IF you know the history. The words of the Celtic song come into the mind with the force of a Tommy Gemmell shot as one listens to Margot McCuaig just above the cloying muzak of a Glasgow hotel.

The lyrics are apposite. McCuaig, novelist and filmmaker, is the product of what can only be called a Celtic marriage. “My mum and dad went to the Coronation Cup final as one of their first dates,” she says. It boded well. Michael and Margaret enjoy a happy marriage and Celtic defeated Hibernian 2-0 in 1953.

Their family of five children were destined to follow the road to Paradise. “I went to my first game when I was four. It was in the early 70s. I remember feeling small and Dixie Deans stood out. Football stayed with me.”

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It resides still in a series of documentaries she has made for BBC Alba with her purpleTV company. They are passionate, sentimental and educational. They are also substantial. McCuaig, after all, is the woman who made Graeme Souness cry.

“I wasn’t sure what I was going to get from him. He is known as a tough Scottish guy,” she says of the former Liverpool player who also managed Rangers. “He was very honest, very emotional. Scottish men can have a sense of masculinity but are not afraid to show emotion. He took the audience to the edge.”

The scene also helped take her Jock Stein documentary to an RTS award. Her other films have been similarly accomplished, with meditations on the Famous Five, Jim Baxter, Jimmy Johnstone, Aberdeen’s European Cup-winner’s Cup triumph in Gothenburg in 1983, Dundee United’s journey to the Uefa Cup final in 1987 and the demise of Third Lanark 50 years ago.

The films have a stamp that carries the very imprint of McCuaig’s studs. A football supporter – who worked in the ticket office at Celtic and then in the media operation with both club and then Setanta – she also brings a historical rigour to the screen.

She studied history and politics at Strathclyde University and has committed views on the significance of Scottish football and how it should be reflected.

“There is something about football that is very distinctive,” she says. “I don’t just see it as a form of entertainment, I don’t just see it as something that lasts 90 minutes and then you move on. Probably because of my upbringing, I see it as a cultural experience.

“It is ingrained in our social history. It is ingrained, too, in how we see ourselves. Football is a microcosm of Scotland: the people, the personalities, the emotion. It is how we celebrate our past.”

There are, therefore, tears and roars of joy in McCuaig’s films but there is something else, too.

“The way I tell stories is in a cultural way. It is hard to separate emotion from something that is a significant part of somebody’s life. But the importance of football as a sense of connection to others, to even a deep part of ourselves, cannot be ignored.”

She adds: “Scottish history and Scottish culture can be told in a different way, using football as a spine to the narrative. Everything human is there. It can be intensely personal, too, in how we deal with failure or success.”

Her aim is simple. “The story should reflect the audience. In many ways, it should be looking in the mirror,” she says. “I connect great football moments with personal moments. In Seville [Uefa Cup final between Celtic and Porto in 2003] I bumped into my twin brother and my sister amid tens of thousands of fans in the stadium and we were able to celebrate a Larsson goal together. This is football. It creates snippets of time that I carry with me.”

Her immersion in the game led to her doing pregraduate and postgraduate theses on women’s football. Honeyballers, her film on the Scottish women’s game, has not sated her appetite for investigating the role of women in the national sport. “Women have always played a part in football – it is just that now it is becoming more visible,” she says.

She is interested in pursuing stories that feature women strongly, though she points out that the stars of the Jimmy Johnstone film were the great player’s wife and two daughters. Jim Baxter’s story was also illuminated by the contributions from his second wife.

She is aware, though, that there is the potential to broaden the scope and tell more stories about Scottish women. “I have tried,” she says. “I don’t decide what gets made. I pitch ideas and then I run with what is commissioned. I basically want to tell more stories about women.”

She is brisk about the issues of being a woman in the world of media and football, an ambience that has traditionally been less than welcoming to her gender. “I certainly have had my challenges,” she says. “You are often in the minority behind the scenes. Sometimes you are even the lone female. But I have survived.”

She has, of course, prospered. She handles a budget of £32 million and makes both films and live sports broadcasts. “I want to encourage more girls to come in. This is why I do mentoring. I want to show women that this is something you can do. There seems to be a psychological barrier that directing or producing sport is for men. But that is just because of what has been the norm down the years. That can and must change.”

She offers a strong hint that one of her forthcoming projects will have a Scottish sporting heroine as its subject. It is one of two commissioned films she is developing as she finishes her second novel.

McCuaig will retreat to her second home on Rathlin Island, off the coast of Country Antrim, to complete her projects. It is her refuge and it was where her father lived before leaving for Glasgow. And for Celtic.

“We believe he settled here rather than anywhere else because of his love of the club,” she says. It is fitting, then, that football stories are still spun in his old backyard.


Favourite football moment: Henrik Larsson’s first goal in Seville. It almost coincided with me bumping into my brother and sister inside the stadium.

Favourite player: Without a shadow of a doubt, and nobody comes close, Danny McGrain. His movement was sensational, he was commanding. He was my hero.

Inspiration: My children, Daniel and Siobhan.

Favourite place: Rathlin Island. I have a house there now. It is where I have written all my scripts and all my edit plans. It inspires me.