Famous Former Pupils

  Sir Alexander Fleming

  Lord Boyd Orr

Hugh McIlvanney (b.1934)

Sports Journalist

Hugh McIlvanney, widely acknowledged as the finest sportswriter of his generation, spent one session at Kilmarnock Academy from 1949 until 1950, transferring from James Hamilton Junior Secondary in London Road in the same year that his brother William entered S1. The course he followed was clearly directed towards a future career. He studied English, History, Geography, Arithmetic, Shorthand, Bookkeeping, Typing and Commercial Practice. His school records, still held at Kilmarnock Academy, show that he was extremely successful in these subjects, but, as for many others at that time, the chance of a secure job took precedence over staying on at school.

McIlvanney left Kilmarnock Academy to work as a news reporter with the Kilmarnock Standard , Daily Express and the Scotsman , where he was persuaded to take up sportswriting. In 1962 he joined the Observer in London , soon becoming the newspaper's chief sports correspondent, a post he held -- punctuated by a spell (1972-3) writing international news and features for the Daily Express -- until 1993, when he moved to the The Sunday Times. Having stepped down as chief sports writer in 2002, he now writes a weekly column for The Sunday Times.

Winner of the two main British sports journalist of the year awards a combined total of a dozen times, a unique achievement, McIlvanney is also the only sports specialist to have been voted Journalist of the Year. In the USA , he has been honoured by the Boxing Writers Association of America for excellence in boxing journalism. He was appointed OBE in 1996, received a lifetime achievement award from the Scottish Daily Newspaper Society in 2004 and in 2005 was among the first forty journalists to be inducted into the British Newspaper Hall of Fame. A regular contributor to television and radio, he has written and presented several television documentaries, including the highly acclaimed The Football Men . He is a longstanding member of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year judging panel and chairman of the selection panel for the Scottish Football Hall of Fame, inaugurated in 2004.

Some of his best writing has been collected in a series of books on his three main sporting interests: McIlvanney on Boxing (1982), McIlvanney on Football (1994) and McIlvanney on Horseracing (1995), all of which have been updated in further editions. He also co-wrote Managing My Life (1999), the bestselling autobiography of Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager.


McIlvanney's journalism is noted for its stylish prose, incisive commentary and acerbic wit. He has won the intimate confidence of a diverse range of great sports figures, from Muhammad Ali to Jock Stein. Many feel that the strengths of his writing are encapsulated in his coverage of Ali's career, perhaps above all in what he wrote about the defeat of George Foreman in Zaire in 1974, the Rumble in the Jungle. McIlvanney says it is legitimate for sportswriters to wonder from time to time if they are engaged in a proper job for a grown-up person'. But he adds: I am comforted by the thought that in writing about sport it is usually easier to deal in an acceptable form of truth than it is in other areas of journalism. Colleagues who write about politics or economics, for instance, find in those worlds that what passes for truth is a malleable substance, something shaped and adjusted to somebody's self-serving agenda. In sport the competition itself interrogates the performers in a way that rarely permits dishonesty or even ambivalence.'

In McIlvanney's journalism, sport provides a compelling metaphor for the human condition. It is this ability to grasp the existential significance of the sporting contest that makes him such an illuminating commentator.

Hugh McIlvanney has kindly given permission for us to include two pieces of his writing - The Best Years of our Lives and The Greatest Again -on our school website.