The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 54

December 1, 2010

Book reviews from TAG 31 – December 1992


Football is the Wallace ReligionJock Wallace

Baxter – The Party’s OverJim Baxter


In TAG 28 I reviewed a TV series which was broadcast six years ago. In an effort to continue this up-to-the-minute, finger-on-the-pulse, hip-to-the-beat-of-the-street reporting, I now offer some thoughts on a pair of tomes which were both published in 1984.

These two books share two common denominators. Firstly, the subjects had their greatest moments of fame at Ibrox.

Secondly, both books are crap.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBig Jock’s effort is particularly inane, consisting, as it does, of a few dozen photographs together with countless adverts for cars, travel-agents and double-glazing (just what the fuck is it with football and double-glazing?) all sellotaped together by the usual bland stultifying prose which is-specifically designed for the hard of thinking.

Given the aura of sectarianism which surrounded Wallace/Rangers at the time when this book was published, the title is particularly crass. Of course, you search the text in vain for any reference to what the rest of us usually understand by “religion”.

Not that this is entirely Jock’s fault. This book is a biography rather than an autobiography, and it is said that the “words” are by Graham Clark, whoever he is. Few of these “words” have more than two syllables. This is probably an indication of the type of reader at whom the book is aimed (ie children and/or the feeble-minded).

On the other hand, it may be a subtle parody of the protagonist’s favoured method of communication. I kid you not, the following phrases all appear in this book, without the remotest hint of irony;-
We went out there feeling tell feet tall “,
“love affair with Berwick Rangers “,
“the biggest giant-killing act of all time “,
“Mr Symon was a marvelous man “,
“Ace of Hearts “,
“we threw a kid into the fray and he came up trumps “,
“the Light Blues swept all before them “,
“the legendary Beckenbauer “,
“the legendary John Charles “,
“the legendary Sir Stanley Matthews “,
“a definite feeling that this was going to be our final”,
“Spanish police over- reacted”,
“Rangers were all top of the world”,
“Alex Miller came of age “,
“players live and breathe football”,
“Rangers Football Club must always be bigger than one man “,
“we’re on our way “,
“I sincerely believe exciting times lie ahead”.

Less than two years after the last of these remarks Wallace was sacked.

Wallace Monument

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You will also search the text of Wallace’s book in vain for any explicit references to the Gullane sand-dunes or to Big Jock’s best-known and well-loved role as merciless, draconian, slave-driver, constantly exhorting the players to literally die for the cause.

During Jock’s reign at Ibrox, if the Teddy Bears were losing at half-time, then it was a familiar dressing-room sight for Rangers jerseys to be dangling from clothes-hooks – with the occupants still wearing them.

But Jock’s “physical” approach to management is barely hinted at. What about Jock’s reasons for leaving Ibrox first time round? Sorry, you’ll need to look elsewhere for the answer to that one. Wallace is quoted as saying, “I left -let’s leave it at that“. Clearly, we’re not talking Albert Goldman type revelations here. File this volume as suitable for under-fives.



Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe Baxter book, by contrast, does have some joined-up writing, supplied by a “ghost”, in this case, John Fairgrieve, and it is clearly intended to be a genuine autobiography, of the sort that, rather than admiring the pretty pictures, you’re actually supposed to read.

There’s at least an attempt to address the religious question in Baxter’s book. Jim’s attitude is expressed as “I’m not bothered one way or the other”, though he says of Celtic, “They sign Protestants because they have no real choice – and then make a virtue of it “. This is what is known as a sting in the tail.

However, it’s well known that Jim didn’t give a toss which church people went to on a Sunday as long as they liked to have a good bucket on a Saturday night. There are many tales of formidable drinking sessions involving Slim Jim and a fraction of them are recounted in this book.

Now, some people might say that alcoholism is not funny, but that would be to ignore a rich seam of Scottish culture running from Burns (Rabbie, not Kenny or Tommy) through Harry Lauder to Hugh McDiarmid, Lex McLean, and Chic Murray and on to Billy Connolly and Rab Nesbitt, taking in a whole host of tragi-comic drunks from the worlds of football, politics, and the Arts on the way.

I was recently privileged to attend a football dinner at which Jim was one of the guest speakers along with, among others, Brian McGinlay. I regret to say that by the time Jim came to speak I had consumed rather too much of the golden nectar and my recollection of his speech is somewhat hazy. All I can remember is that he was very funny, milking his couldn’t-care-less, bevvy- merchant, Jack-the-Lad persona for all it was worth.

I seem to remember that he repeated the story, told in the book, of Ferenc Puskas getting his end away in a Drumchapel tenement, though in somewhat more graphic detail. The Galloping Major? Hmmm.

My memory of Brian McGinlay’s contribution is clearer, but even here there was explicit acknowledgement of the link between football and alcohol. Brian began by telling us of the occasion when the Central Scotland traffic polis had sneaked up on him and stopped him for drunk driving. The following week he was refereeing an Old Firm encounter. At one point Ian Ferguson hit a shot past, the post which Fergie clearly believed had struck a Celtic player on the way through. McGinlay awarded a goal kick much to Fergie’s dismay. He remonstrated with McGinlay thus, “Hey you, ya cunt, Ye no fuckin’ see that? “. While this amiable conversation was taking place, Super-Ally was lurking in the background and he chipped in with, “No fuckin’ see that? He couldnae even see a big white motor wi’ a blue flashin’ light on the top!”.

Slim Improvement

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI appear to have digressed from the subject, which is supposed to be a book review. In retrospect I think I was far too harsh with my earlier assessment of Baxter’s book being crap. In fact, as books by/about football personalities go, it is admirably honest, and is relatively free from “over the moon, Brian“, and “sick as a parrot” cliches.

Books by football players are usually cursed by the subject’s lack of intelligence and by the “ghost’s” innate conservatism. These two factors usually combine to produce something which is pretty grim and humourless (eg Football is the Wallace Religion). In Baxter’s case, Fairgrieve was astute enough to make a virtue out of Jim’s brute stupidity to manufacture a book which, while hardly rivetting, is a country mile ahead of the usual guff of this sort. Recommended reading for those wet weekends in Kirkcaldy.
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