Bring me the Sports Jacket of Arthur Montford – sports book of the year 2022
Aidan Smith (Birlinn, £12)
George McCluskey unning into the olling Stones, ixie Deans anging out with ob Marley and avie Robb doing omething very un-Dundonian with Olivia Newton John. Those who have enjoyed Aidan Smith's Saturday interviews in The Scotsman, regular weekend treats for over a dozen years now, will know he has a rare talent for drawing something more substantial than the usual anodyne guff from his subjects. Scotland might never win the World Cup, but we lead the way in genial sports presenters in loud jackets as well as talented bevvy merchants often intent on self-sabotage. Smith has always been expert at celebrating all these colourful aspects of the game - and if he can fit in a music reference, so much the better. Hence this "Bayview Tapestry" celebrating what makes Scottish football so bloody compelling.
A short tribute to titular hero Arthur Montford kicks off 46 perfectly formed ruminations. The tone is playful, and Smith's wit is to the fore. The book is also authoritative; the famous Jimmy Johnstone rowing boat incident is recreated via testimonies from multiple witnesses, including John Blackley, Tommy Hutchison and Donald Ford, all memorable Smith interviewees of old. An ode to the ultimate Scottish football curio of two football clubs sharing the same street should be sent post haste to Dundee managing director John Nelms, who seems intent on destroying a cheek-by-jowl arrangement the author refers to as "situationist art" by moving his club to a charmless out of town location. Borrowing a term Smith employs to describe Archie Gemmill, he has produced "a Caledonian Classic".
The Silence of the Stands: Finding the Joy in Football's Lost Season
Daniel Gray (Bloomsbury, £12.99)
There will be writers out in Qatar just now chronicling the noise, colour and controversies of the World Cup for books published throughout 023 - and more power to them. But it was arguably more important to record the sights and sounds of the strangest season British football will ever know. We're spoiled that the writer who engaged with this task is Daniel Gray, who navigated complicated lockdown rules to produce this poetic account of football when it was "half a sport" while fans were locked out. The players all still tried their best, including Charlie Adam, whose "intense courtship" with the ball gives a starved Gray enormous pleasure as Dundee take on Raith Rovers at Stark's Park, one of the featured matches. Another is Rangers v Celtic, which Gray covers from the street outside and still manages to produce something more worthwhile and enduring than the match reports filed from inside the empty stadium.
The Rangers Story: 150 years of a Remarkable Football Club
David Mason (Pitch publishing, £40)
Once the scoffing and the jokes have died down - "But I thought Rangers were only ten years' old" - it will be acknowledged by many, and ot just Rangers fans, that this comprehensive account of a football club by a respected club historian is a valuable addition to the Scottish football library. It was, author David Mason reveals, 36 years in the making - since he was installed as official Rangers historian in 1986. That was an interesting year in itself, as it heralded the Graeme Souness revolution. The later financial implosion that led to life in the lower leagues is dealt with in a chapter entitled "Administration and Liquidation" while this edition is up to date enough to include Michael Beale's appointment as manager earlier this month. Lavishly illustrated, there's many interesting titbits, including the time Eric Liddell ran at Ibrox.
Memories Too Good to Forget
Renton Laidlaw wrote this shortly before passing away in October 2021 and it's a fabulous set of memories bout his career in newspapers, radio and television. His first taste of covering golf was an East of Scotland Alliance event at Prestonfield in his home city of Edinburgh and, from that day on, there was no disguising Laidlaw's passion for the profession. And, in subsequent roles for Grampian TV, BBC Scotland, BBC in London, the Evening Standard and The Golf Channel, there was also no hiding the fact he worked tirelessly. He was a popular figure in the game and this compilation of anecdotes and amusing stories - on one occasion he was out in Kenya, he was suffering from bad toothache but didn't fancy a downtown Nairobi dentist recommended to him due to the receptionist not exactly being the best advertisement so flew back to London to see his own dentist before heading back that night to Zambia, the Safari Tour's next port of call - leaves one in no doubt exactly why that was the case.
On Days Like These: My Life in Football
Martin O'Neill (Macmillan, £18.99)
It's perhaps surprising that the former Celtic manager and elegant Nottingham Forest midfielder taken so long to produce his memoirs, but we can be glad that he did eventually get round to it after a career studded with achievement. Among the revelations is the time his wife and youngest daughter were evacuated from a Glasgow hotel on the eve of his first Old Firm game in 2000. A bomb threat? No, it was Rangers' hotel of choice to stay at prior to games, so the O'Neills were asked to leave pronto. Two European Cup winners' medals, Brian Clough, George Best, Seville, a goal wrongly chopped off against France that might have sent Northern Ireland on the way to the World Cup quarter-finals in 1982 and memories of life in a Glasgow fishbowl means there are several reasons to put time aside to read this compelling autobiography. An extra attraction is that the erudite O'Neill, who studied law at Queen's University in Belfast, wrote it all himself, in long hand originally no less.
Brawls, Bribes and Broken Dreams: How Dundee Almost Won the European Cup
Graeme Strachan (Pitch publishing, £16.99)
Every Dundee fan might know the story of their club's march to the semi-final of the European Cup in 1982- but perhaps not everyone is aware of just how close they came to becoming the first British club to lift the trophy, a win that would have pre-dated Celtic's success by four years and changed the course of football history. Might the London Lions - the final was played at Wembley – have become a fixture in football's lexicon? We shall never know. But Graeme Strachan, a journalist at the Courier, has pieced together the full story from contemporary reports and made the epic adventure come alive again, including a controversial semi-final first leg encounter against AC Milan, when Dundee's dream died in the space of 45 second-half minutes at San Siro. Dundee conceded four goals to lose 5-1. They won the second leg 1-0. Craig Brown, a squad member, remains convinced that had Dundee made it to the wide-open spaces of Wembley, it would have been Dundee's cup. And who knows where they'd be today?
Against All Odds: The Greatest World Cup Upsets
Various (Halcyon publishing, £15.99)
It's World Cup year, innit. Indeed, uniquely, December is World Cup month. The competition is uppermost in people's minds this Christmas. It is understandable publishers have taken advantage with a splurge of World Cup books, of which this, in our opinion, is among the very best. It couldn't really fail; 13 of the very best writers detailing 13 of the greatest World Cup shocks, from USA 1 England 0 to South Korea overcoming Spain in 2002. There's a couple from the current tournament that could feature in forthcoming editions, but, for now, feast on the excellent David Winner documenting Scotland 3 Netherlands 2 from Argentina 1978, including contributions from both Johnny Rep and Alan Rough, who agonises about only getting "four fingers" to the former's shot to make it 3-2 after hopes were lifted by THAT goal from Archie Gemmill. The Scots needed to win by three goals to qualify for the next stage. Much-missed commentator Barry Davies even provides the introduction. Wonderful.
Touching the Heights
Archie Macpherson (Luath Press, £14.99)
Our favourite commentator of yore has transmogrified into our most prolific author. In his eighties, the bold Mapherson is churning out the books. No, not churning, he's not operating a sausage factory, with dashed-off, phoned-in volumes. To mix metaphors, Archie isn't some addled rock star, shoving out B-sides and cast-offs to fulfill contractual obligation. If you enjoyed the biography of Jock Stein, the chronicle of our World Cup misadventures, the forensic and fearless examination of the Old Firm rivalry - and maybe even his stab at fiction - you'll want this by the bedside. It's a riveting, rollicking compendium of vignettes of just some of the notables Macpherson has encountered in his long broadcasting life, also serving as a guest list. Having broken bread with them, he fantasises about them making up the ultimate dinner table. Football, as you'd expect, dominates, with pen-portraits of Stein, Alex Ferguson, Graeme Souness, Jimmy Johnstone, Ally MacLeod and Jim McLean. Some of these guys could start a fight in an empty restaurant. Watch out for the flying bread rolls. Woof!
Reflection On A Life Well Lived
Peter Alliss G2 Entertainment Ltd, £25
Some people probably think Peter Alliss was born with a microphone in his hand, but, if it hadn't been for a senior producer m the BBC sitting behind him on a flight back from an Irish Open, he might never have become the "Voice of Golf". That's one of the recollections Alliss shares in this book, which was penned in collaboration with the respected golf journalist, Bill Elliott, before his death at the age of 89 in December 2020. Alliss, of course, followed in the footsteps of his dad, Percy, by becoming a golf professional and, in his own inimitable way, shares funny stories - a sore one, too, from a rare playing appearance in The Masters at Augusta National - about that part of his life before making a successful switch to the commentary box. Alliss always said he felt fortunate about making a living from his "ramblings" on air and this recollection in print certainly confirms that life was indeed "well lived".
Triumph and Tragedy of 19-05-12: Hearts' ultimate Edinburgh derby win
Anthony Brown (Ten Caats, £22)
Published to mark the tenth anniversary of Hearts' 2012 Scottish Cup final win, Anthony Brown has produced the definitive story of what those of a maroon persuasion would consider the greatest derby ever played. Brown is unstinting in his quest to speak to the protagonists and produces a highly readable account of that day in May when Paulo Sergio's side defeated Pat Fenlon's Hibs 5-1. But there is an underlying sadness running through the book, with the tragedy in the title referring to the untimely passing of Hearts captain Marius Zaliukas just eight and a half years after the final. The defender was 38 when he died from motor neurone disease, with most of his old Hearts team-mates unaware he was even ill. Brown's interview with Zaliukas' sister Laura is handled sensitively and gives a very human insight into a player his old colleague Ian Black describes as "a big gentle giant".
Mud, Blood and Studs: One family's legacy in soccer and rugby across three continents
James Brown (Pitch, £16.99)
The Brown family are Scottish sporting royalty and theirs is a story worth telling. Step forward James Brown who has pulled together the strands in a tale that begins in Ayrshire, journeys to North America, has stop-offs in South Africa and covers both football and rugby. Peter and Gordon are the best known Browns, Scottish rugby giants who bestrode the game in the Sixties and Seventies. The late Gordon - Broon frae Troon - is weaved into Lions history as a threetime tourist while older brother Peter captained Scotland to three Calcutta Cup victories over England, including a 18-15 nailbiter at Twickenham in 1971 when he landed a last-gasp conversion. Remarkably, their father Jock played football for Scotland as a goalkeeper and won the Scottish Cup with Clyde, and it is in the round ball game that the Browns first made their mark. Author James' grandfather - Jock's brother, Jim - played in the first ever World Cup, but for the United States, not Scotland, helping them reach the semi-finals in Uruguay in 1930 and becoming the only Scots-born player to score in the last four. As much as it is about sport, this is a story of emigration, and the way it has shaped a family blessed with rare talents. Fascinating stuff.
Eric Liddell and Rugby: The other game of Scotland's greatest athlete
Ken Bogle (Grosvenor House, £10.99)
Eric Liddell's athletics excellence combined with his religious conviction made for a heady brew when transferred to celluloid in 981's Chariots of Fire. Less well known is Liddell's rugby career which saw him capped seven times by Scotland. He made his debut against France in Colombes in 1922 and won his final cap against England at Inverleith in 1923. A year later he won gold at the Paris Olympics in the 400 metres after famously refusing to run in the heats of his favoured 100m because they were held on a Sunday. Liddell is a Scottish sporting icon and Bogle's book is an excellent addition to his story, detailing his rugby career from schoolboy days at Eltham College, and on to Edinburgh University, the Edinburgh district side and eventually Scotland. Bogle has unearthed rare Liddell images and memorabilia to illustrate what is clearly a labour of love for the author whose rugby canon also includes his biography of Walter Sutherland and Scottish Rugby Game by Game, his comprehensive history of the national side.