TOWARDS the end of his career as a staff man on The Scotsman Glenn Gibbons alone relied on a notebook and pen while younger colleagues fiddled with their tape recorders and Dictaphones.

Like many veteran football writers Gibbons was far more interested in what a manager had to say than the banal platitudes pouring out of whichever squad player had been chosen for press conference duties. Often he would look at these young players with benign indifference, as if a child had wandered into the room when the grown-ups were there to discuss football. If the nonsense was particularly numbing he would lay his notebook and pen on the desk mid "quote", or else amuse himself by openly doodling.

The Gibbons pen will not be lifted again now. The death of one of Scotland's greatest football writers on Monday was not unexpected but still it came as startling news. He had been ill for some time, a fact known to friends and family but not to those who followed his trenchant Saturday columns in The Scotsman, and had recently been missing them. "Gibbo" was sharp, witty, argumentative, contrary and formidable. He could be warm and funny or a pain in the neck. The easiest way to disappoint him was to say something with which he agreed. It's hard to imagine a bundle of energy like that suddenly not being around any more. He was 69. No age at all.

His career took him to the Sunday Post, the Daily Mail, the Guardian and Observer (where his work appeared under the byline Patrick Glenn) and finally The Scotsman, from which he retired from frontline service in 2009. He was a wee Glasgow man, through and through, and the fact that he never graced the pages of the city's old broadsheet paper goes down as The Herald's great loss. The clarity and perceptiveness of his writing, and his command of language, were second to none. No-one wrote with greater elegance under the growing shadow of a final whistle deadline.

Young journalists making their way could be assured of his encouragement and support. When I worked in Aberdeen 20 years ago he would call to pass on what an Old Firm manager had said on the eve of a fixture against the Dons. He gave consistent approval to few, but among them were his friends, and peers, Jock Stein, Sir Alex Ferguson and the sportswriting doyen, Hugh McIlvanney. As a natural raconteur with a fund of anecdotes and a keen memory he was a natural source to tap when Rob Robertson and I wrote a book on Scotland's great managers four years ago. Gibbo recalled approaching "Mr Stein" as a young reporter on his first foreign trip with Celtic. "Do you mind if I call you Jock? He said that was fine. I was so pleased I went away clicking my heels." Not just happy, as the rest of us might have said, but "clicking his heels"! He was just as effortlessly descriptive and perceptive on Ferguson. A line we used from him in the book was: "Alex's competitiveness is legendary and it's so comprehensive: it's physical, it's cerebral, it's everything."

Those two were close, a friendship forged during Ferguson's years at Aberdeen. He had an enviable open line to Old Trafford for 26 years but the calls were two-way. When Ferguson struggled to recall a film title or the name of a song during a quiz he knew whose number to dial. Gibbons' range of interests spread far beyond football and included the movies, literature, music and the horses. He could quickly reel off all American presidents in chronological order, or all 50 states alphabetically. The pointlessness of being able to do so amused him.

In his later columns, he wrote witheringly about Scottish football's slow decline and its current mediocrity. He was a witness to, and superb chronicler of, a far more substantial period. If St Peter has anything to say about that he'd better prepare for an earful at the pearly gates.

Former Celtic owner Fergus McCann said last night: "I had the pleasure of knowing Glenn for over 20 years. He was a fine journalist and a man of great principle and of considerable talent. I am greatly saddened to hear of his passing. His independent and brave voice and the ability to see and convey the bigger picture brought him great respect as one of the best sports writers of his time. My prayers are with his family. May he rest in peace."