He’s become the voice of football. It seems that Super Ally is just about everyone’s favourite co-commentator. Behind the mic, he’s the nation’s number one.
If you watch live TV football, Ally McCoist is hard to miss. BT Sport, Sky Sports, ITV Sport and Viaplay, the channel formerly known as Premier Sports, are all more than happy to have him on board. That’s on top of his regular radio appearances on TalkSport.
The former Rangers and Scotland striker is a media mainstay and his popularity rating has never been higher. Not that he’s constantly monitoring public opinion. Another couple of McCoists take care of that.
Ally McCoist receives praise for his commentating on social media – not that he uses it
‘I don’t keep my ear to the ground,’ says Ally, ‘but my boys keep me up to speed on social media and the weird and wonderful world that it is. My older boys, Alexander and Argyll, tell me I’m doing alright in terms of the general opinion on co-comms so that can only be a good thing. I love it, I absolutely love it. If I told you the truth, I probably prefer it to the studio analysis. I like commenting on the action as you see it. There are times when you have to make a call without seeing a replay and you can get it wrong. But there’s something about the rawness of doing it live that I enjoy.
‘I’m of a vintage where people would just discuss the game but there’s a large section of social media which talks about the pundits, the commentators, the co-commentators. And I get that, because everybody’s got different opinions on it. But my boys are across it and, if there’s a mistake made, they’re first on me right away, I can guarantee you that.’
What is it about McCoist’s inimitable style of broadcasting that’s made him the rarely-disputed people’s choice?
He acknowledges that fans sat at home want to be enlightened on the things they don’t see
‘I think the one thing the viewer and the listener want more than anything – well, I’m saying one thing, there are probably a couple of things –.I think they want to be informed about things that, perhaps, they don’t see. And I think, one of the key things, and it might sound obvious, I think they want to hear people enjoying themselves.
‘A lot of criticism that’s levelled at commentators and co-commentators is that they don’t seem to be enjoying the match or enjoying the occasion. Clearly every game isn’t going to be a four-all thriller and we’ll all be raving about it. But, effectively, I think the viewer and the listener want to listen to people who appreciate and enjoy the job they’re doing. I think that’s key.’
For Ally’s fans, it’s not always about him finding the right words. Sometimes his legendary cheeky-chappy chuckle is all the soundtrack they need.
‘If there’s a monotonous drone on the other end of the microphone, as much as you might be enjoying the game, there’s every chance you’d turn the volume down. At the same time you can’t go on there and be Billy Connolly. You’ve got to have a balance. And you’ve got to call it as you see it.’
He says he accepted the World Cup final was not a great game for 60 minutes, until it exploded
Ask Ally about his favourite commentary and he doesn’t need to dig too deep into the old memory banks. The Qatar World Cup final in mid-December was the gift that just kept on giving. ‘That World Cup final was, dear me, what a game of football. And people forget, and it’s understandable, it wasn’t a great game for an hour. Argentina dominated France.
‘Then, it was as if someone got a hand grenade, took the pin out, threw it on the pitch, the whole place blew and away we went. We were off and running. It was amazing. It’s probably because it’s fresh in the memory as well. Doing a World Cup final is obviously a big thing and one I was blessed to do. But to do that World Cup final? Brilliant.’
While McCoist was commentating in Qatar, his old Rangers gaffer Graeme Souness was one of the ITV studio pundits. Was that a happy reunion? It was during the Souness reign that Ally was nicknamed The Judge because he spent so much time on the bench.
‘There are a lot of stories about that time he left me out of the team when Mark Hateley and Mo Johnston were playing. Clearly my nose was out of joint because I wanted to play. But. in the cold light of day, Graeme doing that, and the way I reacted to it, I don’t think there’s any doubt it actually helped me and it helped Rangers as well.
‘I’ve always, since I stopped playing, got on really well with him so I wouldn’t say there was a massive problem within the relationship. There was just a period of time when he didn’t play me which he was well within his rights to do. Although I didn’t agree with it, I actually think in the long run it benefited me and the team.’
McCoist has learnt to accept what Graeme Souness did at Rangers, and enjoys listening to him
Souness is one of the football talkers he likes listening to, with the equally straight-talking Roy Keane coming a close second.
‘I enjoy listening to Graeme and Roy. I think they’re excellent. They had a brilliant barney at the World Cup which was magic and you could see it coming because they’re both very strong-willed characters. They both believe in what they say and they’re not scared what they say. They’ve both clearly played at the highest level. It doesn’t make them right all the time but it certainly makes you value their opinion.’
So, come on then, Ally. Surely you and Roy Keane must have had a verbal dust-up at some stage?
‘Sadly for a lot of people, he’s not the person they would like him to be, the one they see on television. He’ll hate me saying it, he’ll probably pick up the phone and give me a blast but he’s a lot warmer than a lot of people would think.’
Roy Keane is ‘warmer’ than people realise, McCoist explained, stating there was no falling out
This is Part Two of McCoist’s media career. Part One came to an end when the late great Walter Smith gave him the call, firstly, to join the Scotland management team in 2004, then to return to Rangers with his mentor in 2007 as a full-time assistant.
‘I was a team captain on Question of Sport and things were going great. I went in as assistant manager with Tommy (Burns) alongside Walter and it was brilliant. Then Walter got the Rangers job and that was it. I was off and running, full-time. And Walter, to be fair to him, thought it was a bigger decision for me than I thought it was to give up the media stuff. I thought it was clear-cut, bang, that’s me, but he actually said: “I want you to go away and think about it for four or five days because I think it’s a bigger decision than you think it is.”.
Agreeing to take over from Smith as Rangers manager in 2011 was certainly a big decision. And not one he regrets.
McCoist took over the role of manager at Rangers from Walter Smith (C), and doesn’t regret it
‘It clearly didn’t go according to plan and it clearly wasn’t the ideal time but, in a masochistic kind of way, and it’ll sound bizarre, I was glad it was me rather than somebody else.’
Have there been any offers to return to the football front line?
‘Not recently but, right at the start, I had a couple of interviews. QPR, Blackburn and Sunderland and, to be brutally honest, I think I dodged a bullet with the Sunderland one. And I probably dodged another bullet at that time with the Blackburn one. I kinda got over those minor disappointments pretty quickly!’
McCoist has been interviewed for other management roles, but is content doing media work
With most of his media work at the match rather than in the studio, McCoist does get to regularly meet his public. And, when Kilmarnock appealed in vain for a late penalty against Celtic in the recent Viaplay Cup semi-finals at Hampden, he found out, as he suspected, that not everyone is in his fan club.
‘It was superb. That penalty claim. There was a Celtic fan, an old fella sitting six rows back, just about 15 feet away from the TV presentation area. He saw me looking at the screen. And he said, and I won’t attempt his Irish accent: “Ally, Ally.” I looked up and he said: “Was it a penalty?” I looked over and I nodded my head and said: “I’m afraid so.” And he looked back and said “Was it f***.” It was brilliant and we all fell about laughing. And I know for a fact that if I’d said to the guy it wisnae a penalty he’d have said: “Aye it was.”’