Tam Cowan versus those spiteful, arid ‘liberals’

Tam Cowan versus those spiteful, arid ‘liberals’
The Observer, by Kevin McKenna

Tam Cowan’s column about women’s football was not his best, but he hardly deserved to be hounded by a media lynch mob.

The true torchbearers of Scottish football in Europe these last few years had another fine result last week. Glasgow City Ladies FC travelled to Belgium and secured a 2-2 draw in the first leg of their tie against the much fancied Standard Liege and now have a very good chance of reaching the Uefa Women’s Champions League. The women of Glasgow City must still pay for the privilege of training three nights a week while holding down their own jobs. Every time they take the field of play they bring honour to their city and their country.

One man who probably didn’t celebrate Glasgow’s success in the premier tournament of women’s football is the journalist, broadcaster and comedian Tam Cowan, if his recent column in the Daily Record could be taken as an indicator. It’s safe to say that Cowan is not a supporter of women’s football and would probably rather extract his own teeth than attend a match. Cowan, a supporter of Motherwell FC, was appalled that Fir Park, home of his footballing heroes, had been used by the Scottish international women’s football team to host their most recent fixture (a splendid 7-0 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina, seeing as you ask). Following this desecration, Cowan said that Fir Park should be torched. Elsewhere in his piece he wrote: "I’ve not seen a lot of women’s football – just a few snatches" and he described two women footballers he’d recently encountered as "two of the nicest blokes I’ve ever met".

The piece was written in Cowan’s normal brash, tongue-in-cheek style and was probably as much a clumsy attempt to bait the forces of political correctness as it was to lampoon women’s football. I normally find his columns very funny, sharp and entertaining, but wouldn’t include this one in his top 10. Yet for these crimes against humanity Cowan was forced into making an abject 800-word apology in the Daily Record 48 hours later. For it seemed that, no sooner had his column entered cyberspace, than someone had let slip the implacable forces of Scotland’s so-called media and liberal elite. The BBC in Scotland immediately suspended him from his weekly Saturday football show. The Sunday Herald deemed the tale worthy of its splash and a laughably po-faced leader called on the national state broadcaster to sack him.

It demonstrated yet again how good we are in modern, smart, successful 21st-century Scotland at assembling a lynch mob. These people, many of them so-called self-styled liberals and media colleagues of Cowan’s, exist in a spiteful and arid little world in which executions occur regularly; there can be no right of appeal and no apology will ever suffice. Liberals, my arse.

Cowan’s two-week suspension by the BBC I found particularly surprising. This is the same organisation that employs John Inverdale, the man who, earlier this year, commented cruelly on the looks of the newly crowned Wimbledon women’s champion, Marion Bartoli. The comments, made in all seriousness, were an authentic reflection of Inverdale’s mindset, whereas Cowan was simply trying to be funny.

Last night, I watched BBC2’s latest transmission of Mock the Week, in which six C-list clowns spent the first 10 minutes verbally abusing a photograph of Abu Qatada taken through a window of the plane deporting him from the UK. They made fun of his name, his appearance and his beard in a dire and badly judged segment that would have offended all Asians and the Muslim religion in particular. It angered me, a white, Christian western male. Yet Tam Cowan’s possibly ill-judged humour induced a fit of the vapours in the corporation’s Scottish executive.

The imbroglio that has swirled around Cowan these last two weeks is about much more than the temporary suspension and public hanging of a miscreant broadcasting personality. It brought into the light the jealousy, hypocrisy and viciousness of Scotland’s self-appointed media junta in all its vengeful glory. I doubt that many of the people in this cadre were as offended by Cowan as they purported to be. But they certainly saw an opportunity to skewer an individual whose soaring and lucrative media career many of them resent. How can this West of Scotland oik, lacking a letter after his name and who persists in using the unlovely Lanarkshire vernacular, possibly forge a career with two of the finest journalistic organisations in the country?

Many of those who volunteered for the media firing squad are also, perversely, those who would subscribe to the lofty ideal of One Scotland, Many Cultures. But in their elitist little Eden, only one culture can exist and it certainly isn’t one that speaks rudely of old footballers and heroic drinking sessions and that celebrates the songwriting of Engelbert Humperdinck and Neil Sedaka.

These people inhabit a world in which they attend £100-a-head cultural awareness weekends where people make their own cardigans and (lamentably) their own poetry. They engage with each other in social media, ostensibly to declaim and discuss the values of a new politics but more often to praise each other’s work – "Lovely article, Morag." "Why, thank-you, Roderick, yours was really good too."

Their attitudes were eloquently espoused in an article by Kenneth Roy, one of Scotland’s towering journalistic figures. It was a piece, regrettably, which also spoke more about the writer’s prejudices than it did about the perceived failings of its subject and the culture that produced him. Writing in the Scottish Review, Roy had this to say: "Tam Cowan is no joke. What he represents, what he helps to symbolise and sustain, is a Scottish affliction. He is a strong, though fortunately not compelling, reason for believing that Scotland does not deserve independence."

You are so wrong, Kenneth, old chap. What Tam Cowan helps to symbolise and sustain is not a Scottish affliction. Instead, let’s hope, in an independent Scotland, he will provide a counter-balance to the wretched assortment of introspective, self-regarding faux-intellectuals with too much time on their hands who seek to influence debate in this country. I admire him greatly.