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Louise Glen: Highland games are sporting events worthy of respect

Stephen King throws the hammer at the 2009 Argyllshire Gathering, Oban's Highland games (Photo: Angus Blackburn/Shutterstock)
Stephen King throws the hammer at the 2009 Argyllshire Gathering, Oban's Highland games (Photo: Angus Blackburn/Shutterstock)

Many years ago, I was tasked by my then editor to seek out Stephen King.

At that time, he was THE NAME in heavyweight events at Highland games.

He was quite scary – not because he would toss a hammer or even upend a caber as soon as look at you – but because he felt that newspapers did him a terrible disservice.

Guest columnist, Louise Glen, speaking on the Highland games: "If you win, and break records, there may be a couple of hundred quid, at most. These days, that would not cover the fuel costs."

As I approached him with a camera bouncing off my chest, notebook and pen in hand, like a lamb into the steely grip of the slaughterman, I felt fear. At the time, he was wearing a kilt, dishevelled hose, and looking like someone fresh from the set of Braveheart.

He was in his natural habitat, in bright sunlight at the Inveraray Highland Games. Mr King was surrounded by men – all taller than me. I am 6ft 2in, so that is actually a rare thing.

A ‘tea towel sport’?

They were huddled, looking at the running order for the next event.

“Eh, Mr King, I wonder if I can talk to you?”

The other heavyweights laughed; clearly they had seen a cub reporter spat out by Stephen King many times before. He didn’t look in my direction.

The Queen bursts out laughing on the final day of the Braemar Gathering 1990, as resin on the hand of caber champion Brian Robin makes for a sticky handshake
The Queen bursts out laughing on the final day of the Braemar Gathering 1990, as resin on the hand of caber champion Brian Robin makes for a sticky handshake. (Photo: DC Thomson)

I persisted, fearing the wrath of my editor more than this stranger. “Mr King, could I have a wee chat to you?”

He turned and thundered at me: “When your newspaper puts us on the sporting pages and away from the cartoons and adverts for face cream, I’ll speak to you.” With that, he turned on his heel, his kilt swirling behind him.

At that point, the king of Mr King, Brian Robin – a man in the realm of heavyweight gods – said: “Aye, he has a point. Nobody really takes us seriously.”

You see, heavyweight competitors felt then, as they do now, that they are treated as though they take part in something of a “tea towel sport”. As though what they do is couthy, and not really a sport at all. They have a point.

Highland games wouldn’t be much without heavyweights

The amount of effort you need to put in is incredible. People train all year round to get into the peak of physical fitness to take part in Highland game events. They travel in their own time at weekends to take part in events. There is barely a whisper of it, beyond the obligatory picture spread.

Stephen King at the Argyllshire Gathering.
Stephen King at the Argyllshire Gathering. (Photo: Kevin McGlynn)

And the winnings are fairly meagre. If you win, and break records, there may be a couple of hundred quid, at most. These days, that would not cover the fuel costs. Yet, a Highland games would be fairly unspectacular without the heavyweight competitors.

So, culturally, and as a spectacle, we may appreciate their worth – but not as a sporting endeavour. Why not?

The Highland games circuit will continue, with or without the recognition it should have. The higher the regard we have for these events, the longer they will continue.

Give Stephen King his wish – put him on the back page. Heavyweight competitors are folk heroes.


Louise Glen is a live news reporter for The Press & Journal, based in Oban. (She competed in a number of Highland games – but that’s another story)

Louise Glen: Take a seat and let’s get back to trainspotting

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