WELCOME once again, folks, to CQN’s EXCLUSIVE new feature which will appear here every Saturday.
‘ALEX’S ANGLE’ will go behind the headlines with Alex Gordon, the former Sports Editor of the Sunday Mail and Chief Sports Sub-Editor of the Daily Record when they were the biggest sellers in Scotland.
The veteran newsman will reveal some tales from his journey through the inky trade while giving his view on current topics.
Here is Alex’s sixth EXCLUSIVE CQN column.
KENNY HOPE was one of the more accomplished Scottish referees during his days in possession of the whistle in a career that lasted 17 years at the top level.
He and his brother Dougie, another top match official, were known within the game to have an allegiance to a certain team that played their football in Govan.
The Hope brothers may have had a leaning towards Rangers as they grew up, but I have to say they were scrupulously fare when they officiated in Celtic games. Hard to believe, isn’t it?
POINTING THE WAY AHEAD…Kenny Hope during his refreeing days.
One of Kenny’s biggest matches was the League Cup Final at Hampden on a rain-lashed Saturday afternoon on December 4 1982. It was an Old Firm duel and, in those dreadful conditions, anything could happen.
Charlie Nicholas played for Billy McNeill’s men that day and the fans’ favourite was aware the referee who would be making the momentous decisions which could go a long way to the eventual destination of the trophy was a Rangers fan.
Celtic won their first League Cup in eight years, Charlie opened the scoring with a neat and crisp low shot into Jim Stewart’s left-hand corner and that was followed by a howitzer from Murdo MacLeod that came close to ripping the net from its stanchion.
Jim Bett pulled one back with an exquisite free-kick that left Pat Bonner helpless, but the trophy was heading across Glasgow to the east end when Hope blew for full-time. There may have been some injury time, but nothing excessive.
I was in the Hampden press gantry that afternoon and the Man of the Match by a mile was Davie Provan, despite the sodden underfoot conditions.
NUMBER ONE…Charlie Nicholas races away after netting the opening goal in the 1982 League Cup Final against Rangers. Frank McGarvey and Davie Provan celebrate the breakthrough strike.
NUMBER TWO…Murdo MacLeod thunders an unstoppable drive into the roof of the Rangers net for the winner in the 2-1 League Cup success in 1982.
The winger teased and tantalised as he skipped across the pitch and my memory of his outstanding performance was the fact the referee clamped down quickly on any wayward challenges on the Celt.
It was the sort of skiddy surface that positively invited slide-tackles that could be launched at the player and ball from about 12 yards away. Provan was proteceted that day by an official who may have grown up a Rangers fan, but, at the national stadium on a showpiece encounter, was strictly neutral.
As Charlie was apt to say: “We knew Kenny and Dougie were Rangers fans, but they were also pretty good referees. You could have a conversation with them and you could wind each other up.”
Refreshing to hear those words, especially in light of some bewildering decisions from match officials, even more so since the introduction of VAR in October last year.
I dismiss all the hoo-ha that surrounds anyone of a Celtic persuasion attempting to make a valid point about a mystifying decision. “Chip on the shoulder” and “paranoia” are tiresome labels not worthy of a response.
MAN OF THE MATCH…Davie Provan in action against Rangers midfielder Bobby Russell in a game at Ibrox.
I mention Kenny Hope because I wonder what he would make of all the new technology assistance and the inevitable attendant controversy that has been foisted upon us.
It reminds me of a story from back on Saturday March 28 1981 when I was in the office pub, The Montrose, a little oasis tucked into one of the side streets along the Clydeside.
It was a safe haven for players and match officials alike. It was off the beaten track and the pub attracted Celtic and Rangers supporters. The establishment was owned by a Celtic season ticket holder by the name of Jim Cullen and the lounge had been claimed by those who often accompanied him to Parkhead on matchdays.
It was christened ‘The Centenary Lounge’ in 1988. Those who flocked to Ibrox were more at home in the bar. There was no big deal to that, it was just the way the ‘divide’ evolved over the years. There was never any trouble, not even a hint.
I was the chief sports sub-editor of the Daily Record at the time, but I had accepted Saturday responsibiities to take charge of the Sunday People sports desk.
The People, which had a reasonable presence in Scotland at the time, had three full-time sports resporters – John Blair, Bobby Bogan and Douglas Ritchie – and they were otherwise engaged when the journal was put together back in the newspaper offices they shared with the Record and Sunday Mail at Anderston Quay.
It was printed in Manchester and flown up that evening. Schedules were tight and I had been brought in to run the show while Blair and Co were in press boxes dotted around the country.
The back page was the obvious priority and, as soon as the results were determined and I had a clue which were the main tales, I would telephone their Manchester editor, a chap by the name of John Maddock, and we would discuss how to place the most important breaking stories.
HEADS I WIN…Tom McAdam nods the ball high past Rangers keeper Peter McCloy in a 2-0 Celtic win in 1981.
I would write them and an assistant would take the copy out of my typewriter virtually almost page by page to read out out to a copy-taker in the English offices. The deadlines were non-negotiable with an aircraft waiting on a runway.
I would be clear at 7pm and, after all that, I had naturally worked up a thirst and my usual destination was The Montrose. I recall that particular Saturday because Kenny Hope was in the pub lounge, having a few drinks with a couple of friends.
He had been the referee in Celtic’s game against Aberdeen at Parkhead that day which had ended 1-1. The evening nudged towards 10.30pm which, if I remember correctly, was the usual start time for Sportscene with my big chum Archie Macpherson.
Kenny made his way to the bar for a better view of the TV set. Remember, my friends, these were the dark days before 60-inch plasma televisions that can dominate an entire wall.
The highlights of the Celtic v Dons game were being shown when an incident occurred that almost sent Kenny into an apoplectic state. He was sipping his beer when it looked as though Tom McAdam had handled the ball in the home penalty box.
There had been a melee and the central defender was on the deck when the ball clearly struck his hand. There was a slow motion action replay and Kenny focused on the TV.
“I missed that,” he said.
“A penalty-kick?” I asked.
“Definitely,” said Kenny who took another sip and watched the rest of the edited action. The incident wasn’t pored over afterwards, there was no posse of talking heads in the studio in those unenlightened days.
If Kenny had been overly upset to have let Celtic off the hook, I missed it. It was a shrug-of-the-shoulders moment as he returned to his mates at their table.
Today’s referees could learn a lot from the professionalism and attutude of Kenny Hope who sadly passed away at the age of 80 in December 2021.
He was a category 1 SFA referee from 1974 until 1991 when he retired. He was a registered FIFA match offical for 12 years.
Aberdeen’s legendary skipper Willie Miller, one of football’s Olympic-standard moaners, referenced in his autobiography, ‘The Don‘, that “Kenny Hope was the best referee who ever lived.”
What a pity he still not around today.