than half a century later, I still remember the precise moment I began to have an
idea of the Scottish impact on English football. It was in the late 1940s at a family gathering in my boyhood
home in the Manchester area. The
conversation had turned to football, as it always did, and I mentioned reading
that Scotland held the edge in
the annual international rivalry with
With a small boy's unintended impertinence, I asked why that was since Scotland was a much smaller country than
England. There was an uncomfortable pause, and I could tell I’d said
something best left unspoken. My
father eventually replied it was because Scotland had dominated in the early
years, a long time ago.
the matter required further investigation, and there began my interest in
Scottish football and footballers.
I learnt that Scotland invented the passing game, which is one of the
reasons they won a majority of the early matches against England.
Soon I became quite taken with all things Scottish, and particularly
Scottish football. It was an
attraction that lasted. Denis Law
was to become my favourite player in the 1960s, followed by Kenny Dalglish in
the 1970s and 1980s.
When England failed to qualify for the World Cup finals in 1974 and 1978,
I cheered on Scotland because it seemed natural and right—they
promptly broke my heart, of course—and I have never lost my fondness for Scottish
Giller, author of the book under review, was there when Alf
Ramsey, greeted with a cheery “Welcome to Scotland, Sir Alf” on his arrival
in Glasgow as
England manager for the annual renewal of the old rivalry, responded, “You
must be fucking joking!” Sir Alf’s antipathy to Scotland and what led to it never had the
slightest effect on me despite my lifelong allegiance to the England team.
Of course, Alf had to play and manage against the Scots, and I didn't, which
just might explain the difference in viewpoint!
one's perspective, it is undeniable that until
the last two decades, Scottish football, now the subject of scorn, brimmed with talent. Before the advent of
the Premiership, it was a
steady source of supply for an inordinately large percentage of the players in
the Football League and especially the old First Division. It was not only quantity that Scotland provided; a seemingly endless stream of
superstars brought their footballing genius south to brighten the English game.
Apart from the F.A. Cup final, the most eagerly anticipated highlight of
the season was the annual match between Scotland and England, and rarely did we
have any idea which side would emerge on top.
is much to bemoan in today’s British game, top of the list must come the decline in Scottish football.
Surely it is the most saddening development, even to England fans, at least
those old enough to remember Scotland as a footballing force to be reckoned
fans have short memories—“What have you done lately?”—and, of course,
they have no memory at all of what happened before they themselves began to
follow the game. That they have to
go out of their way to learn, and apparently very few do.
Manchester United fans
recently chose Eric Cantona of France
as the greatest footballer ever to appear for that club.
Fine player that Cantona was, those who saw Denis Law of Scotland,
George Best of Northern Ireland and Bobby Charlton of England in Manchester
United colours were left shaking their heads.
Giller, the long-time
football journalist and
author, has spent recent years
recording some long-neglected aspects of the English game’s history.
One of his purposes—the most admirable, in my view—is to ensure that
our game’s grand story remains accessible to younger fans.
A couple of years ago he brought us
his official biography of Wolverhampton
Wanderers and England legend
Now he turns to a groundbreaking review of the Scottish influence on English football in McFootball: The Scottish heroes of the English game.
football writer for London’s Daily Express in the 1960s and 1970s, Giller was
on close terms with most of the post-war football figures he tells us about.
He is one of the very select group of active football writers, constantly
diminishing in number, who have the breadth and depth of
experience to write knowledgeably about great swaths of the game’s history.
Fortunately, he is also
a born raconteur, and, as always, his unique
story-telling talents have produced a work that contains all the facts and
figures and yet remains lively and entertaining reading.
a revealing introduction, which includes a truly startling apology for taking part in
the journalistic destruction of young Scot Peter Marinello’s football career
in the early 1970s, Giller observes that Scotland manager Berti Vogts, a member of
West Germany’s 1974 World Cup-winning side, “must feel like a prospector who
has arrived after the Gold Rush has finished” since he “has had to scrabble
around reserve team matches and tap into the ancestry of English-born players to
try to discover footballers fit to wear the Scottish blue.” Giller then
sets about demonstrating how very different things were until quite recently.
book’s first part contains a series of finely-crafted biographical sketches of
the Scots who have played a dominant role in English football.
Its opening chapter focuses briefly on the two Scots who were founding
fathers of the Football Association and the Football League, Lord Kinnaird and
William McGregor. Giller then turns
to perhaps the most famous Scottish side of all, the Wembley Wizards who
decimated England, 5-1, in 1927, resurrecting his long-ago interview of
Scotland’s captain on the day, Jimmy McMullan, and following that with
colourful accounts of the careers of the greatest of those wizards, Hughie Gallacher and Alex James.
remainder of the book’s first part is devoted to vivid portraits of Scottish players
and managers who became giants in English football’s post-war years—Matt
Busby, Bill Shankly, Tommy Docherty, Jock Stein (only very briefly in England, but
who could leave him out of a book about Scottish football legends?), Dave Mackay,
Denis Law, George Graham, Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Alex Ferguson.
Along the way, Giller devotes a short chapter to the lesser-known and
uncapped Jimmy Leadbetter, whom he labels England’s World Cup hero for his
role in Alf Ramsey’s managerial rise.
book’s second part is a superb—in fact, a simply invaluable—resource for
those who take an interest in the game’s history.
In Giller’s words, it gathers “for the first time in one volume
complete profiles and statistical facts and figures on every post-war
Anglo-Scottish footballer who has been capped for his country while playing in
England” as well as “many of the outstanding players who were ignored by the
Scottish selectors, often almost as punishment for taking the English
shilling." Giller ranks each of the players with one to five
stars according to their impact on the English game.
The profiles are deftly written and fascinating career capsules.
also includes an Anglo-Scot dream team selected by fans on the
he set up to promote the book. The
dream team chapter includes a list of all players who received an appreciable
number of votes as well as
the voting breakdown.
book concludes with another remarkable resource, a list of Scottish-born
footballers who played more than 200 post-war Football League games for a single
English league club (and selected major players who made 190 or more such
originally chose “MacSoccer” as the book’s title. His publishers told him to rename it for the sake of sales
figures, apparently because many of today’s British fans regard “soccer” as an
unacceptable American perversion of the name of the game.
term soccer actually originated in 19th century England as a truncation
of “association football,” the formal name of the game, and it served as an
convenient shorthand way of distinguishing it from rugby football, which also
was given an
abbreviated name, “rugger.” “Soccer”
was in common use in Britain as a popular name for the game through at least the
1960s. For example, Tommy
Lawton’s biography, published in 1955, was entitled “My Twenty Years in
Soccer.” And when the Football
Association celebrated its centenary in 1963, it published two
official commemorative volumes entitled “A Century of Soccer” and “100 Years
of Soccer in Pictures.”
to the delusions of today’s fans in this respect is
worthwhile because there are bigger battles to be won in the war against
football ignorance. One of them
centres on the myth that Giller targets and explodes: that Henrik Larsson of Sweden and Glasgow's Celtic is the greatest
“Scottish” footballer of all. If
more young fans buy and read the book because it’s called McFootball instead
MacSoccer, renaming it has served a beneficial purpose.
As Giller writes, “We need to tell the young generation of Scots of
their proud past and of how English football, for at least its first hundred
years, would not have been nearly as successful and as satisfying without the
strong Scottish influence.”
Graham Leggat, an Anglo-Scot
international in the 1950s and 1960s and now
the voice of soccer on Canadian television:
“I just hope your book helps rekindle the old spirit in pulling on the
Scottish jersey. I just cannot
believe how the standards have fallen. It
is so sad.”
has done what he can, and done it admirably. The rest is
up to the Scots, and particularly young Scots.
May the Auld Enemy’s fortunes revive. Football is the poorer without
great rivalries, and the older and fiercer the rivalry, the better.
Scottish football's decline has been a blow to all who care about the game, and
its return to glory would delight them.
McFootball: The Scottish heroes of the English game
is available at most booksellers and may also be purchased
website Giller has set up to promote the
book. Fans may also choose their all-time Anglo-Scot team for publication
on the site.