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Scottish Books I Read This Year

It’s that time of the year when people post ‘best of’ lists.

This isn’t a best of, merely a list of the books with Scottish authorship or Scottish flavour which I read this year. A round 30, of which (since Scotland in Space was an anthology* containing stories and articles** by both men and women) 14½ were by men and 15½ by women, 28½** were fiction (Snapshot being about Scottish Football Grounds.)

The Corncrake and the Lysander by Finlay J MacDonald
Light by Margaret Elphinstone
Snapshot by Daniel Gray and Alan McCredie
And the Cock Crew by Fionn MacColla
A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh
Ringan Gilhaize by John Galt
The Gates of Eden by Annie S Swan
Close Quarters by Angus McAllister
Vivaldi and the Number 3 by Ron Butlin
End Games in Bordeaux by Allan Massie
The Gleam in the North by D K Broster
A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark
Scotland in Space Ed by Deborah Scott and Simon Malpas
Being Emily by Anne Donovan
The Ninth Child by Sally Magnusson
Big Sky by Kate Atkinson
Their Lips Talk of Mischief by Alan Warner
The House by the Loch by Kirsty Wark
Summer by Ali Smith
Glister by John Burnside
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Scabby Queen by Kirstin Innes
The End of an Old Song by J D Scott
The Rental Heart and other fairy tales by Kirsty Logan
Republics of the Mind by James Robertson
The Dark Mile by D K Broster
Highland River by Neil M Gunn
The Clydesiders by Margaret Thomson Davis
The Last Peacock by Allan Massie
A Day at the Office by Robert Alan Jamieson

That last one was of course my final (unless I ever get round to Trainspotting) book on the Best 100 Scottish Books list.

I am part way through George McKay Brown’s collection of short stories, Hawkfall, which would make the above sex ratio of authors 1:1 but am unlikely to post about it here before the New Year. (I’m four behind as it is, though one of those is for ParSec.)

* It was also the only one to be SF or Fantasy.

It’s Cup Time Again

Or it will be on November 27th.

Sons have been drawn at home against Sauchie in the Third Round of this season’s Scottish Cup.

Sauchie is a former Junior club (their full name still incorporates the Junior tag) who joined the migration to Senior football on the recent establishment of the extended Scottish football pyramid and now ply their trade in East of Scotland League Premier Division (Tier 6.) This is their first season in the Scottish Cup.

In the First Round they beat Highland League leaders Fraserburgh 2-1 away so must not be taken lightly. On Saturday they beat Dunipace of East of Scotland League First Division Conference A (Tier 7) 2-1 at home in the second round.

They will therefore go into the game with Sons with no pressure on them, so the tie could be tricky.

Outbreak of Flags

Scots are not generally given to flag-waving from their properties.

Exceptions come when the national football team qualifies for a major tournament; as it did for Euro 2020 (due to Covid, played in the summer of 2021.)

Maybe there was an extra excuse this time because the previous occasion when Scotland graced a big tournament was in 1998!

Scotland Flags Again

More Scotland Flags

The flags have long gone now.

Roger Hunt

And so another name from that small number of Englishmen to grace a World Cup final, Roger Hunt, has finally left the pitch.

His 244 league goals remain Liverpool’s best ever. Only Ian Rush has scored more goals for the club overall. Hunt also scored 18 times for England in 34 appearances – including three in the group stages in 1966. When Jimmy Greaves was fit again for the final it seemed it might be Hunt who would make way for him but manager Alf Ramsey decided to stick with Hunt and Geoff Hurst. By raising his arms and turning away Hunt looked in no doubt that Hurst’s shot off the bar had crossed the line for his controversial strike in extra-time that in effect won the game.

That Liverpool supporters called him Sir Roger shows the esteem and affection in which he was held.

Roger Hunt: 20/7/1938 – 27/8/2021. So it goes.

Jimmy Greaves

One of the footballing greats has gone. Jimmy Greaves might be termed a pure goalscorer. His record of 357 goals in the top flight of English football may not ever be surpassed. He also scored nine in Serie A with A C Milan.

He began his career at Chelsea then moved to A C Milan in 1961. He did not settle there and was signed by Tottenham Hotspur for £99,999 (the £1 less than 100,000 supposedly to avoid the pressure of being the first £100,000 player. I doubt that would have bothered him.) He is the highest ever goal scorer for Spurs where he won several trophies. His League career ended at West Ham United.

He also scored 44 goals in 57 international appearances for England but missed out on a World Cup Final appearance in 1966 – and therefore his country’s greatest (only?) football triumph – due to being injured in a group game and the form of his replacement Geoff Hurst. This disappointment reportedly subsequently preyed on his mind. Sadly he became an alcoholic after his League career ended.

In later years, the alcoholism overcome, he became a Saturday lunchtime fixture in the TV prgramme Saint and Greavsie and earned himself a whole new legion of fans some of whom had never seen him play in his heyday.

Here are some of his goals for Spurs:-

James Peter (Jimmy) Greaves: 20/2/1940 – 19/9/2021. So it goes.

Gerd Müller

Sadly Gerdy Müller, one of the best strikers I’ve seen play football, (never in person though, though only on television,) has died.

With Bayern Munich and the West German national team he won every competition going. He scored 51 times in 31 appearances for TSV 1861 Nördlingen before joining Bayern (then not in the West German top flight!) for whom he bagged 566 goals in 607 games and an incredible 68 in 62 appearances for his country. That record speaks for itself. Despite not looking like a typical footballer, squat and a bit ungainly looking, he had great pace over short distances and a quick mind for the chance to shoot at goal. He was so good he was nicknamed Der Bomber. He finishe dhis career in the US at Fort Lauderdale Strikers, again averaging more than a goal a game.

In those days chances of seeing a player of a foreign club were few and far between – possibly highlights of a European tie involving them and a Scottish or English club or just, maybe, the final of the European Cup. Even European championship games weren’t routinely on domestic TV.

So it was in World Cups where these exotic foreign stars were revealed to us.

In the 1970 World Cup in Mexico Gerdy got a singleton and two hat-tricks in the group stages to set up their quarter-final against England.

I didn’t see that game live (I was young and foolish) but I heard the early score.

When I got home – not knowing the result – I said to my dad, “England 2-0 up?” A nod.

“2-2 full-time?” (hopefully.) “Yes.”

“3-2 Germany after extra time? “Yes.”

“Gerdy Müller?” “Yes.”

Maybe it was wishful thinking (even in 1970 Scots had got fed up with 1966 and all that) but somehow I knew what the outcome would be and that Der Bomber would make the difference.

Mind you, if I had watched the game maybe I would have been less sanguine. By all acounts (or is that English acounts?) England were bossing it till Alf Ramsey took off Bobby Charlton to save his legs for the semi. Then Franz Beckenbauer took over the midfield. Whatever, poor Peter Bonetti, stand-in keeper after Gordon Banks caught a stomach bug, got the blame. West Germany lost that extra time thriller of a semi 4-3 to Italy, but Gerdy scored twice.

Four years later it was a different story. (England didnae make it cause they didnae qualify. Oh sorry, that line came four years later.) Gerdy scored only once in the first group stage but got two in the second, helping West Germany to the final where they played the Netherlands, Johan Cruyff and all.

Their brand of football made Holland most neutrals’ favoured side and they even took the lead from a penalty in their first attack. But after another penalty evened things out Gerdy scored the winner in a home World Cup for West Germany, forever sealing his legacy.

Gerhard (Gerd) Müller: 3/11/1945 – 15/8/2021. So it goes.

How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the FA Cup by J L Carr

The Quince Tree Press, 129 p. First published in 1975 but this edition is from 1992 as it has a cyclostyled letter from the author on page 1, signed J L Carr, 1992. The book’s Wiki page tells us that The Quince Tree Press is the author’s own imprint.

This is, of course, a fantasy. A mere glance at the title tells you that. That a village team would win the FA Cup could not have happened at the time it was written and certainly could not happen now. But that is, I suppose, still the abiding dream of any small club and its supporters, that a “mob of milkmen, farmers, the parson and a job lot of pitmen” could match “Big Business whose performers cost the Mint.” Yet, despite protestations in Part One that this novel is about football, it really isn’t. There are few descriptions of games and those are fairly cursory. What it is about is the dynamics of village life and the triumph of hope over expectation. And how fleeting it all is. I suppose it might be termed a comic novel though there isn’t anything laugh out loud in it.

The text is a curious mixture of the personal recollections of Steeple Sinderby Wanderers committee member Joe Gidner, minutes of committee meetings, absurdly purple-prosed local newspaper accounts of matches penned by Ginchy Trigger “who did funerals, inquests, weddings, council meetings and all sport” for the East Barset Weekly Messenger and even an excerpt from Hansard. There are also six black and white illustrations, a prefatory one of the author’s football team when he played for South Milford White Rose for one season as an eighteen year-old, 4 postcards displaying Steeple Sinderby landmarks, one (uncaptioned) photograph of a woman – perhaps Ginchy Trigger – and one sketch of the Fangfoss household.

Mr Arthur Fangfoss is Chairman of the Wanderers because he was chairman of everything in Steeple Sinderby. He has an unusual household arrangement, living with his wife and her sister, whose roles are commonly held to be reversed. The team has two ex-professionals, Alex Slingsby, retired from football to look after his wife after she suffered a catastrophic accident and Sid Swift, a one-season goalscoring wonder who overnight lost all confidence in his purpose in life but has been restored to vitality by the vicar’s formidable proselytising sister Biddy. The team’s playing philosophy is a bit like total football but underscored by local Hungarian refugee from the Nazis, Dr Kossuth, and his Seven Postulations (though I only recall six being written down here) – produced after watching a couple of Wanderers games and one at Leicester City. Principally these are: have a good goalkeeper, everyone except the goalie must contribute to all aspects of the game, make the most of home advantage (Wanderers adopt a highly sloping patch of ground for the new season) but when away make yourself feel at home and the opposition feel away, and avoid high balls for the most part as professionals control headers much better than amateurs.

When the decision to enter the FA Cup is made one committee member says, incidentally highlighting the fantasy inherent in the author’s conceit, how hard it will be to progress, “‘particularly this year, when the top Scottish clubs are coming in for the first time.’” There is a historical inaccuracy here (perhaps Carr’s oversight): some Scottish clubs played in the FA Cup in its early days in the nineteenth century.

Despite using the dread word “soccer” (but then, he was English) Carr does appear to know his football, “by and large, football supporters are not creatures of intellect but of emotion.” The home crowd at Tambling, “bellowed disbelief at incompetence, cried scornfully to the grey heavens in god-like despair, clamoured angrily for revenge.” That is a football crowd for you. “For 20p. they did all this and were not called to account.” Well, they think that if they’ve paid to watch, it’s their right to dish out abuse. (But 20p! Time has flown – and prices flown even higher.)

Carr also has part narrator Gidner assert that, “Since all Anglicans know theirs is the true faith, they don’t go around stuffing it down other people’s throats.” (Try telling that to folk in the former colonies.) About village life he says, “in rural England, people live wrapped in a tight cocoon” communicating “as their fathers did by a flick of the eyeballs, passing down grudges either improved upon or, at very least, in mint condition from generation to generation.”

The Cup Final was in the old English tradition – “Abide with me” and all – despite Steeple Sinderby’s opponents being Glasgow Rangers. (The singing of religious songs at games involving Scottish clubs has never been the custom – for obvious reasons. Surely Carr cannot have been unaware of this state of affairs?)

I don’t suppose this can be counted as great literature but it is entertaining and likely to be so both for those who like football and those who don’t.

Pedant’s corner:- a missing comma before a piece of direct speech (x 2,) “Antarex skirt and trench coat” (Antartex?) crutch (crotch,) elegaic (elegiac,) Tokio (Tokyo,) “McBain shipping line” (the real one is MacBrayne’s,) “I was stood there” (standing.)

Croatia 3-1 Scotland

Euro 2020, Group D, Hampden Park, 22/6/21.

Well we know this is how it goes. A gallant effort but this was knowhow – and class – against inexperience. Their control, passing and movement made it look like men against boys.

At least we got a goal.

It’s hard to resist the thought that – notwithstanding they’d never beaten us before – the Croats targeted this game. They certainly played way better than in their previous two outings. They never looked at all bothered or likely to lose and in Luka Modrić they had an outstanding player who totally bossed the game and scored a superb goal. And Ivan Perisić wasn’t far behind.

Maybe Scotland’s players will have relished the experience and it motivates them to want to have it again – whether at Qatar next year or in the next Euros.

We can hope.

But it’s the hope that kills.

England 0-0 Scotland

Euro 2020, Group D, Wembley Stadium, 18/6/21.

Well. The first thing you have to say is that Scotland deserved at least a point. It was a great performance by the players – perhaps unlucky not to get the win. But for that you have to put the ball in the net. We were never convincing about the ability to do that.

A win against Croatia ought to see us through. But they’ve got quality in midfield and upfront and it will be a very difficult game. The other thing that worries me is that they’ve never beaten us. That run has to end sometime.

And we know how this goes. Scotland put in a gallant effort and somehow still contrive to muck it up.

On Tuesday evening Croatia will burst our bubble with about ten minutes to go. Watch through your fingers.

Scotland 0-2 Czech Republic

Euro 2020, Group D, Hampden Park, 14/6/21.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

This is how it goes with Scotland.

No luck, their keeper making at least three very good saves – the one where he prevented the sclaff from his own defender going in being superb – hitting the bar, losing goals at the wrong times – though there’s never really a good time to lose one – with one of them a brilliant piece of execution from the sort of forward player we lack.

I refused to express any hopes for a good outcome before the game but hope nevertheless stirred early on. Fatal, fatal.

Still, it would be just like us to get a result* against England on Friday now.

Then a plucky display against the Croats before going out on goal difference again.

*Not a win obviously.

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