When I inform anyone that I was at Wembley in 1966 the natural assumption is that I am referring to the football World Cup, won by Sir Alf Ramsay's England when they beat Germany in the final. But no. For me, a sporting Scot, the London event that year was at the Empire Pool, Wembley, where Scotland’s young boxing sensation, Walter McGowan, won the lineal world flyweight championship.
Why my particular delight in this and other achievements of Walter McGowan? His death on 15 February last month brought back poignant memories of a local man from Burnbank, Hamilton, whom I knew personally. As an aspiring young footballer I was encouraged by the then captain of Rangers FC, the late Bobby Shearer, to join with him in watching Walter prepare for many of his 40 professional fights. This I did and was hugely awestruck by the intensity and duration of his physical preparation.
However, impressive though Walter was, a more imposing personality was his father and trainer, Thomas McGowan, himself a boxer who fought under the pseudonym Joe Gans. His career of 94 fights spanned from 1928 to 1941 but it was as his son’s uncompromising trainer that he really made his name. Gruelling road work, punishing sessions in the gym and astute technique sessions were admired by Bobby and me. Having failed to win in only two of his 124 amateur bouts, Walter lost only seven of his professional contests.
Unsurprisingly, Scotland’s 'King of the Ring’, Ken Buchanan, described McGowan as 'a brilliant, beautiful boxer'. In May 1963, in the tenth of his 40 pro fights, I was privileged to be able to confirm this assessment personally by being in attendance at Paisley ice rink where the British and Commonwealth flyweight titles were at stake. To the unimaginative but animated shouts of 'W a l t e r, W a l t e r', his doughty opponent Jackie Brown was out-boxed and knocked out in Round 12.
Almost exactly three years later was my Wembley experience – to see our local hero beat holder Salvatore Burruni for the lineal world flyweight championship. Towards the end of his career Walter moved up to bantamweight where he continued to perform with distinction until he retired in 1969.
Throughout his career, Walter’s Achilles heel was his propensity to cut readily. He was known in the boxing world as a ‘bleeder’. Influential father Joe took everything in his insouciant stride and did just about everything to make his son successful but, unfortunately, he couldn’t make him physically thick-skinned.
In Scottish sport over the years, parental inspiration and guidance has been ever prevalent. It’s possibly apparent more in individual sports like tennis where there’s no disputing mother Judy’s contribution to the career of Andy. In golf, there was the 'master coach’, Bob Torrance, presiding over former Ryder Cup captain, Sam. And, currently, Paul Lawrie steering his two sons, Craig and Michael, to anticipated golfing success. Liz McColgan's daughter Eilish followed in her illustrious mother’s athletic footsteps.
In a lesser-known sport, shooting, Donald McIntosh from Elgin is Britain’s head rifle coach. His wife, Shirley, who won four medals including gold and silver in the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, was recently inducted into the Scottish Sport Hall of Fame. Their two daughters, Seonaid and Jennifer, both excel with the older one, Jennifer, the most successful single athlete at the Delhi Olympics in 2010 with two gold and one bronze medal. She already has the honour of being selected for the forthcoming Olympic Games in Rio.
In May 2014 Elana Baltacha died following a brave fight against liver cancer and after winning no fewer that 11 IFT titles. Her father, Sergie, a possessor of 45 caps for the USSR, played football in Scotland for St Johnstone and Inverness Caledonian and latterly was the inaugural manager when the Inverness clubs combined to become Caledonian Thistle. To confirm the hereditary ability, son Sergie Jnr, was a Scotland U21 internationalist who played for St Mirren and Millwall.
To give your family every opportunity for maximum achievement is the objective of every parent. Few have the wherewithal and initiative to provide a hotel with a curling rink as Hammy McMillan, a world champion in 1999, did to enable his son by the same name to become a champion also. The rink at the McMillan-owned North West Castle Hotel, Stranraer, as well as being unique, has been a godsend insofar as it gave Hammy Jnr a tremendous venue to facilitate his curling progress.
Our country’s greatest-ever bowler, Willie Wood, had much parental instruction from his father, 'Camshaft’ Wood, who won the Scottish Championship in 1967 and three years later Willie lost in the final. Nevertheless, with 137 caps and numerous titles, Willie, who had the unique distinction of being a professional, is unsurpassed in his sport with seven Commonwealth Games appearances.
Proud fathers abound in football where Scotland can boast the world’s most famous managerial exponent, Sir Alex Ferguson. Sir Alex’s son, Darren, no slouch as a boss himself with Peterborough twice, Preston North End and currently Doncaster Rovers, was in my national U21 side and a fine player with Manchester United, Wolves, Sparta Rotterdam and Wrexham. Although he undoubtedly benefited from his illustrious father’s advice, it is to his credit that he never sought to use this relationship to his advantage. Our nation’s best-ever player’s son, Paul, never managed to emulate 'King’ Kenny Dalglish, but was a fine journeyman for Newcastle United, Norwich City, Wigan Athletic, Blackpool, Linfield, Livingston, Hibernian and Kilmarnock before moving to coaching, at present in Canada with Ottawa Fury.
It’s invidious to provide an exhaustive list from the Scottish football scene, as some will be inadvertently omitted, but many fathers have sons who also have become professional players because of their inherited ability. Alphabetically they include Martin Buchan, Tom Callaghan, Dick Campbell, Charlie Christie, Terry Christie, Doug Considine, Archie Gemmill, Alan Gilzean, Peter Grant, Harry Irwin, Joe Jordan, Scott Leitch, Andy Lynch, Gordon Marshall, Ross Mathie, Jackie McInally, Jackie McNamara, Andy Smith, Gordon Smith, Gordon Strachan and Bobby Wilson. In addition, there’s Jim Fleeting, the SFA technical director and former Norwich City, Ayr United, Tampa Bay Rowdies and Clyde player, whose daughter, Julie, is the country’s best-known female player. Although currently turning out for Glasgow City she formerly played for Arsenal and as a professional for San Diego Spirit in the USA. Julie's 116 goals in 121 international games is a remarkable record which brought her many honours including the MBE.
Sporting prowess in the parent and child context is not confined to proficiency in the same sport as 'Lisbon Lion', and possessor of 14 domestic honours with Celtic, Jim Craig, can testify. The former Celtic right back’s son, James, was an outstanding exponent with the other shape of ball, playing superbly for Glasgow Warriors and gaining four international caps.
Badminton’s Wilma Tyre (Reid) was Scottish Open singles champion and Scottish national singles champion. One of her sons, Billy Reid, had junior caps for Scotland in no fewer than three sports, badminton, ice Hockey and basketball while other son, Alastair, represented Great Britain at ice hockey from 1978 to 1982.
The rugby code cannot pass without reference to a most multi-talented sporting family, that of proud father, British Lion and brilliant BBC broadcaster John Beattie, possessor of 25 caps. His 30 year old son, Johnnie, has exceeded his father’s accomplishment by already playing 38 times for Scotland. A former Glasgow Warriors and Montpellier player, Johnnie, who also represented his country at cricket and had a spell as a footballer with Rangers youths, now shines for Castres in France. Equally ubiquitous in her sporting career is his sister, Jennifer, who now plays football for Melbourne City. As a 15 year old she made her debut in the Premier League with Manchester City WFC and has turned out for Queen’s Park, Celtic, Arsenal and Montpellier HSC. Her 21 goals in 89 matches so far for England will fully justify the satisfaction John Beattie must have in the achievements of his talented offspring.