Craig G Telfer was long making a name for himself before the inception of the now popular TV Show A View from the Terrace. The Stenhousemuir-supporting host of the BBC Scotland series has been in the media game now for the best part of a decade, and we wanted to hear about it. Having given lower-league footballers the platform to reflect on their careers with the Pele Podcast, we felt obliged to turn the tables on Telfer to understand the journey that took him from wording up the Warriors on his Who The Hell Is Akabusi blog, to being in charge of Craig Fowler, Joel Sked and Shaughan McGuigan. A thankless task. But more on that later. For now though, let’s get started. And quite literally…
First of all, going back to the beginning, tell us what your earliest memories of football are. It’s probably the same as a lot of people who grew up in Stenhousemuir in the mid-nineties: it was the Stenny team of 1994/95 - Terry Christie’s side. My earliest memory of watching Stenny is the Scottish Cup replay against St Johnstone at Ochilview. I can’t remember too much from the match itself other than Stenhousemuir being very good. Then we went on to beat Aberdeen and played Hibernian in the Quarter Final. Again, I can’t remember too much from that game either other than a Stenny fan running onto the park and sticking a flag in the middle of the pitch! It’s strange though, as I never felt a connection to the players at that point, nor did I have much interest in watching Stenhousemuir in the league; but, when it came to cup games, the whole town seemed to be whipped into a frenzy.
I think you were 17 before you took a registered interested in following the fortunes of The Warriors; what was it that triggered that connection for you having been present to witness the cup scalps in the 90’s? Well I had no real interest in football at all, to be honest until I was about 14 when my mate at school gave me a loan of Championship Manager 1999/2000.
Right, that makes sense! Doesn’t it! I went Lazio and tried to win Serie A with them. That’s when I started taking an interest in football and seeing the Champions League on TV - things like that. But you’re right in saying that I didn’t take an interest in Scottish football until I was 17. I hadn’t been to watch Stenhousemuir in years by this point - probably since I was at primary school. But, when I was finishing up at high school, my mates said I should just come along to a game. The team had already been relegated to the Third Division and were just playing out their remaining two fixtures - I think they were against Alloa and East Fife. So I went to the Alloa game and remember sitting thinking to myself how terrible it was and wondered how could people actually pay to watch it… The football was rubbish, the pitch was awful, the ball was in the air all the time, and the team were getting pumped! So the first time I went was a joke for me but, the second time I went, everything seemed to change. The team lost again and the football was still poor, but the picture just changed for me and, all of a sudden, it just became the most important thing. I can’t explain what happened. Going to watch Stenny was what the whole weekend was based around from that point on. I couldn’t wait for the start of pre-season and then the league games for the Third Division. I couldn’t explain to you what happened between the first and the second game, but it very quickly meant that I was now a Stenhousemuir fan.
Do you think you had a confusing relationship with football in your formative years then? Confusing is probably accurate. I liked Newcastle United because of their cool kit at the time with the Newcastle Brown Ale sponsor and the grandad collar. I also liked Blackburn Rovers because of their kit - I really liked the blue and white half and half style. In terms of Scottish teams, though, I just never showed an interest. My connection to football stemmed from watching it on the tele, playing Championship Manager, and going along to Ochilview when I was finishing school. For that formative period I would compare myself to Theo Walcott – he didn’t start playing football until he was thirteen, so I felt like the Theo Walcott of football supporters! (Laughs)
That’s interesting! Now though, as a Stenhousemuir supporter, how would you describe the feeling of being a fan of a club in the lower-reaches of the Scottish footballing pyramid? That’s a good question. I don’t know if it differs all that much from the experiences of supporting bigger clubs. It’s probably not the same now, but my emotions and feelings were directly indexed to Stenhousemuir’s performance when I was younger. And Stenhousemuir have never been successful! I think Stenny are the least successful football team in Scotland; they’ve never won a league title and have only been promoted three times with two via the play-offs. Success is an alien concept to Stenhousemuir fans. Being a fan of a lower league club, for me, is really no different to supporting Rangers, Celtic or Hearts, it just comes with the knowledge that you’re less likely to have success. Overall though, it’s the sense of community. You go along to the games and you see the same people and get to know them. I’m now the stadium announcer too which I’ve been doing for the last few years; that allows me to get a feel for how the club works. I think the community aspect is very important at smaller clubs and that allows you to feel closer to the team and players themselves.
On the flip side to that, what has been your finest moment as a Warrior since you started going to Ochilview on a weekly basis? Promotion in 2009. Without a doubt. There has been some other amazing moments as well, though. David Templeton’s debut, for instance…
East Fife away? Yeah! 2-0 down, he comes on, sets up two and scores one. That was amazing. Beating Falkirk in the Scottish Cup in 2018 too. But in terms of sheer, balls-out joy, it would be getting promoted in 2009. It came down to penalties between us and Cowdenbeath in the play-off final. Andy Brand ended up scoring the winning penalty and, after that, I just remember running on to the pitch and shouting ‘We did it!’ to Kieron Renton, who was the sub goalkeeper! In the wee bar at Ochvilew there’s a collage of photos from that day, and it’s great seeing it. So I suppose that was my first taste of success with Stenny. But getting promoted in 2018 against Peterhead was also amazing. Mick Dunlop scored two at Ochilview and I remember him running up the front of the stand with his arms out. I love Mick Dunlop. But, if I had to pick out one favourite moment, it would be the Play-Off Final against Cowden in 2009.
"The success that football players and managers achieve means something to someone no matter the level."
As you’ve touched on already, you’ve moved seats at Ochilview in recent years - swapping your view from the stand for the glass panel of the stadium announcer’s room - how have you found that? There’s good things about it and there’s drawbacks. The good things are: it’s a very small way to help the club that you support. The way I see it, I would be going to the game anyway. I’m just going a wee bit earlier now, playing music and making announcements; it’s not difficult. You mostly get a good view of the games. And it’s warmer! The biggest drawback is not being involved in the emotion of the crowd and going off my head when we score. You can see the people celebrating and you still get that emotional element when you’re in there, but you miss that physical element of being able to jump around with folk and high-five those around you.
In terms of documenting the fortunes of the club, you started a blog on Stenhousemuir called ‘Who The Hell is Akabusi?’ - what could Stenny fans find on there? So that would have been in 2011 when I started that…
Was it just yourself? It was just myself, yeah. So, in 2011, I went to study journalism at Glasgow Caledonian University and they said that I needed to be writing blogs and that just gave me a chance to write about Stenny that season. That would have been 2011/12 so Davie Irons would have been in charge and we actually had a right good team - Andy Rodgers, Stewart Kean, Stevie Murray, Ross McMillan, Martyn Corrigan, Willie Lyle - all pretty well-known, experienced players. But that was my first interaction with Twitter as I was looking to promote my work. That allowed me to open up my network with other football fans and their clubs. That’s where it probably first started for me with regards to writing about football.
You then started up ‘Tell Him He’s Pele’ (THHP), which was a website devoted to the Scottish lower leagues with some of your peers; did you feel you had to broaden your output with more clubs being covered with THHP? That’s exactly it. I got talking to a guy called John Maxwell on Twitter after I shared my Stenhousemuir blogs. John actually had his own blog at the time called ‘Ross County Tactics’; that was like Ronseal - he would watch Ross County games and he’d analyse the tactics from the match. That was the Ross County team who went 40 games unbeaten and won promotion to the top-flight. I really liked John’s writing as he wrote seriously about football; it was serious but accessible. We got talking about our own work and writing blogs independently, but wouldn’t it be great to have a website that would contain mature, serious, almost broadsheet style writing about lower league SFL clubs as it was then. We felt the only time you’d see a smaller team get coverage would be if they drew a big club in the Scottish Cup and it would be done in typical tabloid style. But we wanted to position ourselves as an informative source to tell people about matches that they wouldn’t be able to see elsewhere. So John got another couple of writers - one was Alistair Gemmell, who blogged about Ayr United and the other was Shaughan McGuigan, who was a blogger about Scottish football and Raith Rovers.That’s basically how Tell Him He’s Pele started. The name came from the famous John Lambie quote when Colin McGlashan got sparked out and the trainer said he didn’t know who he was. John Lambie turned around and said ‘Well tell him he’s Pele and send him back on!’. So, for the three years, that’s how it went, we covered lower league Scottish football amongst the four of us, with help from a couple of others along the way. It was ironic timing though, as we started in 2012. No one was covering the SFL at that time, then Rangers had to start again in the Third Division! So there was never as much attention on the basement as that year.
Did having Rangers go through the leagues benefit you or hinder you at that time, as, all of a sudden, there are more people reporting on those divisions? It was never a hinderance, as we knew that as soon as Rangers won whatever league they were in, the coverage would revert back to the way it had been before. But there’s still interesting stuff going on beyond Rangers being in the league and we thought we’d be the ones to carry it on. There wasn’t anything like Tell Him He’s Pele, in my opinion and, for me, I think we did quite well. I go back and look over the articles on there and some of the stuff is really, really good.
I was listening to you speak on “Lower League Ramblings” with Danny Denholm and, on that, you mentioned you were taking time off work to allow yourself to write for the website. So I was curious to understand if you were able to monetise the site; or did you do it purely for the love of Scottish Football? To answer the first point about taking annual leave, that’s right. We used to do this thing called ‘The Report Card’, which would be a breakdown of all thirty clubs after every quarter and give them a grade based on how they were performing. I think it was May 2015 when we were doing the end of season report cards for the clubs in the three divisions, but some clubs were preparing for the play-offs and, by that point, other clubs were releasing and signing players for the following season. So it was very difficult for us to produce something that was relevant for every club. I think I just told John that I couldn’t be bothered anymore at that point. In terms of monetisa