kenny hodgart

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Cult hero No 15: Willie Watters

This article appeared as part of a year-long weekly series by the author in the Sunday Herald

Usain Bolt won three sprint gold medals at last year’s Olympics Games on a strict diet of chicken nuggets. His feats in the field of turning saturated fat into sporting achievement pale, however, in comparison to the exemplary efficiency with which Willie Watters performed the task.

Watters was a footballer who made no secret of his fondness for a pie – opposition supporters enjoyed vocalising opinions on the effect this had on his physique, so there would have been no use his denying it. He also liked a good bucket when the opportunity arose, which was not infrequently.

Such qualities in a man have always guaranteed at least grudging respect from the patrons of Scotland’s lower divisions. But the fact that Watters was simultaneously, albeit sporadically, prolific in front of goal, made him an absolute legend at most, if not all, of the clubs he played for.

At Queen of the South and Alloa Athletic he disappointed, but at Hamilton Academical, Kilmarnock, Stirling Albion and a host of other senior sides he perfected the art of standing about waiting for the ball to come to him, then scoring with it.

A tubby striker in the Joey Harper mould, he professed that the secret to scoring goals was “to be fat and lazy and just hang around the box,” but unlike Harper he was satisfied that in Division One, or maybe Two in a bad year, he had found his level.

In his first season at Kilmarnock, 1988-89, his five goals in a 6-0 win over Queen of the South on the last day of the season were not enough to prevent the Rugby Park club from dropping down to Division Two after an injury-time penalty secured Clyde’s survival.

He then scored 23 the following season – including a hat trick in Tommy Burns’ Kilmarnock debut, against Arbroath – as the Ayrshiremen yo-yoed right back up, but opted to leave that part of the world for Stirling Albion in 1991.

In four seasons at Forthbank he scored 56 league goals, but the reasons for that move were never abundantly clear. It should probably be remembered that this was the era before the advent of the Killie Pie.


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Cult hero No 14: Bill Werbeniuk

This article appeared as part of a year-long weekly series by the author in the Sunday Herald

BILL Werbeniuk was a fat man. In the days when snooker was sponsored by snout, he smoked on television, and he drank. A lot. At least six pints of lager before a match, then a pint for each frame.

When he was scheduled to play at 10am, he had to get up at six to get his starter pints in; then after a hard day’s work at the table, he’d retire to the bar for a social one.

For reasons deeply ingrained in the British psyche, this meant that when he moved over here from his native Vancouver in the late 1970s he quickly became the very essence of a cult hero.

Werbeniuk drank to counteract a condition which made his cue arm tremble; another condition meant he never really got drunk, and he even acquired a medical certificate which allowed him to offset the cost of his booze against income tax.

The highpoint of Werbeniuk’s career came when he, Cliff Thorburn and Kirk Stevens won the Snooker World Cup for Canada in 1982. The following year he was a beaten finalist in the Lada Classic – this was snooker’s glamorous heyday, mind – and in the Winfield Masters in Australia, but it was downhill from then on. Later, in a televised World Championship match against David Taylor in 1986, an attempt to lean across the table resulted in his trousers splitting. The flatulent ripping noise provoked laughter in the audience, but Werbeniuk took it in good spirit: “Who did that?” he demanded to know.

Eventually, concerned about the effect of his drinking on his health, Big Bill’s doctors recommended that he switch to the beta-blocker Inderal.

Unfortunately, the substance was subsequently banned and he was fined and suspended for continuing to take it. He went bankrupt in 1991 and returned to Canada, where he lived with his mum and played pool before his heart gave out at the age of 56, in 2003. After his last professional match, in 1991, he revealed: “I’ve had 24 pints of extra strong lager and eight double vodkas and I’m still not drunk.” Impressive.