Hugh McIlvanney

Hugh McIlvanney OBE (2 February 1934 – 24 January 2019) was a Scottish sports journalist who had long stints with the British Sunday newspapers The Observer (30 years until 1993) and then 23 years with The Sunday Times (1993–2016). After nearly six decades in the profession, he retired in March 2016 at the age of 82.

Hugh McIlvanney
BornHugh Montgomery McIlvanney
(1934-02-02)2 February 1934
Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland
Died24 January 2019(2019-01-24) (aged 84)
OccupationSports journalist

Early lifeEdit

Hugh McIlvanney was born on 2 February 1934 in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland, to William and Helen McIlvanney (nee Montgomery).[1] He was educated at Hillhead Primary school then James Hamilton Academy.[2] He transferred across to Kilmarnock Academy for a session when his brother William started there.[3]

Journalism careerEdit

McIlvanney left school to work as a reporter at The Kilmarnock Standard.[3][4] He moved on to the Scottish Daily Express. In his mid-twenties, while he was working at The Scotsman, he was persuaded to write about sport. He joined The Observer in 1962 as an assistant sports editor and worked at the paper until 1993,[5] interrupted when he took a news and features role in 1972–73 with the Daily Express, before joining The Sunday Times in 1993.[6][7] His column on the back page of The Sunday Times sports section ran until 2016.[8][9]

His writing has been described as striving for perfection – with much attention paid to the detail.[1][2] Any expression of joy for the writing he submitted was deferred until he had seen what had actually been printed.[10] He was not shy in offering his analysis of sports stars.[11] In 1974, immediately after The Rumble in the Jungle, he made an approach to Muhammad Ali and was granted a two-hour interview.[12] In September 1980 he reported from Los Angeles on the professional fight where Johnny Owen was defeated and knocked unconscious.[13]

In The Football Men, he examined the life and careers of three great modern Scottish football managers – Matt Busby, Jock Stein and Bill Shankly for the BBC television programme Arena. This used BBC archive footage and aired in 1997 as a three-part series.[14][15][8]

He retired at the age of 82, citing the physical demands of the job as having become too taxing.[16]


In the 1996 Birthday Honours, McIlvanney was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to Sports Journalism.[17] He was given the Lifetime Achievement Award 2004 by the Scottish Press Awards.[18] He is the only sports writer to be voted Journalist of the Year at the British Press Awards.[19] In 2005, he was included in the Press Gazette Hall of Fame.[7] He was named British sports writer of the year seven times.[20]

In 2007, the Variety Club of Great Britain and the London Press Club presented him with the Edgar Wallace Award for Fine Writing.[21] In December 2008 he was voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame,[22] and he was inducted in 2009.[23] In 2009 he was bestowed with an honorary degree from Leicester's De Montfort University[24] In 2011 he was inducted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame, located at the Scottish Football Museum.[4] In October 2017, the National Football Museum inducted him into the English Football Hall of Fame – the first football writer to be honoured in this way.[25] In 2017, at the British Sports Book Awards he was named for an Outstanding Contribution to Sports Writing.[26]

Personal lifeEdit

McIlvanney had one sister and two brothers, including the novelist and crime fiction writer William McIlvanney.[3][1]

He married three times and had one son, Conn, and a daughter, Elizabeth.[2] He died on 24 January 2019.[1]

In 2015 he delivered a eulogy at the memorial service to his close friend, racing broadcaster Sir Peter O'Sullevan.[27]

Paying tribute to McIlvanney, The Press and Journal described him as "a giant with a genius for transforming sport into literature" and said his voice was "akin to Humphrey Bogart's in The Big Sleep; a gravelly drawl of dry-as-Nevada humour interspersed with a man’s-gotta-do cynicism."[28] On 25 January 2019 McIlvanney was featured on the BBC Radio 4 programme Last Word.[29]


  • On Boxing. 1982. ISBN 1-84018-005-6.
  • On Football. 1994. ISBN 1-84018-007-2.
  • On Horseracing. (co-written with Peter O'Sullevan). 1995. ISBN 1-84018-006-4.
  • Managing My Life. (co-written with Alex Ferguson). 1999. ISBN 978-0-340-72856-7.[30]


  1. ^ a b c d Mitchell, Kevin (25 January 2019). "Hugh McIlvanney obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  2. ^ a b c "The eloquence of perfectionism Pound for pound, word for word, he is the superior of Plimpton, Hamill, or Mailer". The Herald. Glasgow. 21 August 1999. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  3. ^ a b c "Hugh McIlvanney (b. 1934)". Kilmarnock Academy. Archived from the original on 18 October 2016. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
  4. ^ a b Dunn, Ross (25 January 2019). "Legendary sports writer and former Kilmarnock Standard reporter Hugh McIlvanney dies aged 84". Kilmarnock Standard. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  5. ^ McIlvanney, Hugh (4 December 2016). "Hugh McIlvanney: 'Nothing meant more than reporting on Muhammad Ali'". The Observer. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  6. ^ Shaw, Phil (25 January 2019). "Hugh McIlvanney: A trailblazer whose dazzling imagery made him one of the greatest sports journalists". The Independent. Retrieved 28 January 2019.
  7. ^ a b Burrell, Ian (5 December 2005). "Hugh McIlvanney: A giant among sporting greats". The Independent. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
  8. ^ a b Ronay, Barney (25 January 2019). "Hugh McIlvanney invented new ways of describing sport's beauty, power and fun". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  9. ^ Shaw, Phil (25 January 2019). "Hugh McIlvanney, legendary sports writer, dies aged 84". The Independent. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  10. ^ Webster, Geoff (25 January 2019). "Hugh McIlvanney: Remembering a remarkable life in sport". BBC Sport. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  11. ^ McIlvanney, Hugh (12 January 2014). "From the Observer archive, 10 January 1971: George Best and Bobby Moore – peas in a pod?". The Observer. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  12. ^ McIlvanney, Hugh (5 March 2016). "From the Vault: Hugh McIlvanney meets Muhammad Ali, hours after the Rumble in the Jungle". The Observer. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  13. ^ McIlvanney, Hugh (5 March 2016). "From the Vault: Hugh McIlvanney on Johnny Owen's last fight". The Observer. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  14. ^ "Remembering their roots is successful managers' common bond Ferguson ready to join the football immortals a". The Glasgow Herald. 28 March 1997. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  15. ^ Bagchi, Rob (15 October 2008). "Clips and quips killed the video star". The Guardian Sportblog. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  16. ^ Mitchell, Kevin (5 March 2016). "Hugh McIlvanney has been the master craftsman of our magnificent triviality". The Observer. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  17. ^ "The Queen's Birthday Honours". The Independent. 15 June 1996. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  18. ^ "Herald wins newspaper of the year honour in Scottish Press Awards". Press Gazette. 10 June 2004. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  19. ^ McLaughlin, Martyn (25 January 2017). "Scotsman 200: Journalists who made their mark at The Scotsman". The Scotsman. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  20. ^ "Hugh McIlvanney, veteran sports reporter, dies aged 84". The Guardian. 25 January 2019.
  21. ^ Dowell, Ben (10 May 2007). "Johnston wins Press Club award". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  22. ^ "Lewis, others to be inducted into Hall of Fame". ESPN. Associated Press. 9 December 2008. Retrieved 18 July 2010.
  23. ^ "Hugh McIlvanney". International Boxing Hall of Fame. Retrieved 18 July 2010.
  24. ^ "Hugh McIlvanney gets honorary degree". 30 October 2009. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  25. ^ "Hugh McIlvanney inducted into Hall of Fame". Football Writers' Association. 10 October 2017. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  26. ^ "Hugh McIlvanney to be honoured at the 15th Cross Sports Book Awards". 16 May 2017. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  27. ^ [1]
  28. ^ Drysdale, Neil. "Hugh McIlvanney: A giant with a genius for transforming sport into literature". Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  29. ^
  30. ^ "The Godfather technique". The Herald. Glasgow. 12 August 1999. Retrieved 26 January 2019.

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