Book Review: Scotball by Stephen O’Donnell

Scotball is Stephen O’Donnell’s second novel following on from Paradise Road which was published in 2012.

This second offering has links to O’Donnell’s debut book, with Scotball having as its central character Peter Fitzpatrick. In Paradise Road Fitzpatrick leaves his native Scotland to sample life in the Czech Republic, but here returns with his Czech wife to Glasgow five years later.

In need of a job he returns briefly to the world of finance, but has a burning desire to carve himself a new career path and decides to put together a proposal for a football discussion programme.

The idea is accepted and the topical and forthright show called, The Scottish Football Debate comes to fruition with Fitzpatrick as the host. It proves to be popular and is nicknamed Scotball (hence the title of the book).

The programme is used as a vehicle to explore the state of football in Scotland, with topics such as the national side, refereeing standards, women’s football and the impact of the media featured within the various episodes of the show.

What also breaks in news-terms during the lifetime of Scotball is the significant story that is the financial crisis at Rangers. Fitzpatrick though is a Celtic fan and therefore his views are unashamedly tinged with green and white with regard to anything relating to their city neighbours.

The author (through Fitzpatrick) is also not afraid to debate and reflect on broader issues such as community, the economy and politics which impact the game. This means that whilst the book has an obvious attraction for football fans, Scotball also has a wider appeal as it touches on everyday life in modern-day Scotland. As with Paradise Road, O’Donnell uses Glaswegian vernacular to provide the reader with an authentic narrative voice which also delivers honesty and humour to another thought provoking novel.


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2013 UEFA Women’s Under 17 Finals: [02 December 2013] Group B – Scotland v France (Proact Stadium, Chesterfield FC)

Scotland (0) 0 – 1 (0) France [Julie Marichaud (62)]

In this last round of games in Group B, France were already eliminated having lost to Spain and Germany. Scotland though had an outside chance of progressing if they beat France and Spain beat Germany in the other fixture.

As it was, neither game went that way. Germany thumped Spain 4-0 at Hinckley and Scotland lost 1-0.

The crucial goal came on sixty-two minutes, when from a corner French captain Julie Marichaud finished with a sweetly struck volley.

It left Scotland bottom of the Group, but with France ending on a high.


Scotland: Rebecca Flaherty, Courtney Whyte, Sarah Clelland (Dana Baird – 73), Georgie Rafferty (C), Abigail Harrison, Kirsty Howat, Alyshia Walker, Carla Jackson (Rachel McLauchlan – 54), Hayley Sinclair (Chelsea Cornet – 69), Erin Cuthbert, Chantelle Brown. Unused substitutes: Laura Hamilton, Sarah Robertson, Lia Tweedie, Carla Boyce.

France: Mylène Chavas, Estelle Cascarino, Julie Marichaud (C), Elise Legrout, Delphine Cascarino, Clara Mateo, Mathilde Jouanno (Perle Morroni – 77), Soazig Quero, Clémence Martinez (Salomé Elisor – 53), Manon Uffren, Anissa Lahmari. Unused substitutes: Elisa Launay, Heloise Mansuy, Ludivine Willems, Laura Condon, Marine Julian.


Post-match Interviews

Scotland Women’s Under 17s Coach – Pauline Hamill


Q: A good game, were you pleased with your sides performance?

A: I think we can perform better if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, but when you are in such a tough group and I think the girls felt it physically today. Coming off the back of playing against Germany and Spain and then having to play against France, I just think physically they struggled. But they gave their all again, and they give me everything all the time and I can’t ask for any more than that.

Q: The French coach previously mentioned about the travelling times from St George’s Park, was that an issue at all? Would you like the venues closer overall?

A: I think maybe going forward that might be something to improve the tournament, but I don’t think overall it was an issue for us today. I think it has nothing to do how we lost the game or not performing as highly as we have, but of course it’s always better if the venues are closer to where you are staying. I think all the teams would probably agree with that.

Q: What about the facilities themselves?

A: It has honestly been different class being at St George’s. We’ve absolutely loved it. It’s been great. Like I said, for me, it’s maybe something to improve the tournament moving forward. But it’s not an issue playing after travelling an hour on the bus. I don’t think personally it is an issue.

Q: What about the individual stadium and pitches?

A: Great, Yes, I think they’ve all been good. I think we’ve been fortunate to experience three different pitches. All the staff and everybody have made us feel very welcome and I think they’ve all passed comment on how good the players have been in and around the situation. The fact we got to play in three different stadiums has been really good for us and our development as a team as well.

Q: What do you think the legacy of the tournament will be?

A: I think that when you see so many girls – with the tournament extended to eight teams, when it was four previously – performing at a high level for their national teams I would hope it inspires other girls to play. I know if there have been any girls at any of the games – I know England’s games have been really well supported – you hope and you can only believe that more girls will take up the game and see the level that you can get to as a youth international player. A lot of the players at these Youth tournaments go on and represent their country further down the line, so it’s absolutely achievable if they come in at this age group that they can come in and do well in international football.


France Women’s Under 17s Coach – Guy Ferrier


Q: What’s your feeling about the game today?

A: We’re really happy about the victory, but not only the victory, but the quality of our game. During our first two matches in this tournament we didn’t play all that well, but today we controlled the game.

Q: What have you thought of the tournament as a whole?

A: It is very well organised. We were in perfect conditions at St George’s Park. We didn’t have to travel to go to training which is a good point. The only thing was that the stadiums were a bit away from St George’s Park. But we congratulate the organisation, especially for such young girls.

Q: What does the next year hold for this group of players?

A: This tournament was in November and December and the next will not begin until September 2015. We won’t go in the First Round, we will go in the Elite Round, so that’s March 2015 and it’s a long way off. Some of the girls might join the Under 19 team but that’s not for sure. Having been knocked out of the tournament here early, we don’t qualify for the World Cup [Costa Rica – March/April 2014]. This was a good opportunity for the girls to learn more and take part in a high level of football. They were a bit surprised at the beginning of the tournament to meet such great teams.  So now they don’t have any official competition, we might have some friendlies, but it will be a long year.

Q: Who do you think will win the tournament now?

A: If we look at the game against us, Germany is a great team. Although today they lost 4-0 against Spain. Also Italy – we had some friendly games against them in September. We had hoped and planned to play against Italy in the Final, but it didn’t work out that way. Spain are also a good team and will probably qualify for the World Cup.

The Scottish team is very good – excellent – a very brave team. They gave everything in the game they should be very proud.

Book Review: The Fabulous Baker Boys: The Greatest Strikers Scotland Never Had by Tom Maxwell

When England manager Roy Hodgson recently suggested that he would be monitoring the progress of Manchester United’s Belgian youngster Adnan Januzaj, the issue of international player eligibility was once more in the news.

Nowadays in this country, supporters are used to seeing players born in different countries turning out for England whether it is football, cricket, rugby league or rugby union. However, the rules governing eligibility have not always been as they are now and this issue is central to the latest book by Tom Maxwell, ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys: The Greatest Strikers Scotland Never Had’.

In 1938, George and Lizzie Baker were living in New York and on 11 April that year their first child Gerry Austin Baker was born. However, when the Second World War broke out in September 1939, the family returned to England to settle in Liverpool, where in July 1940, Joseph Henry Baker was born. Merseyside wasn’t to remain home for long, as the Germans blitzed the port area of Liverpool. Six weeks after Joe was born, Lizzie took the young boys to Wishaw near Motherwell and this was where the family settled and grew up.

Both boys were talented young players and in 1955 Gerry made his debut for Chelsea in the Southern Professional Floodlit Cup. In the same year, Joe played for Scotland Schoolboys playing against England and Wales. However, from this point the path the brothers journeyed on was not as might have been predicted.

Joe was never to pull on the blue shirt of Scotland after 1955 and instead because of the place of his birth, it was ruled he could only play international football for England. So it was that Joe went on to make 5 appearances (scoring 4 goals) for the Under 23s and gained 8 full caps (scoring 3 goals). Indeed Joe played in the opening England game in January 1966, although ultimately he was destined not to be part of the World Cup squad.

In terms of his club career, Joe was widely regarded wherever he played. He started his professional career with Hibernian and in four seasons, amassed 141 goals. This lead to a single season stint at Torino, where he was seriously injured in a car crash, in which Dennis Law was also involved. Baker returned to England and had an impressive four season stay at Arsenal where Joe scored 100 goals. However, partway through his last season at Highbury (1965/66) he moved onto Nottingham Forest and stayed at the City Ground until 1968/69. His tally of 49 goals might not have been as prolific as his returns at his other clubs, but Joe became something of a cult figure down by the Trent. With Joe approaching his 30th birthday he moved to Sunderland for the 1969/70 season as his career started to wind down. The following season he returned to Scotland and Hibernian, finally retiring from playing in 1973/74 after a two season stint at Raith Rovers. Joe’s record makes incredible reading, as from 615 club appearances he scored 372 goals – an outstanding return.

Brother Gerry never settled at Chelsea and returned to Motherwell. However, he found opportunities difficult to come by and he moved to St. Mirren scoring an impressive 66 goals in 81 games. His exploits attracted clubs in England and Gerry had a two season spell at Manchester City before returning to Scotland and Hibernian in 1961/62, just as Joe left the club. However in 1963/64, Gerry left Easter Road and once more moved ‘south of the border’ to help Ipswich Town gain promotion from Division Two, enjoying a productive spell at Portman Road, before moving to Coventry City. It was whilst at the Sky Blues that Gerry gained international honours for the USA. He played in 7 games for the land of his birth, scoring twice and was part of the side that fell short of qualifying for the 1970 World Cup Finals in Mexico. Gerry ended his professional career at Brentford in the 1969/70 season before playing for Margate (as player-manager), Nuneaton Borough, Bedworth United and Worcester City. Gerry’s club career saw him score a highly impressive 201 goals from 409 games.

Writer Tom Maxwell tells the story of their respective remarkable careers in an engaging and intimate way. The excellent research and quotes from the brothers and players of the era, means this book is a personal yet interesting insight into football during the 1950s and 60s both in Scotland and England.

But for the eligibility rules of the late 1950s, Scotland would have had a very different international forward line.

Between them, 1,024 appearances, 573 goals – ‘the Fabulous Baker Boys’ indeed.


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Leeds United: Destiny and Pudsey

Sunday – the day of rest – getting up late, a bacon butty and coffee in bed. What more can a man want? How does going round an Antique Fair in Pudsey sound? Not convinced? Well the thing is you just never know. As I wandered aimlessly past the stalls, I found a folder labelled ‘football programmes’. I have to come clean and say football programmes are a weakness of mine. The house is groaning under the weight of my collection from 38 years of watching football. So it was with some excitement that I flicked through the binder. There were only probably 20 to 25 programmes contained and most were Cup Finals and International programmes that I already possess. However, I came across one in particular that I was drawn to.

“The Football Association of Wales, INTERMEDIATE INTERNATIONAL MATCH, Wales v Scotland, Wednesday 30th November 1966, Racecourse Ground, Wrexham, Kick off 7-15pm, Official Programme – Price Sixpence” .

I have to be honest and say that I didn’t know what an “…Intermediate…” match alluded to, but on looking at the editorial inside it explained it was an Under 23 fixture. The programme itself was nothing exceptional, an 8 page white programme with bold black print, containing the editorial, team line-ups and pen pictures of the two teams. In looking at the classic 2-3-5 team lay out, I noticed that there were two Leeds United players in opposition. Number 9 for Wales was D. Hawkins and number 6 for Scotland was E.Gray. The pen pictures provided the following information:

DENNIS HAWKINS (Leeds United) – Centre Forward; Like team-mate Gary Sprake is Swansea-born; it would appear Leeds have a liking for this part of the Principality since they signed John Charles straight from a Swansea school! Only one first team appearance to date but is well thought of by manager Don Revie. Welsh Schoolboy International. Has a younger brother who plays in the current Swansea Schoolboy team.

EDWIN GRAY (Leeds United) – Left Half; From Glasgow schools football to Leeds three years ago. Players inside forward and on the left wing as well as wing half. Skilful dribbler.

I was intrigued as to who Dennis Hawkins was, so promptly paid a pound for this little gem of a programme. Once home, straight onto the PC to discover more about this player. Thanks to the internet I discovered the following. Dennis Hawkins was a Welsh inside forward who played professionally in the sixties and early seventies, and won six caps for his country’s Under 23 side. After developing in the youth team at Leeds United, and realising that his first team chances within such a strong squad would be limited, he left to join Shrewsbury Town. In all he made 58 appearances for the Gay Meadow club. During this period he was loaned to both Chester and Workington. He finished his league career at Newport.

Dennis played for Leeds United on only two occasions and in a career from 1966 to 1972 played in just 92 games scoring 12 goals. Eddie Gray on the other hand turned out to be a Leeds legend with 577 appearances and 68 goals. Where does all this lead? If you were at that game, or indeed were Dennis or Eddie at the time, you had no idea what the future held. That game was about that moment in time, two men from the same club on opposite sides, both representing their country at Under 23 level. Did they ponder what the future held for them, did the crowd that day have the same thoughts? These two players with similar paths were to have very different destinies and so for Leeds United fans, only one of these two men will be remembered. Fate dictated that Eddie Gray became a Leeds Legend, a man still involved with the club today. Dennis unfortunately never became one of the greats of the Revie era.

So as you watch Leeds United in these last two remaining League games, consider what fate has in store. Will history recall that this was the team that blew automatic promotion and then collapsed in the Play-Offs or had the character to clinch promotion at last. What of the Leeds players themselves? Is this their chance at fame or infamy? Eddie Gray and David Hawkins, two players, one club – two very different outcomes.