With the new season less than 48 hours away it is time for a little football chat….
I am a football fan although as a follower of Motherwell Football Club this will probably leave some doubting my initial statement.
As a boy my father would take me to matches at Fir Park Stadium where we would watch my team try their very best and sometimes even win. This was in the 1980’s and Motherwell were not the force they are today (last season’s league table shows that Motherwell finished in 2nd place in the Scottish Premier League – not too shabby).
Christmas 1983 saw my family uproot from our Lanarkshire home and relocate over 100 miles North in dreary Inverness. I say ‘dreary’ as in 1983 Inverness was not the thriving metropolis it is today. We had one cinema (with 2 screens), a John Menzies and everyone talked funny – except to them I sounded funny. What a blast.
The good news was that Inverness had three football teams. The bad news, none of them were any good and they all played in the Highland League (whatever that was). Deprived of ‘real’ football I turned to my radio. Radio Scotland 810 MW – my link to civilisation and to the excitement of the Scottish Premier League. Football on the radio is infinitely better than it is on television, the skill of the commentators in building up the excitement and describing a visual experience that you cannot see is one I could only dream of emulating. On TV a defender make a 20 yard pass to advance the ball towards the centre spot and the commentator will not say a word, on radio the same pass can sound worthy of Pele at his best.
30 years on I am still a Motherwell fan, I can see Airdrie’s stadium from my window and I have a new season ticket for Albion Rovers (because they are doing amazing things and I want to support their initiative). Yet I will always choose football on the radio over the TV or attending a match.
So what does any of that have to do with Scotland going to the 1974 World Cup in West Germany? It’s right at the top of the page – Richard Gordon. To me, he is the voice of Scottish Football and as I read his magnificent recounting of one of Scotland’s many attempts to conquer the footballing world I can almost hear his voice narrating every line and it made it just that little bit more special.
To turn to the actual book (which is why you are here) it is wonderfully constructed bringing together source documents from the time, player interviews describing the events both on and off the pitch (and there were some fun off the pitch events) and the social history of what it was like to be a footballer and a fan in the early 1970’s. All the material is crafted together in a very readable, almost conversational, manner and makes compelling reading.
Although I had not actually been born when the ‘74 World Cup took place I found that this did not impact upon my enjoyment of the book. The detail the author catches is staggering as we are taken through the qualification matches, the building of the team, the characters, the peripheral players and the managerial changes that took place. Names I knew well and those I did not know at all became part of a very important journey and I got to live it out through the reading of this book.
For those not in the know Scotland had to play Brazil, Yugoslavia (remember them?) and Zaire. We returned home from Germany unbeaten yet we didn’t win the cup, history proves this is a very Scottish way of doing things.
For Scotland fans this book is required reading. Football fans from further afield can enjoy re-living and sharing in the hopes and dreams of a small (but proud) country.
If football is not your thing and you have made it this far down the page – thank you! I should have some Doctor Who stuff coming soon, perhaps that will be more to your liking?