A great sportswriter captures so much more than just the score


Kevin McCarra captured more than just the score, the venue and the weather

The death last week of Kevin McCarra sent me to my bed after a fortnight on night shift thinking about two things: the incredible talent of the really great sportswriters, and the lack of progress being made on the dreadful Alzheimer’s disease which claimed him.

In one respect I get to indulge my fantasy of being a writer, a columnist, ostensibly about golf; in the other, my proximity is very close, entirely real, indeed.

The ability to convey the essence of a ‘thing’ as ingrained in many of us as the sport which we have pursued with varying degrees of success, absorbed with incredibly diverse intensities, and ‘lived’ from our boyhood to just the other day, is an incredibly rare one.

To be able to commentate on sportsmen and women at the very top echelons of their profession, to ‘get’ what it is they do, how and why they do it, and to capture more than just the score, the venue and the weather: this is what separated McCarra, and indeed McIlvaney and others, from the mundane.

I’ve become, indeed I may have mentioned, a bit of a cricket fan, primarily as the result of listening to test series involving England on the radio.

John Arlott, Brian Johnston, Henry Blofeld and Christopher Martin Jenkins made the game not only interesting and captivating, they managed to ‘sell it’ to me through their humour, knowledge and obvious affection for their sport.

But Neville Cardus of ‘The Manchester Guardian’ saw me buying cricket books and reading, with enthusiasm and delight, excerpts from match reports from the 1920s and ‘30s involving mid-table clashes between Kent and Glamorgan and being transfixed, enthralled, transported by the brilliance of his prose.

“Spooner and MacLaren — has a county possessed two batsmen who could begin an innings with more than their appeal to the imagination? They were as the King and the Prince, or as the eagle and the flashing swallow. Spooner was one of the cricketers who, when I was very young, made me fall in love with the game; I think of his batting now, in middle age, with gratitude. The delight of it all, went to my mind, I hope to stay there, with all the delight that life has given me in various shapes, aspects and essences. When the form has gone… for it is material and accidental, and therefore perishable… the spirit remains. 

“And Spooner’s cricket in spirit was kin with sweet music, and the wind that makes long grasses wave, and the singing of Elisabeth Schumann in Johann Strauss, and the poetry of Herrick. Why do we deny the art of a cricketer, and rank it lower than a vocalist’s or a fiddler’s? If anybody tells me that RH Spooner did not compel a pleasure as aesthetic as any compelled by the most celebrated Italian tenor that ever lived, I will write him down as a purist and an ass”.

Now this is the kind of writing that should have been around to convey the majesty of ‘Turra’ MacSween, Robert MacKay, Norman John MacDonald and ‘Charlton’ Murray. To capture the fluidity of DJ Smith, Neil MacRury, Iain ‘Todd’ MacKenzie and Calum Finlay Morrison.

To preserve, in perpetuity, the artistry and power of Andy Murray, David MacMillan, ‘Nomie’ MacDonald and Don ‘Lava’ MacLeod.

Hugh McIlvaney once said: “I console myself with the thought that it is easier to find a kind of truth in sport than it is, for example, in the activities covered by political or economic journalists. Sports truth may be simplistic but it’s not negligible.”

If you think that literary greatness only comes in the form of a novel by Orwell, Marquez or O’Brien, then read his writing on boxing in particular.

“Lying back on the thick cushions of an armchair in his villa, with the windows curtained against an angry sun that was threatening to evaporate the Zaire River as it slid like a grassy ocean past his front door, he talked with the quiet contentment of a man whose thoughts were acting on him as comfortingly as the hands of a good masseur.”

He wrote of Muhammed Ali, reflecting contentedly after the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’.

McCarra was of that ilk.

He had the knack of infusing a deeper critical analysis than that of the mere commentator.

He had a heart and an understanding, a resonance and a validity which made him stand above.

At just 62, to have been claimed by an affliction which I’m witnessing, first-hand, strip my mother, inexorably, of her uniqueness and personality, is simply just wrong.

But the facts are quite stark: Alzheimer’s affects one in 14 people over the age of 65 and one in every six people over the age of 80. But around one in every 20 cases affects people aged 40 to 65.


Down at Scarista at the weekend, it was left to the Hearachs to provide the only golfing action in the form of the deciding round in the, best three of four, Road to Harris Trophy; their last 18-hole competition of the year. 

Just seven hardy maniacs took to the links on a morning which, allegedly, wasn’t as bad as it had threatened. 

It had threatened with the menace of a snarling Rottweiler, the original forecast confining those of us with more sense, and more importantly, no chance, to our beds.

Mark Waugh

Mark Waugh, a recent, welcome, addition to the lunatic fringe, has been, along with Murdo F, ‘one to watch’ these closing weeks of a strange year.

How he finished seven-up versus a course which can be impossible to ‘break’ when the wind blows, is a feat which exposes his huge potential.

Nobody else managed to be ‘even’ on the day.

Taking his cumulative total to +9 would have tied him with eventual winner, Kenny ‘Kuna’ Morrison, but for the fact that he was required to have completed another round.

Who is to say what score he could have managed with another 18 holes in benign conditions?

A dominant front nine saw him +4 and in buoyant mood.

That he only managed +3 for the back nine when the rest crumbled surely requires a steward’s enquiry?

Closest challenger to ‘Kuna’, Russell Tennant, managed two birdies and an eagle on the day, but still managed to be two down and heading backwards.


At Stornoway the course, and Sandwick Road, remained flooded.

The only hardy souls who took to the course with any degree of intent last week were the senior section who can play whenever they like.

They tend to avoid the monsoon season.

Having seen their summer league reach its finale with a sprint finish, they began their 12-hole ‘season’ with some impressively decent scoring.

Neil Clayton

To quickly catch up: Neil Clayton claimed the plaudits in the summer competition, finishing with rounds of 37 and 38 points to pip a columnist by a single ‘straic’ after three months of toil.

He will be sworn at in the passing.

Neil now has the ‘double’ on his mantlepiece, having already claimed the 2019-20 winter league by a similar huge margin from the same fellow!

Norrie MacLean stormed round in 29 points (par 24) last week to claim an early lead in the 2020-21 version, and also earn a swift ‘chop’ in handicap.