Suitcase essentials: Books
Walter Smith's two spells as Rangers manager have been well documented and will be familiar to the vast majority of readers. Where this book differs however is that author Scott Burns has meticulously compiled testimony from those closest to the Ibrox boss over the past two decades.
The many triumphs are covered, of course; nine-in-a-row and the treble season of 1992-93 when Rangers came so close to winning the inaugural Champions League - incredible as that might seem today - in Smith's first era at Ibrox, as well as the roller-coaster ride that marked his return.
So too are the setbacks, such as 1997-98 when a tenth consecutive title was lost and the defeat to FBK Kaunas in 2008-09 that triggered a great many of the financial problems that have beset the Ibrox club in recent years.
The agony of 2007-08 is all here, when as well as a memorable run to the UEFA Cup final Rangers lost the league title amidst claims of sporting integrity and fixture pile-ups.
What comes across time and again is the respect and loyalty felt towards Walter Smith by those who have played under him - from iconic figures such as Brian Laudrup to journeymen such as Scott Nisbet.
Not that this book is devoted entirely to Rangers - one chapter covers Smith's time at Everton and Scotland - but above all it is the manager's commitment to the Ibrox club that comes across loud and clear.
FIELDS OF COURAGE
The bravest chapters in sport
Little, Brown, 16.99
An inspirational book detailing what it considers to be some of the bravest chapters in sport, to leave readers with a warm and fuzzy feeling.
The wide spectrum of courage conveyed ranges from those sportsmen and women who pushed the physical boundaries in their determination to fulfil their dreams, defying pain and injury, all the way through to others who had fought societies or sports prejudices or their own weaknesses armed with a bat, racket or other sporting equipment as well as principles. Dedicating one chapter to each individual, the author recalls the moments which have helped define people as well as major sporting events.
From goalkeeper Bert Trautmann playing for Manchester City in the 1956 FA Cup final with a broken neck and Grant Hackett winning an Olympic gold in the 1500m freestyle despite a collapsed lung, to Suzanne Lenglen who blazed a trail for her gender by daring to bare her calves at Wimbledon in 1919, through to the Ukrainian team who had the audacity to beat the Nazis in a game of football, knowing that, while it offered their people hope, it would cost them their lives.
With 50 chapters, the author opts for some unusal inclusions and decides to leave out some of the better known but, coming in bite-sized chunks, there is always an inspirational tale a mere few pages away. Worth dipping in and out of.
RACING THROUGH THE DARK
THE FALL AND RISE OF DAVID MILLAR
Orion Books, 18.99
Anybody even remotely interested in understanding why, and in what circumstances, athletes take drugs, should read this book. It describes a very specific world - that of professional cycling - and, if you are a cycling fan, it is an uncomfortable read.
Millar describes the path to doping as a series of tiny, incremental - and logical - steps: from "recovery" to sleeping pills to "preparation". "Recovery", he discovers early, means injections of legal vitamins and minerals, "preparation" refers to the use of banned products, such as EPO.
By the time Millar reaches this point - on the night he abandons the Tour de France in 2001 - his decision to dope doesn't seem merely understandable, it seems logical. The mystery is how and why, given the pressure he was under, and the mess he was in, he survived so long without it. The greatest strength of this plainly but compellingly told story is that it doesn't shock. Millar is searingly honest about his own failings and neuroses but his book is intelligent, subtle, nuanced, not flowery or overly descriptive - and it is all the more powerful for it.
Yet it is, ultimately and unusually, an optimistic book. And, without spoiling the ending, that has much to do with Millar re-connecting with his Scottish roots.
This will go down as one of the great sporting autobiographies.
The autobiography of a goalkeeping legend
John Blake, 16.99
Towards the end of John Burridge's life story we find him reclining in a hammock by the Indian Ocean in the grounds of one of his three houses in the Gulf state of Oman. Quite a journey, really, from Workington, where it all began for him as a young goalkeeper in 1969. He is railing about life back in Britain, about the spongers and the wasters and the general cost of things. Budgie is loving it in Oman. As he says, he hasn't done too badly "for a shortarse".
He is - or was - working with the Oman FA at the time. One day, not long after Qatar won the right to stage the World Cup in 2022, Joseph "Sepp" Blatter turns up at a training session as part of a schmoozing exercise. He looks at Budgie with his tracksuit marked JB and engages the goalkeeper in conversation. "JB - Joseph Blatter?" asks the FIFA president, "No," says Budgie. "My name is Bond; James Bond."
Burridge's capacity for humour and unpredictable behaviour is known far and wide and his insane escapades are all documented here. At times he makes you feel uncomfortable. He seemed to have a compelling need to be the life and soul of a dressing room, even if it meant presenting himself as the village idiot. As with the story about having a turd placed in his motorcycle helmet and riding to training at Hibs with the smelly stuff slowly dribbling down his face. It's funny but in a gruesome way. He was some character. Still is, wherever he is.
GOLF ON THE ROCKS
a Journey round scotland's island courses
Hachete Scotland, 16.99
I must confess that my most fondly remembered round of golf was when a playing partner turned up with a bottle of Buckfast and three fat joints. To be consumed over nine holes. I am in the secular camp when it comes to religious devotion to golf. The fact self-confessed "lapsed golfer" Gary Sutherland made me a believer suggests he has holed it with his odyssey.
A great concept, what really swings it are the reasons behind it. Gary, formerly of this parish, set himself a target of playing 18 rounds on 18 island courses with his dad's putter to honour the man whose loss he was still coming to terms with. I was moved by the impetus for the book and manner in which it was woven into the tapestry of the tale; no doubt in part because I too lost my dad a couple of years back.
Reviewers have called it a travelogue - and certainly Gary vividly brings to life the courses and often idiosyncratic island life. But for me, it is a 'peopleogue'. He picks up on the quirks and couthiness of others in a way that consistently entertains, but never patronises. My dad used to always say to me that he thought the best writing brought out the real humanity in the subjects covered by it. The highest compliment I can pay to Gary is that I thought of my dad often when reading Golf on the Rocks for professional, as well as personal, reasons.
SLAYING THE BADGER
LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France
Yellow Jersey, 12.99
FROM The opening pages this is a book that grips. Combining great insight, interviews and anecdotes with wonderfully-vivid writing, it is thoroughly researched and well written. Yet, while there is a compelling mix of knowledge and enthusiasm for cycling and this one particular race, it is more than just another book about the Tour de France.
For fans of the Tour, who lived and breathed the excitement of the 1986 race, when team-mates Greg LeMond and Bernard "The Badger" Hinault defied the norm and went head to head in the quest for the yellow jersey, they can relive the race through the memories and the thoughts of the characters at the centre of the drama. American LeMond was the newcomer, full of gusto, while Hinault was his hero and a veteran champion. They are portrayed with humour, and a degree of sympathy and respect, by an author who entertains and illuminates. But, ultimately, this is a character-driven drama that will capture the imagination of more than just cycling enthusiasts. It is a tale of rivalry and endeavour, of sheer will and determination and while it feeds off the colour of the Tour, it also lays bare the betrayals, the paranoia, the emotions, the intimidation and the manipulation which stoked the fires in 1986 as two polar opposites rode for glory. Like the event itself, the book is so engrossing, you don't want it to end.
THE GHOST OF WHITE HART LANE
IN SEARCH OF MY FATHER THE FOOTBALL LEGEND
Rob White and Julie Welch
Yellow Jersey, 16.99
John White, one of the most under-appreciated talents in Scottish football history, was killed by lightning when sheltering from a storm on a golf course in 1964. He was one of the stars of a beloved Spurs team, the double-winners of 1960-61, the side that created history by becoming the first British team to win a European trophy; the Cup-Winners' Cup of 1963.
White was only 27 when he died. Six months after he passed away, his wife, Sandra, gave birth to his son, a boy called Rob. This is Rob's brilliantly told story of the father he never knew, the epic search for the essence of his old man. He speaks to family members and team-mates and friends from Scotland and London. It's a journey that is told with heart-rending honesty, confusion and finally some clarity.
"If I'm honest," he writes, "I sort of half hoped, like when I was growing up, for a sign that he knows I'm looking; just something that will reassure me he's watching over me. That hasn't happened of course, but what I want convey is the sense I've always had, that he is there, in my mind."
A gorgeous and moving story about life after The Ghost.