The lives and times of four captains of England
by Colin Shindler
Head Of Zeus, £18.99
Reviewed by John Earls
From WSC 356 October 2016
With barely a shrug at Wayne Rooney continuing as captain despite being an increasingly controversial choice for his club side, Cambridge University academic Colin Shindler has chosen an unfortunate time to launch his high-concept social history linking the state of the nation to England’s captains of the era.
Euro 96 and the last great British summer
by Paul Rees
Reviewed by Si Hawkins
From WSC 353 July 2016
There’s something oddly masochistic about our ongoing desire to wallow, at length, in massive disappointments. This book may well be one too, for those attracted by the title: 311 pages long, its Euro 96 coverage ends on page 189, which may come as a surprise. But then When We Were Lions isn’t strictly a football book.
The unseen story behind England’s World Cup glory
by John Rowlinson
Virgin Books, £20
Reviewed by David Stubbs
From WSC 352 June 2016
One of the recurring themes of this volume to commemorate the 50th anniversary of England’s sole international triumph is how relatively little was made of it at the time. Kenneth Wolstenholme’s famous “They think it’s all over; it is now” line epitomises the phlegmatic, English reserve that prevented too much of the sort of histrionic reaction that would prevail nowadays. Were England to win the World Cup today, you suspect Jonathan Pearce’s head would, literally, explode. Not then.
England, the English and Euro 96
by Michael Gibbons
Pitch Publishing, £12.99
Reviewed by Jonathan O’Brien
From WSC 352 June 2016
It’s now 20 years since Euro 96, a relentlessly mediocre, often sparsely attended tournament won by an unexceptional Germany team that stumbled over the line carrying a busload of walking wounded. Realistically, it should be best forgotten. Yet, oddly, it continues to exert a strong hold over English football’s folk memory. Not because of the standard of play, or because England achieved anything beyond a restoration of respectability, but... just because. For better or worse, its name has come to evoke an unrepeatable moment in time.
by Ian Passingham
Pitch Publishing, £14.99
Reviewed by Jon Matthias
From WSC 351 May 2016
The concept of this book is to help the reader “relive the finals as if they were happening today”. Broadly speaking it works, as Ian Passingham tells the story of the 1966 World Cup in modern journalistic style. That means lots of headlines, short sentences and picking the newsworthy angle out of the factual details. There are times when anachronisms grate, such as references to “WAGs”. “The Angels of the North” particularly stood out as a headline out of sync with the rest of the book, given the Angel was only erected in 1998. But minor quibbles apart, Passingham manages to make the source material fresh and interesting.
A World Cup story
by Richard Gordon
Black and White, £11.99
Reviewed by Archie MacGregor
From WSC 332 October 2014
With yet another World Cup having passed Scotland by, the fondness and esteem with which the squad led by Willie Ormond to the finals in West Germany all of 40 years ago are regarded seems to grow ever warmer. Not without some justification either, as although they were unable to progress beyond a group featuring holders Brazil, Yugoslavia and Zaire, they emerged unbeaten, something not even West Germany as eventual winners could lay claim to. Nothing captured this particular glorious failure more enduringly than the image of Billy Bremner clutching his head in his hands as he came within a bobbled ricochet of earning the Scots what would have been a dream-like, yet arguably deserved, victory over the Brazilians.
As nostalgia trips go it makes for an engaging story and Richard Gordon, the respected voice of BBC Radio Scotland's football coverage for many years, covers it in sure-footed and enjoyable fashion, relying heavily on a mix of interviews with surviving members of Ormond's 22-man squad and contemporary press coverage. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the entire 1974 campaign from qualification to its agonising denouement in the final match against Yugoslavia is just how shambolic Scotland's preparations had been on and off the field. While it was nothing compared the apocalyptic meltdown that was to come along four years later under Ally MacLeod in Argentina, this Scottish side and their entourage pretty much lived up to something of a Spinal Tap equivalent of the worst stereotypical behaviour of footballers on tour.
Most notorious was the Jimmy Johnstone "lost at sea" rowing boat incident at the squad's Largs training base for the Home Internationals. But this was just one ill-starred tale among many of broken curfews, boozing, disputes over commercial deals and rumours of team selections being not solely the preserve of the manager. Ironically it was probably Johnstone who had more reason than anyone to emerge with a sense of grievance from the maelstrom, as having apparently been forgiven by Ormond for his boating misdemeanour and yet another breach of discipline prior to a warm-up game in Oslo, he did not feature in any of the three group matches despite still being near the peak of his powers.
While saluting Scotland's valiant playing endeavours the theme of self-destruction just keeps on recurring. Depending on who you believe, the players either had a misplaced sense that victory alone over Zaire in the opening game was sufficient or they wanted to conserve their energy for the big one against Brazil. Either way it never looked like being enough, but there was to be a final unkind twist as their fate was sealed by an unfortunate fumble by Zairian goalkeeper Robert Kazadi which gifted the Brazilians a decisive third goal in the final round of group matches.
As the book reminds us there was however to be one lasting consolation for the players – uniquely among all of Scotland's squads to have participated in a World Cup finals they actually got a welcoming party when they arrived back at Glasgow airport.