Book Review – Aberdeen Greatest Games: The Dons’ Fifty Finest Matches by Kevin Sterling

Aberdeen are a powerhouse. One of only two teams in Scotland who have never been relegated, they have been there or thereabouts in cups, leagues and European competition for a long, long time. Kevin Stirling has brought 50 of their finest 90 minutes to print with a clear love for the club and for the people behind it.

As a club – aside from the 1980s and more of that later – there are plenty of cup triumphs and stories around their formation as well as more recent and more modest examples of their role at the pinnacle of Scottish football. As such there is a lot for a non-Aberdeen fan, like me, to relish. There are stories of yore including the Great Mystery scandal, their first Cup Final experience in front of a crowd of “at least” 146,433, a tour to South Africa in the 1930s by boat, their first cup final win in 1947 in front of a more modest 135,000, their engagement in the Scottish Qualifying Cup, the Victory Cup and the USA Presidents Cup, the emergence of one Teddy Scott from Sunnybank, their first floodlit match in Leeds, their first championship in ’55 and then the troubles of ’56 before the start of two defining decades. The 1970s began with a Scottish Cup and the 1980s ended with one of the most successful spells in Aberdeen history thanks to two Alexs – Sir Alex Ferguson and Alex Smith – who in 1990 ended the decade as they began 20 years before – with a Scottish Cup win.

As a fan of another club, I was obviously interested to see how a couple of ex-players fared as managers, Sir Alex Ferguson I knew, but Ally MacLeod, who had a successful spell at the club in the mid-1970s before the ignominy of Argentina as boss of Scotland, is very well treated here. I was glad to see that there is a degree of affection for his time in a balanced manner. But it is not for that reason alone that I enjoyed the book.

The level of detail and the overview suggests that Kevin Stirling, author of many books on the club before this one could easily expand this from 50 matches to an official history of the club. His research is meticulous and especially during the early years it is well added to by the detail from interviews with former players from a variety of sources. Having to delve into an archive over a century ago is tough when delivering any history and news reports can be difficult to find. Here, there is a rich seem of interviews from more recent times which have been brought to the fore in the telling of these tales.

It may be noticeable that the stories stop in 2015, and 23 of the 50 are in the Ferguson/Smith eras – each one difficult to argue over their inclusion – as the time of European triumph in particular can feel like an albatross around the neck of any recent manager. Aberdeen, under Ferguson, is the only Scottish club to win two European Cups and their involvement in European has never come close to equalling that.

In choosing the 50 matches to be included, selection would have been a nightmare and favourites were probably jettisoned along the way. Within that criteria, context would be key but also greatest games need an element of excitement. Gothenburg may well be the pinnacle and Cup Finals and the clinching of championships the obvious choices but games where there is the finest comeback, the most runaway win, or the best example of how they play would be great; the rest are significant. On occasion, the telling of the game itself plays second fiddle to the context in which it was played, and you feel the significance is what made it great rather than the football played. I would have liked more of the roar of the crowd and the excitement of the bleak October rain as a backdrop to the game that made their season.

It is, however, a minor gripe, as this grips you. For an Aberdeen fan it will clearly grip them more than I, but it taught me a massive amount, not least that I should continue to be comforted that things were not always a two horse race and there may always be hope for us all – as long as it doesn’t kill is first!

Donald C Stewart

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. March 2023. Hardcover: 288 pages)


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Three Games in May takes us all the way back to Manchester United’s final three matches of the 1998/99 season.

Prior to these games, United had won nothing that year. However, what unfolded over those 11 days at the end of May would see them complete THE most unique of trebles, and it all came down to the final few seconds of the Champions League Final at the Camp Nou. Drama at its finest!

By chronicling the twenty-year period of 1989 to 2009, including anecdotes from the players, fans, and journalists who witnessed the historic events first-hand, Three Games in May provides a unique perspective on the events leading up to those fateful three games, as well as the three great dynasties that Sir Alex Ferguson built at Old Trafford; a period that began with United’s greatest-ever manager facing the sack!

A must-read for all Manchester United supporters, Three Games in May demonstrates that there is more to the story than those three trophies and takes the reader on a nostalgic journey through all the trials, tribulations, and, ultimately, the glory.

For every copy sold a donation will be made to Prostate Cancer UK.

(Publisher: Morgan Lawrence Publishing Services. March 2023. Paperback: 232 pages)


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ABERDEEN FC: BACK ISSUES 1980 – 1990 by Peter Elliott

This fully-illustrated guide provides details of all programmes issued by Aberdeen FC from season 1980/81 to 1989/90.

The definitive guide to Dons programmes of the 1980s. It’s the ideal companion to any Aberdeen FC programme collection, with every cover included in full colour, along with narrative from each season, as well as check lists to show non-issues, postponed and rearranged fixtures. Additionally, it includes details of other games at Pittodrie (Scotland/Aberdeenshire Cup/Youth Cup, etc)

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


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Book Review: Can We Not Knock It?: A Celebration of ’90s Football by Chris Lambert and Chris Scull

The ‘90s was a decade that changed the course of football in England for ever, with the most significant change that being the creation of the Premier League in 1992. Suddenly there was wall-to-wall television coverage and for the elite few, a game awash with money. This whole new ball game saw the drinking culture of the English players on the way out as continental diets and fitness regimes came in with the players and coaches from abroad.

On the international scene after the highs of Italia’90 for England and Gazza mania, which saw Sir Booby Robson step down as manager, Graham Taylor was given the task of guiding the Three Lions through qualification to the 1994 World Cup in USA. The campaign was to come to define the late Taylor’s England career, as his side finished third in the group and missed the trip across the Atlantic in the summer of ’94. To add insult to injury Channel 4 commissioned a documentary titled An Impossible Job, which followed the England squad and coaching staff during their 10 group fixtures. The programme aired in January 1994 and showed warts and all, the pressure, intense stress and scrutiny Taylor had to endure. It gave rise to many quotes, including the one used for the title of this book, Can We Not Knock It? as Taylor cut a frustrated figure during the qualifier in Poland as the Three Lions limped to a 1-1 draw.

This book by Chris Lambert and Chris Scull though is not a serious analysis of the seismic changes that the Premier League brought to the English game or indeed the failures of the England squad during the decade, but instead as the book’s sub-title states, is A Celebration of ’90s Football.

It is a book that delivers a nostalgic look at the more quirky and unusual side of the decade, told in a cheeky lads-mag tone that undoubtedly will bring a smile to readers faces. Amongst the more unusual topics are articles dedicated to Andy Cole’s Music Career (who knew?), Alan Cork’s Beard and Wotsits Whooshers. For those that remember the period, there are tales of the most famous faces such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Eric Cantona, Jack Charlton, Kevin Keegan, Vinny Jones and the like, whilst there were also stories new to this reader such as The Britpop Footballer (incidentally, Paul McGregor) and Every Loser Wins: Barbados v Grenada (honesty you couldn’t make it up!).

The book though has its serious moments for example, as readers discover the reason behind Dennis Bergkamp’s refusal to fly – a flight in 1989 which killed 15 Dutch players on their way to play a friendly, which Bergkamp would have been on but for his club not allowing him to be released for international duty.

Overall though this is a lighter look at a decade that saw the English game change forever and is indeed a celebration of a time when the game was a little more rough around the edges, but no less fun.

(Publisher: Conker Editions Ltd. October 2021. Paperback: 176 pages)



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2021/22 Premier League books (Part 2) – Reds to Canaries by Jade Craddock

With the new Premier League season just around the corner and a host of familiar and new players gracing the league, there’s plenty of stories to be written, metaphorically and literally. Here, we take a look at each club and pick an already published autobiography from a player of the Premier League era that’s worth a read and one from the current crop that would appeal.


Past: As one of the most successful teams in English football, the Premier League eluded Liverpool for almost three decades, but after near-misses in 2002, 2009, 2014 and 2019, they finally put their PL duck behind them, scooping the top trophy in 2020. For a club that has had FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League success in that time, the Premier League was a long time coming, but the 2019/20 team guaranteed their place in the Reds’ long history. When it comes to past players, the Premier League roster reads like a who’s who of the best footballers in the world, so it comes as no surprise that a fair few autobiographies have followed. In fact, Liverpool are amongst the best represented when it comes to former players. Indeed, you can make a veritable XI of Liverpool Premier League autobiographies: Dudek – A Big Pole in Our Goal (which just edges out Pepe Reina’s Pepe purely on its title); Jamie Carragher – My Autobiography/The Greatest Games; Neil Ruddock – Hell Razor/The World According to Razor; Sami Hyppia – From Voikkaa to the Premiership; John Arne Riise – Running Man; Jamie Redknapp – Me, Family and the Making of A Footballer; Steven Gerrard – My Story; Gary MacAllister – Captain’s Log; Fernando Torres – El Nino; Robbie Fowler – My Life in Football; and Luis Suarez – Crossing The Line. That list excludes books by Xabi Alonso and Dirk Kuyt which are yet to be translated into English, as well as books by Bruce Grobebelaar, Jason McAteer and Michael Owen. Whilst John Barnes published his autobiography in 1999, my pick is his forthcoming book The Uncomfortable Truth About Racism.

Present: Liverpool can already count two published authors amongst their ranks in James Milner, who published Ask A Footballer in 2019, and Andy Robertson, who published Now You’re Gonna Believe Us in 2020. And with some of the league’s biggest hitters in their squad, it’s likely that the writing bug will catch on. But where to start? In goal, with Alisson, who has already won the Copa America and Best FIFA Goalkeeper Awards on top of the Premier League, Champions League and Club World Cup at Liverpool? Or at the back with 2019 PFA Players’ Player of the Year Virgil van Dijk? Or maybe in midfield with the captain who guided Liverpool to their first Premier League title, Jordan Henderson? What about up front with twice Premier League Golden Boot winner Mo Salah? Or how about Mane? Or Firmino? Or Trent Alexander-Arnold? It’s something of a publisher’s dream surely. But if I had to pick one, I’d go with Mo Salah, for his journey from Egypt, via Switzerland to relative disappointment at Chelsea before a move to Roma and a return to England that saw him become one of the world’s greatest players. And the title? Well, it has to be The Egyptian King, doesn’t it? Or maybe The Pharaoh, either will do.

Manchester City

Past: If we’d been compiling this list at the start of the Premier League era, pre-Millennium, Manchester City’s story, and its players, would have looked very different indeed. Those first years of the top flight actually saw City slide all the way down to Division Two before yo-yoing back between Division One and the Premier League. It was only in 2002 that Manchester City returned to the big time, but with modest returns for a decade, until the breakthrough came in 2012 with the first Premier League title. Since then, it’s been a very different story, with Manchester City winning four of the next nine campaigns, with a lowest finish of fourth in 2016, and central to that rejuvenation has been a host of big-name incomings. Not least Sergio Aguero, who spent a decade at City and struck that famous title-winning goal, before departing in the summer and whose autobiography was published in 2014. Who could forget David Silva either – another player to give the Manchester side a decade of incredible service – for whom a tribute book was published last year. But the beating heart of the team for over a decade? None other than their captain, Vincent Kompany, a relative unknown when he arrived from Anderlecht in 2008, but who left the north-west a true City legend. So he’s the pick for City, with his 2019 book, Treble Triumph.

Present: A case can be made for virtually every Man City player when it comes to an autobiography. Phil Foden may only be 21, but he has already won the U17 World Cup, been a European Championship and Champions League runner-up, won an FA Cup, two Community Shields, three Premier Leagues and four League Cups! Most players would love to win half of that by the end of their careers! At the other end of the spectrum is Kyle Walker, who, ten years Foden’s senior, has played in League One, won the Championship, finished fourth at a World Cup and has experienced both the lows and highs of football. Last year’s Premier League Player of the Season Ruben Dias has had only that one season in England but has already made his mark, whilst the winner of Premier League Player of the Season for 2019/20 was another man from the blue half of Manchester – Kevin de Bruyne, whose story surely will be penned in the not-too-distant future. Another City icon, Fernandinho’s journey takes him from Brazil via Ukraine to England and now 36 he’ll surely be relishing his ninth season in the Premier League and seeking that elusive Champions League. But one player who has rewritten the script in more ways than one and whose story he has taken ownership of is Raheem Sterling. Named Golden Boy in 2014, Sterling’s journey has not been without difficulty, but his 2021 MBE attests to the challenges he’s not only overcome but faced head on. Still only 26, he has plenty of time to accomplish even more, but he’s already got a notable story to tell.

Manchester United

Past: Manchester United are the runaway leaders when it comes to the most Premier League titles, with thirteen. Yet despite their early domination in the nineties, their most recent trophy came nine seasons ago in 2013 – in, not at all coincidentally, Sir Alex Ferguson’s last season at Old Trafford. In recent times, the Red Devils have struggled to really put up a notable challenge for the title, though signs of recovery have been shown in the last couple of seasons under former United marksman Ole Gunnar Solksjaer. Given the size and stature of United, it’s no surprise that there are a host of autobiographies to choose from, so, as with fierce rivals Liverpool, here’s an eleven-a-side of reads. Peter Schmeichel – One (forthcoming in September); Gary Neville – Red; Jaap Stam – Head to Head; Rio Ferdinand – Thinking Out Loud (two previous autobiographies have also been published but this one reflects on the important subjects of grief and loss in Ferdinand’s life); Patrice Evra – I Love This Game (forthcoming in September); Michael Carrick – Between the Lines; Roy Keane – The Autobiography/The Second Half (surely an Extra Time is due shortly); Eric Cantona – My Notebook; Paul Scholes – My Story; Andy Cole – Fast Forward; and Dwight Yorke – The Autobiography. Notable absences are of course David Beckham, who has some five books to his name and Wayne Rooney who has his own trilogy. However, when it comes to picking one icon of Manchester United’s past it surely has to be the club’s most successful manager, Sir Alex, whose books include A Year in the Life, Managing my Life, My Autobiography and Leading.

Present: With the arrivals of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, Manchester United have added two huge talents to their roster and two who would arguably be perfect subjects for autobiographies – Sancho, still only 21, has made his mark in the Bundesliga and was named Golder Player at the U17 European Championships, whilst Varane has won nearly all there is to win in Europe as well as a World Cup for France. In terms of more familiar United faces, they don’t come much more familiar than David de Gea who has been at the club ten years and was part of the Red Devils’ last successful Premier League triumph in 2013. Marcus Rashford has been at the club boy and man and whilst he has already published a hugely inspiring book aimed at younger readers (You Are A Champion), his is surely a story that needs to be told. Harry Maguire’s impressive Euro 2020 showing was a reminder of how he became the most expensive Premier League defender, whilst Jesse Lingard’s performances on loan at West Ham last season recalled the flair and skill of the Academy product – both of whom would make for great reads. Edinson Cavani’s journey from Uruguay to Italy, France and finally to England, racking up the Coppa Italia, Ligue 1 and Copa America along the way would be worth a tome, but in keeping with the theme of Manchester United’s mercurial French mavericks, Paul Pogba gets the vote.

Newcastle United

Past: Starting the Premier League era in Division 1, Newcastle were the first side to get promoted, finishing first in 1992/1993, and joining the top flight, where they stayed for some sixteen seasons. Relegation in 2009 was followed by immediate promotion in 2010 and a similar pattern ensued in 2016 when the Magpies found themselves once more in the Championship before bouncing back at the first time of asking. In their four seasons back, Newcastle have enjoyed some degree of stability but nothing quite as high-flying as their back-to-back second-placed finishes in 1996 and 1997. When it comes to former players, one name sticks out, certainly in the Premier League era – Alan Shearer, and, unsurprisingly, there’s a couple of books, with Dave Harrison, that cover the number 9’s prolific career as the League’s all-time top goalscorer, as well as the more recent My Illustrated Career. Newcastle’s other famous son, Paul Gascoigne, also has a number of books to choose from, charting successes and struggles on and off the pitch. Cult figures David Ginola and Nolberto Solano also published autobiographies, the former titled Le Magnifique and the latter Blowing My Own Trumpet, while Shay Given, who spent 12 years on Tyneside, brought out his autobiography, Any Given Sunday, in 2017. But whilst Shearer may be the player that defines Newcastle United’s Premier League history, and his statue stands in pride of place outside St James’ Park, it is joined by the manager who defined this period in the club’s recent past – Sir Bobby Robson. A couple of recent biographies by Bob Harris (Bobby Robson: The Ultimate Patriot) and Harry De Cosemo (Black & White Knight) offer new reflections on the man, but for the definitive autobiography, look no further than Farewell but Not Goodbye.

Present: The icons of Newcastle’s past make for a very hard act to follow and a number of exciting players, like Allan St Maximin and Callum Wilson, are still only in the infancy of their Tyneside journeys, whilst both Ryan Fraser and Matt Richie have had expansive careers. While Joelinton made the move to Newcastle via Germany and Austria from Brazil, Miguel Almiron came via Argentina and the MLS from his native Paraguay and remains only one of eight Paraguayan players to feature in the Premier League across its history. Jamaal Lascelles and Jonjo Shelvey both stand out, though, when it comes to the final pick. Captain Lascelles started out at Nottingham Forest before making the move to Newcastle in 2014 and has been instrumental in the last six seasons, including the Magpies’ most recent promotion from the Championship. Jonjo Shelvey, however, has a bit more of a varied journey, spending time in his youth at Arsenal, West Ham and Charlton, before breaking through at the latter. A move to Liverpool followed, but three years after his arrival he departed for Swansea City before finally settling on Tyneside in 2016. Shelvey has made over 170 appearances for the Magpies.

Norwich City

Past: No one could accuse Norwich City of not having had an eventful past, not least in the last two decades of the Premier League era, in which they’ve been relegated from the top-flight four times, relegated from the Championship once and experienced no less than six promotions. Canaries fans will surely be hoping for a smoother ride this time out back in the Premier League, following their immediate promotion last season. Fans looking for a Norwich autobiography are not overwhelmed with choice, it has to be said, but there are a few knocking around out there, including top striker in 2003/04 Darren Huckerby and former goalkeeper Bryan Gunn, whilst Iwan Roberts’ All I Want For Christmas offers an insider look at Norwich’s promotion-winning 2003/04 season, taking the campaign month by month. However, pick of the bunch goes to Grant Holt, with his autobiography A Real Football Life. Club top scorer in League One in 2009/10, the Championship in 2010/2011 and three consecutive seasons in the Premier League from 2011 to 2014, although, surely, he’s remembered just as fondly in wider circles for his foray into wrestling in 2018.

Present: As Daniel Farke prepares his team for another go at the Premier League, he’s assembled a squad with a mixture of youth and experience. Exciting youngsters like Todd Cantwell, Max Aarons and loanee Billy Gilmour are all ones for the future but are surrounded by some incredible support in older heads. Grant Hanley started his youth career with Queen of the South before joining The Railwaymen of Crewe Alexandra, returning north of the border to Rangers and finally breaking through at Blackburn Rovers. His travels have since taken him to Newcastle before a move to the Canaries in 2017. In addition, he’s earned over 30 caps for Scotland and was part of their historic return to the Euros this summer. Teemu Pukki’s journey is even more distinct, starting out in his native Finland, before moving to Sevilla in Spain, HJK in Finland, Schalke in Germany, Celtic, Brondby in Denmark and finally Norwich, where he didn’t take long to make his mark, being named player of the season in the Championship in his first year in England and winning the EFL Championship Golden Boot. He has twice been Finnish Footballer of the year and once Finnish Sports Personality of the Year and in his first campaign in the Premier League won Player of the Month in August 2019. Two years Pukki’s senior, Tim Krul has had a similarly eclectic career, starting out at ADO Den Haag in the Netherlands before making his way to Newcastle, where loans at clubs from Falkirk to Ajax, Carlisle to AZ Alkmaar followed. On the world stage too, despite fairly limited caps, Krul was part of the team that finished third at the 2014 World Cup, where his contribution was notable in his being the first keeper sent on as substitute specifically for a penalty shootout at the World Cup – and what’s more, he delivered, saving two of Costa Rica’s five penalties to see his side advance.

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