It would be fair to say that this week’s Big Personality sits far more comfortably at the other side of a story; in my initial email to him I mentioned I was a bit nervous writing about a writer. He told me he hated being interviewed. But we threw caution to wind and arranged to meet anyway. And so it was with some surprise that three hours after we arrived at Parklands Hotel, we’d consumed a lunch of homemade burgers, powered through several coffees, a full notepad, two pens and more sporting anecdotes than I ever thought one man was capable of storing in his head.
Gordon Bannerman is probably one of our small city’s best kent faces; as the longest-standing member of the Perthshire Advertiser team he celebrates thirty-five years of reporting this summer. And yet, in all of the time he has diligently brought us our twice-weekly fix of sports news, not once did he envisage a year such as 2014. Undoubtedly a career highlight for our local sports writer, in the past twelve months he has reported on St Johnstone winning The Scottish Cup, took the bus just a few miles down the road to send daily news from The Ryder Cup and proudly heralded a new generation of local sports heroes when he wrote up the silver medal victories for Stephen Milne and Duncan Scott in The Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the bronze for Eve Muirhead in The Sochi Winter Olympics.
Gordon is a Coupar Angus boy originally although he moved to Perth with his family at the age of four; his grandad was the man behind Bannerman Decorators, a business which his Dad grew and his brothers Ewan and Bruce now manage and run.
“You had to get up to early in the morning to paint, so I took the easy route and headed to university. I was four years in Edinburgh doing an MA hons in History and Politics and I came back when I was offered the job at the PA as a trainee reporter. Back then it was compulsory that you knew shorthand and I had to do a post-grad block release to learn that and newspaper law.
“It was a totally different place to what it is now; not long after I arrived I think the paper was celebrating 150 years in print and we were to have a commemorative photograph taken of the whole team. We had to pile into St Matthews Church hall so that Louis Flood Snr could fit us all in the photo; there were about a hundred people in the shot between reporters, photographers, printers, compositors, office and advertising staff. And this old printer guy looked around him and turned to me and said ‘It’s sad to see it come to just this.’ I’m a bit like him now!”
‘Because of the changes in technology?’ may seem like a vast understatement but as he is noted on social media for his complete lack of activity, I’m curious as to his thoughts on the matter. In the pages and pages of outstanding sports reporting from last year’s Purple Patch, there was not a tweet in sight. Not a Facebook post, not an Instagram snap. If you Google him you will find a linked-in account without a photograph or update. Although thirty eight people would recommend him for journalism and thirteen reckon he’s a good storyteller. He is unapologetic; and you know, it makes you like him just a little bit more.
“I do have a twitter account – one of the young guys in the office set it up. My description reads - Sports reporter, amateur golfer and socialite. I’ve got 138 followers and I’ve never tweeted yet. Maybe one day!”
He is laughing at himself; he knows this is the way it’s going to be and that there is a generation of journalists coming up right behind him, and a large group of his peers, who have embraced it in all its maddening glory. It appears not to be stubborn for stubborns sake – he just doesn’t get what the fuss is about.
“When I started it was hugely labour intensive to print a newspaper. The PA was written and printed from the office on Tay Street; the big press ran at the back of the building, belching out noise and fumes, and making this extraordinary sound. It was like an old steam train. I think it dates back to the 1920s. When health and safety started up they brought in ear defenders for all the men, but they were cast aside and declared ‘for the wimps.’
“You had to sit at a typewriter with your carbon in between your copy paper, and after you’d typed it and corrected it, you stapled it together, handed it to the editor, he made his changes and sent it for the compositors to lay it out letter by letter.
“They made a metal page, strapped it onto the machine and away it went. That’s why there were a few smudges and marks in old papers; if there was a glaring mistake or a legal issue they’d just hammer out the metal and let it appear as a blur on the page!
“We eventually got an old tube and capsule system from the Co-op; the deafening clatter of typewriter keys would suddenly be interrupted by this almighty WHOOSH. It was like incoming shells. You put your finished copy in them and set them off through the building to the printers.”
Gordon’s love of a good story pours out of him as he describes the clatter and noise of an old press office, his hands are animated and his impression of the old tube and copy bullet whooshing round the PA office rings across Parklands Bistro. There is a risk, when you hark back to days like these, that your story ends up suffocated in old-school nostalgia, but you get none of this. It’s exciting and real and loud. Maybe that’s why it seems like a dud deal; swapping all this for twitter trolls and 140 characters of ‘what I ate for dinner’.
“Of course there have been benefits to technology – correcting all my typos is a lot easier for a start. My touch-typing was hellish. I tried to learn but when I arrived at Perth College I was the only guy in a room full of sixteen year old girls. I’d missed the first few classes and they all had the rhythm, that steady beat a proper touch typist has you know. There I was, battering away and the teacher would just stand saying ‘GORDON. NO!’.
“But I quickly discovered the older journalists were all pounding away with one or two fingers that was good enough for me. I packed it in. My subs always had a nightmare job trying to decipher my mistakes – my copywriting was always good but my typing was rubbish. And I had to get colleague Maureen Young to read my shorthand back to me – I did T-line like her and I could write it but sometimes I couldn’t read it.”
When Gordon started out at the PA, he covered various stories, including sports, backing-up well known predecessor Graham Fulton. Back then his match reports came out of St Johnstone’s ground at Muirton Park, when they played in the Scottish First Division. Their fortunes have been varied throughout the years and although he must remain an unbiased member of the press, it’s fair to say that he sees a lot more of Saints. and they have got under his skin.
“I was brought up a Rangers fan but you can’t spend all that time reporting on a team and not care about them. I started when Alex Rennie was manager so I’ve worked with a few over the years! I got on well with most of them… But not them all! It’s easy to get along with the best managers because you’re all working for the same thing. A good manager buys into the fact that their football team is representing Perth, the city. Paul Sturrock and Derek McInnes were particularly great and Tommy Wright gets it. He has won a cup so he is now a legend. Alex Totten was a PR dream; he just got it as well. It was a difficult time for the club so he had to work hard, work to keep the fans loyal. He’d be out at fire station open days, talking to people and making sure they were still on side.
“When I first reported from Muirton Park you would shout your copy down the phone line, manic and hoping the person on the other end was getting it all. You’d write a match report as you went, and if you missed a goal because you sneezed or turned round or got distracted there was no playback. Most of the reports in that day were written by committee – we’d all collaborate and come up with what seemed like an acceptable story.
“Not long after I started I was sent to the back of the goal at the Queens Park end to ask a crowd of their supporters who had scored - we couldn’t work it out because everyone was covered in mud. All we knew was someone on the pitch scored and another one was punching the air celebrating.
“It’s like anything though you get quick, you get better. Because we were phoning it in, you had to write it as you went and have the story almost done as the last few minutes were played out. Injury time goals that change the outcome of a match are a sports journalist’s worst nightmare. I was covering a match against Dundee for the Daily Express once – Saints were winning 4 – 2 and then in the last few minutes it went to 4 all and I had think on my feet, mid conversation as I was on the phone. ‘No wait, change that bit. And again!’. The supporter in you would be standing, pulse racing with the excitement of a game and the whole time you’re under the added pressure of meeting your deadline.”
Of course, it’s not all football and in recent years he has covered a wider variety of sports, watching the profiles of young athletes such as Bradley Neil, Stephen Milne, Eilidh Child and Eve Muirhead climb to international acclaim. Golfer Danny Young won recently in South Africa and he is tipping Strathtay Harrier Ben Greenwood as the next big thing.
“It’s fantastic when a youngster gets to the top. I’ve been covering stories about Bradley since he was twelve years old. In fact last year, when he was on his final putt to win the British Amateur Championship the joke was that I was on the phone to Augusta organising my press pass. To be fair, it wasn’t as quick as that but I do have one!”
He played his daily-reporting-from-the-Ryder-Cup card and was rewarded with this local sports journalist’s dream. He is as gleeful as a child at play when he’s talking about it and it’s this that strikes you most about Gordon Bannerman. Tall and, if anything, a bit serious looking, he strikes an imposing figure in most rooms. But as soon as his smile breaks, as soon as those animated anecdotes begin, his crabbit Scottish exterior melts away and you’re left with sheer unadulterated delight and one great story after another. His enthusiasm for local sport feels almost tangible and as he explains the rules surrounding his Augusta Press Pass you can sense his genuine and deep joy for Bradley and his family.
“Oh getting to Augusta is unbelievable but I am honestly chuffed to bits for them all. It’s always a thrill for me to report on the success stories of these youngsters. You start to hear about them coming up through the local ranks of their chosen sports and then they start winning nationally and then at a UK level. It’s a great part of the job.
“I think Perth and Kinross is lucky; there’s a strong body of sport and young people are supported. When you go along to events like the Sports Awards and you see local athletes with Commonwealth and Olympic medals you realise how much we have. The coaches and people who give up their time and put in the work to make it all happen astound me. They are the unsung heroes of the sport, without them and the great facilities we have, we’d struggle to produce the level of performance athletes we do. They spot the raw talent and they nurture it, keeping these young kids on the straight and narrow and giving them what it takes to make the grade.
“So when I see our athletes, Perth’s I mean, coming in out of hundreds of thousands of people who curl or golf or swim and winning at a serious level I always get a thrill. And I’m just writing about them! It must be fantastic as a coach to see your hard work and efforts pay off; everyone involved in that win deserves it.”
His passion for local sports spills out of his day job and into his spare time, as he sits on the board of directors for Live Active Leisure. This is a voluntary position - true of all LAL directors - and one that has evolved from other similar roles that he has been involved in over the years.
“Not long after I married my wife Elaine my mother-in-law said ‘Gordon will be joining the Guildry then.’ And that was that! I was on the committee and then somehow I ended up Lord Dean for a three year term. I suppose I thought, ‘I’m from Perth. I should get involved where I can contribute.’ and I could see that The Guildry do a lot of good things in the city. It’s a big commitment, and for me leading the charge was a learning curve – I’m a reporter! But there are a lot of professionals on the committee, and Lorna Peacock, the office manager, is amazing! She’s the person every Lord Dean relies on to keep them right. She’s been there years - she knows it all.
“My term was right in the middle of the global financial crash, and I had to stand up and present the accounts and explain the portfolio. We still made money and we were able to make a difference but on paper it was a howler!
“I was warned my biggest challenge would be the Guildry trip. Once every three years the Dean organises an outing and it’s important for the Guildrymen. Everyone was asking, ‘where are you taking us? What are we doing?’. Well Kelvingrove Gallery had just opened so we headed through to Glasgow on two buses and then it was to be a boat trip at Loch Lomond. I get off the bus to be met by the captain, all festooned and badged and the whole time he’s looking over my shoulder. No eye-contact at all. Then he turns to me and says ‘Are you all guys?’. I nod. He says ‘We have you down as a women’s guild. You’ll not be wanting sherry then?’. Anyway, he sent someone out for beers and it turned out it was a night of sunshine and plenty of laughs so I was alright in the end.”
Around his spell as Lord Dean, he became a Vice Chair on Perthshire Chamber of Commerce– ‘I always get pulled in to these things to help with PR and then I end up involved’- before taking up his current role at Live Active Leisure.
“I think the Gannochy Trust has done a huge amount of good for Perth and you only have to look at Bells Sports Centre as one of many great examples. I got a tour of the Live Active Leisure centres recently, all the directors did, and I was struck by the quality of the staff. Everyone cared about their jobs, they wanted to help and make a difference. They were fantastic.
“We’ve great facilities – I know people always want more, but we really are lucky. Leisure is a big challenge and finding money when local budgets have been squeezed and squeezed isn’t easy. That’s why a project like PH2O could be fantastic for the area. You need heat in one building, Perth Leisure Pool, and you need ice in the other, the Dewars Centre; there’s no question that combining the energy would save money. If you were building these centres now, with the knowledge we have, you’d never have them separate. Never.
“I look at places like Dundee and Stirling and no-one is standing still. Perth and Kinross Council has a real challenge and Live Active Leisure has a solution. We need a reason to bang our drum and I think in terms of options we have one right here with PH2O.
“And apart from the profile for the city, look at what would happen if you could get more young kids into sport. Obesity has gone through the roof, kids need to find a love of sport at a young age. You spend the money at that end and you’ll save it later in NHS costs.
“This is a great time to do it. Perth’s big year of sport in 2014 fired people up for it. This is just my personal point of view but I do think that Saints winning the cup and The Ryder Cup happening right in our backyard has made us all even keener. A lot of people will take up golf, a lot of kids will want to join the Saints junior teams. The Try Curling programme in Perth went through the roof after Eve won her medal. We need to take full advantage of these opportunities.
“It goes back to what we were saying about the unsung heroes and what they bring to the table; if you want to raise future generations of great coaches and athletes then you need to support them with the best facilities you can.”
He is clearly passionate about this; serious in his role as a voluntary director at Live Active Leisure and fully aware of the voice he has in our small city as the local paper’s Sports Editor. The two positions appear so seamless it’s as though they were created as a package.
“Ahh but it can be tough sometimes. I’m not allowed to leak stories from board meetings to myself at the paper! I need to wait for the official PR! But it does all link up well, yes.”
I recall the first time I met Gordon Bannerman. It was 1999 and I wasn’t long in my first ‘proper job’ doing PR and marketing for St John’s Shopping Centre. I’d been invited to a Sportsman’s Dinner at the Station Hotel and Gordon was the After Dinner Speaker. I was still wet behind the ears, probably the youngest person in the room and certainly one of only a handful of women. I was desperately trying to be professional and business like, wondering if I’d get to meet this stalwart of the local press. And then he stood up and told a bumper load of anecdotes, gently poking fun at a host of people, more ruthlessly mocking neighbouring teams. He was funny, natural and without any of the pomp I had been expecting in a room full of 200 businessmen. I’m sure there may have been very mild swearing; I learned that night it was best just to be yourself.
And this is what you get with Gordon; his role may come with a certain responsibility, and if you’re a sports fan, a high level of kudos. But in the end, he’s really just a fan who is good at telling stories and a bloke who understands he can use his local voice to help a local cause. You start on one story and you are off on a trip down another; his stories are as natural as if he was sitting at your dinner table drinking wine and blethering. It just so happens they involve national footballers and major newsworthy events.
“I’ve been lucky. I’ve been able to see and do a few things as a reporter. All the press were invited to play on the Ryder Cup course. I’d had a frozen shoulder but there was no way I was passing that up. The course had all been trampled down by the spectators and the broom had all been cut back for the play – it was as flat as a pancake. Amazing golf – I lost only one ball the whole round which was unprecedented. It capped off two amazing weeks for me.
“Something like that puts Perth on the map – the only time I saw anything close to it was the G8 Summit. It was like airport security and once you were in, you were in. At that moment in time it was probably the most secure place on the face of the earth - there were guns everywhere and we were in total lockdown. And the first crime…? Someone broke into a portacabin and nicked some of the Goodie Bags we were all to be getting handed later that day. The world press chapping at the bit and some reporters have stolen bags of shortbread and whisky!
“It was an incredible experience. I was there, a few feet away from Bono, in a lockdown with George Bush and standing in line with top names like Jon Snow and John Simpson. When the rioters arrived they said ‘Oh good, it’s all gone off well for you. It would have been terribly embarrassing if the anarchists couldn’t be bothered to come to Scotland.’
“The riot police piled out of the helicopter and the first guy off bombed it to the bottom of the field with his shield up. We were all wondering what was going on and then he turned round and lined up a photo - it was brilliant.
“The Ryder Cup reminded me of that security and operational detail. It was slick, a PR machine. Within minutes of a press conference taking place you’re handed a press release with notes all done for you. I was up at 4am to be on the first bus out and get my place. I watched the sun come up over the Perthshire Hills, and then the course slowly filled until it was chocca with people, and the crowd was singing. The Ryder Cup has a football atmosphere around it, everyone is more geed up. It’s because you’re cheering on a team – there’s camaraderie in team sports you don’t usually get in golf and the players love it.
“And for us, to be that close to such outstanding golf is immense. I had an access all areas bib - I could see the logo on the players’ pants they were so close! You see things you don’t normally see – Bubba Watson knocked this ball so far right it was heading straight into the Sky Box to take out Monty! And then, just at the last minute it came sweeping back onto the fairway and it was all ok. It was incredible to see these men who usually walks the course with ice in their veins, full of nerves. I saw Patrick Reed miss a putt and punch his fist into his hand, beetroot in the face and fruity in his language. And when the Europeans won Lee Westwood was sending champagne corks bouncing off press tent roof. You see it all the time in sport – grown men with this mischievous streak. Like I said, it was unlike anything I’ve seen and right here on our doorstep.”
And all of this, only four months after he watched his local team win the Scottish Cup. We’re back to his incredible year of sport!
“Reporting on football for the PA has taken me to a lot of glamorous and non-glamorous places. From Muthill to Monte Carlo – but mainly Muthill! When we drew to play Monaco in 1999 we knew we were going to enjoy every minute! We were going to Monaco! So after we arrived the press went out on a ‘fact finding’ mission and you can imagine how that ended. The next day we were all called in for a press lunch and it was this really smart hotel. I’ve never seen a press lunch like it. The Monaco directors were sitting round a table in a scene from The Godfather and there we all were, hungover to hell and on the Evian. They were handing out Prince Rainer Grand Cuvee Champagne and I was shaking my head, no thanks. Every time I looked at the oysters it was like a trampoline going off in my stomach. It was not a Lady Who Lunches job that’s for sure – and there was something En Croute but no Murray’s pies which would have sorted me right out.”
“You go to all these wee places and they make you feel really welcome - Vaasa in Finland though was the craziest trip ever. We’d been invited to go to the sports club but everyone else bodyswerved it and so I was the only rep of the Scottish Press who turned up. The sports club is a wooden cabin on the gulf of Bothnia – it’s a log-burner and some armchairs. A den basically.
“They start telling me all about the Finnish Sauna World Champion and I begin to realise how serious they are about their sauna. The champion is like a sporting hero. Of course, what else were they going to do but invite me to take part? So I’m in this sauna, mixed audience and all my kit off. Including the specs which are outside. My guide turns to me and asks if I want a full sauna experience and I say ‘I’m not jumping off a pier!”…. ‘Oh no, no. We just walk into the Gulf of Bothnia and that is all.’
“So I’m starkers, walking into the gulf of Bothnia, the rocks under my feet are all slippery and as the water hit me above the knees everything started retreating! ‘On 1, 2, 3 we are in!’ says my new pal. Honestly, it was like being hit by a brick wall. I fell to my knees and I was stumbling up, trying to get out. He’s behind me laughing, not in the water! There are flash bulbs going off all over the place as I was staggering back to dry land. All I can say is thank-god there were no mobiles and it was all pre-facebook.”
And we’re back to where we started. How different it all is – from the printing presses and copy paper to social media and mobile phones.
“There’s been loads of great developments over my thirty five years. Some of it good some of it not so good. It’s little things - we used to get sent stuff from people, handwritten, then on faxes. Now it’s a deluge of emails and as much as you do your best to keep up, sometimes something has to give. And I like to include the wee stories as well as the big ones, because people are passionate about their sport and we’re a local paper.
“I see lots of people in their communities, quietly going about their business helping others, running youth teams. If you have a job that can shine a light on that then you should put it to good use. Or you should at least try.
“I had the chance to go elsewhere, I was offered jobs in Glasgow and Aberdeen but when I realised how far north Peterhead was that particular move was scuppered. Perth has its faults and challenges but when you get down to it, it has a lot of great qualities. And that makes for a lot of great news.”
Gordon Bannerman celebrates thirty five years reporting from our local paper this summer. He knows because they sent him an email to tell him. He has no memory for a date but remembers pies at Muirton Park as if it were yesterday. His stories are punctuated with laughs, giggles and animated actions and his nostalgia is bright, funny and wrapped in the black and white back pages of our Small City’s wee paper.
And last year he had the best damn job in the whole of the Shire.
There were too many stories for one Big Personality article, but if you like an anecdote and want the full three hours’ worth then click over here for more.
You'll be very glad you did!
Thanks to Parklands Hotel, No 1 Bistro for keeing us fuelled in fantastic burgers and great coffees!
Regular readers will know this is where we normally link to a person’s facebook or twitter account. But after reading this, you know that’s not worth your while! You can however follow the Perthshire Advertiser and pick up Gordon’s stories and sports news there.
He also talks about PH2O, the project Live Active Leisure are currently seeking support for. Find out more and sign your name to the list over on the PH2O website here.
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