IN THOSE days when all I ever wanted to be was a football reporter my heroes were Ian Archer, Hugh Taylor, Jim Blair and Gerry McNee. I had long known that my-laid back approach to playing football was never going to get me scouted and so writing about the game for one of our national titles seemed the next best thing. Sadly, I was never deemed to have quite reached the standard required for that and so had to settle for production journalism and current affairs instead.

One of my most memorable stints though, when I was still trying to make sense of the world of newspapers, was a period of several months doing shifts on the Sunday Mail for Alex Gordon, the best sports editor of any newspaper in Scotland I have ever encountered. Alex retired from sports editing years ago but now writes football books, very good ones actually, that concentrate on facts and well-written anecdotes. Unfortunately, many books about football these days are written by hipster types who think they’re Hornby and no-one has had the heart to tell them their style is more Formby.

And so it was last week on a night when the rain had eased to a downpour that I found myself climbing stairs possessing a stained carpet motif to a room I hadn’t previously known existed: the function suite of the Iron Horse pub at the top of Renfield Street in Glasgow (did anyone else know the Iron Horse had a function suite?). I love that phrase “eased to a downpour”. It was crafted by Fraser Elder, another 1970s football wordsmith, in a feature about Glasgow.

The occasion was the launch of a book by Alex called Jinx Dogs Burns Now Flu and is about the greatest stories never told during a lifetime in tabloid newspapers. The heading, by a sub-editor tasked with filling a very narrow space with something punchy and perjink, never made it to the final edition. To unravel it you have to deploy the same approach you would when trying to do the Rubik’s Cube. I think it means that a footballer called Burns who has recently endured a dispiriting run of injuries has now been laid low with a bug.

All the big names of 1970s Scottish football journalism are in the book, including Alex Cameron, legendary sportswriter of the Daily Mail who was known to all in the trade as “Chiefy” (Jim Blair, for reasons I could never quite fathom, was called “Sundance”; Jack Adams was called “Grizzly” and Ian Archer was known as “Dan”).

Cameron operated at a time when he would take a taxi to Berwick and ask the driver to wait while he watched the match and return directly after it was finished. He also took on and beat the massed ranks of the world’s press when he reported live from the compound where the Israeli athletes were kidnapped during the 1972 Olympic Games. Cameron had simply put on his best Leonid Brezhnev accent and said he was a Russian diplomat in order to get past the guards.

The book’s author rose to become the Daily Record’s youngest-ever chief sports sub-editor before becoming the sports editor at the Sunday Mail when it became the only title in Scottish newspaper history to record a sale of one million copies. Alex Gordon’s sports section was largely responsible for that … and an assortment of hard-nosed news reporters whom criminals and police alike would defer to when black tales were unfolding. Yet Gordon left St Margaret Mary’s secondary in Castlemilk, the city’s unfussy southern arrondissement, with nary a qualification to his name. To be fair to the school, he had always been good at English but simply left without taking his exams so that he could get into newspapers as soon as possible. In those days, university was regarded by many in housing estates such as Castlemilk simply as a hindrance to earning money and paying your way in the real world. Yet many, like Alex and my own father, left school with no or few qualifications confident that post-war egalitarianism would ensure that the prizes were all arranged on an level playing field.

A generation has come and gone since the April day in 1967 when Gordon was first invited to the offices of the Daily Record for an interview for a job as a junior. Yet it’s curious to observe the contrast in attitudes towards education that have developed in civic Scotland since then. Even in socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods a good college or university education is prized as the golden ticket out of there. Successive governments have declared they want 50 per cent of school leavers to access higher education.

In the university sector, quite the opposite has happened. While society has become aspirational for a good education inside the razor-wire fencing of the Russell Group of universities they are still busy trying to keep the hoi polloi out.

It’s still very difficult for children from disadvantaged and challenging circumstances to get into these places. Their response last week to the Scottish Government’s plans to allow poorer students with slightly lesser qualifications was revealing: this would diminish the quality of a university education.

Of course, they don’t mean that at all. They still think the reason that fewer children from these areas get the required grades is because they’re thick rather than that they have had to overcome far more educational obstacles. If the Scottish Government was serious about helping more children from socially deprived areas access these gilded palaces for the affluent and the well-connected they would force them to by imposing a quota system and holding back research grants if these weren’t reached. But I wouldn’t hold my breath for a Government that still provides tax breaks for private schools.

In the meantime, get yourself a copy of Alex Gordon’s book about the days when Scottish newspapers were the best in the world and the best-selling too. And return to a time when a young man from Castlemilk could bypass Glasgow, St Andrews and Edinburgh, and still have a chance of making it to the top.

Jinx Dogs Burns Now Flu by Alex Gordon is published by Ringwood Publishing at £9.99.