Interview: Stuart Cosgrove – Scottish football for the soul

The Perth broadcaster has seen it all in the media world but has always stayed true to his St. Johnstone and northern soul roots

ELOQUENT, intelligent and cultured, Stuart Cosgrove has carved out an enviable career in the media by fervently following the loves of his life.

Smitten by all things St. Johnstone and northern soul, the 64-year-old Letham-born broadcaster, journalist and one-time media executive, is perhaps better known for his work in the Scottish football sphere than the arts world.

Since his father was killed in a car crash, when he was only seven years old, Stuart has felt an unshakable bond with the Saints which has continued into his working life.

One particular radio broadcast, of a cup game against Rangers which his father attended, lives long in the memory.

“When he passed away and I wasn’t able to go to the football with him, that game took on a different meaning to me.

“I never thought during that period one day you’ll be on that radio station, you’ll be a person that’s got a career talking about football and St. Johnstone.”

Stuart’s love of his hometown heroes practically effervesces across the airwaves every Saturday as co-presenter of satirical football show Off the Ball alongside the Motherwell-supporting Tam Cowan.

“There has been a tendency for sports journalists to either deny they supported anyone, or to be clearly supporters of either Celtic or Rangers but just never admitting it.

“So to have two people who are out and proud, actually build a show out of not being Old Firm fans, ended up giving the show a purpose, a meaning and therefore a way of laughing at things,” he confesses.

Not shy of a chuckle at the oddities of Scottish football, when he was the presenter of football highlights show Sportscene, Stuart was parodied every Hogmanay on the BBC’s Only an Excuse? for his endearing catchphrase ‘ye canny beat it’.

Now far removed from the programme, Stuart feels there is no excuse for the powers that be in the Scottish game not to push for a better broadcasting deal, as BT Sport look set to sign a record-breaking contract worth upwards of £31m.

“It gives BT tremendous capacity within the home, but of course Scotland is one very minor market and they have to try and compete in England as well.

“The Premier League and the Champions League are hugely overpriced and I would argue, as a Scottish football fan, highly overrated as well.”

Stuart believes senior executives have sold the game short for too long and need to expel the myth that the SPFL is only four fixtures a year between Celtic and Rangers.

“When [Stewart] Regan and [Neil] Doncaster go down, they need to challenge this narrow narrative and look at the range of things that are going on.

“If Hibs win the Championship, the Edinburgh Derby returns. I think anybody that’s interested in football would see that as a reasonable thing to want to watch. It’s certainly more rich in its history than Sunderland against Newcastle,” contends Stuart.

In nearly 30 years in the media, the Perth man has seen technological advancements transform a thriving print industry into one that is compromised by digital and social media.

The fast-moving, 24-hour news beast poses a threat to the breadth of the written word in the mainstream, but Stuart feels that quality, long-form journalism still has a niche appeal.

“There’s a hell of a lot of people out there that sometimes actually just want to relax in the house and read, and don’t necessarily want to read on a device.

“They want to sit back and read a magazine with the texture, the feel, the look and I think that’s a great opportunity.

“So it’s not will they get rid of print? Will they get rid of the written word? Or people’s desire to read, in many respects they cultivate people’s desire to read, it’s just how and where they read.”

Alongside his BBC commitments Stuart has put his weight behind Nutmeg, a fledgling Scottish football periodical, established to take on the self-fulfilling world of the tabloid sport press with essays and features.

“Once you see Nutmeg you think why did this not exist before? It fulfils a real gap in the market.

“It’s post-fanzine, as it’s fans in the main that are writing, but they are writing at length about a subject they are deeply passionate about and it’s often subjects that are not likely to get attention from the daily news press.”

Cosgrove has had a glittering career in the British media.

Pre-Saturday afternoons spent with Tam Cowan, Stuart was the media editor for NME in the 1980s.

Focussing specifically on African American culture and northern soul music, he was the voice for the new, the different, the counter-cultural and often the revolutionary.

Stuart takes a sharp intake of breath as he laments what has become of his beloved NME.

“I regret the demise of the NME because for a period of time, particularly in the seventies and eighties, it was a title that had huge significance. It was agenda-setting and progressive. It’s become more of brand than a newspaper in the traditional sense.”

Unlike most arts and entertainment journalists, Stuart is a digital media advocate and sees the struggle between critic and blogger not simply as a question of authority, but quality of writing.

“Blogging has a really important place, but I think that crafting something for the web with hyperlinks, click-throughs and click baits is different thing than writing an essay.”

He insists: “I think arts writing needs to be grabbier, it needs to be more opinionated and catchy. All those things are predicated against good writing.”

Stuart cites northern soul as an example of why sub-cultures will never die, despite changes in how young people consume music.

“If a similar sub-culture was to re-emerge it would have to be much more digital, much more connected digitally than the northern scene was.

“You can sit in your bedroom and listen to things, but sooner or later you want to go out with people who want to do those things as well. It might just be going to a live gig, but also it could be saying let’s run our own night. You can build sub-cultures, especially in small towns.”

With 20 years as an executive at Channel 4 under his belt, Stuart has seen the political and social landscape of Britain change over the course of his professional life, with the style, format and consumption of journalism and media transforming with it.

Yet, he proves that if you pursue your passions with the guts of sports broadcaster and the guile of a music critic, you just might make a career out of it.


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