Friday, November 30, 2012

Brought to book

Book Week Scotland seems as good an excuse as any to have a rummage through the bookshelves.

To mark this celebration of all things book related, I shut my eyes and picked out four football tomes at random.

And a varied assortment it proved to be.

From Faultless referees in the Wankdorf, through sockless wonders of the 1980s and lawnmower related disasters, to a man who really, really disliked us Scots.

That's the thing about books. All human life lies within.

Refereeing Round the World by Arthur Ellis

We'll start with an Englishman. Or a Yorkshireman, which might not be quite the same thing.

Referee's memoirs are not a modern phenomenon. Before Pierluigi Collina and Graham Poll, there was Arthur Edward Ellis with Refereeing Round the World, published in 1954.

Arthur Ellis of Halifax seems to have been a have whistle, will travel kind of chap.

His career took in three World Cups, the Olympic Games and every round of the first ever European Cup.

He was also the referee for the Battle of Berne in 1954 when a football game struggled to breakout amidst a complete breakdown of Hungarian-Brazilian relations.

But his first taste of international football was a little closer to home:
"This was my first International as a referee - Wednesday, November 12th, 1947 - and what a ground to make your debut...Hampden Park, Glasgow! True, the attendance was no more than 100,000 people (the ground holds nearly 150,000 people), but all the same it was a terrifying experience.

"I had, of course, heard a lot about the Hampden Roar, but I had never sampled it, and Mr Faultless, that wonderfully named Scottish refereee, did not make my nerves any better by suggesting I use his whistle, which was of a higher tone than the usual whistle, and therefore better fitted to combat The Roar. I accepted his offer.

"If you think it strange that in an International do not take the field side by side, you should go to Hampden. They will have no such sentimental nonsense, as they call it. They believe in frightening the opposition with the pre-match ceremonies.

"And then there is the Hampden Roar. To me it seems to start as moan behind one goal and then, within seconds, to engulf the whole stadium. It is terrifying, indescribable. It is like taking a punch between the eyes."
Lost days and lost glories? Not quite:
"My experience of it lasted only 20 minutes. Then it fade, probably because Scotland were so bad that not even the Hampden Roar could help them."
Wales beat Scotland 2-1.

And Mr Faultless definitely did exist.

Giffnock's Charlie Faultless was, like Ellis, called into action for a memorable 1954 World Cup game.

His quarter final match at the Wankdorf Stadium (there's always a snigger) in Berne saw Austria beat Switzerland 7-5 and remains the highest scoring World Cup match in history.

Having trailed 3-0 inside 20 minutes, Austria led 5-4 at half time despite missing the penalty that Mr Faultless saw fit to award.

Charlie Nicholas: The Adventures of Champagne Charlie by David Stubbs

Younger readers might most readily associate Charlie Nicholas with Jeff Stelling and that rogues gallery of former players getting excited while the nation watches them watch telly every Saturday.

But back in the day it was Charlie who excited us with his goalscoring feats, his extravagant talent and his tabloid friendly extra-curricular pursuits.

His not always satisfying experience at Arsenal in the 1980s provides the focus for The Adventures of Champagne Charlie by David Stubbs.

It's commendably non-judgemental, choosing instead to salute Charlie's cheeky chappy joie de vivre.

Some choice quotes, however, suggest this was a lifestyle that many a modern manager would balk at.

Charlie on drinking:
"See, four, five, six pints. That to me isn't a real drink."
On Charlie's fashion sense:
"What seemed most to disconcert the authorities was Charlie's flagrant disregard for sockwear, the wearing of. One might have thought that with all the myriad problems besetting Scottish football at the beginning of the eighties that sock inspections would be low on most managers' list of priorities. But no. Charlie himself preferred to wear no socks - by necessity, he claimed, rather than affectation. 'I spend most of my money on clothes,' he explained. 'And that means going without socks in some casual outfits.'

"Socklessness being considered a breach of some arcane details of professional footballing etiquette, however, Charlie complained that he was forced to walk around with a spare pair of socks in case his assistant manager caught him at the club baring his ankles for shame - whereupon, if reprimanded, he would have to nip into the gents for a quick socks change."
Charlie and women:
"The more spurious the story, the more prominent was the accompanying photograph of Ms Bazar, all lipstick and bustiers. In 1988, the News of the World ran a series of her exposes on her nights out - and in - with her numerous and notable gentleman friends. She ranked them in order of impressiveness. And while the likes of Duran Duran's John Taylor and Herr Flick for TV's 'Allo, 'Allo merely received honourable mentions for the merits of their unmentionables, top of the Tree of Tumescence sat a proud Charlie."
It was George Graham who called time on Nicholas at Arsenal.

They won the League Cup together but the writing was surely on the wall from the moment Graham arrived as manager:
"Standards in British society are falling. I'm going to make sure, however, that they don't fall at Arsenal."
Patrician pomposity was always going to trump an often misfiring playboy prince.

It's for Graham to judge how successful he was in holding all his players to account off the field.

In the Firing Line by Jim Leighton and Ken Robertson

One wouldn't expect Jim Leighton to find himself linked to a Ms Bazaar in the tabloid press.

Bespectacled off the pitch and less than athletic looking on it he nonetheless enjoyed a career of longevity and consistency that included a battle back from the brink of obscurity.

In the Firing Line covers that career, from humble beginnings ("humble" actually appears in the second sentence) to European glory, the bitter Manchester United experience, the footballing resurrection and World Cups with Scotland.

There's also a touch of the Mr Bean about our hero.

Before the 1984 Scottish Cup final against Celtic:
"I can tell you now I came within a whisker of missing that final.

"In fact the accident that I was involved in on the Monday prior to that game could have ended my career. I was at home, cutting the grass and looking after our two children, when my electric lawnmower became choked with grass. I was trying to free the blades with my hand when my daughter Claire, who was then only three, moved the switch on the handle. Oddly enough, I'd been looking at a warning about disconnecting the lawnmower before cleaning it only seconds earlier. I'd ignored it and paid the price. When Claire accidentally put the power back on, a flying blade sliced open the pinkie of my right hand and there was blood everywhere. It could have been worse. I might have lost fingers and ended my days as a goalkeeper in that careless moment. But my injury was serious enough - especially with the final looming - and I was in a panic.

"[Alex Ferguson] called me all the silly buggers under the sun. I was told I should not have been cutting the grass or playing with my children in a cup-final week. When Ferguson's tirade subsided he told me to go home and stay away from Pittodrie during the build-up to Hampden.

"He was entitled to feel apprehensive, for Aberdeen is like a village in terms of gossip. I had ample proof of that over the next few days when my team-mates phoned to tell me about the wild stories which were circulating about my mishap. Rumours had it that I had lost a finger, cut off my hand or electrocuted myself. But the best best tale of all emanated from one of Gordon Strachan's neighbours. According to his information, I was dead."
Alive, and with a full complement of extremities, Jim played in Aberdeen's 2-1 win.

In 1986 Aberdeen were back in the final:
"I had another Scottish Cup final injury scare that season. This time it was because of my attempts to keep fit while recovering from a broken finger, which had ruled me out of Scotland's game against Romania at Hampden. I thought it would be a good idea to play tennis, as sport in which my damaged left hand would not be involved. That turned out to be a big mistake. I tripped over a stone and tore my ankle ligaments. With the final just four weeks away, I feared the worst. To compound the matter, I could not tell my manager that I had hurt myself playing tennis of all things. A white lie seemed the best bet, so I informed him that the injury had occurred while I was playing with my kids."
A reserve match at Ibrox confirmed that Jim would be fit to play in the final:
"Ferguson phoned my home on the night after my comeback in the reserves. Linda took the call and asked if he wanted to speak to me. 'No,' said the manager, 'just tell him that if he goes near that bloody grass this week, I'm going to kill him.' This was a reference to my previous mishap with the lawnmower. Ferguson has a very retentive memory."
Indeed. It's a hallmark of all the great managers that they remember the time their goalkeeper almost chopped his fingers off the week before a major cup final.

Sir Alf by Leo McKinstry

We'll finish with another Englishman. A World Cup winning Englishman.
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
Well, we know how Sir Alf Ramsey saw us. And it wasn't entirely uncritical:
"Not since the Duke of Cumberland has any Englishman had a more visceral dislike of the Scots. So strong was this emotion that it broke through his wall of reserve and he became more demonstrative, more voluble.

"The great Derby defender Roy McFarland told me that Alf's passion had not waned by the seventies:

'For me it was the only time I heard him swear. Just before we went out on the field, as we were going out the door he'd say "Come on boys, let's beat these Scots fuckers." It was a shock to me.'

"John Connelly, the Burnley winger, has the memory of Alf's anger at any concession to Scotland:

'Once, when the ball ran out when we were playing at Hampden, I went and fetched it and threw it at a Scot. They took a quick throw, went down the line and damn near scored. Watching the film of this afterwards, Alf said to the rest of the lads, 'Just watch this pillock. What do you think of that, running after the fackin' ball for a fackin' Scotsman.'
When Ramsey took over at Birmingham City, a young Jimmy Calderwood was one of a number of Scots in the squad:
"Sir Alf said: 'Now I know you lot fucking hate me. Well, I have news for you. I fucking hate you lot even more.' But, you know, I never missed a game for him. He really was a fantastic manager."
Quite a complex fellow, was Sir Alf. What injury, real or perceived, we as race had inflicted on him is unknown. But this was a man who refused to wear Paisley pattern pyjamas.

He could admire our individual qualities though:
"Ken Jones tells this story of a banquet at Hampden after a game: 'I was there talking to Billy Bremner when Alf came past. He looked straight at Billy and said: "You're a dirty little bastard, aren't you. But by Christ you can play."' In return, Bremner was impressed by Alf as a manager when he served under him in a match between Wales and the rest of Britain."
Book Week Scotland runs until Sunday

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