I've just interrupted Chick Young's morning coffee.

"Could you call me back in 15 minutes? I'll be back sitting on my a**e by then."

In an alternate universe, the 71-year-old broadcaster is in Qatar, soaking up Scotland's overdue return to the World Cup, microphone in hand. Instead, he's been forced to settle for a November getaway somewhere in Spain, one now being suddenly gatecrashed by a phonecall from a complete stranger.

A stranger to him, at least. For those of us who grew up with Open All Mics crackling over a supporter’s bus radio, Only An Excuse sandwiched between Jackie Bird and Jools Holland on Hogmanay and, of course, Sportscene, he remains one of the most recognisable faces - and voices - in the Scottish football cosmos never to have kicked a ball.

"When I was kid, I only wanted to be two things," he reveals when our conversation picks up again. "One was a player, and I had everything bar the ability. I made such a mess of other things in my life, but when I think back, I was quite singled-minded because I even volunteered to take shorthand and typing lessons at school which, in the 60s, it was just me and 30 girls. That was quite a brave thing to do.

"There was a book called Willings Press Guide, which listed every newspaper in the world, so I applied for jobs left, right and centre. One day, two letters dropped through my mother’s letterbox. One offered me a job, the other rejected me. Curiously, I got knocked back by the Stornoway Gazette and accepted by the Daily Record. I started as a copyboy in August 1969, for £4 a week. From there, the wind and the tide took over.”

By his own admission, it's been a kind wind. After the Record came the Irvine Herald, Charles Buchan's Football Monthly, Radio Clyde, the Scottish Daily Express, 11 years at the Evening Times and even a summer spent as Butlins' media officer.

"I was supposed to go to the 74 World Cup but the magazine went bust and I was made redundant," Young says. He eventually made it to Spain in 1982 and the passport has since collected the a few stamps - Mexico 86, Italia 90, France 98, Germany 06 and South Africa 10. That latter two, of course, without a Saltire in sight.

“World Cups without Scotland are like making love without kissing.”

The Herald: David Narey's famous goal against Spain 82David Narey's famous goal against Spain 82 (Image: SNS)

By that logic it's been a thoroughly passionless 24 years, something "so unthinkable you wouldn't even think of it as unthinkable" when Young arrived in stifling Seville in 82.


“I’ve always had an unbelievable affection for Spain, we had a house there at the time," he recalls. "It was that early 80s Spain, where the rogues and everybody who thought he was somebody was hanging about Puerto Banus. A group of Glasgow businessmen had charted a boat off the coast and wee Andy Cameron had a brilliant line - 'it’s the first time in history there were more sharks in the boat than the sea'."

His memories involve the people as much as the football, which is perhaps understandable when you follow Scotland.

“There were characters," Young says. "The boys I worked with along the way – Hugh Taylor from the Record to big Ron Scott, who worked for the Sunday Post. Great characters, great fun. When I was a kid, they were very protective of me, they took me under their wing. There was a great culture in Scottish football writing of passing on to the next generation, and I think that was important. There were adventures, and friends to be made.”

On the pitch, though? Mostly heartbreak.

“That night we lost 4-1 to Brazil in Seville and David Narey scored that goal, " he sighs. "I could’ve forgiven Scotland for anything… I love the heat but that night was just suffocating. The Brazilians, it was a home from home for them, they were such a good team. And then we begin this tale of lost opportunities."

Disappointment followed in 86, albeit the campaign was overshadowed by the sudden, devastating loss of manager Jock Stein in the months prior. Italia 90, of course, provokes little but flashbacks to an afternoon of infamy in defeat to lowly Costa Rica. It may not have felt like it at the time, but these were halcyon days when you consider there's an entire generation for whom Scotland at the World Cup is a completely alien concept. Likewise, there's now a generation of journalists for whom propping up the bar with the national team captain could hardly seem more outlandish. Of course, the life of a professional footballer has changed drastically, but so has the media game.

“I’ve grown up and my contemporaries were people like Danny McGrain and Kenny Dalglish, Alan Rough," Young says. "I was able to get quite close to players because, in those days, we were all going to the same pubs and nightclubs - although they were earning a wee bit more money than me.

“But can you imagine a boy from the Manchester Evening News on a night out with Cristiano Ronaldo? It’s ridiculous. We were much closer. In terms of how journalism has evolved, I timed my run to perfection. No internet, no camera phones, you served your newspaper main edition. The access was night and day, even right up to France 98."

The Herald: Alan Rough and Graeme Souness Alan Rough and Graeme Souness (Image: SNS)

It seldom got more surreal for Young than Mexico 86, when Graeme Souness - recently announced as the new Rangers manager - plonked a bottle of champagne in front of him on a flight to the US.

"Right then," Souness said. "Tell me."

"Tell you what?"

"You're a Glaswegian, tell me what I'm up against."

Souness was born in Edinburgh but had spent most of his life in England, having signed for Tottenham as a kid.

“He was wearing a cross around his neck his wife had given him," Young remembers. "You’ve got to remember what it was like in 1986. I said, ‘I don’t have a problem in the slightest but I’m just trying to paint you a picture, there are people who won’t be happy with you wearing that.’

“And he starts saying, ‘I’m going to sign a Catholic’. I can’t begin to tell you how revolutionary this was at the time. And I’m going, ‘whoa, can I use this?’ He says, ‘absolutely’. We got off the plane and I phoned back to Glasgow - 'I think I might have a line'. It made the splash, the centre page pull-out and the back page lead - so that justified sending me out! Souness was great with me when he was Rangers manager and I was at the Evening Times. Every story that came out of Rangers at the time was mine, more or less.

“But that whole World Cup was bizarre. You had the thing with Rod Stewart inviting us to a party in Los Angeles. It dragged me, a boy from the south side of Glasgow, into a world where I didn’t quite know what was happening."

Getting on TV with BBC Scotland in the early 90s, the role with which most people associate him, was a game-changer, of course, and Young doesn't deny he embraced certain elements of it. However, as most of us like to think they would, he had pals on hand to offer a humbling word or two.

“I look back now and think ‘what the hell was that all about?’" Young laughs. "The TV stuff takes you into a different world. I’m certainly not big headed about it. My pal emigrated to South Africa, and when he came back we went out for a drink and he said, ‘who do you think you are?' We’re in the town, you'd had the Only an Excuse thing and people are stopping me, and he’s asking, ‘what the f**k happened?’ It was a bizarre time."

That wind and tide, eh? If only it had continued to sweep the team to major tournaments the way it did oor Chick. But even though he, like the rest of us, could never have predicted the wilderness years to come, he didn't once take these adventures for granted.

“I was sent down to the Champs-Elysees on the eve of the first game at France '98 against Brazil to film the atmosphere," Young says. "And there are beautiful women of all nations, kissing me and we're filming it for a piece. I was getting paid for this while other people were doing real jobs, saving lives in the NHS. I’ve never, ever underestimated how lucky I’ve been. Far from taking it for granted, I just assumed it would never happen again. I got away with it for a long number of years.

"I’ve been lucky to be around the world, and I don’t deny I partied with the Tartan Army, and sometimes with the players – I played my part in James McFadden missing his plane back from Hong Kong. I wouldn’t want to be at the stage of life I’m at now and saying, ‘I went to bed early and made sure the copy was delivered’. I did make sure the copy was delivered, but once it was… You did the job because you knew if you didn’t, you wouldn’t get the job again. And when you were out and about you would pick up other stories anyway.

"I wouldn’t want to be sitting here going, ‘Oh, I had all these opportunities around the world and I didn’t take advantage of them’. Scotland, whatever else we're bad at, we're world class at partying."

Can you elaborate on said parties, though?

"Not in The Herald!"