TWENTY years in sports writing have taught me some valuable things.

One of these is a GPS-quality knowledge of the location of petrol stations and supermarket cafes and their proximity to various Scottish football grounds. Anything to avoid going into the office.

I have learned a new lexicon, whereby the word ‘briefs’ also means ‘tickets’. Don’t try going into Marks and Spencer and asking for some. All you would get is a pair of pants.

This is a strange world of warchests, pleas and probes, where words are liberally inter-changed to adhere to the golden rule that you should never use the same noun in repeated sentences. But there is never any other shorthand capable of adequately describing a ‘get it up ye’ gesture.


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More than a pumped fist or a clenched hand, it is, quite simply, a ‘get it up ye’ gesture: Alex ‘Tattie’ Marshall, the daddy of said gesture, taught me that at the Commonwealth Games five years ago. That is reason enough for the football authorities to try to prohibit them during goal celebrations.

Over these 20 years I have learned, hopefully, when to ask some of the right questions. Or to put it another way, when not to ask the wrong ones. You have the death stares of a Walter Smith or a Martin O’Neill to thank for that.

I was reminded of this at Lennoxtown this week, when I noticed a Celtic-minded Twitter aficinado upbraiding a broadcast journalist from his living room for having the temerity to ask Scott Brown his opinion on the Alfredo Morelos sending-off incident at Motherwell.

Brown, a man who had at least been through something similar, was savvy enough to suspect he might get asked it and deftly side-stepped the inquiry. Fair enough. But don’t blame the journalist for asking it. That’s his job. You would be entitled to blame him if he hadn't.

I have seen a frankly ludicrous amount of live football in my life over this period – for a while at least I was easily averaging three games a week. And I still mostly enjoy it. Even if I get twitchy these days when I to watch one without any reason to take down some notes.

Lord knows others have had far longer stints than me, but I’ve seen some changes in the industry these last 20 years. Originally part of a groaning pool of reporters and subs charged with pulling the Sunday Herald together, this swiftly became a seven-day operation, before recent years have seen me working with more different managers at the Herald than an Atletico Madrid player in the Jesus Gil era.

Once filed via a 40-minute phone conversation between a Yorkshire lady who cannot understand my accent - she clearly wasn't a keen follower of Giovanni van Bronckhorst's work, as I had to painstakingly spell his name out - now reporters write into templates direct onto the page, saying silent prayers for their Wi-Fi connections on Champions League nights.


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Where once we used to navigate epic rows between ‘dailies’ and ‘Sundays’ , now there are arguments between ‘digital desks’ and print. The fear remains that one day football clubs might just decide, like Boris Johnson giving Andrew Neil the body-swerve, to cut out the middle man and churn it all out through their own internet and social media channels instead.

There’s been some grand old days in the office. Glasgow 2014, Gold Coast 2018, Seville 2003, Manchester 2008, all of Andy Murray’s Grand Slam triumphs – I wouldn’t have traded the experience of being there for anything.

Even if I had to write about three million words of copy about his last Wimbledon triumph in 2016 and was unable to take up my invite to the Champions’ Ball. Hopefully I’ll still make it along for Andy’s future Grand Slam wins too.

The Commonwealths in Glasgow were a blast, as was its successor in the Gold Coast in 2018, even if the logistics were challenging. The Grenadan beach volleyball team found that out the hard way, when official organisers managed to bus them to Brisbane instead of the courts at Coolangatta. That is a cool 100km away.

I’ve learned my trade from some real top operators and made some great friends and colleagues – many of whom work for different papers - along the way. I’m still recovering from the trauma of e-mailing my quotes piece from the recent Feyenoord versus Rangers match on a colleague’s iPad after the bottom row of my keyboard stopped working due to the incessant Rotterdam rain.

Had he not been there to come to my aid, my intro would have read something like this: “Rx~04 v&W<>@#”. Yes, I know, that’s better than my usual stuff.


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Perhaps the biggest privilege of all is getting first-hand access to some remarkable sports people. The more you know about the personalities which lie beneath, the more you root for certain results, and are indifferent about others.

The Murray clan and a new wave of Scottish middle-distance runners come into that camp, while in the last year or so, it has been a joy to collaborate with David Smith, the GB Paralympian, on his recovery from his latest spinal tumour and I will continue to do so.

But this will be my last column for a while, which is why it has become one of those self-indulgent ones I can’t usually stand. I’m stepping down as a staff writer at the Herald and Times at the end of year, although I will still be contributing to these pages. The new decade will be the start of a new chapter, but I remain as in thrall of sport and its power for good as ever. I just might have to pay in a bit more often.