THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Reviews from When Saturday Comes. If you've liked – or disliked – any of the books, add your comments to those of our reviewers. Follow the link to buy the book from Amazon.

 

339 BirminghamThe rise and fall of Carson Yeung
by Daniel Ivery & Will Giles
GHI HK Ltd, £20
Reviewed by Chris Sanderson
From WSC 339 May 2015

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English football’s wholehearted embrace of the free market has meant that the sense of place and identity that clubs once provided their fans is increasingly meaningless to owners and administrators. Of course, the game here has always been dominated by a handful of wealthy clubs and provided a platform for the likes of Bob Lord, Robert Maxwell, Doug Ellis et al to use clubs as their personal playthings. But as the history of English football since 1992 has been one of untold riches and a wholehearted embrace of laissez-faire economics, so it has likewise seen a wholesale loosening of the links between the clubs and their communities. And as fans of teams as diverse as Leeds, Portsmouth and Coventry can testify, their acquisition by owners who have little regard for their club’s history or supporters has rarely been positive.

Haircuts & League Cups tells the cautionary tale of how Carson Yeung, a former Hong Kong hair stylist who made a personal fortune through gambling and stock market speculation, came to purchase the heroically underachieving Birmingham City.

As the sum Yeung’s consortium paid – a frankly ridiculous £81.5 million – was hardly questioned at the time, so the book is less a narrative of one man’s ownership of a club but more an exposé of the willingness of the football authorities, media and initially Blues fans themselves to wilfully ignore his  financial shortcomings. Meticulously written by Daniel Ivery, whose excellent Often Partisan website is regularly the sole source of reliable and verifiable information on the club, and Hong Kong solicitor Will Giles, the story throws light on the murky nature of football finances and the profound effect that decisions made thousands of miles away can have on fans.

Yeung aside, the book includes a cast of pantomime villains that range from Birmingham’s previous owners (Davids Gold and Sullivan), the Premier and Football Leagues and above all Yeung’s acolyte Peter Pannu. Indeed since publication, this litigious former Hong Kong policeman has posted a series of offensive, rambling posts on Often Partisan, that may well be the catalyst for the change in ownership that Blues fans so desperately desire.

When sentenced to six years in prison for money laundering, Yeung was described as someone who was “prepared to, and did, lie whenever he felt the need to”. It is to Ivery’s credit that his single-handed and determined work has unravelled his story and produced a factual document that exposes not just the current plight of Birmingham City but the shortcomings of English football more generally. As Ivery and Giles say: “The Football League will not even talk to the media about how they police the game, preferring to hide behind soundbites. Football has become a honeypot for investors looking for a quick buck. Add in the additional element of international transfers which involve numerous unregulated intermediaries, then you can easily understand why it is attractive to money launderers.” It’s a cautionary tale of which fans of all clubs should be mindful.

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339 FanaticalEverpresent since 1968 – an incredible journey
by Gary Edwards 
& Andy Starmore
Pitch Publishing £15.99
Reviewed by Simon Creasey
From WSC 339 May 2015

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Every club has single-minded fans who are prepared to follow their team everywhere through thick and thin. At Leeds United the custodian of the title of “superfan” is Gary Edwards, who hasn’t missed a competitive game home and away since January 1968 – in fact, in the last 46 years he’s only failed to see one pre-season friendly and that was due to an air traffic control strike which stopped him flying to Toronto.   

Edwards’ unstinting dedication to the club is documented in Fanatical which charts Leeds’ modern history, from the heyday under Don Revie, through the hooligan-fuelled 1980s and the heights scaled in the 1990s, before the collapse around the new millennium that culminated in relegation to League One. In addition to detailing a vanished era of “football special” trains, piping hot plastic cups of Oxo sipped on the terraces and an orange ball being hoofed around a badly chewed up pitch, Edwards’ book is filled with humour and tragedy.

The former includes his various ways of getting into the home end at away matches, such as sneaking through the hospitality section at the Bernabéu and running around the edge of the pitch after losing his match ticket and wallet (miraculously the wallet and its contents were handed back to him at half time having been passed through the crowd). For the latter, there is an account of the numerous times the club have fallen foul of bad refereeing decisions and, more seriously, the deaths of two Leeds supporters in Turkey. (In response to intimidation from Galatasaray fans who famously greeted away supporters with banners bearing the words “Welcome to hell”, Edwards created a poster that read “Hello hell, we’re Leeds”.)

As well as charting the club’s highs and lows, Fanatical also provides an insight into what sort of character becomes a die-hard fan. Edwards is an eccentric – a painter and decorator by trade, his hatred of Manchester United runs so deep that he refuses to use the colour red and will even remove it for free. He also used to travel to games in a hearse christened “Doombuggy” ferrying around an empty coffin. On one occasion the coffin was stolen and dumped in a local pub – Edwards turned up at Leeds police station’s lost property department to retrieve it dressed in funereal top hat and tails.

As the above examples suggest, Fanatical is not an attempt to intellectualise the game or explain the nature of fandom. It’s an honest account of the experiences that every football supporter will endure during a lifetime of following any club. It’s also a timely reminder that players, managers and chairman may come and go (particularly at Elland Road at the moment), but the one constant are the supporters and especially those like Gary Edwards.

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339 MediaFootball’s journey through the English media
by Roger Domeneghetti
Ockley Books, £12.99
Reviewed by Tom Davies
From WSC 339 May 2015

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We are frequently told that both the media and football have become distortingly all-pervasive, so a history of the relationship between the two would appear long overdue. In this exhaustively well-researched book Roger Domeneghetti delves deeply not just into the earliest histories of both but into what initially seem like diversionary tangents – betting, gaming and comic strips. If these are occasionally longer than they need to be, they do at least fit the author’s wider, convincing narrative of mutual interdependence.

Tracing this many-tentacled history, from the newspaper boom in the late 19th century through to the Premier League, Sky and Twitter, it is obvious how football and the media industry have always fed off each other. We may rail against kick-off times being switched at the behest of TV companies but the “traditional” Saturday 3pm start is rooted in media demands. Regional newspapers in the late 1800s required standardised kick-off times to suit Saturday evening edition deadlines. Into the 20th century, early newsreels looked to play up talking points and personalities. Sport drove radio sales and provided events for the newly established BBC to build itself around.

A common theme is the authorities’ inability to prevent themselves being outwitted, or to protect the game’s wider interests. From the wrangling with the BBC that obstructed the broadcast of inter-war Cup finals to the way the FA allowed themselves to be outflanked by the TV companies and Premier League, wearily familiar shortcomings persist.

The BBC’s agreement to pay the FA £1,000 to broadcast the 1953 FA Cup final “set the template for football coverage to this day”, not least in investing the “Matthews final” with symbolism. Competition between broadcasters changed the game again: “If the football authorities were unclear as to how exactly their relationship with television should develop, neither the BBC nor their rivals had any such doubts,” writes Domeneghetti.

The chapter on the development of newspaper journalism sheds light on the changing status of players and their relationship with reporters, as well as on the way those papers have altered, with the expansion of broadsheet coverage flattening their distinction with the red tops; writers move between both with increasing frequency. Fanzines are also given their due for changing how football was written about in the mainstream.

Domeneghetti is a press box regular himself and writes about football for the Morning Star, so as might be expected a strong social-political context frames his narrative. This, and a breezy conversational style, ensures that the dominant perspective here is that of the ordinary fan/reader/viewer. Media-analyst business-speak is thankfully lacking.

Of course we end on blogs and social media, which have given both fans and players more of a voice while posing challenges to the traditional industry. “The process of becoming a football writer’s become more democratised,” Jonathan Wilson points out here, yet making a living from it becomes ever more precarious. The contention that football is central to new media might be overstated, but not by much, though the deaths of various sectors (radio, newspapers) have been predicted many times, and not always accurately. Instead, they’ve muddled through, much like clubs themselves.

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339 Busbyby Iain McCartney
Amberley Publishing, £16.99
Reviewed by Charles Morris
From WSC 339 May 2015

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A book about managerial succession and how a club attempts to replace an outstanding, long-serving supremo is timely, particularly in Manchester United’s case. Iain McCartney’s book follows his Rising from the Wreckage: Manchester United 1958-1968, which charted the club’s recovery from the Munich air tragedy to become the first English team to win the European Cup.

Rapid decline, however, is the theme of his sequel as he relates the club’s dismal failure to replace Matt Busby between 1968 and 1974 – when they were relegated from Division One – and to replenish the team of George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton.

As a history of those six seasons it succeeds, but it seems a missed opportunity not to have broadened the format and considered other cases of managerial succession, particularly as United currently remain in a troubled transition from Alex Ferguson’s reign. Busby’s Legacy does, however, provide a case study in how not to handle such a handover. A tired Busby quit in 1969 after nearly 24 years that also included five domestic championships and two FA Cups. But he fatally remained as general manager and was allowed to choose his successor.

His choice of Wilf McGuinness proved disastrous – a history lesson ignored when Ferguson was allowed to select David Moyes. McGuinness, aged only 31, was Busby’s reserve team coach. He had no experience of managing a first team and was younger than some in an ageing United side, such as Charlton, Bill Foulkes and Shay Brennan. His authority was further undermined by initially being appointed only as “club coach” for an “unspecified probationary period”, and by the presence of Busby. The Scot kept the manager’s office while his successor was given a “corner cupboard”, and he later secretly tried to replace the hapless McGuinness with Celtic’s Jock Stein.

After McGuinness’s inevitable failure and removal in December 1970, Busby played a major part in the hiring of Frank O’Farrell from Leicester City. Although more experienced than his predecessor, O’Farrell’s record was “not trophy strewn”, including only one promotion with Torquay and an FA Cup runners-up and relegation with Leicester. Busby unsuccessfully tried the office belittlement trick on O’Farrell, too, and subsequently interfered in team matters.

One is tempted to conclude from these appointments that Busby, unconsciously, could not bear the idea of handing over to someone who might emulate his feats. After a disappointing 18 months O’Farrell was also sacked and replaced by Scottish national manager Tommy Docherty, who was unable to save the club from relegation before quickly restoring their fortunes back in Division One.

McCartney’s tale of a great team in decline for the most part rattles along, reminding us vividly of Best’s genius and his sad early fall into alcoholism, the complacency and ineptitude of United’s directors and the onset of two decades of appalling football hooliganism. It suffers, however, from an over-reliance on match reports, sticking only to the historic facts and dreadful editing. The book is littered with spelling errors and misused words, all of which are irritating and only one amusing: where the team’s performance is said to be “bisected with a fine toothcomb”. Readers paying £16.99 deserve better.

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338 HowardA life of saving goals and achieving them
by Tim Howard with Ali Benjamin
Harper Collins, £18
Reviewed by Ian Plenderleith
From WSC 338 April 2015

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Twice in two pages I laughed out loud during this otherwise unfunny book. When a young Tim Howard arrives in England to play for Manchester United, he calls his compatriot Kasey Keller in London for some advice. “Well, Tim,” says the older, wiser sage of White Hart Lane, “I guess my advice to you would be this: make as many saves as you can.”

Just seven paragraphs later, Howard recalls his senior debut for United and captain Roy Keane’s pep talk before the 2003 Community Shield game against Arsenal. “Just pass it to a red shirt, guys. It’s as simple as that: take the ball and pass it to another player in red.”
The problem with reading footballers’ autobiographies is that you rarely learn anything new. Not about the game and not about the player. As David Foster Wallace wrote in his review of tennis star Tracy Austin’s life story, such books are “at once so seductive and so disappointing for us readers”, because the player is only equipped to “act out the gift of athletic genius”. If they were able to articulate that gift, they probably wouldn’t possess it 
at all.

That’s where the ghost writer comes in, but they can only work with what they’re given. Howard’s flat account of his life is imbued with the kind of sentimental journalese that signifies a second pair of hands. His ability to overcome Tourette’s syndrome is interesting and admirable, but is not compellingly told because the writer fails to get inside Howard’s head. Either the goalkeeper wouldn’t let her in, or she chose not to go there. While there may have been good reasons for that, it fails to lift the book above its absolutely ordinary level. Instead, the tension is stressed on the Belgium v US World Cup round of 16 game in Brazil, with interludes between each chapter taking us through the action. This was of course a heroic performance by Howard, but we know how it ended. The US lost. It was just last summer, remember?

In fact the most intriguing thing about Howard’s book is how he dodges the issue of his failed marriage. For the longest time we hear only wonderful things about his wife, Laura. Then while in South Africa at the 2010 World Cup Howard blithely springs it on us that he doesn’t miss her any more. He blames the “suspended reality” of life as a football player, “where we retreated... into a kind of grade [junior] school mentality”. His previously extolled faith in God is suddenly of no help. Being “addicted to my job” is the closest we come to learning why he gets divorced from the seemingly perfect mother of his two children (I really hope Laura got a better explanation than that).

Such withheld integrity makes this kind of book a bust. It exists to sell, not because Tim Howard wants to share his world with you. If there’s no narrative, you should stick to making as many saves as you can.

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338 CardiffCardiff City and the Cup Winners Cup 1964-1993
by Mario Risoli
St David’s Press, £16.99
Reviewed by Huw Richards
From WSC 338 April 2015

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Collective memory tends to privilege the ancient and modern at the expense of what came in between. For Cardiff City the FA Cup win in 1927 looms with the same symbolic weight as 1966 does for England fans, while recent recall summons up unwanted red shirts, thwarted promotion campaigns and misery last season.

Mario Risoli, an expert preserver of Welsh football’s past, aims here to reclaim a time when Cardiff combined being a lower-division club at home with redoubtable warriors in Europe. It needed recovering. That these achievements were in a tournament which no longer exists, and enabled by a route Cardiff can no longer take – winning the Welsh Cup – cuts institutional continuities. And while the last venture was in 1993, the core of this history (and two thirds of its length) is contained in the years between 1964 and 1971.

Risoli draws on press archives and an outstanding collection of interviews with former players. They offer a vivid picture of European competition before it was subsumed to club business plans, as a glorious break from mundane reality and, in a less travelled age, a venture into the unknown.

Even that future footballing cosmopolite John Toshack could recall of the food in Tashkent in 1968: “It was like dog food. The only thing that we could eat were these big bread rolls. We called them discuses.” Entrepreneurial players took chocolates, ties and socks to sell in Moscow, only as Bobby Ferguson recalls: “We ended up eating most of the chocolate and giving the rest away because the people were so nice.”

Along with the tales of Cardiff stalwarts such as Peter King, who contributes a fine foreword, and Don Murray are glimpses of more widely remembered careers, bracketed by John Charles’s last great display at Sporting Lisbon in 1965 and Robbie James’s final senior goal, scored in defeat by Standard Liege in 1993. At the book’s heart is a compelling warts-and-all picture of Jimmy Scoular, Cardiff’s manager from 1964 to 1973 – so competitive he would kick players in a Friday afternoon five-a-side, given to tirades of abuse and arbitrary decisions and paranoid about all foreigners, yet still cherished by many of his players.

And the title gets it right. Beating Real Madrid 1-0 in 1971 is the most remembered achievement of this whole period. Yet the truly historic feat was the extraordinary expedition of 1968, passing through Breda, Moscow, Tashkent and Augsburg en route to a semi-final defeat by Hamburg which ranks for heartbreak alongside the missed penalty that cost Cardiff the League title in 1924. Risoli might perhaps have made more of fan memories and put his excellent game-by-game narration more into the wider context of the club’s history. There should certainly have been an index included. But with all that, he has produced both a great read and a real contribution to football’s collective memory.

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338 SmilingHow Newcastle 
became United
by Paul Brown
Goal Post, £10
Reviewed by Mark Brophy
From WSC 338 April 2015

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Popularly, Newcastle United were founded in 1892 and in a way they were, for that was when the current name was adopted. But the club existed before that under other names, Stanley FC and Newcastle East End. This is their story from the beginnings 11 years earlier until the first FA Cup win in 1910. Though the facts are known, the first part especially has had little presence in the popular mythology of the club. Even the latter part, taking in three League titles as well as the aforementioned FA Cup win in the Edwardian era, has faded into history a little, certainly in the mind of this fan.

It’s a story which travels between two extremes, the club moving rapidly from a bunch of teenagers playing on sloping wasteground to professionals playing in the country’s top division. Along the way we learn the “United” name was pure PR. It’s commonly believed East End merged with their main local rivals West End to form Newcastle United, but East End merely took over West End’s lease on St James’ Park after they folded. The decision to change the name was meant to placate both sets of fans. There’s physical movement too, the club’s home shuffling around the city’s east end until finally settling at its present location.

The chronological tale is hung off the author’s visits in the present day to the club’s five home grounds and surrounding areas, various museums and a local theatre. The latter trip is to experience something like the atmosphere of watching the first footage filmed of the club in action, as spectators who attended the game against Liverpool in 1901 would have done later that evening, and there is atmosphere aplenty in this book. An effort is made to identify with the fans of the time, which perhaps is easy for a resident of the city and fan of the club to do. But it wouldn’t be impossible for anyone from an industrial city who supports their local team, such is the sense of community and shared experience.

This is a story about football though, with plenty of heroes. Outstanding players, shrewd secretary/managers, all spring to our attention, not least Colin Veitch, the long-serving captain of the club through their greatest days and a polymath in both the sporting and more conventional sense. He was an innovator as well as a truly versatile footballer, playing all over the pitch for Newcastle, and the book calls him “arguably the greatest player in the club’s history”. He was also a committed socialist, a founder of both the players’ union and a still-performing local theatre company, an actor and a musician.

It’s difficult in the circumstances not to contrast the drive for success in the first decade of the 20th century on display here, “boundless in its ambitious aims”, with the inertia and cynical refusal even to try for it today. For all that, this isn’t about glory. The most successful period of the club’s history is covered in only two chapters. More important is the journey, where the club came from and how they eventually got there.

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338 FergieHow Britain’s greatest football manager was made at Aberdeen
by Michael Grant
Aurum Press, £18.99
Reviewed by Keith Davidson
From WSC 338 April 2015

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In September 1985, Aberdeen manager Alex Ferguson was among the coaching staff when Scotland played Wales at Ninian Park in a tense World Cup qualifier. He was sitting next to national team boss Jock Stein on the bench. The paths of Stein and Ferguson had crossed many times over the previous couple of decades; as a friend and mentor Stein was a huge influence on Ferguson’s professional life. When the senior man collapsed towards the end of that game, then died in the stadium’s medical room shortly afterwards, it had a profound effect. It was Ferguson who shouldered the responsibility of calling Stein’s family.

This is not the only death to feature in Michael Grant’s book on Ferguson’s formative years. His first season as manager at Aberdeen was turbulent both on the field and off. Sacked by St Mirren in May 1978, he joined the Dons, launched an unfair dismissal claim against his former employer which he lost, had disagreements with some of the established players at Pittodrie and, crucially, his father was diagnosed with lung cancer.

During a bad-tempered away game at St Mirren, of all places, in February 1979 Ferguson’s father died in a Glasgow hospital. The news was broken to him after the final whistle. At the time the Aberdeen manager was still only 37 years old. This kind of detail is the strength of Grant’s book. There is evidence of Ferguson’s pathological competitive streak, there are quotes from his former players – sometimes revealing, sometimes funny – and an inevitable warm glow for any Dons-supporting readers as domestic and European successes provide staging points in the narrative.

What Fergie Rises provides more than anything else however is an explanation of what he had learned, and endured, by the time he joined Manchester United in 1986. When the call came from Old Trafford Ferguson had more than 12 years under his belt in football management with East Stirlingshire, St Mirren and Aberdeen. He achieved his greatest successes in Scottish football by instilling the belief in the Dons players that they could beat Celtic and Rangers in Glasgow, something Grant demonstrates comprehensively. Three League titles and other domestic trophies followed. When Liverpool humbled Aberdeen in the European Cup in 1980, Ferguson made notes. In 1981, holders Ipswich Town were dumped out of the UEFA Cup. By 1983, the European Cup-Winners Cup and European Super Cup had both been secured.

For those who have a one-dimensional view of Ferguson as the red-nosed grandee of the Sky era, Grant’s stories about his pragmatism and his willingness to learn from his mistakes – even to admit them – paint a fuller picture. An argument in the wake of a Scottish Cup tie in March 1985, for example, saw striker Frank McDougall punch Ferguson to the ground. The manager was canny enough to realise that the club’s top scorer had to stay in the side irrespective; a matter of weeks later the Dons retained the League title. Long before he joined Manchester United, Ferguson knew what it took to be a winner.

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337 LifeIan Liversedge: the highs and lows of a football physio
by David Mitchell
AuthorHouse UK, £10.95
Reviewed by Brian Simpson
From WSC 337 March 2015

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Ian Liversedge had a long career as an itinerant football physio working for 20 clubs and 15 managers. The highlights are at the margins of his central story as he encounters famous people who played minor roles in his life. As a young player who didn’t make the grade as a pro he experienced the detachment of Everton’s legendary manager Harry Catterick and later encountered Brian Clough, in decline but still gracious in victory. A quote from Kevin Keegan in his playing days at Newcastle goes someway to explaining why striker Imre Varadi was on his way to accumulating 16 clubs: “OK, Varadi has scored 21 goals this season. I’ve set him up to score 60. How many times has he set me up? None. Fact.”

Less well known but vividly drawn is Accrington’s ex-chairman Eric Whalley. He had played for the club, managed them twice, taken a place on the board and eventually bought them. He funded player purchases but fell out with the local council about the cost of yoga classes for the club’s players. A major focus is the ten years Liversedge spent at Oldham from the mid-1980s, where the chalk-and-cheese chemistry of the taciturn Willie Donachie and the garrulous Joe Royle is captured well. His time at Newcastle also gives an insight into the management pairing of Keegan and Arthur Cox, yet very little of this is entirely new.

A desire to pack in as many stories as possible means that some topics don’t get followed up as fully as they might. For example, there are several incidental comments on the changes that have taken place in the treatment and medical care of players, but these are not considered in any coherent way. Some key points are better illustrated by a simple anecdote, such as when the gap between rehabilitation options at elite clubs and the rest is highlighted by noting that at smaller clubs his best option was sometimes to just take players for a walk and a coffee.

Towards the end of the book he describes meeting old friends from football when the conversation rarely touches on the game but is more about “the scrapes” they shared. But drinking exploits are the sort of tales that can only have been funny to those taking part and possibly not even then. Fans who followed Oldham in the period he describes might feel slightly short changed to find that many at the club followed a motto Liversedge characterises as “win or loose, have a booze”.

His description of players’ behaviour, and his own, is at least frank as he acknowledges its impact on his family life. But there is little reflection on whether the behaviour should have a place within any professional sport, nor an understanding of the way it feeds the negative stereotype of football held by many people. In the end, and despite the strengths of the book, his largely uncritical acceptance of some of what he saw or did leaves an impression in places of an opportunity missed.

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337 SlimJimSimply the best
by Tom Miller
Black & White, £9.99
Reviewed by Gordon Cairns
From WSC 337 March 2015

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The radio football parody Only An Excuse captured the Scottish perception of Jim Baxter almost to perfection back in the 1980s. His character explains his most famous performance, against England in 1967 where at one point he juggled with the ball: “I had a couple of great teachers... and three White & Mackays and a double Grouse, before I went on the pitch, like. That would explain the languid fluidity.” Unfortunately, the only inaccuracy was the choice of spirit – Baxter preferred Bacardi over whisky. Tom Miller tries to expand on the popular caricature of an incredible footballer who loved a drink by offering an explanation for Baxter’s self-destruction in this new biography, with somewhat limited results.

James Curran Baxter is often described as Scotland’s greatest player but ended a 12-year playing career with only ten domestic medals, which was not a lot given that Rangers were the dominant team in Scotland for most of his time at Ibrox. Perhaps that is why his eulogists focus on individual performances, including two victories at Wembley and being picked for a Rest of the World select. However the extent of Baxter’s drinking and lack of training must surely limit claims that he was truly world class. Although alcohol abuse was rife in the football culture of the 1960s, it’s questionable whether you can consistently operate at the top level with high volumes of alcohol in your bloodstream – Pelé and Eusébio weren’t playing with hangovers.

It seems Baxter’s problem was that he simply didn’t value the natural ability that raised him out of the ordinary, his career a long attempt at sabotaging the skill he possessed. In the most interesting chapter, sports psychologist Tom Lucas examines how never being acknowledged by his birth parents as their son during his playing career may have affected Baxter. (He grew up thinking his real mother was his aunt, who he was raised by.) Lucas’s conjecture is that the pitch was the only place Baxter could escape from the pain of rejection by his mother while his womanising could be connected to his feelings of abandonment.

Published two years after what was billed as “the definitive biography”, the bulk of this book rehashes the well-worn tales of Baxter’s drinking, gambling and occasional footballing. Miller, an in-house commentator for Rangers, didn’t have to wander far in his choice of interviewees, the majority of whom seem to come from the club’s “family”, including current defender Darren McGregor and youth-team coach Davie Kirkwood, I assume because both had played for Fife clubs like Baxter, hardly justifying their inclusion. Baxter’s own voice is barely heard, yet for most of his playing career he wrote syndicated columns. Although ghost-written, surely a trawl through these would have unearthed something more relevant than how McGregor felt when he joined Rangers.

The inclusion of two poems and a selection of pen portraits from the back of football cards feel like fillers to make the book up to the required length. There is no interview with Alex Ferguson, who played alongside Baxter; Scotland’s greatest manager’s views on getting the best from Scotland’s most talented player would have been compelling. Neither is there any input from Baxter’s sons or first wife, which could have given greater insight into how he felt about family, especially if he had issues about abandonment.

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