Today we have a guest writer, Archie Macpherson, Scotland’s most celebrated broadcaster. Archie started broadcasting for the BBC in the 1960s and was the authoritative voice of football commentaries, and comment, for decades thereafter. He was co-commentator for our first European Cup win and remains a regular newspaper columnist and TV contributor.
I had a brief conversation with Archie last month when he categorically stated that Jock Stein was best manager Scotland has ever produced was. Pleased, though I was, to hear this, in the light of accolades earned by Sir Alex Ferguson, I asked him if he could substantiate his claim.
These questions are enormously subjective but few have the breadth of perspective, not to mention the analytical capacity, to tackle this one properly. This is the article he offered to write for us on the subject:
Jock and Fergie, by Archie Macpherson
If there had been no Jock Stein there would have been no Sir Alex Ferguson. It may sound a contentious statement to make but even though it is tempting to play around with history according to your own beliefs and perceptions I would stand by that as a sound interpretation of the way the respective merits of these men can be set against each other.
It helps in this matter if you can lay aside the achievements of those men from the record books and instead consider their personalities and the context in which they plied their trade.
When Jock came to Celtic as manager in 9th March 1965, he fully understood from his past experience there as a player and coach that he would find a club desperate to achieve a commanding status in Scottish football. The frustration they felt only reflected that which their massive support similarly endured around that period. They were massive underachievers.
He also knew from his own background that his task would not simply be about selecting a team, then motivating them, but about radically overhauling the perception the public in general had about the club and which stemmed mainly from the constructs of the media.
It may be difficult for a current generation to fully comprehend this but Celtic then were simply perceived as bit players in a drama where the lead actor came from Govan and always took the curtain-calls. Stein changed all that. He took on the press-pack like he had been sent in from the city’s sanitation department to fumigate.
If you didn’t turn up on the dot for his press conferences then the door was slammed on your face no matter the size of your ego. His television interviews, unlike the passive posture of that likeable man his predecessor Jimmy McGrory, were often truculent and challenging. All of this concentrated the mind of those who wrote and spoke about Celtic. They would think twice about saying anything that might offend the big man. He was strengthening Celtic’s image and, as a by-product of that, securing the self-esteem within the playing staff which previously had been sadly lacking.
And where was Sir Alec at this time? He was watching, observing. I saw him sitting in the lounge of Malpensa Airport Milan in 1970, in the aftermath of the European Cup Final there, amidst thousands of Celtic supporters, which given his Rangers connections only indicated his deep interest in what Jock was doing.
Fergie to his credit was a learner. When he went to Old Trafford it was not to a club about which there was lack of public respect. It was initial lack of respect for himself which made him take up arms against his detractors. To go to a Fergie press-conference was to see a recreation of Jock at the height of his powers. And from being beside Jock in the dressing-room, and on the bench at Scotland games, he absorbed Jock’s handling of men which could range from wrath to wit. The so-called ‘hairdryer’ treatment Fergie handed out only simulated what Jock could do to make the walls of a dressing-room bulge when it got up his hump.
Where they differed enormously as men was that Jock did not harbour grudges in quite the same way as Fergie. Jock did have his difficulties with the BBC initially but never refused to deal with them. Fergie barred them for over a decade, then got an award from the same people. So I am suggesting that although you cannot compare the achievements made in entirely different footballing environments, Fergie served his apprenticeship in the Stein era by consequently adopting much of the big man’s methodology. Jock was the ice-breaker. Fergie was the follow up.
In that sense, as the one was indispensable to the success of the other, I rate Jock as the master of the two.
My thanks to Archie for his contribution.
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