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Jim Spence Is A Saintee But He Disnae Hate The Dundee

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The Courier is delighted to announce that the voice of football in Tayside and Fife, Jim Spence, has joined our team of columnists.

 

In over 20 years of working for the BBC, Jim has built up a loyal following of listeners and has over 50,000 followers on social media.

Now his sporting knowledge and opinions will be brought to our readers every Saturday.

Here we look back at his career so far.

Jim Spence is of course best known as BBC Scotland’s voice of Tayside, breaking news and reporting from the touchline at Tannadice, Dens and McDiarmid.

But it wasn’t football that got him up-and-running in sport broadcasting, it was tennis. A long way away from the strawberries and cream of the All England Club.

“It’s a bit lost in the mists of time now, but it was well over 20 years ago that I got involved in sport,” Jim recalled.

Early days

“In the early days I married it with a full-time job of teaching law at Dundee College. I had a background in hospital radio and with a student newspaper.

“I applied umpteen times to BBC Scotland and eventually got a call one day to ask if I could cover the Scottish hardcourt tennis championships at Broughty Ferry. I was actually quite a keen tennis player but how well-versed I was on the finer points of the game, I’m not too sure.

“I can vividly remember that there were about six games on at a time and I’d be putting coins into the phone in the tuckshop doing a live report to the old Sportsound while kids were shouting for cans of Coke and Mars bars!

“That was the start.”

He added: “I didn’t just do sport in the early days. I was on the consumer programme and I occasionally interviewed ministers for religious affairs.

“My big break in terms of being full-time came when St Johnstone started to fly high under Alex Totten. The BBC didn’t have someone to cover Saints and I got the gig.

“Saints were playing some fantastic stuff. Moore and Maskrey were doing their thing on the wings with big Roddy Grant leading the line. They were regularly getting big, big crowds and Alex was a gift for the media.

“Then after Bobby Seith stepped down from covering Tannadice and Dens I stepped into his shoes.”

The Dundee beat hasn’t just been about games, goals and gantrys.

Dressed as a sheep

“I’ve seen two administrations unfortunately,” Jim explained. “During which I did various things to help Dundee out including being naked in a bath and getting dressed up as a sheep in a nightclub!

“The administrations were dire times. We were stood outside Dens for days on end thinking would this club survive?

“But, before the first administration, the side Bonetti put together was fabulous to watch. Had he been a better coach, they might have done wonders. Caniggia, Nemsadze, Caballero, Speroni and others were fabulous players.

“It’s good to see that Paul Hartley is putting a really decent side together just now.”

United had won their Premier League title and enjoyed their famous European adventures before Jim picked up a BBC microphone.

But the Jim McLean era was still very much alive when he took over from Seith.

Wee Jim

“I think it’s only now becoming apparent just how good a coach wee Jim was,” Spence said.

“Actually, not just a coach. He was so far ahead of the game in terms of sports science, diet and things like that.

“But he had such a terrific eye for a player. His player identification was key. He was a workaholic who loved football and lived it.

“He was forever watching a game, trying to find the next talent.

“In his day he was also not frightened to splash the cash – £100,000 for Willie Pettigrew, about £160,000 to Chelsea for Eamon Bannon. These were big sums of money.

“What happened after Jim was intriguing. They couldn’t recapture the success or the quality of the manager. None have been able to live up to Jim – some great United men among them.

“Guys like Paul Sturrock and Paul Hegarty found the burden of trying to live up to what he created just too much.”

The United golden era is past but Spence believes that St Johnstone are currently living through their one.

He said: “I was working at Celtic Park when they won the cup, I was on the open-top bus the following day and I’ve been on several European trips with them.

Soft spot for Saints

“I’ve got a lot of time for Saints. I’ve always had a soft spot for them. My pal Stuart Cosgrove is a great Saintee.

“What they’re doing just now is magnificent. I detest when I hear that they’ve not got a good support. Pro rata it’s no worse than any other club, and it’s a very good, loyal support.

“Tommy Wright’s done a great job. I think he’s their best ever manager. But you can’t not mention Geoff Brown, who saved them from oblivion.

“He’s kept the club on a sound footing, followed by his son Steve, ever since.

“Steve will learn a lot from his dad. There’s nothing he didn’t know about Scottish football. There’s many a time I’ve sat chewing the fat with Geoff at St Madoes.

“The best tribute to Saints just now is that when everybody’s talking about who might go down I never contemplate St Johnstone. I think of them automatically as a top flight club.”

In his new role as The Courier’s Saturday columnist, Jim won’t back away from taking on the big issues in Scottish football.

“I’ve never been shy of an opinion,” he said.

“I’ll have a lot to say. This is an interesting time for the game.

“Is the academy system right for Scottish football? I have my doubts about that.

“Sometimes I think that the old Sunday boys system produced players who were every bit as gifted.

“And looking at our trade, what about the banning of journalists from football grounds and being quietened down? That’s not a good thing.

“Who’s going to ask the hard questions? It won’t be PR people or in-house media. When there’s financial or managerial problems they won’t be asking questions. We need a strong media in these situations.

“All of the football clubs in Courier country have been under-represented in the national media to a great extent over the years.

“I always saw it as my role to fight the corner for these clubs and I’ll continue to do it.”

Jim added: “I’m delighted to be joining Eve Muirhead and Christian Dailly at The Courier. I worked with Eve at the Commonwealth Games. I think we covered the weightlifting. We might not have known much about it, but we got there.

“And I’ve known Christian since he was a boy. I knew his father, Dan, who was a great character.

“Christian and Eve have reached their pinnacle in their chosen sports, even though the boy Dailly has to watch his language when there’s a microphone around!”

Tayside’s best players

"I’ll pick one from each of our three Premiership teams.

"It has to be Caniggia for Dundee. When he came I wondered if he would just be at Dundee for a pay day, but he was a consummate professional. I’ll never forget his debut.

"For Saints, it was before my broadcasting career, but John Connolly stands out as a wonderfully classy player.

"Overall, I would probably have to go for David Narey.

He could have played for any team. I think he was better than Alan Hansen.

I never saw him absolutely tested in any game. He always had an extra 10% he could have pulled out of his pocket."

The best game I covered

"It’s very difficult because there have been so many.

"But there’s an obvious resonance in watching Saints and United lift the Scottish Cup for the first time. I was touchline reporter for both.

"The night that James McFadden scored the wonder goal in Paris stands out as well.

"I was a television reporter that night and I was 10 yards behind the goal. It meant so much to the nation.

"You just knew what he was going to do, and I was right behind it. Unashamedly, I just leapt off the bench with my TV producer. It was one of those ‘I was there moments’."

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I have always had alot of respect for Jim. Ok he is an Arab but he always speaks up for the Saints and for a journalist he has a great knowledge of our team. Will not forget the warm welcome he got from the Saints fans when he came into the Three Lions pub in Trondheim after the win over Rosenberg! Also the wave he gave the fans when we went up 0-1 and we chanted "Spency what's the score?" Great times!

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Good for the courier. I like jim. Was always good on sportsound and gave a non biased view on scottish football. Well, he was biased to the tayside clubs, but in a very obvious and honest way.

I worry that without him, sportsound will just lurch back to the old Rangers/Celtic lines. Tom English I like, but all the ex pros (biscuits included) are woeful. Still listen, but when you compare the quality now to the days of crampsie etc....

BBC's loss is the couriers gain.

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Good for the courier. I like jim. Was always good on sportsound and gave a non biased view on scottish football. Well, he was biased to the tayside clubs, but in a very obvious and honest way.

I worry that without him, sportsound will just lurch back to the old Rangers/Celtic lines. Tom English I like, but all the ex pros (biscuits included) are woeful. Still listen, but when you compare the quality now to the days of crampsie etc....

BBC's loss is the couriers gain.

Pretty sure he'll still work freelance for BBC?

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