The Frank McDougall Story
by Frank McDougall & Jeff Holmes
MacDonald Media, £9.99
Reviewed by Dianne Millen
From WSC 290 April 2011
There are probably not many people who have punched Alex Ferguson in the face and lived to tell the tale – let alone stayed friends with the grumpy Govan genius. But Frank McDougall, the most legendary goalscorer never to be picked for Scotland, can count this among his many claims to Scottish footballing fame. It seems typical of the likeable but somewhat chaotic figure described in this likeable but somewhat chaotic book that he not only lived to tell the tale, but persuaded the great man to contribute a chapter.
Once the most expensive player in Scotland, McDougall was the prototypical goal-hanging striker, incomparably lethal in the box and rarely to be found elsewhere. Resilient and individualistic, fond of a pre-match fag by way of preparation and a snooker player of near-professional standard, many Pittodrie-goers would be happy to see someone of his ilk pull the red shirt on again today. After all, nobody who scores four goals in a single game against Celtic will ever have to pay for his own drinks in the Granite City.
Co-written by childhood friend and Paisley reporter Jeff Holmes, this is largely a straight, factual rendition of McDougall's progress from Glasgow housing scheme to aspirant Brazilian soccer coach via third-top goalscorer in Europe (and a lot of nights out). Its emotional centre, however, is the episode describing how McDougall's career was almost ended before it began. Temporarily blinded in both eyes as a teenager by the half-bricked glass of a Glasgow bus window, McDougall fought through a lengthy rehabilitation to fashion an all-too-brief but glorious professional career. His determined progress from junior football to the top level, and his anecdotes of living life off the pitch to the full while he did it, make this an entertaining if sometimes slightly rambling account.
One does wonder, however, what a co-author with a more objective view of his subject might have done with this material, particularly the passages recounting McDougall's return to normal working life after his body finally failed him at the age of 28. These being the days before ex-footballers could move on to enjoy lucrative careers sexually harassing Sky staffers, going from rapturous crowds to installing double glazing must have been a hard gig. While one suspects Holmes was understandably reluctant to press a friend to excavate his darkest days for public consumption, McDougall's unsentimental, matter-of-fact approach does mean the book lacks a certain emotional depth.
Ultimately, however, one is left feeling, like many of his friends in the game, both admiring and sympathetic. The book is rounded out by a series of tributes from Scottish footballing legends, including current Scotland manager Craig Levein, and one gets the feeling they were all keen to do Frankie a favour – even the ones who he regularly made look like idiots of a Saturday. Ultimately, while this book doesn't entirely explain its subject, who one suspects is a far more complex man than he appears, it does leave the reader with a sense of his slightly exasperating charm – and an abiding image of Fergie flat on his back in his office.