The Lost Legacy of a Dundee and Spurs Legend
by James Morgan
Back Page Press, £9.99
Reviewed by Ken Gall
From WSC 286 December 2010
Your reviewer approached this book with what can be fairly described as some scepticism. After all, can anything be more wearying than another "Where did it all go wrong, George?"/birds 'n' booze/study of a legend of the 1960s and 70s? Happily, however, while there are elements of the above, James Morgan's study of Alan Gilzean offers something else again; combining the career of a great player with an exploration of a personality at odds with our expectations of the great names of the past.
The book is premised on what Morgan saw as a number of troubling questions. Why had Gilzean not been inducted into the Scottish Football Hall Of Fame when non-Scots such as Henrik Larsson had? Why had he not appeared on the pitch among the Spurs legends at Bill Nicholson's testimonial match in 2001? Did the rumours that Gilzean was living as a vagrant in Weston-super-Mare have any truth to them?
What follows is hardly a mystery of Conan Doyle proportions. But there is a genuine sense of intrigue created as former team-mates from the Championship-winning Dundee side of 1962 and Nicholson's various Spurs teams reminisce about Gilzean's abilities while speculating, with a shared puzzlement, as to his current whereabouts and disappearance from the scene.
Craig Brown is characteristically articulate about Gilzean's abilities. Ian Ure – not thought of as the most cultured of centre-backs – is, perhaps more surprisingly, similarly thoughtful, while Steve Perryman's affectionate portrayal of a man who acted as a mentor to the young player presents Gilzean personally in a highly favourable light. (Thankfully, Perryman's hypothesis that Gilzean could have defecated on the White Hart Lane centre spot and still have received a standing ovation was never tested.)
Giving away the ending even of a mystery as limited as this one is supremely bad form. But, suffice to say, anyone expecting a series of stunning revelations about Gilzean's post-retirement life will be slightly disappointed. A minor quibble would be Morgan's seeming determination to draw a parallel between Gilzean and Dimitar Berbatov: both seemingly languid, both with sensational control, both capable of infuriating and entrancing their own fans. It is as if Morgan feels he must hang his story on the peg of a present-day star in order not to lose the reader's attention.
He needn't have bothered. This is a singular, unusual and well-written book; highly recommended to Spurs and Dundee lovers and haters alike.