Behind the Byline: Gordon Duncan
You’re well more than half way through your first season as host of Superscoreboard, how have you enjoyed it so far?
I’m loving every minute of it. Every day brings a new challenge. You never know quite what to expect but what you learn very quickly is that in this part of the world in particular, people just love their football. They care about it so passionately and if we can play a very small part in allowing them to express the way that they love the game and debate it and argue about it then great, so that’s where the enjoyment comes from.
It is a relentless job. You’re looking at 14 or 16 hours a week on air, but that’s just the half of it. It does just consume you. Every morning I wake up and my first thought is “what are we going to talk about tonight?” Every night when I go to bed I think “what was tonight’s show like”, and so on.
You’re constantly on Twitter or reading websites trying to get a feel for what the talking points are, and that changes as the day progresses and press conferences take place. I’ll tend to go into the studio two hours before the show starts and I’ll meet with the couple of journalists that we have and the production staff to see what ideas we have and it grows from there.
What was your reaction when you were offered the job last year? Was it slightly intimidating to be taking the helm at such a big show still quite early on in your career?
I was surprised it had come so soon. I would have been five years out of uni and three years permanently at Radio Clyde, albeit I had a lot of experience working at the station. So in that respect it did come quite quick and I was shocked. So initially, yeah, it felt quite intimidating. But that soon disappears when you get into it.
What’s it been like working alongside people like Hugh Keevins, as well as the various ex-pros that you have on the show?
It’s been great because there’s a really good mix. Hugh is like the old master. He’s been there so long and he’s seen everything. Just listening to the way he can phrase things and the way he describes things is just a constant education.
Then there’s the ex-pros like Mark Wilson or Alex Rae, guys who have recently played at a good level, and the stories they’ve got to tell and the experiences that they can share. Then there’s guys like Roger Hannah bringing the up-to-date journalistic feel to the programme. So I feel there’s a good blend there.
I think the biggest learning curve for me is learning how to bounce off those guys and how to bring the best out of them, and even what buttons you can push to try and wind them up!
“I’m not there to show how much I know about football. I’m there to try and be the middleman in a football discussion between the pundits, the listeners and the callers.”
How do you do that then, how do you get the best out of your guests?
This is probably one of those things that extends to any walk of life. Dealing with people is important no matter what you do so you’ve just got to try and learn their personality traits. You’ll get a feel for what they like talking about or what might be on their mind, and you’ve got to recognise people’s strengths.
I know from the show that I can direct pretty much anything that comes up to Hugh because he can handle it . When you’re dealing with one of the ex-pros I’m always conscious of how I can I tease a story out from their careers. But every pundit is different.
When you’re working with the ex-pros, do you feel you have to prove yourself to them because they have the experience of playing the game and you don’t? Do you have to earn their respect?
I see where you’re coming from but not really. Ultimately you have to just have confidence in what you’re doing Whether I have played football or not I don’t think is particularly relevant. Sure, maybe at some points deep down the ex-pros are thinking ‘what’s he on about?’ Fine, but you just have to believe in your own ability.
I’m not there to show how much I know about football. I’m there to try and be the middleman in a football discussion between the pundits, the listeners and the callers.
What was your route into sports journalism? How did you end up where you are now?
Initially I did an undergrad in literary studies at Glasgow University – so that’s not particularly interesting. Then it got a bit more relevant when I did a postgrad in broadcast journalism at the University of the West of Scotland. It was one year, very intense, very role specific and I picked up a lot of good skills which I genuinely took into the day to day job before I took this role.
I had been covering weekend games for Superscoreboard for a long time, before I even went to uni. Just reporting on games to the studio. I started off doing Championship games but before long I was doing Celtic and Rangers. So that was good experience. It was once I got to uni that I started tying that in with moving towards a career so once I left, I did a lot of freelance work at Clyde both in the news and the sport department. News reporting was good experience but I ended up moving laterally towards sports and this current role as host of Superscoreboard.
You’re also involved with the SFA’s media team and you would have been one of the first journalists to sit down with Alex McLeish when you interviewed him for the SFA podcast a couple of weeks ago. How do you approach that role compared to your job at Clyde?
I think you have to acknowledge that with any sort of internal media, whether it’s club media or for someone like the Scottish FA, you’re just lying to yourself if you don’t think that it’s different. There’s no way that the SFA, or that Celtic, Rangers, Motherwell, whoever, are going to want to publish an interview full of difficult, probing questions where the manger is having to scramble around and justify himself. So the tone is completely different.
For the McLeish interview it was for the SFA Podcast, so you’re trying to make a bit more of a feature to give an insight into his career, and to tease the stories out of him. If I was doing it with my Radio Clyde hat on then you would be trying to generate a newsline and you’d be trying to make him say something really hard-hitting.
“For the SFA, I’m trying to make a bit more of a feature to give an insight into McLeish’s career, and to tease the stories out of him. If I was doing it for Clyde then I would be trying to generate a newsline.”
How do you think the interview with McLeish went?
I found him to be very personable. He was willing to open up and share his memories – which is nice because I don’t particularly know him. When you’re having a chat like that with someone you don’t really know it’s not always easy to be as relaxed. I’ve done a couple of similar things in the past with people who, without naming any names, were not as forthcoming or as willing to give up their time. So credit to Alex for coming in just a couple of days into the job because I’m sure he would have been extremely busy. Even though we’re the SFA he didn’t have to do that. I thought he came across very well.
This interview is taking place during the week before an Old Firm. What is the build up to that like at a Glasgow-based radio station?
Madness, absolute madness. Six days out from the game, so Monday night at 6 o’clock, the show begins, the phone lines open and bang. Anyone who tells you that it’s just another fixture is lying to themselves because the phones have been going crazy. It’s just constant back and forth, people furious if anyone suggests their team might not win the game. You’ve got days of predictions, preferred lineups, talk of the refs. It’s crazy but it’s brilliant.
How difficult is it as a host to stay as balanced and impartial as possible?
The first thing you have to realise is you cannot and will not please everyone – it is impossible. Personally, I find it really easy to stay impartial because I was born in Motherwell, raised in Motherwell, and I’ve always been a Motherwell fan. So when it comes to Celtic and Rangers, as it usually does, I don’t find it difficult to be impartial at all because I always have been.
But that doesn’t stop the accusations that you’re favoring one team or you’re being disrespectful to another, so you have to acknowledge early on that you cannot win. As long as you’re upsetting both sides you’re probably doing something right!
Finally, all of us at ENRG Sport are aspiring sports journalists and writers. What is one piece of advice you would offer us, as well as anyone who is looking to get a job in the industry?
I would say don’t underestimate the good old fashioned art of being nice to people. I’m sure there are many more technical answers I could have given about working hard and making yourself multi-skilled, because that’s all very important, but if you can be a good person, if you can build up relationships with interviewees, with colleagues, with bosses, with potential bosses, then ultimately you’ll perform far better in the role.
You can have all the football knowledge and journalistic nous in the world but if you can’t relate to people or deal well with people in different situations then you’ll struggle.