I HAD two watches, a tape recorder the size of a family car and was easily a good two hours early at Hampden.

Well, who would want to be late for Queen’s Park playing Arbroath in Scottish football’s lowest senior league in a game watched by 400 people at most in a stadium with a capacity of 60,000?

This was my debut. As a football writer. Not a player, tragically. I was 19 and as nervous as the first time a girl lowered her standards enough to have sex, briefly, with me.

You never forget your first time. I got better, I think, with girls. As for writing a match report – a whole 300 words that day as it so happens – my under-whelming career in journalism whispers for itself.

I was told to speak to the great Eddie Hunter, a legendary character at Queen’s then and now, after the match. His team won but still there was an awful lot of swearing within his quotes. It was a tough introduction to the game.

There were a lot of firsts. The by-line in a national, press conference, speaking to an actual footballer, that first phone call to some Raith player (I think), gasp, at their own home. If you wanted to do the job full-time, and wanted to be good, you had to do all of this.

It was difficult, cold, and your weekends weren’t free. As for Wi-Fi…it hadn’t even been invented. The phone had. In some parts of Scotland. But even then, the one (that’s one) in the press box more often than not didn’t work. In those days, and for many years, you phoned your brilliant copy to the copytakers who could type faster than anyone could talk.

Ah, those weren’t the days.

Actually, there were. It didn’t do much for the nerves, a lot of growing up was done very quickly, but it taught you what was what.

It’s how most of my generation of hacks started to learn this trade. Every single one of us made an arse of it. More than once. We’ve all got scores wrong. Goalscorers mixed up. I once bought a Sunday Mail as a young freelance to read with horror those awful sub editors (subs) had changed my copy.

How was I supposed to know they wanted their 16 pars in plain English and in a way that people could read it without saying out loud: “What is this rubbish?”

It was a game at Brockville. Nine goals, red cards and a mini pitch invasion. I felt myself shouting out loud: “Could things stop happening.”

That’s when I was a copyboy at the Evening Times. It was 1991. A lot has happened to newspapers since then, not all of it absolutely wonderful, but over 28 years, three countries, including time spent in the Middle East, for a dozen or so titles, I’ve found it mostly to be a right laugh and far better than getting a proper job.

But after well over 1000 games, 60-odd countries, a million hours of hanging about waiting on people who do not want to talk to you, it’s time to say goodbye.

This is my last week in newspapers. It’s been a journey. Up, downs, even more downs, and a few foreign trips which we will draw a discreet veil over. There have been one or two missteps along the way. I can’t lie.

I’ve visited Barcelona, New York, Vancouver, Johannesburg, Moscow, Tokyo and many more. Not many folk I went to school with have seen so much of the world.

I’ve managed to get an 900 word inside ‘spread’ and 500 back page news piece from Alessandro del Piero (a good, good pal) which was impressive enough, but even more so given the great Italian was only able to give me two minutes of his time while fighting off autograph hunters inside the tunnel of the Faroe Islands ground.

Knock-backs have come from Xavi, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Kenny Dalglish and, erm, Nicky Walker.

After a spate of successful chipped penalties in Scottish football, three days were spent chasing Antonin Paneka to get him to congratulate the followers of his fashion. Having got his number, I rang, he answered, and in perfect English told me he wasn’t interested.

I’ve been banned from Ross County and Dens Park. While working in Newcastle, I got all three of the titles I’ve worked with at the time banned from St James’ Park.

People hate you because of the job you do. It’s not an easy way to make a shilling but it’s a good one. You can have a real laugh and every so often get to be the man of record for your paper at a football match that will be remembered for years to come. That was and remains a great rush.

There have been difficult times. Laptops never work. Last-minute goals are exciting as long as you don’t have to write about them as a deadline thunders towards you. There will be press conferences when the guy we’ve all come along to talk to, Gordon Strachan for example, can’t be bothered and issues only one-word answers.

Some of the people I have worked for were dreadful. They won’t know who they are. That’s narcissism for you.

Being sworn at by punters is never nice. Social media is a cesspit of hate. And Scotland can get really cold. Sitting outside for two hours in freezing conditions is never fun. However, most of what we do is.

And I got to work for The Herald, which was my dream at 15. Well, that and marrying Wynona Ryder.

For a lad with no qualifications, I’ve done okay. Nothing more. I’ve worked with some of the greats and some great guys and galls. I love journalists. Proper journalists. We get the job done and then, once the last line is filed, are up for some fun.

But it’s time to try something else .This column will keep appearing, apologies about that, but I’m done with the rest of it and it’s done with me. Every box ticked, every emotion experienced.

As they say, I’ve had a right good kick at the ball.