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Past Times

Archie Macpherson: The voice of Scottish football could talk forever about his love of Fife

A caravan in the East Neuk became a home from home for the doyen of Scottish football commentators.
Graeme Strachan
Archie Macpherson
Archie Macpherson has been speaking about his love of the East Neuk. Image: DC Thomson.

Archie Macpherson is the most famous voice in Scottish football.

The players changed but he was always there behind the microphone.

The man who inspired a thousand mimics.

After joining the BBC in 1969, he established himself as the commentator on Sportscene.

His unmistakable tones garnered a cult following.

Archie guided viewers through many memorable games including six World Cups, European Championships and European Cup finals.

He is also an honorary Fifer.

From Los Angeles to the East Neuk

Archie fell in love with Crail and purchased a caravan with his wife Jess 24 years ago, which became a home from home for the Shettleston native.

It was a journey that started at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984.

Archie was a roaming reporter and commentator for Grandstand.

He recalled an American he had met and interviewed at Gleneagles the year before about foreign golf visitors and gave him a call when he got to LA.

The man was Jack Hennessy.

A profile shot of Bob Hope, who was interviewed by Archie Macpherson in 1984.
Bob Hope was interviewed by Archie Macpherson in 1984. Image: Shutterstock.

“Hennessy Cognac sponsored the Bob Hope Desert Classic,” Archie told me.

“Jack said he could get me an interview with Bob Hope.

“He was a famous comedian and entertainer.

“Jack was true to his word.

“We arrived with a film crew to discover Bob was away being fitted for his Olympic uniform because he was attending the opening ceremony.

“When he did appear, eventually, he walked out swinging a six-iron.

“He was very pleasant.

“Bob loved the fact I was from Scotland.

“We did the interview and I got him to introduce Grandstand.

“The BBC were over the moon.”

Fife caravan became home for Archie Macpherson

In 1990 Archie received a call from Hennessey, who was coming over to Scotland for The Open at St Andrews and bringing some American guests.

Archie wanted to move to Fife after a visit to Balcomie Links, pictured above as a man takes a shot from a bunker.
Archie wanted to move to Fife after a visit to Balcomie Links. Image: Supplied.

“He wanted to take them around some golf courses in Fife,” he said.

“I’m a golfer myself but I didn’t know much about the other courses so I got advice from a friend and went up to Crail and played Balcomie Links.

“I fell in love with it.

“I thought it would be nice to be a member here and live here.

“We eventually found a caravan site in 2000 and it wasn’t just a weekend shut away.

“It became virtually our home because we loved the East Neuk so much.

“I come from the tenements of Shettleston in the east end of Glasgow and the only time I saw the sea growing up was the occasional trip to Largs.

“So this was an entirely new experience.

“The East Neuk was opening my eyes to an entirely different environment.

“We can be enclosed within our own perimeters that we create for ourselves but here I was at the seaside and it was wonderful.”

Kingdom of Fife helped the grey matter

The Fife air gave Archie focus and he wrote two books from his caravan including his biography of legendary Celtic and Scotland manager Jock Stein.

Crail Harbour, with boats in the foreground and homes in the background
Crail and the East Neuk. Image: Shutterstock.

“It seemed to enable me to distance myself properly,” he said.

“We got into the rituals – we would queue up at the famous Anstruther Fish Bar where the whole of civilisation goes to get their fish and chips.

“Staying here had a huge impact on my family.

“The great beauty is all the fishing villages around there, which are too numerous to mention, and our boys absolutely loved Elie Beach.

“My grandson loved the area and the golf courses and eventually decided to go to St Andrews University because he knew the place so well.

“He went on to study at Cambridge University.

“All because of the caravan.”

Archie alongside Ian St John in the gantry in 1973.
Archie alongside Ian St John in the gantry in 1973. Image: SNS.

Archie remains a regular visitor to Fife.

The caravan has been upgraded but it remains in the same spot.

“I love Fifers – my introduction to Fife, of course, was Jim Baxter,” said Archie.

“He never lost his Fife accent.

“Baxter was a different specimen from the usual west of Scotland footballer I dealt with and his left foot could mesmerise so many.”

Archie watched Baxter masterclass in 1963

The diamond dribbler won games single-handedly and his Beatles-style haircut, good looks and weakness for the good life added to the adulation.

Baxter led England a merry dance at Wembley in 1967 when his keepie-uppie exhibition became the stuff of legend.

Scotland's Jim Baxter is hugged by fans on the pitch in 1967.
Scotland’s Jim Baxter is hugged by fans in 1967. Image: PA.

“Everybody talks about 1967,” said Archie.

“Hardly anybody looks back on 1963 where I would agree with his own verdict that it was his finest performance at Wembley against England.

“I was there and his was a pure team performance that day.

“He was outstanding.”

The mercurial maestro grabbed hold of the contest by the scruff of the neck and scored both his country’s goals in their 2-1 triumph.

The Fife miner’s son is among 13 personal portraits of sporting greats chronicled by Archie in his latest book, Touching the Heights.

Tommy Docherty, Jackie Paterson, Jimmy Johnstone, Sandra Whittaker, Ally MacLeod, Graeme Souness, Jim McLean and Jock Stein are among the others.

Stein was the first major name to sit beside him in the commentary box.

Bryan Robson gave Archie a challenge

Archie has also worked alongside Billy McNeill, Derek Johnstone and Alan McInally in the gantry, although he has no doubt who his worst co-commentator was.

Bryan Robson would rarely use two words where none would suffice.

Bryan Robson on the sidelines while Middlesbrough boss
Former England player Bryan Robson. Image: PA.

“Robson was a total challenge and we worked together on the Scotland game against Norway at the 1998 World Cup in Bordeaux for Eurosport,” said Archie.

“He didn’t say a word.

“To try to get him to say anything as co-commentator was like trying to extract elephant tusks using tweezers.

“It was immediately clear that either he didn’t want to be there, at all, or that he was incapable of stringing two consecutive thoughts together.

“I ignored him and got on with it!”

What about the others?

Jock Stein pitchside in shirt and tie.
Jock Stein became a colleague and friend to Archie. Image: SNS.

Archie said Jock Stein was the “voice of authority” because of his standing in the game and Billy McNeill was another colleague who became a good friend.

He said: “I was alongside Billy at the 1982 World Cup in Spain when Dundee United defender David Narey broke the deadlock against Brazil.

“Billy spilled his tea when the goal was described as a toe-poke by Jimmy Hill.

“He was simply articulate and Billy did so many commentaries with me that for a spell we became a recognised double act.

“Sadly, I went to a function in the Glasgow City Chambers years later and Billy couldn’t recognise me because he was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.

“He didn’t know who I was.”

Archie would love to be in Germany

Archie is still haunted by glorious failures like the 1978 World Cup in Argentina and is backing Steve Clarke’s men to end the misery at Euro 2024.

a head and shoulders shot of Archie Macpherson
Archie Macpherson is a Scottish football legend. Image: Shutterstock.

“I hope history doesn’t weigh too heavily on the Scottish team,” he said.

“But it would be an achievement if they got through.”

He might be in his ninth decade but Archie said he would step back into the gantry tomorrow if asked to commentate on Scotland.

“I wish I was back out there, given the chance,” he said.


“I am absolutely full of envy.”

  • Touching the Heights is available from Luath Press and all major book sellers.