Book Review: AK-86 Two shots in the heart of Scottish Football by Grant Hill

The title of a book can sometimes be an intriguing little puzzle as to what is to come for the reader. One such that falls into the category is AK-86 Two shots in the heart of Scottish Football by Grant Hill. It is only after reading the book that you can fully deconstruct the title and come to find all sorts of meaning and games at play.

Let’s start with AK-86. Well, most people will have heard of an AK-47, or Kalashnikov rifle, one of the most widely used weapons in the world, so by using ‘AK’, Hill has created the link to the weapon and therefore the use of the terms ‘shots’, as in firing a gun, in the sub-title of the book. However, in the context of the book, AK refers to the initials of the player at the centre of this tale, Dundee striker Albert Kidd, with 86 referring to the pivotal year of 1986 when the end of the Scottish League Premier Division season reached a dramatic conclusion.

So if we take that AK-86 as having a football reference, then the ‘shots’ referred to in the sub-title have a second representation, that being the two goals that Kidd scored in the final game of the 1985/86 campaign. However, they have a third meaning, as within the book, Hill talks about 1986 as being pivotal for two major changes which changed or got at the heart of the Scottish game. These events saw the end of an era for the Scotland national team, as the likes of World class players such as Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Alan Hanson exited the international scene, never to be replaced.  Indeed 1986 saw Souness arrive at Ibrox as Rangers splashed the cash in the following years to attract players North of the Border, and as Hill outlines, start the process of financial problems that the Glasgow club has endured to this day and indeed afflicted other clubs.

In telling the story, Hill interviews many of the protagonists, including Albert Kidd, and includes contributions from managers, players and fans of the clubs involved at Celtic, Dundee, Hearts, Hibernian, Rangers and St. Mirren. By using a chronological timeline in terms of the build-up to that weekend and events some years later, the story is given a full examination including an investigation of the rumours and conspiracy theories that were banded around as the games were completed on that Saturday in early May.

Being based in England, I have to hold my hand up and say that before reading and reviewing this book I wasn’t aware of the story of the 03 May 1986. However, even if you know the outcome, Hill brilliantly maintains the suspense of the events building up to that crucial Saturday and it a book that is well worth a read, for this tale and the implications for Scottish Football following those events in 1986.


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Book Review: Taxi for Farrell – Football between the lines by David Farrell

Too many books about the careers of footballer’s tend to be pretty sterile affairs, with content that plods through a season-by-season account of their playing days with little in the way of insight or integrity. However, this is certainly not true of David Farrell’s excellent book, Taxi for Farrell – Football between the lines.

Farrell made his name in the Scottish game with a playing career at Hibernian, Partick Thistle, Airdrieonians, Clydebank, Stranraer and Albion Rovers as well as coaching spells (up to the point of writing this book) at Gretna, Dundee, Clyde, Notts County and Celtic Nation.

In terms of the format of the book, the 269 pages open with an introduction which looks at Farrell’s life growing up in Dennistoun and then develops chronologically through four chapters looking at his playing days, a further two detailing his coaching/assistant management spells, closing with a reflective postscript from 2015 and his days on the streets of Glasgow as a taxi driver.

Throughout the book Farrell has a conversational style, undoubtedly influenced by his blog, Football from the Inside, which he began writing in August 2014. In addition though there is an honest and perceptive quality that provides readers with a genuine and gritty insight into the world of football; a game a million miles away from all the hype of the English Premier League.

What is apparent is that from a very young age Farrell only ever wanted to be a footballer, and despite self-doubt regarding his own ability (something which appears to have dogged him at certain points during his career) he was good enough to play for Scotland U18s and earn a contract at then top-flight club Oxford United in England.

Despite not making a first team appearance at Oxford, Farrell returned to Scotland to begin a 16 year career taking in six clubs. During this time as a ‘rugged’ midfielder/defender Farrell suffered with more than his fair share of injuries and details within this book the realities of playing with pain as part and parcel of the game and at clubs where sometimes there was no medical insurance covering the playing staff.

However, despite the struggles that he endured in prolonging his career, Farrell’s love for the game remained unwavering and pragmatically summed it up in the following way; “the higher a point you start off, the longer it will take to fall to the bottom”. Farrell’s career saw him take in the highs of a League Cup Final appearance against Rangers in 1993, to playing in Division Three with Albion Rovers in 2004 to finish his career.

With his playing days over and with his UEFA A coaching licence earned, Farrell looked to stay within the game, but struggled to get opportunities due to not being perceived as a ‘big-name’. His break came when close friend Alex Rae brought Farrell in at Dundee in 2006, but after failing to get the side back into the Scottish top-flight, the pair were sacked after two years.

This section of the book where Farrell has stopped playing has a darker feel to it, as the reality of the difficulty in finding work within the game hits home and the implications for his ability to pay the bills and resultant pressure on his family, is apparent. Farrell is totally open in stating that he was selfish in trying to stay within the game and was aware that he had to seek other work in order to provide for his family to provide some stability. Cabbing in Glasgow seemed to provide the answer.

Indeed in the books postscript, sub-titled Retired? Farrell writing in 2015 states, “If nothing ever came up again in football again I can honestly say that it wouldn’t bother me”. However, it is evident after reading this book that Farrell is a football addict and that the game is in his blood, even though he understands what an unstable and ruthless business it is. With that in mind, it brought a smile to the face on hearing at the start of 2016 that Farrell was once again back in the game as assistant manager at St Mirren working to Alex Rae.

Taxi for Farrell? Not yet. Fingers crossed his football journey has a few more miles yet.


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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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