THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Reviews from When Saturday Comes. Follow the link to buy the book from Amazon.

 

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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337 CaseThe autobiography of Jimmy Case
by Jimmy Case
John Blake, £18.99
Reviewed by Seb Patrick
From WSC 337 March 2015

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If things had worked out differently, Hard Case could have been the first footballer’s autobiography to be crowdfunded. Jimmy Case and his ghostwriter Andrew Smart initially sought to get the book printed via online publisher Unbound, a site on which authors solicit advance orders for titles, last year but Case’s memoir didn’t attract enough pledges. Undaunted, they’ve instead managed to find a traditional publisher to take it on – but unfortunately, this change in approach doesn’t seem to have affected the content of the book, which feels badly in need of a stronger editor’s hand.

What becomes immediately apparent from its disjointed, conversational style is that Hard Case is essentially a transcription of Case talking about his career and sharing anecdotes. An opening chapter centred on his Wembley experiences at both Liverpool and Brighton suggests that these thoughts have been grouped together in some kind of thematic order; but from then on it’s a roughly chronological run through his playing career, which nevertheless takes in several diversions forwards or backwards whenever the mood strikes him to refer to something elsewhere.

It’s clear that making itself an accessible read is one of Hard Case’s foremost aims – it’s a welcoming book, from its fairly large print size to its apparent desire to directly replicate the experience of hearing Case reminisce in person. But this style lends itself to repetitiveness very quickly, and by the time you’ve read him guess at having played “thirty-seven games” for the reserves in a particular season only ten pages or so after having already stated that same figure as precise fact, you begin to yearn for Smart to start interfering in the narrative a bit more decisively.

Case himself is difficult not to warm to, especially when telling the Daily Mail’s Jeff Powell directly to his face that he hates him, or responding to a Kenny Sansom taunt about his lack of England caps with the reply “Sorry, I thought you said European Cups”. In his time at Liverpool he was the archetypal example of a hard-working, tough-but-honest 1970s pro and his career is littered with distinctive quirks, from being allowed to continue his apprenticeship as an electrician after signing for Liverpool (essentially becoming a semi-pro player for two years) to being a contemporary of Tommy Smith and Ian Callaghan who was somehow still playing in the Football League as late as 1995.

Yet while there’s much about Case’s career that was unique to him, there are also a good number of his stories – especially on the pitch – that are on the somewhat generic or predictable side. He even manages to squeeze in perhaps one of the most forgettable Bill Shankly stories yet recounted in an autobiography. It’s a shame that so many of these take up space that could have better been spent exploring his life outside football a bit more.

Instead, once the tale of his later years on the south coast is concluded, Case switches to a chapter in which he discusses the present-day Liverpool side’s prospects with an optimism born out of the events of the 2013-14 season. It’s an ill-advised sojourn that has the effect of severely dating Hard Case even before it’s reached shelves; and it’s symptomatic of a book that, for all its good intentions and occasionally lively source material, is sorely in need of knocking into better literary shape.

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337 VanGaalIn search of 
Louis van Gaal
by Hugo Borst
Yellow Jersey Press, £9.99
Reviewed by Jonathan O’Brien
From WSC 337 March 2015

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Hugo Borst was supposed to analyse the 2014 World Cup for viewers of Dutch television. Instead, however, he spent the tournament lazing around on a sofa in the NOS studios, petting his dog and quaffing bottles of red wine, while saying hardly anything in the entire month. Not so much punditry as performance art – and a penny for the thoughts of whoever signs NOS’s cheques.

Borst and Louis van Gaal used to be close friends – the way Borst tells it, anyway – but fell out when Van Gaal accused Borst of giving his mobile phone number to another journalist. Borst’s long-standing obsession with his former pal has now reached its deranged apotheosis in this ludicrous but strangely compelling book, which has been translated from the original Dutch in the wake of Van Gaal’s move to Manchester United. Determined to saw his way through the layers of obstinacy and arrogance in order to unearth the “real” Van Gaal, he decides to analyse his hero/nemesis through the prism of psychology – and to get other people to do it.

So Borst ropes in a succession of Dutch experts in their own fields to make sense of the managerial martinet. If you’ve ever wanted to know what a stand-up comedian makes of Van Gaal (“He goes against the grain of the times we’re living in”), or how a politician regards him (“There are signs that he’s mellowing”), fill your boots. Luckily, some of the contributions are more illuminating. A priest, pondering Van Gaal’s publicly stated renunciation of God and all religion after his wife died of cancer, muses: “It’s understandable, of course. Who else are you going to hold responsible? It’s a mystery. The mystery of suffering. Where does it come from, and why? And why am I the one to suffer?” The cleric concludes that Van Gaal finds salvation in “unrelenting hard work [and] achieving results”.

There are times when Borst wanders onto somewhat dubious ground. Hiring a psychiatrist to analyse a third party who they’ve never even met is fatuous at best, and deeply crass at worst. The bit where he rings up Ronald de Boer to ask if Van Gaal uses Botox makes you feel embarrassed for him. And was it really necessary to pick over the contents of a long-ago phone conversation between Van Gaal and the doomed Robert Enke, when the latter was about to sign for Barcelona?

Borst just about gets away with all this because his way with words is undeniably very entertaining (either that or the translator did an extraordinary job with the raw material). His authorial voice, gently sarky and sardonic without ever quite overdoing it, puts you in mind of another Dutch writer, Herman Koch, whose deceptively serene tales of middle-class viciousness have found a wide audience both in the Netherlands and outside it. Sure enough, it comes as little surprise when Koch himself turns up on page 100, musing on how Van Gaal reminds him of one of his old teachers at school. A weird book, but despite its numerous lapses of good taste a fun one.

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336 LargeThe story of Frank Large
by P F Large
Pitch Publishing, £17.99
Reviewed by Alan Fisher
From WSC 336 February 2015

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Growing up in the early 1960s, I got to know the players not through television or the papers but via my collection of bubble gum cards. On the front was a colour photo of my heroes, I devoured the brief biography on the back. Many times I shuffled the pack to create imaginary teams but one man always led the line.

Frank Large was the epitome of what I believed a centre-forward should be. Rock solid, over six foot tall, his rugged face battered, I presumed, from aerial battles with similarly uncompromising defenders. The right attributes too: “Honest, works hard, good in the air.” False nines, a pivot, mobile and pacy, I get it, times have changed but that image remains.    

Large played for nine League clubs between 1958 and 1973, a total of 629 appearances including three spells at Northampton Town. His career spanned four divisions and he scored goals in all of them, well over 200 in total.

Large’s assessment of his talents is characteristically straightforward: “I can only do one thing but I’m good at it.” The story of this engaging, open man is lovingly told by his son through match reports, personal memories and interviews with ex-pros and managers, including his boss at Fulham Bobby Robson, who speaks with the humour and tenderness that footballers of a certain generation reserve for team-mates who they respect as a professional and friend. There’s a theme though – knock it up to Frank, Frank gets on the end of it, Frank never gives up.

Managers wanted him, often to give that extra push for promotion or to stave off relegation. Yet he was also easily dispensable as these same managers looked to upgrade. In 1966 alone he played for Carlisle, Oldham and Northampton. If he had regrets, he seldom showed them because this proud man was grateful for the chance to play.  

There’s no in-depth analysis but the many anecdotes portray the life of this football man as a world away from that of today’s top professionals. Arriving at Halifax, his first club, he looked so bedraggled the other players gave him clothes. His reward for a cup run with Northampton was four new tyres for his second-hand turquoise Mini Clubman. There are many more and enjoyable they are too.

Perhaps the most telling insight comes when the game has finished with him. Returning home after his first morning in a factory, lungs and eyes chocked with toxic dust, he vows never to return yet picks himself up and endures the Dickensian conditions, 60 hours a week for 11 years, to provide for his family.  

Frank Large died in 2003 aged 63, content in retirement in Ireland. His son’s readable, pleasing account does ample justice both to his father and a bygone age of football. Then again, Large will always be fondly remembered by supporters across the country as much for his wholehearted approach as for his goals. One of his most important for Leicester in Division One is described thus: “Frank slides in on his arse and crashes a shot into the top corner.” That’s my kind of centre-forward.

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336 Gossby Jeremy Goss with 
Edward Couzens-Lake
Amberley Publlishing, £12.79
Reviewed by Paul Buller
From WSC 336 February 2015

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Jeremy Goss is not a player who can claim to have had a long and illustrious career. He did, however, light up English football in Europe after its very darkest days and brought myself and other Norwich City fans two seasons of sheer pleasure, the like of which we’ll probably never experience again.

Best known for his UEFA Cup goals in 1993 that helped Norwich become the only English side ever to beat Bayern Munich at their Olympic stadium, the midfielder briefly became a household name. His rise to fame, however, was as much a surprise to him as it was to those of us in the stands at Carrow Road who’d watched him endlessly trudge up and down the sidelines hoping to get a game.

Goss’s story charts his time in the wilderness very personably and it’s hard not to feel for him. Stuck in the reserves at Norwich for ten years, to this day he holds the record for most consecutive picks as first-team substitute (18). He doesn’t drink, he rarely goes out with the lads and he trains harder than anyone at the club. He’s sick of hearing managers tell him “Your time will come, son”. Yet every time he tries to move clubs, Norwich give him a new contract.

Perversely then, things work out for him just at the point he’s decided he doesn’t care anymore. He has become so sick of Andy Townsend getting picked ahead of him that he decides to go off the rails and enjoy a few pints, get a bit lippy around the training ground and nastier on the pitch. Enter the new manager, Mike Walker, who tells Gossy he’s going to build the team around him. And he does. Goss becomes an integral part of a Norwich team who start the season by beating Arsenal 4-2 at Highbury, are eight points clear at the top of the inaugural Premier League in December and finish in third place having qualified for the UEFA Cup.

On top of this he starts scoring spectacular goals – namely 20-yard volleys that win him goal of the month on Match of the Day, an honour he is almost childishly (and touchingly) proud of. A season in Europe ensues and Goss plays his huge part in creating history. He and the team believe they’re going to win the UEFA Cup and only Inter put a stop to it in the third round. And then his career crumbles as suddenly as it rose. Walker leaves for Everton, players are sold, Goss is back in the reserves.

Tales of banter are refreshingly scarce; this is a story of how hard work, dedication and an incredible belief gave Goss and his team their just rewards at a time when football was still more about competition than money. Gossy is a proper story and an interesting insight into what a footballer is actually paid to do – train, work hard, play and win. And he enjoys it. At the end of the book, whether you’re a Norwich fan or not, you can’t help but admire the man.

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336 Cup1336 Cup2From Barry Stobart 
To Neil Young
When the FA Cup really mattered vol 1 – the 1960s
by Matthew Eastley
Pitch Publishing, £14.99

From Ronnie Radford To Roger Osborne
When the FA Cup reallymattered vol 2 – the 1970s
Pitch Publishing, £14.99


Reviewed by Adam Powley
From WSC 336 February 2015

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There’s a game that’s been doing the rounds among fans of a certain age for a while. It involves being asked to name every FA Cup-winning club from a starting point – usually the mid-1960s – up to the present day. The respondent can invariably name each one, until he or she gets to the late-1990s, when all finals seem to blur into one boring, “Big Four”-dominated melange.

The point is to illustrate that the FA Cup is so obviously not what it used to be that it means we forget the recent past and savour the more distant. Memory can play curious tricks, however, and as Matthew Eastley shows, plenty of the finals during those supposed golden years of the 1960s and 1970s were far from being the classics of popular imagination.

For every totemic game and incident – Everton fan Eddie Cavanagh leaving pursuing police trailing in World Cup year, Chelsea battling Leeds in 1970, Sunderland embarrassing Leeds in 1973 (the best chapter in this double offering) – there are mediocre and pallid matches that undermined the final’s claim to its status as the biggest game of the season.

Yet the myths endure. Eastley writes extensively on every year in each decade, drawing on recollections of the fans who were there. Blended with references to newspaper stories and often laboured connections to hit singles of the day, the tale of each competition is told in present tense. The narratives are common: the thrill of the third round, building excitement as a Cup run gathers momentum and the agonising tension of semi-final day. The finals themselves express the wide-eyed wonder felt by supporters present for the great occasion, and the extreme emotions of victory and defeat. These really were games that mattered.

Other testimonies dare to contradict the orthodoxy. Hooliganism increasingly becomes a problem, even at finals. There are also the horrendous problems with ticketing and the annual disgrace that (then and now) saw loyal fans of competing clubs miss out while the touts enjoyed massive paydays. Eastley’s books do make some missteps. Many of the interviews read suspiciously like they were conducted via email, betraying a lack of natural conversational flow, and there is a lot of cliche. Clubs are “beloved”, Abide With Me sends “shivers down spines” and the experience, of course, is a “rollercoaster”.

But then FA Cup nostalgia is one big cliche. The competition’s rituals and customs have become the game’s liturgy, and its progress defined the rhythms of the season. League titles lacked the prestige and glamour of football’s great occasion. It was a Wembley FA Cup final everyone dreamed of seeing their team play in, and even if the old stadium was rundown as early as the 1960s, the whole event still rendered fans giddy and touchingly emotional.

Now, sadly, it is an afterthought, an inconvenience that gets in the way of the more lucrative Premier and Champions Leagues. The FA Cup is football from a different time and age – when, as Eastley delightfully shows, referees from Merthyr Tydfil named their house “Offside”, workmates generously strove to source a final ticket for a teenage colleague and fans could sing “Ee Ay Addio We Won The Cup” with sincere pride and not a hint of embarrassment. Eastley recognises the special place the Cup once had in fan affections and has created easy-going and perfectly justified wallows in nostalgia to suit.

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336 DuncThe life and crimes of 
a footballing enigma
by Alan Pattullo
Mainstream, £18.99
Reviewed by Archie MacGregor
From WSC 336 February 2015

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For someone who so determinedly shunned the media throughout his playing career Duncan Ferguson had quite a knack for grabbing headlines. The two were intrinsically related of course and contributed to him polarising opinion like few other Scots-born players have in recent decades, with perhaps only Graeme Souness ahead in the queue. This book lays bare not only justifications for his brooding hostility towards the press pack but also in turn how such unwillingness to explain himself fuelled antipathy towards him, especially in Scotland.

For those with strongly held opinions over whether Ferguson was a chronic underachiever with delinquent tendencies or a mixed-up kid who just needed to feel appreciated it’s unlikely this thoughtful and even-handed appraisal by Alan Pattullo will persuade them to change camps. Among the undecided there is simply just a lot more to ruminate over.

On the playing side the book chronicles Ferguson’s emergence as an exciting prospect at Dundee United, a then record-breaking £4 million transfer fee when he moved to Rangers in 1993, his failure there and the headbutt on Raith Rovers’ Jock McStay that led to a short jail sentence, a smattering of generally underwhelming international appearances and finally rejuvenation of sorts, eight sendings-off and near folk-hero status in two spells at Everton. Off the field Ferguson also emerges as no less paradoxical. For every interviewee testifying that he was “fun”, “sensitive” or had “a heart of gold” there is another portraying him as a “hellraiser”, “cruel” or “difficult to like”.

It’s hard not to escape the view that Ferguson’s early experiences under the successful but authoritarian Jim McLean at Tannadice shaped his seemingly ambivalent attitude towards the game. Along with notoriously long contracts to tie players down, there were results-driven pay packages with low basic wages topped up with relatively handsome appearance and win bonuses. This bred a “brutal” culture within the club where players competed ferociously with one another to make sure they were in the matchday squads. Newcomers were treated as unwelcome potential rivals and details of how Ferguson once humiliated a young German trialist by cutting up his suit in the dressing room make for particularly uncomfortable reading.

His penchant for getting into trouble ultimately led to a spell in Barlinnie prison. This was viewed as harsh by some but three previous convictions for assault prior to the McStay incident hardly stood him in good stead in court. However no one in the book offers any support for the SFA also seeking to impose a 12-game ban as its own punishment – a move that wholly soured Ferguson’s relations with the Association and all but extinguished his desire to play for Scotland.

It was letters of support from Everton fans, including one from a young Wayne Rooney, that Ferguson credits with keeping him going through those dark days and helped forge the strong relationship he has with the club to this day. Pattullo, like others who have taken a keen interest in his tumultuous career, could barely imagine him ever becoming a coach but there he is, an integral part of Roberto Martínez’s back-up team at Goodison Park. Heavens he’s even started speaking to the press occasionally. Maybe the autobiography will be next.

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