentator Alastair Alexander died on March 7, aged 83, in the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow.

While he was best known for his broadcasting work, Alastair was also an accomplished and published historian of the Clyde’s naval warfare history, penning the book, Action Stations! (2009). He also created the displays at Gourock Railway Station, highlighting the town’s role in the Second World War and the CalMac ships which sailed from there. Together with his book, these are amongst his greatest achievements.

Alastair was born in Parklea, Port Glasgow, on November 15, 1937, one of three children. He forever remained intensely proud of his home area.

His father Walter, who lived with sight and hearing loss, and his mother Marion, who was born on Skye, were understandably huge influences, something clearly demonstrated by his subsequent voluntary work with the Rex Blind Parties and love of shinty.

He met his family circumstances head-on with a resilience and fortitude that marked him out as a more than decent human individual, as well as a consummate professional in more than one area of life.

He trained as an architect at Glasgow School of Art before pursuing a career in the building industry, while maintaining his broadcasting and outside interests. Such was the life of the doyens of commentary in the 1980s that he could switch roles comfortably.

Forty years of Alastair’s life were spent commentating on more than 1,000 football matches, and describing countless other events, for BBC Scotland.

He took his original inspiration from the great Peter Thomson, whose commentary on a 3-1 Scotland victory at Wembley in 1949 had left him spellbound. “It’s then I knew what I wanted to do with my life,” he would recall, much later.

He first started commentating for people with vision-loss at Love Street, Paisley in 1959. Six years later he asked the BBC for an audition (as one had to do at the time).. He was on television the following week.

We can all still hear the dulcet tones of the maestro, declaring: “It was a peach of a goal on a balmy day in Greenock”. He once proudly said: “It’s what I’ve always wanted to do – and how many people can say that they have achieved that?”

He eventually spent 20 years on TV and then 20 on radio, best-known for his football coverage, and more than holding his own in the illustrious company of David Francey and Bob Crampsey.

It was a great privilege to share commentary duties with the great man in my early days as a commentator, beginning in 1984 (just two years into my BBC career) in Oban on a blisteringly hot day.

I learned a great deal from him over the next few years and he was fantastic to work with. Alastair was unashamedly “old school” and a great servant of the BBC’s legendary commentary teams in the 1980s and beyond. He began when it was the Home Service and moved seamlessly through the establishment of Radio Scotland, from TV to radio, through the era of new-fangled mobile phones, audio cassettes, DVDs and almost into digital technology.

He mastered the knack of delivering the names of international players as they should be pronounced. Famously, he once spelled out the surname of Dundee United’s Miodrag Krivokapic for the “benefit” of the match referee, who was having evident difficulty in writing it in his notebook.

In a nod to his mother’s roots, he found the addition of Gaelic sports coverage on BBC Alba, which he followed avidly, a fascinating addition to his world of sport.

His repertoire was principally football but he also lent his rich and iconic voice to other sports, including athletics, bowls and, with his greatest sense of enjoyment, “the shinty”. He retained his interest in the sport and its community, often enquiring after some of the legends he admired so much, such as Kerr Crawford, Tarzan Ritchie and the Fraser brothers. He also cherished the link with Glenmorangie, becoming a close friend of their commercial director, the late Peter Cullen.

Alastair was a great man and is a huge loss to our collective knowledge of our history, sport and broadcasting. Meticulous in his presentation and fastidious when it came to detail, he was a total professional.

The BBC bid him farewell with the traditional microphone presentation in October 2005 when he retired after his final game at Ibrox, having commentated at Celtic Park the previous week.

His mellifluous tones and classic delivery will live long in the memory. The voice encompassed his persona. His friendship counted for even more and his family will know a sense of loss which is simply unimaginable. Well played, Big Man. RIP Alastair mo charaid.

He was a stalwart of the Order of Royal Arch Freemasons in Scotland. He rose through the ranks, not only serving his own chapter, the Prince’s Royal Arch Chapter No 189, but, through his ability and commitment to the Order, he was commissioned as Depute Grand Superintendent of Glasgow in 1997.

He served as Grand Director of Ceremonies of the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland, and was elevated for his service to the office of Second Grand Principal in 2006. He was held in high regard by many throughout the whole of Scotland and beyond as someone who was a true Companion.

Alastair is survived by his three daughters, Shirley, Susan and Joyce, the latter’s husband Mark, grand-daughter Alex and grandson Callum.

His funeral, on Friday, March 26, at Greenock Crematorium, will be held in line with current Covid-19 restrictions. It is anticipated that a memorial service, to which friends and former colleagues, will be invited will be held when appropriate.