By Kenneth Roy
I once had a soft spot for the Daily Record. Many years ago, when it was printed in the centre of Glasgow, it was possible for a small child to press his nose against a Hope Street window, as I did, and watch the machines roll – a thrilling spectacle. It was the paper of choice in most of educated working-class Scotland. We would not have dreamed of taking the Glasgow Herald (which was dismissed as ‘the businessman’s paper’) or the posh Scotsman. We felt comfortable with the Record.
Later, though not much, I actually worked for it as one of its team of part-time dog racing correspondents, selecting the tips, covering the meetings. I discovered after some experiment that it made little difference whether I made my choices according to some notion of form or did so randomly; either way the dogs were a racket. But, although the Record pandered to the lower tastes of the proletariat, it also fulfilled a valuable educational function. How odd it feels to write such a thing.
On a typical day in the immediate post-war era, the Record gave prominence to a mixture of important foreign and home news. Here is a front page from October 1946: ‘Goering knows his fate today’ (Nuremburg trials); ‘A-bomb can’t be outlawed’ (speech by an ‘atom expert’); ‘Jews save ship’ (despatch from Jerusalem); and ‘British quit the Lebanon’; as well as a number of items of more local interest. It was a time of paper rationing, when news had to be compressed into a small space. But it is not the number of items which is significant here, but the selection. The Record reported world affairs as well as domestic politics and did so in an intelligent, accessible way.
The paper carried on in this fashion for many years and took its civic responsibilities seriously, actively supporting such causes as the Scottish theatre – which endeared it to my parents, although they would have bought it anyway. When I see it occasionally these days, I am left to reflect sadly on how such an enlightened popular paper could be so reduced in stature. It bills itself ‘Scotland’s Newspaper’. Once upon a time, long ago, it really was.
Yesterday’s edition told us quite a lot about the debased standards of the tabloid press and quite a lot about Scotland; one reflects the other; both are rougher. On the front page there was just one piece of news. Two, if you count a photograph of Rangers Football Club’s manager hugging an unidentified middle-aged man. Below this faintly embarrassing exhibition there was a sensational report headed FREED about the ‘early’ release from prison of a young man (19 years old) described as a ‘sex beast’. He had served two years of a four-year sentence, so there was nothing ‘early’ about it; it is how the criminal justice system operates. The text on the front page ran to 42 words (‘Turn to page 4’).
But the main news of the day, for the people who run the Daily Record anyway, was unconnected to the ‘sex beast’. It was so important that it commanded no fewer than 15 pages, 21% of the total content of the edition. What was this? Some natural disaster? A state funeral? Not at all. To borrow from Bill Shankly, it was something more important than life or death. The 15 pages were devoted to a single football match. Not a cup final; nor the national team’s desperate attempt to qualify for ‘Europe’ – just another encounter between the two Glasgow rivals, Rangers and Celtic, neither of which plays football conspicuously well.
The number of reported incidents of domestic abuse rose from 107 (the average after a weekend meeting between Rangers and Celtic) to 142 (compared with 67 in a weekend without Old Firm football).
Seven grown-up men were assigned to this occasion – Keith Jackson, Scott McDermott, Murdo MacLeod, James Traynor, Hugh Keevins, Jim McLean and Mark Hateley. Most of those considered important enough to warrant a picture byline looked suitably grim – who wouldn’t in the circumstances? – yet their various overlapping accounts of the experience were notable for a noisy, excitable, over-heated prose. Much of it would have been incomprehensible to anyone unfamiliar with the nicknames of the participants. The Rangers manager was ‘Coisty’, his Celtic equivalent ‘Lenny’, while the star of the afternoon was someone called ‘Naisy’ (‘The Naisy Cutter’ as he was described) and the Rangers victory was dedicated to another mysterious character name of ‘Greegs’. Do even schoolboys talk in this way any more? The overwhelming impression, assisted by photographs of open-mouthed footballers in various poses of ecstasy or dejection, was one of swaggering machismo playing to a certain West of Scotland self-image: a dysfunctional one.
Two days before, the Record’s sports staff had offended the management of Celtic Football Club by publishing a back-page headline which read: ‘Who’s More Hated at Ibrox (is it Lennon or the Taxman?)’ – the latter a reference to the Rangers club’s present difficulties with HM Revenue and Customs. Celtic retaliated by withdrawing ‘co-operation’, whatever that means. Did it mean that Messrs Jackson, McDermott, MacLeod, Traynor, Keevins, McLean and Hateley were refused admission to the press box, a right traditionally reserved by aggrieved managements? Did they report the match from the crowd? If so, which end? I cannot tell you. Football journalism is a closed order. No one grasses.
By yesterday, the Record was contrite. It published an apology for using the word ‘hated’ in connection with Mr Lennon and said that its headline ‘was not intended to stoke up feelings ahead of yesterday’s match’. But, even if this was not the intention, could it have been the effect? The number of reported incidents of domestic abuse rose from 107 (the average after a weekend meeting between Rangers and Celtic) to 142 (compared with 67 in a weekend without Old Firm football). It is impossible to say how much inflammatory press coverage – in particular the aggressive use of headlines and pictures – contributes to the private misery following these tribal rituals, but it feels increasingly like part of the problem.
Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review