Book Review: A Life Well Red – A memoir edged in black – a true story of family, friends & football, of joy and tragedy by Les Jackson

I confess that I dived straight into this without reading any of the back page. I began to read about a time forgotten but well remembered, a written biography of an ordinary fan, in an ordinary life. It’s all about the value of family, growing up and the attraction that football holds for its community. It felt comfortable and comforting, but after a while I had to ask myself why someone would write this, and a publishing house would publish it, so I consulted the chapter headings.

A single chapter with a single date.

As sense of fear and foreboding dwelled. But it was a Liverpool fan and there are two dates which resonate. Neither chimed with the date in the book. And then I read the back page and discovered why it had been written.

Tom Jackson, Les and San’s eldest boy was murdered in Australia. A red through and through from a red family, this is the story of where he came from and how the sport of football gave him and his family memories that have sustained them and helped others to get through a tragedy that is truly heart-breaking.

I have read better written tales and I have abandoned worst misery memoirs, but by the end of this I knew a Tom who was full of life, dedicated to his club and who was passionately remembered and missed by a loving family. As an emotional tribute from a father, this was clearly – job done.

Though the pandemic gave Les an opportunity to write it, and the reason for putting fingers on keys is tragic, it is not without humour. There are many moments of light relief and when I noted the key to a potential trivia question, no spoilers here, I am using it, I realised not that this was someone who had got over their tragedy, but who had found perspective and was now sharing it. So let me, in that spirit pose another. Which footballing legend was present at three of the biggest tragedies in British football and what were their roles at each? Heysel, Ibrox and Hillsborough. (Answer at the end.)

As a Scot, your relationship with English football can be based upon quite arbitrary decisions. I followed Liverpool for a variety of reasons in the eighties. Firstly, as an Ayrshire man, I was made aware of the Glenbuck man who had revolutionized the fortunes of a second division team he then led to league glory. I still pass both the turn off to the village and the new colourful memorial in Muirkirk to Bill Shankly on a regular basis. Secondly, having watched with awe the development of a young lad from Troon who was clearly destined for bigger things, my interest peaked when we sold Stevie Nicol for a then club record of £300,000 to Liverpool. I was also not too keen on Brian Clough at the time so whilst most of my mates liked Nottingham Forest, I couldn’t stand them.

But such an affinity takes you so far. Having begun the book with a curiosity, where it works best for me is the personal story. I became embroiled, not just in the way in which the football team was followed but the effect it had upon Les and his family. I get the walk round the houses rather than sit and listen to the game on the radio – though I still listen, I get the desire not to miss out on the big games, the, often, ridiculous ways in which you try and make sure you can be where you need to be to hear and see what you want to hear and see too.

Les adds colour to the bigger occasions by the peculiar and personal recollections of what a young child will do to an icing set, John Manning, his arch nemesis at chess, Mr. Matson, the teacher who introduced him to the game, the reason Tim would have been a suitable nickname growing up and the closeness of a club where you could end up in a kickabout with a player – even if he was a blue. It is telling the tale of a time long forgotten by some but treasured by a generation and whilst it is pleasing to read of the years attending a uniformed organization – the Boys Brigade – which does not include any scandal, it serves as more than a piece of social history with which to bore the grandkids. It also reminds us of why the game has such and enduring relationship to us – it mattered, because it was what dominated our lives. It seeped into us not just because there were few alternatives, but because it was there – close to us and accessible.

There are times when the story resonates more – his first match saw Leicester City with Peter Shilton in goal – as was mine, questionable fashion choices around a time when the bombshell of Shankly retiring whilst mine was when Ally MacLeod went to take on Scotland, discovering your child – in his case, Tom – had a potentially dangerous ailment, dermatomyositis – different ailment, same trauma for me, and the Orange Lodge Days which for us in the West Coast of Scotland have an altogether more fiery outcome and significance. But you don’t need to be “of a certain age” to understand or enjoy this. People are coloured in, and the issues are widened out for you to understand. In short, you are taken on a journey where all becomes clear as you are travelling and not awaiting a major reveal at the end of it all.

The Hillsborough section caught my attention most. Les was there, and as he acknowledges there are plenty of other legacy tales which cover the pain and tragedies which unfolded. Justice for the 97 is well served but, as someone who follows English football avidly, the chapter on Hillsborough gave vital context. Why the ground was used, what other semi-finals had been there and why it had become a significant chapter in the book of any year was exactly what has been missing for many football fans. I got it.

It underlined why the personal stories were so important. What happened can only be understood in the context of what was lost. Not the memories but the expectations that those memories built. You may always have Istanbul, but you knew there was always the opportunity for another one. With new members of the family arriving, there shall be new memories, different and equally valued. But different.

As the story weaves through finding San, his soulmate and Tom’s mum, jobs in various parts of the country the significance of a central part of your life – Anfield becomes increasingly important. It not only centres your week, it holds your entire focus. If all else fails, you can go and collect cups in May…

It is therefore the success that eluded Liverpool which becomes important as much as the success they had. This is a story which is framed around a club but also informs the narrative. If you are expecting a story that takes you season by season, game by game, this is not it. The totality of the effect of the seasons is measured personally and as Dan arrives and Liverpool progress it allows the Disneyland Paris trip, the Barcelona visit and European excursions become about the core reason for writing this – the family.

That family is constantly extended, not just by the inclusion of new close family members but by colleagues and acquaintances who may be able to barbecue better than Les as well as provide the type of support which you wish never to have to rely on but are immensely grateful when it is there.

And then I arrived at the chapter.

23rd of August 2016.

Tom had gone to experience Australia and when there was staying in a hostel. One night he went to the aid of a young woman being attacked. The attacker turned on Tom and of the three, only one survived. It was neither victim of the attacker.

From the message received that he was in hospital, that supportive cast of characters kicked in. Les went to Australia, and after a period of time, brought Tom home. I cannot do justice to the expression of pain dripping from each page nor to the pride felt when Tom was recognised by friends, governments and former schools. There are too many clichés to be avoided over what a parent should expect regarding their children, but here there is genuine emotion well expressed. That the book, near the end talks of how the attacker has now been released and may be walking free back in his home country of France does not send Les into apoplexy but his understated angst.  Is. Completely. Clear.

The ending of the book manages the positive and when Les is pontificating on the game, the passion has continued but it does not quite work as well. Les is hobby horsing a bit. I can forgive that. You could forgive much, but to do so would be to treat this as a sympathy review of a piece of work that has true meaning. It’s well written and it tells the tale well. I am glad I got to read it in the end. You should make the effort to do so too.

And as for the trivial question – Sir Kenny Dalglish, Rangers supporter at Ibrox, Liverpool player at Heysel and Liverpool manager at Hillsborough. Small world, right enough…

Donald C Stewart


(Publisher: Independently published. March 2021. Paperback: 296 pages)


The Official Rangers Story celebrates the rich history of Rangers FC, one of the oldest and most successful football clubs in the world.

This is the story of a special city, the story of the birth of football and of a club that is revered by fans throughout the world. It is a story of humble beginnings in 19th-century Glasgow that charts the development of the ‘Association game’ in Scotland.

Drawing on 36 years of research, the author tells of the triumphs – a record number of Scottish championships and victory in Europe – but also of the disasters, like the 1902 and 1971 Ibrox tragedies, each reverberating throughout the UK.

The book explores the importance of men such as Struth, Souness, Smith and Gerrard, who with determination and ambition built this great club and its traditions. Then there were the great players such as Baxter, Gascoigne, and Laudrup.

It is no wonder Rangers has followers worldwide, each carrying the emotional attachment of their fathers and grandfathers before them. To them the club is everything – the beginning and the end.


(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. August 2022. Hardcover: 304 pages)

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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