Obituary

1st January 2010 at 00:00

Archie Baird never stopped learning. To the end of his long life - and he lived into his 91st year - he studied, examined, listened and led.

An outstanding football career tended to overshadow other aspects of the man, because away from the round ball, Archie loved learning. To the career labels of journalist, teacher and international footballer he added linguist, writer, speaker, football coach, athletics trainer and gliding exponent.

Archibald MacKechnie Baird was born into a house in Rutherglen where a desire for learning sprang from the politics of his janitor father, John. Baird senior was an early socialist pioneer, and his wife Sarah reflected this for her son and three daughters.

If learning ran in his blood, then so did journalism. He was a stringer for the Scottish Daily Express on north-east Scotland football, and latter-day columnist on the Aberdeen-based monthly magazine Leopard, while his sister Mamie was a leading staffer on the old Express, as was his brother-in-law Magnus Magnusson.

When the opportunity cropped up to teach English in Italy for a year in 1980, it was his wife Nancy who made the decision for them, she being almost as great an Italianophile as her husband.

The war that so cruelly stopped Archie's burgeoning football career provided the catalyst that changed his life. Captured near Tobruk in 1942, his move to a succession of PoW camps - first to Sicily, and then on mainland Italy - proved a life-changing experience when he ended up as forced labour on a farm near rural Le Marche, south of Umbria. No one knew any English and he began to learn the heavy-dialect Italian of the area. It sparked a lifelong love of all matters Italian.

Last survivor of the first Aberdeen team ever to win the Scottish Cup 62 years ago, his polymathic side first showed when, after his footballing career closed in 1956, he returned to the city that had adopted him, and trained as a PE teacher. He became part of city life, leading physical education at Rosemount School, training the school athletics team and coaching the Aberdeen primary school's select football team.

An enthusiastic member of the Dante Alighieri Society in Aberdeen (and president for some two decades), he graduated externally by correspondence course in English and Italian from the University of London in the 1960s, and for over two decades taught Italian in evening classes, all the while continuing as a teacher until retiring as assistant head of Hilton Academy in 1979. In 1980, he and Nancy moved to their beloved Italy for a year, during which he taught English.

He also found time to train as a glider pilot at Dinnet on Deeside, taking his solo licence in his early fifties.

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