Book Review: Pompey Chimes, Pompey Times – A Collection of Portsmouth FC Memories & Memorabilia Sean ‘Northstandcritic’ Simpson, Derek Hammond & Gary Silke

Conker Editions is an independent publishing company, established in 2017 with the aim of producing high-quality, beautifully designed books. Conker specialises in books on football, memories and memorabilia and here at FBR we have been lucky enough to review many of them including, Can We Not Knock It?, 101 Manchester City Matchworn Shirts, Flat Caps & Tangerine Scarves, Glove Story, Glove Story 2, Football’s Black Pioneers, The A-Z of Weird & Wonderful Football Shirts and The Got, Not Got Football Gift Book.

This latest offering is a homage to Portsmouth FC, a Club who in winning the First Division title in 1948/49 and 1949/50 were crowned champions of England, but by 1978/79 had fallen all the way down to the Fourth Division. Pompey’s history is as choppy as The Solent that laps around its famous harbour, so for every triumph, most recently, the FA Cup win in 2007/08 as a Premier League club, there has been financial ruin and relegation down to League Two just five years later.

Where Conker’s previous books (and this addition also) win, are that the stories have an authentic feel, which for this Portsmouth book comes from having a dedicated and life-ling fan, Sean ‘Northstandcritic’ Simpson, as the readers guide to all things Pompey. As with some other titles from the Conker’s stable, there are within the pages, images of a great collection of memorabilia, whether that be kits, programmes, pennants, flags, rosettes, or football cards.

However, it also provides so much more, as Simpson captures the unique identity of those from the ‘island’ of Portsmouth, with its naval and dockyard links and history, the famous Play Up Pompey chime and larger than life fan, John Anthony Portsmouth Football Club Westwood. It is also a tribute to many that have been at the heart of the club through the ups and downs and featured with the section ‘Pompey People’ and most of all to Simpson’s father who passed away nine months before Portsmouth’s FA Cup victory in 2007.

Nothing within the Club’s History is shied away from as tales of the rise and fall on and off the pitch are covered, with the League title and FA Cup triumphs, and the season in Europe, sitting alongside Pompey’s poor Play-off record and financial crisis’s in the mid-1970s and early 2010s. But Simpson also captures what it has been like as a fan following the Fratton Park side, giving readers his personal choices, in the sections titled, ‘Top ten players’, ‘Match of the decades’ and ‘Away day tales’, which contains an absolutely genius story of a trip to Liverpool, and which is worth the price of this book alone.

Yes this is a book aimed at Pompey fans, but followers of other teams will understand the experiences Simpson provides as a fan, and of the trials and tribulations that clubs endure through their history whether Premier League or Northern Premier League.

(Publisher: Conker Editions Ltd. May 2022. Paperback: 176 pages)


Buy the book here: Pompey Chimes

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Book Review – We Made Them Angry by Tom Brogan

“These supporters can win you the game. When I hear them, the hairs on my neck stand up. They must be the best in the world. It makes me want to finish my career back in Britain. But Scotland will have to play with the passion they showed against us in Mendoza four years ago.”

Jonny Rep, who scored against Scotland in the 1978 World Cup, putting us out of it, prior to the final game for Scotland against Russia in the 1982 World Cup.

Front cover

When I went to university, my first encounter with my History Professor was just after he had published his new book on World War One. When asked about the reviews that he should expect he told us these mattered little as most of his contemporaries would not read the book, just look at the bibliography and sources he quoted. From there they should be able to work out what he thought and his opinion of the principal facts; all of which were not in doubt.

At the time, it appeared odd.

Reading We Made Them Angry by Tom Brogan reminded me precisely of that discussion. Of all the books you will ever read, I would challenge you to find one that is as well researched and documented as this. There are not just references made to player’s biographies but also to obscure matchday programmes, interviews, many of which are long forgotten and a bibliography which includes periodicals, websites and scholarly tomes.

It is all in aid of telling a tale of World Cup redemption under the leadership of arguably the best manager Scotland ever produced, Jock Stein. It is of a campaign sunk in the midst of more noticeable and argued over World Cup Group failures – ’74 when we never lost, ‘78 when we lost our dignity, ’86 when we lost our leader, and ‘90 when we last graced the competition, and thus thereafter lost our place on its stage.

1982 was the year of two headlines – a toe poke and a collision. Both with connotations of violence which the Scottish Football Association were nervous about fans displaying under the Spanish sunshine whilst on the terraces, but we were undone by both, ironically, not in the stands but on the field of play.

Brogan has much to say about both, but to his credit they do not dominate the tale he tells. He begins at 7am on Wednesday the 14th of October 1981, in Belfast. It is the culmination of the campaign to get to the World Cup in Spain; we are one game away. It is symbolic. Not just that this was a game being played by the Scottish national team in Northern Ireland for the first time since 1972 but as a Scotland fan, it is always games close to the wire which hold significance. We are past masters at taking the entire process and holding it on a knife edge prior to destroying ourselves; at least that has been the majority of our experiences…. 1982 was little different.

To be reminded of the fact that we were in the midst of five World Cup Finals in a row, rather than it being a painful memory, stirs the blood and I have fond memories of the processes of getting to World Cups which, unlike now, were expected to be successful. I have not often agreed with Graeme Souness, but here I can wholeheartedly, insofar as these were our World Cups, the process of qualifying. Brogan is highly expansive in the build up and in the detail, he brings to the table.

But it is here where I began to struggle just a little.

Academic treatises tend to have their bibliographies and footnotes but keeping your reader onside needs the yarn told swiftly with pace and flair. The interruptions to tell of each significant player’s background, fascinating to start with, becomes slightly irritating as we progress. Turning some of the reference points into footnotes or refences would not have diminished the authority with which this story is told but enhance the structure with which it is enjoyed.

I don’t know if I really wanted to know as much about the Russian coach as I found out, that Alan Hansen was born in Sauchie or the tartan background of so many of the New Zealand team, but to be fair, it was interesting to read. But it took nothing away from the authenticity of the research. It felt authoritative. It was interesting to note that Alan Hansen turned down a trial with Hibs so he could play a golf tournament or that The Game (a fictional account but a very real emotional rollercoaster of Scottish fans going to Argentina in 1978) was broadcast on STV in opposition to the night of BBC Cup Final Sportscene’s highlights programme or of the machinations in government which could have seen the Scottish team being pulled out of the entire Finals due to the worsening military and political situation in the Southern Hemisphere, but they could have been crafted in a more integrated manner.

That political situation was the Falkland’s War and Brogan quotes from a number of sources over the possibility that the team would have to bow to pressure and not play in a contest where the possibility that they may meet on a field of play, a country fighting them on a field of battle, was very real. In the end opinion swayed all and Scotland went to the Finals. Brogan quotes widely from official documents released in 2012 as well as players like Danny McGrain who reflected that a poll in the Daily Record wanted them to play, Graeme Souness who responded to the news that the Task Force wanted them to play and Kenny Dalglish who seemed unaware of it all! In the end, the government wanted them to go, so go they went. It is interesting to note that this is the equivalent today of asking Ukraine the defenders to withdraw from sport rather than Russia, the aggressors.

The other political back drop of which I was unaware was the Home Internationals and how playing in Belfast had become such an issue. It clearly feels a far more violent time and Brogan does well to draw our attention to the historical detail which some may have called a more naïve period in our collective history but is in reality far more sensitive to the cause of offence than some would admit. Names of the past who had their teeth cut administratively within that context find a voice and Brogan tells it as it was, without much by way of criticism. It is a refreshing feeling that we, as a reader, are given the notion of being able to form our own views.

What I also enjoyed was the detail around how the authorities dealt with the preparations and the scandal of the tickets and Mundiespana, the post competition reflections from the likes of Jim McLean and where there was disappointment and dissension, it was noted and explained. These appealed, as much to my interest in the Scotland team as to my academic prejudices.

Back cover

Perhaps my favourite part of the entire book, as a proud Scot, is the claim, borne out by Brogan’s meticulous evidence is that 1982 gave birth to a phenomenon which has endured – The Tartan Army. Rather than disgrace themselves in the sun, as some worried would happen, the Scottish supporters excelled. Warm, friendly and in some cases under extreme provocation, given that Argentina was a Spanish speaking country, they behaved and earned the highest of praise. I am sure that there were many who followed the competition who were disappointed that the Scots did not get through. The voices that Brogan brings of the fans who went and saw the glory of their country are very worthy of reading. Of the drinking competitions, the water polo playing by a guy from an estate in Dunfermline or the ways in which they travelled there and came back, derring-do is made de rigueur.

Of course, for Scottish fans two events defined the Finals.

Firstly, when Jimmy Hill called Dave Narey’s goal against Brazil, a toe poke, he meant it as a compliment. Most Scots did not take it as such, and Hill enjoyed notoriety in Scotland from that point onwards. It was not always good natured, however, but the goal led to an alleged conversation, not in the book, where one Scottish player was to say to another, I think we have annoyed them! On the terraces the quote became the title of the book – we made them angry. Having woken them up, the samba perfect Brazil went on to beat us 4-1 in an exhibition of football which was a privilege to watch, and according to the players, quoted in the book, with which it was a privilege to share a pitch.

Then came Willie Miller and Alan Hansen bumping into each other in an attempt for both to clear a Russian attack, which led to Russia scoring. It has become part of our folklore that this was blamed for putting us out of the competition. As Brogan makes very clear, it was a little more complex than that, but a draw was what finished us. The perspective of fans, the manager, pundits and both players add to the understanding Brogan brings to the debacle.

And as the final game drew its veil over our participation, it was indeed a draw, once again that did for us. We should have known. In ’74, all we did was draw, in ’78 the draw with Iran became the headline, ’82 was the draw with Russia, ’86 the draw with Uruguay and then in ’90 all we needed was … a draw. And guess what we did not get…

Despite it being very heavy on the evidence, this is a book which does great service to a World Cup Finals which drew us back into the realm of some dignity. 1978 was not just a tough watch but for someone like me, an Ayr United fan, a tough experience as our greatest ever manager was castigated for one of the greatest footballing disasters which befell any national team. Brogan has the material to dwell on what we were good at, because we were, and this lends authority to the memory of a time when we expected to be at the top table.

Donald C Stewart


(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. April 2022. Hardcover: 384 pages)


Buy the book here: We Made Them Angry

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Book Review – “Gimme The Ball”: My Take On The Beautiful Game by Terry Curran with John Brindley

In October 2012, Terry Curran, released his autobiography Regrets of a Football Maverick in conjunction with journalist John Brindley, a warts and all account of life both on and off the field. Nine years later, post-COVID, Curran once again teamed up with Brindley for a second book, “Gimme The Ball”: My Take On The Beautiful Game.

Whereas Regrets of a Football Maverick followed a fairly conventional timeline, i.e. Curran’s childhood, growing up, football career, and life post-football,  his second offering takes a slightly different approach in that the various chapters are divided into three parts, My Football Favourites, My Football Career and Modern Day Football.

My Football Favourites is made up of four chapters. The first two look at Curran’s relationship with two of his former bosses, Jack Charlton and Brian Clough and his admiration for George Best. Whilst many of the anecdotes of these three football legends are repeated from Curran’s first book, what comes across more strongly is the respect, admiration and genuine love he still holds for Charlton and Clough despite the, at times, tempestuous relationship they shared. The remaining two chapters within part one, deal with the club that Curran supports and is probably best known for playing – Sheffield Wednesday. First, Curran reflects on how the 1966 FA Cup Final when The Owls blew a two-goal lead to Everton, saw him become a supporter of the club from Hillsborough. He follows this will his view of the heights of the Ron Atkinson and Trevor Francis eras and the lows since as Wednesday continue to bounce between the Championship and League One, without any prospect of a return to the Premier League in sight. What is evident is Curran’s affection for the club and its fans, and his overriding belief that The Owls should be in English football’s top-flight.

Part two of this book, My Football Career, constitutes the biggest section with seven chapters and as its title suggests follows Curran’s path in the game from his first professional club, Doncaster Rovers in 1973 to his final football league appearance for Chesterfield in 1987. Whilst Curran played for more than a dozen clubs, he is best known for his time at Sheffield Wednesday and to a lesser extent spells at Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Southampton and Everton, where at these last two clubs he picked up a Wembley appearance and League Cup runners-up medal and First Division Championship medal respectively. Once again some of the stories and details are repeated from Curran’s first book, but what emerges strongly from this section, are the regrets he has with some of the choices he made in his career and ‘what might have been’ if Curran hadn’t suffered injuries at certain crucial times. Part two also includes Curran’s brief time as a manager on the non-league circuit at Goole and Mossley and his subsequent coaching career. This final chapter within part two provides his forthright opinion of the way youngsters are coached, providing a neat link into the final part and chapter of the book, Modern Day Football.

Within this closing part of the book, Curran offers his views on topics including Gareth Southgate’s reign as England boss, football post-COVID, VAR, BLM, the Premier League, overseas players and coaches and Women’s football. As with his playing days, Curran takes no prisoners and displays the same confidence when offering his opinion on these areas of the game today. Not everyone will agree with his sentiments, but it should be said that Curran is not afraid to say his piece and is being true to himself.


(Publisher: Morgan Lawrence Publishing Services. September 2021. Paperback: 250 pages)


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Book Review: His Name is McNamara by Jackie McNamara (with Gerard McDade)

Book front cover.

“I should have played you more son.”

So said Martin O’Neill after Celtic icon, Jackie McNamara’s testimonial at Celtic Park, and it is a wish that we all had, when he retired from playing. According to his autobiography, it is a sentiment that he wishes the national manager, Craig Brown shared. But of that, more later.

There is perhaps a prejudice about footballers that they are perhaps a little less than bright. Bucking the trend has always been the likes of Pat Nevin, the reluctant footballer, but here we have a man who has faced death and returned to tell the tale whilst combining a career that went from being a cultured player on the park to a much-lauded manager that ended with a curious position as a Chief Executive. Aside from the managerial role, the parallels with Nevin are secure.

His Name is McNamara is a stellar run through the career within football with the backdrop of a collapse at home on the 8th of February 2020 which shaped his future and weaves throughout the biography. McNamara suffered a brain haemorrhage that day, which saw him hospitalised for a prolonged period of time.

His tale begins with McNamara telling us one thing that, on reflection, we should have known – he is a fighter. Given that he ended up in surgery more than once, it should have been more obvious, but then again, as he explains, he is a middle child. His story takes us from that settled and loving family environment through an apprenticeship, to an icon in a hooped shirt, a Midlands sojourn, a North East swansong, a fledgling managership in Glasgow, a mixed experience beside the Tay and then to be the next English import in lower league football ending with a curious period of time as a Chief Executive. Running throughout is the story of his illness and recovery from the darkest place; it makes for a powerful read.

Throughout he pays special attention to those to whom he owes a debt. For example, there is a touching reference to Sandy Brown, the “someone” who saw his potential and started his progress in the professional ranks. His first club, Dunfermline Athletic then managed by the legendary Big Jim Leishman, now the mayor of Dunfermline was critical.  ‘Big Leish’ was one of the biggest characters in Scottish football, though for McNamara, his influence was short lived as he was off, soon after his signing in the way that many managers are mutually relieved of their duties. McNamara became introduced to the fleeting passage of a football manager.

His senior debut, thanks to another Scottish legend, Jocky Scott came in the B & Q Cup – it would take too long to explain what that was – but from such minor cups came the man who would bag 4 Scottish Premier League titles, 3 Scottish Cups, and 2 Scottish League Cups, as well as appearing as player and manager in 6 other cup finals! It’s a remarkable journey and McNamara keeps the foot on the gas as he tells it.

By the time that McNamara was at Celtic, when there were trophies being won, it was also during his time when Rangers were going for 10-in-a-row. Achieving a 10th Scottish Premiership title would have handed their bitter rivals the ultimate boast – that Celtic’s greatest domestic achievement of winning 9 titles in a row was now second best to Rangers’ domestic achievement of 10.

McNamara tells of how manager Wim Jansen, in his one and only year as manager of Celtic, stopped the 10-in-a-row party in Ibrox. It is already the stuff of legend, but McNamara provides insights into all the backdrop, the background and the respect Jansen held during his time in charge. Such insight includes how the “Smell the Glove” t-shirt came about – which is mundane and fascinating – and the bizarre nature of the management in the club at the time – which is not. This includes the match in Portugal they had to play just after winning the title came about because it was part of the contractual agreement that brought Jorge Cadete to Celtic. From the outside, this was one of the increasingly bizarre episodes of the time and it ended with Jansen despite being the hero of the season not being given another contract.

And then there were the Scotland games.

Programme from McNamara’s final cap for Scotland

McNamara appeared at a World Cup and the infamous game played in Tallinn. The home side, Estonia refused to show up and Scotland kicked off against nobody. It was where McNamara made his international debut, lasted 3 seconds and never touched the ball. Mind you, neither did 9 of his teammates!

McNamara though not shy to criticise, does so with decorum. Of course, there are those with whom he did not quite get on – Ian McCall being one, Craig Brown another – and those with whom he had a flourishing relationship – Simon Donnelly (Sid), John Hartson, Martin O’Neill and Henrik Larsson (who wrote the foreword). For each there are words of truth written without rancour and without hyperbole. It is true that he lets his feelings out, but he recognizes where his bitterness should end and his understanding, given the circumstances he has found himself facing, colour his views of the past.

From Celtic he found himself signed for Wolverhampton Wanderers, helping them get to the play-offs, then to the twilight of his career in the Premiership with Aberdeen, before signing for Falkirk. His time at Falkirk included a loan spell at Partick Thistle which was prematurely ended by a horrendous leg break at Somerset Park. I know, I saw it. He recovered, signed permanently for Thistle and then took his first steps into the dugout by becoming their manager, following Ian McCall’s departure, for the 2011/12 season.

I interviewed McNamara when he was the boss at Partick Thistle and aside from the well-worn cliché used to describe him – that he appeared to be quite shy of the media, wanting to give praise more than accept it – he always struck me as an assured reader of the game. There was a quiet confidence that was far from the swagger of many of his contemporaries. You got the feeling that whilst other bosses would kick the cat and harangue the family after a loss, McNamara would welcome reflection and a quiet period to piece together what went wrong and then plan more effectively for the next game. Whilst this is an observation from one who does not know him, it is fully backed by the autobiography which shows a man who faced death and rather than succumb to self-pity has reflected, counted his blessings and realised how fortunate he is.

He made such an impression at Thistle, that he was ironically transported to Dundee United. Ironic, because it was to the same club that Ian McCall had gone to and failed to ignite. What was to happen to McNamara was an exit under a cloud. That cloud was a suggestion that McNamara had financially benefitted from two transfers of United players which soured his reputation. McNamara, though not denying that there may have been some form of contractual advantage to him through transfer fees, makes it very clear that he did not benefit, if at all, to the value that had been claimed. That he then goes on to suggest that his well-publicised fall out with the youth team coach, Stevie Campbell, was due to the fact that Campbell who had previously benefitted from financial inducements when his youth team players graduated to the first team. Such an arrangement was threatened because McNamara was bringing players into the club rather than promoting them from within. It strongly suggests there was a culture in the club of financial benefit for successful staff. It is therefore not a leap to believe that McNamara may have also had such a clause in his contract. Having said all that, McNamara, given what he has been through has little reason to lie. There is no reason for him to apply to be back in the manager’s chair. So why try and repair his own reputation? Here he believes that Campbell had leaked the story out of spite. It is his one bitter note.

Team sheet from McNamara’s first game as manager of York City

The manager’s chair at York City was his next destination and whilst up in Scotland, we knew of the City and its football club, we struggled to fathom why a young Scottish manager of such great ability would end up at a League Two club. After a few training sessions and games, it would appear that McNamara was unsure too.

Taking his friend, Simon Donnelly with him to be part of the coaching set up, he discovered that Donnelly was probably the best player in the club! His work was cut out. His reason for going was wrapped up in his relationship with Chairman, Jason McGill. It endured a relegation down into the National League and led to McNamara taking the role as CEO of the club. It was here that things began to unravel as a new manager arrived without a new philosophy. It was an old school way of doing things which were more than a clash of personalities. By the time that McNamara left the club, Jason had sold it and the McNamara family had settled in Yorkshire.

In a strange left field kind of way, his next move was to write a comedy, The Therapy Room. Though it never got past the pilot stage, it used his experiences in creative fashion and it could be argued that his name carried the opportunity to it being made at all. He also tried his hand at a variety of post retirement ventures which have sustained him to an extent and are covered in summary more than detail.

Throughout the book chapters are introduced with the slow revelation of the events of his illness, from the day it began through the setbacks and the recovery to the final pages. By the end he is out the hospital and with family. The former owner of York City and his wife, having proven to be true friends, McNamara can look forward to the future being just where  he has settled. There is a contentment which travels across the page. He talks of how managers in football can be stuck in a bubble. For him, that bubble, truly has burst. Whether the experiences of the allegations at Dundee United or relegation at York City prepared him fully for life beyond the dugout, his collapse, coma and concerned family, have provided him with the future based upon a reality which is far more secure – his faith and his health.

McNamara credits his collaborator, Gerry McDade with a great deal of the fluidity and success of the book. Whether it be a footballer with a decent education or a writer with exceptional source material, this has the types of lessons and insight that make it a very easy read. It has proven that McNamara beyond the white line was just as compelling with a ball at his feet as with a pen in his hand – even one guided by McDade.

Donald C Stewart


(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. September 2021. Hardcover: 320 pages)


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Book Review – Aberdeen FC: Back Issues 1980-1990 – The definite guide to Aberdeen home programme of the 1980s by Peter Elliott

The match programme. Once the only source of information about your club and a must-have for spectators at the game. Now however, with the advent of social media and its ability to provide up to date information at the push of a button, and the recent change by some clubs to a digital programme, the very existence and purpose of the ‘physical’ version is under threat. Collectors though will be please with the recent release of Aberdeen FC: Back Issues 1980-1990 which as the books introduction states, is “the definite guide to Aberdeen FC match programmes issued during the 1980s, the decade which defined the modern club” with, “the aim of producing…a series of similar guides covering each decade”.

The decade was indeed a memorable one for those watching at Pittodrie. Under the stewardship of Alex Ferguson, the club won three league championships (1979–80, 1983–84 & 1984–85), four Scottish Cups (1981–82, 1982–83, 1983–84 & 1985–86), one League Cup (1985-86), the European Cup Winner’s Cup (1982-83), and the European Super Cup (1983). The Dons weren’t as successful after Ferguson left in 1986 but did do the Scottish Cup ‘double’ in 1989-90. The backbone of the team and indeed the Scottish National side, included Jim Leighton, Willie Miller, Alex McLeish and Gordon Strachan – all Aberdeen legends, with Charlie Nicholas having a couple of useful season at The Dons at the back end of the 80s after a difficult time south of the border with Arsenal.

The reality is that this A5 publication does exactly what it says – it’s a guide to all the home programmes from the 1980/81 season through to 1989/90. Each campaign features the covers from all the programmes produced with a handy checklist detailing the date of each game, the competition and opposition with also the addition of any other fixtures played at the ground, as well as games where programmes were not issued. Brief notes also accompany each season’s summary, generally detailing significant events at the club. It’s a great piece of research by Peter Elliott, that throw up some interesting nuggets of information along the way. For instance, in April 1987 Aberdeen were due to host Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in a friendly, however the players were stranded at Manchester airport due to fog and the game was never played, although a programme was produced. Indeed, it is a feature of the times, that when games were postponed, the original match programme was still issued even when out of date.

A must for all Aberdeen fans whether or not they collect programmes, as it is a handy summary of the homes games at the Club. And on the horizon is the companion to this edition, with the away fixtures from the 1980-1990 period.

(Publisher: First Dons Match. March 2022. Paperback: 90 pages)


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Book Review – Into The Bear Pit: The Explosive Autobiography by Craig Whyte


It was no use. We were stuck. There were fans everywhere, blocking the road.

“Let’s just walk from here, shall we?” I said to the others in the taxi.””

From page vii of Into The Bear Pit, sub-titled, An Explosive Autobiography, it is the first example of Craig Whyte’s leadership. Ironically it would appear, on the evidence of the book, it was his last.

Let me do as we all have to when it comes to matters about the two biggest clubs in Scotland and set out my stall. I am neither a Rangers nor a Celtic fan. I have therefore little investment in the fortunes of either nor in the misery of the other. But I, as a football fan, who saw the benefits of one of the big two fall into the laps and onto the terraces of many a smaller club can see why it is that these two take up so much of our broadcast media and attention. They are a big deal.

On the evidence of his own book, Craig Whyte was very much far from a big deal, though he constantly claims to have handled many big deals. It is his hope that he can make sense of that complexity. He cannot.

The facts are simple.

On or around the 6th of May 2011, Craig Whyte bought Glasgow Rangers Football Club for £1 from Sir David Murray. The deal involved the transfer of considerable debt to Whyte which meant the £1 was symbolic: it was to cost him far more than a quid. In advance of the final transfer of the club, Whyte had been touted by some in the media as a man who had wealth that was off the scale. It was not the last time that the mainstream media was to further suckle on falsely succulent lamb (When buying Rangers, entrepreneur and millionaire, Sir David Murray once hosted a lunch for the Scottish media serving lamb described by one journalist in his column as succulent. Since then it has become the byword for sucking up to owners/directors/anyone in charge). Once in charge, Whyte oversaw the demise of Glasgow Rangers Football Club, which was rapid, and in less than a year it had entered liquidation.

Programme from 2011-12 Scottish Premier League opening home game.

So far, so simple.

What is less clear is how this came about and who were the people who should be held responsible for the fall of Glasgow Rangers. Having been defended by a former director and lawyer of some standing, who spoke warmly to Whyte, of “our club” in court, this is the literary telling of the tale by the singular Craig Whyte.

The picture showing the sale of the club, which is replicated in the book, is perhaps indicative of the whole narrative. It was taken the day after the club was sold but done at the insistence of Sir David Murray. Whyte is seen, hands on hips standing over Murray, casting a shadow over the signing of the papers. The reasoning behind the need for a publicity shot was because, as the Americans might say, the optics mattered on this one. It was not the first time that supporters were to be left hanging in the shadows.

When I bought the book, my hope was that somehow, I could find insight into why the whole thing went wrong from the one man who has cast himself and has been cast as the pantomime villain of the piece: Craig Whyte. Having read the book, I found it to be much more of a Greek tragedy. Perhaps the desire for us to hear and read something revelatory meant that both Whyte and his co-writer, got caught somewhere between the back pages of a red top daily and the front page of The Sun, hoping we would be shocked and appalled sufficiently to avoid noting that it was a tad light on detail and highly opinionated in its approach. The broom of Whyte’s creative focus sweeps long and wide.

The book itself is, however, a compelling read. Hardly likely to end up on the set reading list for any English qualification, it at least manages to hold your attention throughout, though it does tend to rely more on blockbuster statements than demonstratively crafted prose. Unfortunately for the principal character, though if it was designed to restore a fallen man’s reputation it only serves to diminish it further.

There is plenty of evidence of hubris, as he admits that being disqualified as a director, which was someone else’s fault, he sees being struck off as a director as something that: “Anyone with half a brain can get around it and it means the authorities can’t monitor them”. Not being caught out would appear to be a positive in his opinion…

Then came a move to Costa Rica – to avoid paying tax. It is hardly surprising Whyte does not feel responsible for what happened to Rangers as he actually feels responsible for nothing. His views on taxation are pretty clear: “My view on tax is that transactions between people should be voluntary, and that goes for the government as well. Tax havens are completely moral as they stop governments from stealing your money. Governments are basically shakedown operations, like the mafia, but with better manners. They are parasites with no morals whatsoever.” You are left thinking, it takes one…

Whyte was responsible for Rangers ending up in administration. It was an inevitability. He once described the company of which he found himself in charge, as “a basket case” and was the responsibility of the previous regime, not him. He talks about this time thus: “I was in control of the situation. I genuinely believed we could emerge a debt-free club, that I’d still be at the helm, and we could move on. The moment I thought I was in command was precisely the time it all fell apart. Duff and Phelps (the administrators) were acting with HMRC. Suddenly I was an outcast. Duff and Phelps were in charge, and they swiftly instructed everybody not to deal with me.” And so, he was in charge, until he wasn’t in charge. And then they were in charge. Clearly not his fault…

The stuttering form on the pitch, he claims, came through an untested manager, who was gifted to him by the previous board – another fault to be laid at their door.

He goes on to describe being fined by the SFA: “…completely clueless. They were complete clowns. They had a lot to say about me at the time, but did they say anything about the EBT case? A club effectively cheated the game for years and no sanctions were taken against any of the individuals responsible.” The people around him at the time may well have been out to get him apparently as: “It seemed that everyone I came into contact with tried to shaft me. Many of them succeeded.” Not that he ever gave them anything to complain about…

Whyte shows great consistency when he comes to the Rangers’ directors: “I thought the board were a bunch of pompous buffoons and meeting them served no purpose. I decided they were all going to have to go sooner rather than later.” Of the players he shows little by way of self-regard and more of his own self-importance when he speaks of the players thus: “In the main footballers struck me as mercenaries. They were there for the money, not because they loved the club. They got in at 10.30am, had a run around the pitch, got their free breakfast, their free lunch and then they disappeared. What a life.” Even I was tiring of the irony as again it was not his fault…

And then, we come to HMRC. With customary dismissiveness, there is continued self-revelation which seems apparent to those of us who read it but never seemed to be raised by an editor when a man who could not steer the club through this crisis commented that: “From the moment I took over I was confident that we’d either win the case or be able to do a deal with HMRC. At the time of the takeover, I didn’t believe there was a single problem facing the club that was insurmountable. In my experience, when it came to dealing with HMRC, there was always a deal to be done. They always wanted to get paid. It didn’t make sense to me.” He does not go on to outline the deal he was able to make; for he never made one. But then again, they were out to get the Rangers and therefore him: not his fault…

12 months later Rangers were starting life in Scottish Football League Third Division.

His reputation should be repaired because some big boys did it and then ran away.

Rangers are an institution. One of the major revelations which is a confirmation rather than an expose is that Sir David Murray was able to stop media stories getting out. Whyte inherited that ability as he was able to phone up editors and get them to do his bidding. His downfall was that the internet became the place where the material evidence against him and the previous administration became the stuff of discussion boards and conspiracy theorists. But for once, the conspiracy theorists were accurate. It did not take former player, John Brown standing on a bus outside the Rangers’ Stadium which became known as ‘The Big Hoose’ to suggest that things were dodgy to convince the rest of us that they were. We all knew they were dodgy. That the Scottish press turned on Whyte had as much to do with Whyte not having the recipe to succulent lamb as not being able to hold the line over the greatest story that ought to have been exposed, years before.

And so, it goes on. What he wanted was not, what he was getting. His genius for taking big organisations and turning them profitable seems to have deserted him.

There is irony in abundance as the hope to understand what went on in the club during his tenure is found not in the prose but between the lines. Supporters, long suffering ones, should have welcomed the opportunity to have “the truth” delivered in this book to ease their pain: how disappointed they have been. Whyte gives us insight, but the insight is of a venture capitalist who saw this football club as just another company he needed to turn around, and of a man who cannot see anything in the mirror but a wronged individual, Whyter than Whyte.

But you can hardly put it down.

I struggled to set it aside during my reading of it as each chapter includes stunning revelations that at times made my jaw drop. Not of the deeds done to this unfortunate wee soul who ended up in the court dock, having spent months in the docks of living rooms all over Rangers’ supporters’  Govan homesteads but of the indescribable naivete and lack of acumen, business or otherwise, I have ever read about.

The book itself does a lot to answer questions that non supporters of the club have been asking. Do Rangers have or have Rangers had an undue influence over the Scottish press? Is there sense of entitlement within the club? Are they more establishment than established? The stories of being able to stop stories getting to the press chimes with the experience of journalists like Alex Thompson of Channel 4 who, after years of being safe in war zones, tells tales of being threatened by members of the press in his telling of this sorry tale. The level of arrogance that comes from Whyte is evidence of that sense of who we are rather than what we are. As well as seeing himself as the saviour Whyte tells us as he sees it and castigates everyone bar him.  He tells us that there was little by way of a plan to pass over the club to a new owner, little by way of a plan to deal with the debt and nothing in planning for a contingency when the inevitable looked like it was going to happen. Rangers were THE club, THE people and nothing would ever happen to OUR club – just ask the establishment figures behind it, he seems to have thought. The major issue for any fan, of any club, in reading this is that there is little by way of contrition to the people who really do matter – the fans.

The downfall of the club may have been written in the stars, but the meltdown happened through the mind of its principal protagonist.

But why should I care? I do not have an affinity for the club nor a desire for its demise. As a writer I managed to get many column inches out of a saga that I once described as a gift that kept on giving. The media and the pundits had a field day, former players became heroes by supporting one side or another and calling for deeds to be published or making calls to arms to keep the club in existence. Some of the players became Judases in the eyes of sections of the support when they left to play for other clubs when the contracts dried up. If ever the supporter of any club became central to a tall tale, this was it. They were panicked, freaked and judged – often harshly – in their new spotlight.

He does leave a message for Rangers’ long suffering fans: “I don’t care what happens to Rangers now – but I have a lot of sympathy for the Rangers supporters. Those fans have suffered more than anyone, and through no fault of their own.” Once more the irony is that fans DO care what happens to their club and having taken it all away in one hand, his mealy mouthed apology is wiped away again in misunderstanding what he is saying. I am sure the message is meant to go some way to try and stop the death threats and the ill feeling felt towards him. It may never be a big enough pantomime season to ensure his effort to go from the villain to the hero but on the evidence of the book, fans shall be happy to see him recast as one half of the pantomime cow: and not the front end…

By the final page I was left, however, with a deep sense of unease. Of course, this is a self-publicity exercise for a man who was shy of scrutiny, a long letter of self-justification for not being able to turn round the institution he bought and is a long-awaited insight into the Whyte methodology of working. I expected all of that, but it is also revelatory. Rather than it being about Rangers FC and the mess he made, this is a shout out to the world that he was set up and despite all his genius could not make it all good again.

The final visual memory, Whyte left us with, is of a man coming out of a revolving door with a big grin. He had got caught in a revolving door with a policeman, a representative of the authority he despises. As a visual metaphor of his time with Rangers, like how the book began, I can think of no better. We had a man caught in the whirlwind of his own making, who was caught in the clutches of a framework he neither understood nor knew enough about to come out of it with grace. The problem for me is that the supporters of this club are left with his legacy without the ability to admit to his own hamartia, whilst he is sitting somewhere counting what comes from Into The Bear Pit By Craig Whyte, is that he is carrying on his life in some fashion with the scars he left behind a daily living reminder of why he should never have been allowed to get involved in the first place.

Donald C Stewart


(Publisher: Arena Sport. February 2020. Paperback: 240 pages)


Buy the book here: Into the Bear Pit

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Book Review – The Ghosts of Cathkin Park: The Inside Story of Third Lanark’s Demise by Michael McEwan

Book cover.

1967 was some year.

This was the year in which Scottish football found beauty in a left foot on the Wembley turf as Baxter played and World Champions stared. It was the season when we arrived in Europe where the Lions roared in Lisbon and Rangers lost out in another European final, Dundee United defeated Barcelona and Dunfermline showed up in the Fairs Cup.

And so, the highs are our backdrop but, in the foreground, 1967 had its own tragedy.

It was the year in which a once proud team of military bearing found itself smeared in scandal, Third Lanark Football Club, The Hi-Hi’s. The scandal involved corruption that was out of sight, with asset stripping in plain sight. By the end of the 1966/67 season, we witnessed the city of Glasgow reduced by one team: permanently reduced. Glasgow ought to have been a city filled with sporting pride but in the shadow our national stadium, unfolded that tragedy where a community lost its club, that haunts to this day.

And now, Michael McEwan has brought those ghouls to life through The Ghosts of Cathkin Park, published by Birlinn, which tells the story of the demise of Third Lanark in the southside of Glasgow.

McEwan is a marvellous narrator, who tells a compulsive tale. It is one filled with skulduggery when one man, Bill Hiddelston, evolved into the pantomime villain of the piece, even managing a dramatic exit in a puff of smoke and mirrors, ruled a roost and ruined a legacy.

Prompted into the tale, from observing the demise of another Glasgow footballing institution – Glasgow Rangers – McEwan saw parallels which included the unscrupulous investors, greedy men looking for their pounds and the flesh of a beast laid bare and vulnerable which had the heart of a fan and the soul of a supporter whose loyalty was abused, and their investment ill used in the process.

Back cover.

McEwan’s journalistic background gives us plenty of context whether it is the games played in and around the Thirds or the march towards European glory by either of the other two Glasgow clubs. It is a heady mixture of reportage and context that lies in the shadow of their tumble. At times it may feel like the year is being investigated more than the demise of a once proud club, but it does serve a purpose. Occasionally though, the episodic nature does disrupt the principal narrative, and it feels like the journalist is outmuscling the storyteller. Your desire to discover the next chapter keeps you reading on.

The reason is that Hiddleston ruined more than Third Lanark. You might expect this of a man who died before the law caught up with him. As chairman of Third Lanark his is the one name more closely associated with this story than any other. His name was the one referred to by the Board of Trade who found that Hiddelston’s practices merited police investigation. His was the name associated with the penny pinching and refusal to spend anything close to what was needed to allow the club to reach 1968. And his was the name blamed when things were not properly recorded or accounted for.

The fact that there is little new to report on the story and little by further revelations to be uncovered does coral your narrative but where McEwan’s journalistic leanings have truly paid off are the new voices being heard. Hiddelston does not emerge from the pages with much to redeem himself, we do, however,  get other perspectives. McEwan excels in bringing to the page, the voices of people who were there. People from the terraces can become caught in the myth and mystery but the people who spent their tentative careers, fledging lives and autumnal passages in and around the club have a very purposeful tale to tell. McEwan gives them a platform and it adds to the human disaster. There are interviews with past players, aplenty, but the real coup is the interview with Hiddelston’s son, Crawford. The voice of the former chairman may not be able to be heard as he died in the aftermath of the club folding, thus avoiding the charges being laid against him by the Board of Trade for multiple offences, but reading the effect it had upon his family, especially his wife was instructive. Whilst those fans and players are key to the memories and to the legacy, it is the inside stories which draw you in and make this such an important book.

And to the story itself. I had heard of repainting footballs white to fool referees, but I’d not believed it; it was true. I had no idea about the bath with no plug; it is true. I was sceptical over the failure to pay out to visiting clubs; it is all fact. There are multiple minor details which hinted at a bigger malaise – McEwan has documented them within their context that was obvious to those who wished to see it.

Third Lanark badge.

If there is one message, however, that is loud and clear from the book it comes from the commentary on the guidance and the governance of Scottish Football. To hear former players, claim that Hiddleston could not have died of a heart attack because he never had one is one thing or that he was just a disgrace, is another, but the role played by the Scottish footballing authorities is the emerging debate: failure to regulate, monitor and ensure fair and correct protocol is hardly new then.

But there were other villains; not least a corrupt set of directors who had colluded, were prosecuted, convicted and fined; but also, Glasgow Corporation who brought the concept of Rotten Boroughs right up to date. In the end you put down the book with a sullied hope that things should not be as bad as that now until you read over what has happened since – Airdrieonians, Clydebank, Livingston, Vladimir Romanov, Dundee, Rangers…

If Michael McEwan’s The Ghosts of Cathkin Park has taught us one thing it is not to draw a line under the past and move on but to remember that those who forget the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them. Please not again…

Donald C Stewart


(Publisher: Birlinn Books. September 2021. Hardcover: 288 pages)


Buy your copy here: The Ghosts of Cathkin Park

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Book Review – Regrets of a Football Maverick: The Terry Curran Autobiography by Terry Curran with John Brindley

Thanks to the internet, information about players from the past are available after a quick search. For instance Sheffield Wednesday fans of a certain vintage looking for Terry Curran (voted The Owls all-time Cult Hero in a poll run by the BBC), on Wikipedia will find his entry tells us that his professional playing career lasted from 1973 through to 1986, taking in sixteen clubs (including loans) here in England, as well as brief sojourns in Sweden and Greece. Whilst this is useful to an extent in a factual sense, these figures do nothing to provide a detailed picture of the man and his career, and instead raises questions such as why Curran played for so many Clubs, how did he come to play for both Sheffield teams, and what was his relationship with some of the big management names at the time, such as Brian Clough, Jack Charlton, Tommy Docherty and Howard Kendall.

These questions and more are answered in Curran’s 2012 autobiography, Regrets of a Football Maverick. The title itself is telling, with the immediate suggestion to readers that this look back on his career and life has made Curran reflect and so question some of the things he did, given that during his playing career he was a forthright and confident individual, not afraid to say his piece.

One thing to say straight away is that this is a tale from the 1970s and 80s when football and indeed society was very different to that today and as the dustjacket warns (slightly tongue-in-cheek), “Terry Curran’s story may offend the politically correct!”.

In terms of the content of the book, it follows a fairly traditional timeline, with the opening chapter dedicated to Curran’s childhood growing up in Kinsley, a village in West Yorkshire, about eight miles southeast of Wakefield. Immediately within this opening to the book, readers are provided with an insight into an event that was to impact Curran significantly. When he was just eight years old, his parents split with his mother leaving the family home. As Curran writes in the book, “emotionally I was never the same kid…Dad was heart-broken and that had a big influence on me.” This resulted in him stating that, he was “never going to allow any female to get close enough to cause me the same upset. That lack of trust stayed with me for a lot of my adult life” and goes some way to explaining why he was a self-confessed womaniser during his playing career.

The opening chapter also details how Curran came to support Sheffield Wednesday, after being hooked despite The Owls giving up a two-goal lead against Everton in the 1966 FA Cup Final. Readers also get to read about Curran’s youth career playing representative football for the South Kirby Boys District team and for Kinsley Boys which led to offers from league clubs Halifax Town and Doncaster Rovers. Curran opted for Donny given its close proximity to home and his talent was rewarded when manager Maurice Setters offered him a professional contract.

Curran made his debut for Rovers on Saturday 29 September 1973 away at Gillingham, with Doncaster losing 5-1, with a highlight during that season, playing against Liverpool in the FA Cup Third Round replay (the Merseysiders went on to lift the trophy). He was making a name for himself in more ways than one, with the Club mistakenly detailing Curran to the press as ‘Terry’ despite him being christened ‘Edward.’ Clubs were expressing interest in the promising young winger with then First Division clubs, Leeds United, Everton and Sheffield United all apparently keen to sign him. However, it was to be beside the River Trent that Curran opted for and a move to Nottingham Forest and manager Brian Clough in August 1975, then languishing in the Second Division. At the time Curran, saw it as, “a chance to play for one of the game’s greatest managers.”

Programme: Fulham v Nottingham Forest 1976/77

Curran devotes a whole chapter to his time at Forest, with his admiration for Clough and his unique style of management evident. Take Curran’s introduction to the rest of the Reds squad, with Clough telling Martin O’Neill, “I’d like to introduce you to the young man who will be taking your place on Saturday.” Curran’s second season at Forest was the 1976/77 campaign, which opened with a fixture at Craven Cottage to play Fulham. The game ended 2-2 with Curran scoring what he considers to be his best ever goal – “picking the ball up on the halfway line, I beat four defenders before lobbing the ball high into the net high beyond goalkeeper Richard Teale.” George Best (who was a football hero for Curran) was in the crowd that day having signed for the SW6 Club and said, “I was really impressed. He (Curran) is a very good player.” That season was to see Forest gain promotion to the top flight, but Curran was to miss a significant part of it with a cruciate ligament injury suffered in October 1976. Having worked his way back into the side in March, the relationship at Forest began to break down with Curran dropped from the team in the run-in and little playing time at the start of the 1977/78 season as the Club took the First Division by storm to finish the campaign as Champions. By the time the title was being lifted at the City Ground, Curran was at Derby County under the watch of Tommy Docherty.

As Forest went onto be European Champions twice and win numerous other domestic trophies under Clough and Taylor it was a case of what have been for Curran. If he had got his head down and waited and remained injury-free, who is to say he might have got a regular place in the side. As Curran reflects, “If only I could have put an older head on my young shoulders. I turned my back on one of the most successful sides of that generation – any generation.”

Curran’s stay at the Baseball Ground was a brief one with 26 appearances and two goals for The Rams and acknowledged, “I didn’t play as consistently well as I know I could have.” Curran’s main other observation from his time at Deby was that “I don’t think Tommy (Docherty) adjusted to the culture shock of…the real world at Derby after being a constant source of national attention at Old Trafford.” So as the 1978/79 campaign started, Curran swapped the East Midlands for Hampshire at Lawrie McMenemy’s Southampton in what was to prove another one season stay.

Programme 1978-79 League Cup Final

It was both a positive and negative experience. On the one-hand it saw Curran make his one and only appearance in a Final at Wembley, as the Saints lost to Forest 3-2, and strike up a great friendship with 1966 World Cup winner, Alan Ball, but on the other, witnessed a difficult relationship with the Southampton boss. Curran’s criticism was centred on McMenemy’s inability to motivate the dressing room and over-reliance on the senior players within the squad which was detrimental to the younger Saint talent. It was also at Southampton that Curran first encountered cortisone injections to deal with pain in his right leg. Like many other players at the time, they were in common use, and it was only years later that the consequences for ex-players has come to light with the overuse of the treatment.

Curran’s beginning of the end at The Dell comes about in strange circumstances. With Southampton having just beaten Leeds United in the League Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg, and whilst out celebrating, Curran is ‘approached’ by Jack Charlton who was then manager of Sheffield Wednesday to drop down two divisions to play at Hillsborough. Despite McMenemy’s plans to make some money out of a deal to send Curran to play football in the United States, in March 1979 The Owls signed Curran.

Programme: The Boxing Day Massacre 1979/80

Given that the blue and white of Wednesday had run through Curran’s veins since he was a young boy perhaps it is no shock that his time in S6 was the happiest of his career. During his stint at the Club he helped them to promotion from the Third Division in the 1979/80 campaign, finishing with 24 league goals and claiming the Divisional Golden Boot Award. One game stands out from that season, a performance that went a long way to giving Curran his Cult-hero status at Hillsborough – the ‘Boxing Day Massacre’ as he destroyed Sheffield United 4-0 in front of a third-tier record gate of 49,309. In the following season Wednesday looked good going into the final part of the campaign for a real tilt at promotion to the top flight, but fell away, with Curran critical of Jack Charlton’s lack of spending in the transfer market. Their relationship continued to be fractious with an infamous scrap between them in the Club gym a sign of the different ways the men view how the game should be played. It came to a head when Curran’s three year deal at Wednesday ended, with the management refusing to meet the new contract demands. Out of the blue, Wednesday’s cross-city rivals Sheffield United came in for Curran, who admits that for the first time in his career he moved for the money.

It proved to be a short and pretty unhappy stay at Bramall Lane, with Curran unimpressed by the coaching and training at the Club and both sets of fans in Sheffield less than enamoured with the maverick winger. Salvation came with a loan spell to First Division Everton during the 1982/83 season. This was made permanent in the following campaign, but once again Curran’s luck was out, picking up an injury in September 1983 that kept him out of the game until April 1984. Having worked his way back to fitness and playing in the FA Cup Semi-Final win over Southampton, the Twin Towers beckoned for Curran. However, three weeks before the Final, he suffered a hamstring injury and with it went any chance of an appearance in an FA Cup Final. Everton were becoming a force and in 1984/85 went onto to become First Division winners. Curran played enough games to earn a medal, but once again his emotional nature landed him in serious trouble and an exit from Goodison Park.

With injuries ahead of a European Cup Winners Cup Semi-Final First Leg in Munich, Curran believed his chances of starting the game were good but wanted this confirmed in training. Howard Kendall said he wouldn’t make a decision until shortly before kick-off, so Curran decided that he wasn’t prepared to go to the airport and travel with the squad. He was never selected in the starting line-up or on the bench again. As Curran reflects, “a crazy decision had once again sealed my exit from a great football club, and I was the obvious loser.” Left with no real option, Curran asked for a free transfer and for the 1985/86 season found himself back in Yorkshire at Huddersfield Town.

This move was effectively the beginning of the end of Curran’s career, with injuries taking a toll on his ability to play week-in, week-out. Despite that he managed seven goals in just over thirty appearances for The Terriers. Retirement though beckoned and over the next few years (1986 – 1989) Curran played for seven clubs (Panionios [Greece], Hull City, Sunderland, Grantham Town, Grimsby Town, Chesterfield and Goole Town) but only making a handful of appearances for each. Whilst at Goole he also managed the team, with fate once again proving unkind to Curran, as the financial position of the Club collapsed leading to the eventual demise of Goole Town. He then tried his hand with Mossley in 1992/93, but it proved to another difficult and brief spell in the dug-out with seven defeats in seven games and inevitably the sack.

At that point Curran walked away from football and went into business. Once again like his football career, he seems to have had more than his fair share of back luck, with a lucrative land sale becoming complicated and ending in a protracted legal case. Back in 2012 when the book was written, Curran was living a more settled life with partner Lynne and two sons, Tom and Jock and had done his coaching badges and was working at the Doncaster Rovers Centre Excellence.

For all the tales of on and off-field shenanigans, fall-outs, goals and girls, there is a serious side to this book. And Curran talks with honesty and openness about the mistakes he made in his playing career and in his personal life, and the implications of his series of injuries and his tempestuous and at times impetuous nature. The reality is that it takes courage and strength to admit when we are wrong and even more to put it into print and make it public.

Therefore the final word should go to Curran himself. “I was supposed to be the rebel who played as if tomorrow didn’t exist. The truth was…that I underachieved. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened had I not suffered that terrible injury at Forest and if I’d stayed injury-free when I got my last big chance in the game at Everton. But mostly I got it wrong myself. I picked too many arguments, ruffled too many feathers and took too many wrong turnings.”


(Publisher: Vertical Editions. October 2012. Hardcover: 272 pages)


Buy the book here: Terry Curran – Regrets of a Football Maverick

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Book Review – Hooked: Addiction and the Long Road to Recovery by Paul Merson

In recent years, Paul Merson has stuck his head above the parapet to speak openly, honestly, movingly and at times heartbreakingly about his struggles with addiction, and his latest book, Hooked, delves more deeply into these issues, his troublesome relationship with alcohol, drugs and gambling and his long and continuing road to recovery. For all of the brilliance of the man on the pitch, his greatest contribution may be off it, with a book that helps readers understand the illness that is addiction and hopefully speaks to those who really need it.

Merson’s life has arguably been defined by two things: football and addiction, so it’s no surprise that these two themes are the centrepiece of this book. But in many ways, as in his life itself, football takes a back seat to the narrative of addiction. Indeed, whilst football may have seemed like the crux of Merson’s life, he explains how addiction, in fact, overrode everything. A shy and somewhat anxious young footballer who was thrust into the big leagues as a mere teenager at Arsenal, Merson soon found confidence in alcohol and a release in gambling, but just as his career would take off, so too would his addictions. And what strikes you is whether more could have been done to help a young Merson navigate such a formative stage in his life and his career, to have guided him down a very different path, bringing to mind that opening line in Robert Frost’s poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ – ‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood’. This was, of course, the 1980s, when drinking culture in particular was synonymous with football, and Arsenal’s infamous Tuesday Club would become the epitome – or nadir – of that culture, and for Merson there was no better – or, rather, no worse – place for him to be. I’d like to think that things have changed and there is a lot more support and guidance now, especially for young footballers coming through as still impressionable adolescents, but sadly this certainly wasn’t the case back then. And whilst it’s heartening to hear Merson speak with such respect for the likes of George Graham and Bryan Robson who did what they could to try to help, the system and the organisation just wasn’t set up then to assist players, leaving them to their own destructive devices.

Merson’s road to recovery has been a long and difficult one and it’s easy to pick up on his insecurities, his vulnerabilities and his weaknesses, but also his determination and his hope, although what is also painfully clear is that addiction is a daily struggle. Indeed, what Merson communicates so effectively, I think, is addiction as a disease. As the American Medical Association defined, it is not a behaviour problem or just the result of making bad choices, but a chronic brain disorder. Once addicts and non-addicts alike begin to accept and understand this a lot more, greater support and empathy should follow, but still addiction seems to be treated as a taboo, and that can’t help anybody. Paul Merson has done a lot in recent times to advance discussions and break down barriers, even when battling against his own addictions, and I think he deserves a lot of respect and credit for fighting for both himself and others, especially when it comes to tackling gambling addiction. His BBC 1 documentary, Football, Gambling and Me, was both an eye-opening and heart-rending look at this lesser-addressed, but arguably more insidious problem, which he explains in this book is the invisible enemy, less obvious and more secretive than the obvious outward displays of alcoholism or drug abuse. It is the addiction that has possibly cost him the most, both materially and financially – he doesn’t skirt around detailing the mammoth sums he lost, not to boast or to brag about the money he was on, but rather to demonstrate just how the disease completely took over – but also socially, having robbed him of brilliant moments in life, with football and family.

What comes across so poignantly in this book is that Merson was just an ordinary boy with an extraordinary talent thrust into a man’s world when still himself just a youth without the mechanisms or support in place to guide him or help him cope and he’s struggled ever since to battle his addictions and find respite and inner peace. It’s great to hear that he’s finally overcoming the disease but it’s also moving to see that every day has its challenges. Football has always been his salvation and I, for one, love him as a pundit and am glad to see him still finding reprieve in the beautiful game. A supremely talented football, Merson’s legacy should comprise all of his heroics on the pitch, but this book and his work to further the discussion around addiction is a symbol of his real heroism. He has proven himself to be a brave, strong and top man, but what is so endearing is that he’s the footballer, the pro, the pundit, that you’d want to sit down with and discuss football, because you know he’d been himself – open, honest, knowledgeable and good fun. Until that day when I get to sit with the man himself, I’ll continue to enjoy his input on TV, with absolute respect for his courage, empathy of his issues and belief in his journey. But if I do ever get to sit down with him, there will be one pressing matter from this book to tackle first – honestly, Paul, not Chelsea? I guess, we’ve all got our flaws.

Jade Craddock


(Publisher: Headline. September 2021. Hardcover: 304 pages)


Buy the book here: Paul Merson: Hooked

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Book Review – Francis Benali: The Autobiography: Football Man to Iron Fran

It is a well-known fact that footballers’ careers are relatively short (unless you’re Rivaldo, Sheringham or Paolo Maldini, all of whom played for a remarkable 25 seasons – a whole quarter of a century). So when it comes to hanging up the boots, there is an inevitable and marked void to fill. Unsurprisingly, a number of players have struggled with the transition to post-football life, whilst others kick back and enjoy a well-earned rest. What they don’t do is to decide to take up endurance sport – that is, aside from Francis Benali. And there’s endurance sport and endurance sport. Not satisfied with a ‘simple’ marathon, the former Saints man took on three challenges of truly superhuman effort and all in the name of a good cause. His autobiography, aptly subtitled Football Man to Iron Fran, charts this incredible journey.

Whilst I was familiar with the name Francis Benali, I wasn’t at all familiar with his career or his story, but two things quickly become apparent in his autobiography: one, he’s Southampton through and through, and two, on the pitch he was a very different beast to off it. Moulded from a striker into a full-back renowned for his tenacity, Benali was more accustomed to a red card than a goal. An unyielding and uncompromising defender, he earnt himself something of a reputation, but his willingness to the tackle was simply his manifestation of his commitment to the cause and the Southampton badge. Although, admittedly, it didn’t always stay within the letter of the law.

Growing up within view of the Dell, his passion for his hometown club was something that was ingrained in him from childhood and translated into a work ethic and loyalty that saw him progress through the academy into the first team, turning his dream into a reality. In a modern era when players tend to be snapped up from all over by clubs and hometown talents are increasingly few and far between, Benali’s genuine allegiance and love for his team is sadly ever more rare. Even as the Premier League behemoth raised its head, Benali’s priority remained loyalty over money, staying at Saints, despite losing his place in his latter years, for almost twenty years, boy and man. This in itself is real Roy of the Rovers stuff, worthy of a footballing autobiography, but in fact, it’s his post-football life that is truly remarkable.

As with many pros before him, Benali attests to the difficulty of ending his playing days. It’s something that has been given more prominence in recent years after the struggles of some have been highlighted, but it’s still something that needs to be addressed. With limited opportunities in media, management and coaching, there is a real issue over what happens to the majority of footballers as they try to navigate a new life. Benali’s first steps were in coaching, but it didn’t fill the void, and it was only when he completed his first marathon that he began to contemplate a different path. A very different and a very long path. In fact, a path that was some 838 miles long – almost the length of the British Isles!

Having seen others complete epic endurance challenges for charity, Benali began to wonder just what his own physical boundaries were and came up with the idea of running to all 20 Premier League grounds, setting himself the target of raising £1 million for charity. Mission accomplished after three testing weeks, Benali wasn’t done there. It seemed his physical boundaries were barely in sight after only 838 miles. Naturally, a second challenge was conjured up, tougher and further than the last. This time, Benali set out to cover 1,415 miles – roughly the distance from London to Tripoli, if you fancy it – taking in the 44 Premier League and Championship grounds, this time on a combination of foot and bike. Whilst this pushed Benali yet further, miraculously his physical boundaries remained very much intact, and even more surprising he hadn’t reached his £1 million charity target. To my mind, the first challenge alone warranted the donations. Nevertheless, a third challenge was concocted, which would see Benali add a third discipline to his roster, to create the Iron Fran challenge. A mere 984 miles this time, but 16 of those were to be swum, 784 cycled and 183 run… in the space of a week. Physical boundaries would be well and truly breached this time round, but with genuinely superhuman efforts he got there. And whilst modern-day footballers may be deemed supreme athletes, few athletes of any kind could achieve what Benali did.

The end of a footballer’s career can often be a difficult and unsettling time, physically and mentally, and it is rare that they build significantly on their legacy. Their life on the pitch often proves to be the peak of their powers and their stature, and many former greats slide right out of people’s consciousness once the boots are hung up. But Francis Benali has done the opposite, making a modest name for himself before retiring from football and cementing it after.

Jade Craddock


(Publisher: Bloomsbury Sport. August 2021. Hardcover: 240 pages)


Buy the book here: Francis Benali

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