The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 38

August 1, 2010

REVIEW (first published in TAG 24 – August 1991)

HAMPDEN BABYLON by Stuart Cosgrove, £9.95, Canongate Press

£3,000 a week. Hero-worship from males between the ages of 5 and 95. Sexual favours from as many nubile nymphs as you can handle. Free drink in every bar and a ready supply of more exotic substances.

If you were a young guy and all this was yours, what would you do ? Unless you’re Bobby Charlton or Kenny Dalglish, you’d get whacked out of your brain as often as possible and order up a truckload of Durex, that’s what.

Unfortunatelv this sort of life-style is reserved for the select few lucky individuals like rock stars, the editor of TAG, and football geniuses. The central theme of Stuart Cosgrove’s work is that there is something peculiarly Scottish in drinking, screwing, snorting, punching and pissing away extraordinary football talent. Unfortunately for the book this is manifestly untrue. I call George Best and Diego Maradona as two witnesses among many non-Scots who have contrived to make spectacular arses of themselves.

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Hampden Babylon” is sub-titled “Sex and scandal in Scottish football“. It is expressly inspired by Kenneth Anger’s “Hollywood Babylon“. The difference is that while Anger’s book genuinely damaged the previously lily-white reputations of numerous film-stars by revealing hitherto unknown sordid details of their private lives, the “Hampden” version merely rehearses familiar tales of drunkenness and debauchery, which, if anything, simply serve to enhance the glamour of the protagonists.

Conduct can only be scandalous if the audience are in some way shocked, outraged or revolted by it. If we’re being honest, most of us are probably amused rather than outraged when we hear of the Rangers midfield being carted off in the back of a Black Maria after a stramash in a kebab shop. Therefore, despite the sub-title, there is in fact no scandal contained within this book.

It’s the same problem which afflicted Albert Goldman in his attempted hatchet-jobs on Elvis Presley and John Lennon. Far from being shocked by the revelations, I would have been seriously disappointed if I had found that these two worthies had not spent their time hoovering up vast quantities of illicit substances while naked girls licked strawberry ice-cream off them. Thus with footballers. We expect them to be drunken arseholes. We are not scandalised when our expectations are fulfilled.

The first chapter, titled “Round Up the Usual Suspects” gives the game away.
Of course, they’re all here. Slim Jim, the Law Man, wee Willie, Jinky, the Doc, the Copenhagen 5, Bud, Lou, Champagne Charlie, Mo and Durranty. To a certain extent what follows is a re-tread of all the well-worn anecdotes which we all know by heart, rendered into NME-speak. This is not necessarily a bad thing (I confess that many of my own articles in TAG are an attempt to do the same thing). But it’s questionable whether you need to fork out £9.95 to re-live, yet again, Jinky’s naval expedition, Bud’s pills, Macari’s accumulators, Nicholas’s attack on a poke of chips, Mo’s court appearances.

For this reason I found the most interesting chapters to be the ones on Hughie Gallagher (before my time, mate) and racism in Scottish football (including details of the exploits of “Vodka” Vic Kasule).

Ultimately, the book is merely an extended and glossy fanzine, which is by no means a criticism. Youngsters wishing a crash course on some of the nutters of yesteryear will find it reasonably amusing. For old lags, however, there just isn’t enough sex and scandal, and you may be better advised to spend your money on a subscription to TAG (do I get my ten quid for this, Archie?).

The very first chapter recounts an incident where a famous manager enjoyed rampant sex in a TV studio with a well-known TV presenter. Stuart cops out by not revealing their identities. We just have to make inspired guesses. Billy McNeil and Hazel Irvine? Jim Mclean and Kirsty Wark? Graeme Souness and Archie MacPherson ? Now it’s that kind of detail that the really prurient amongst us want to know.

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