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The Essential History of Celtic; by Graham McColl and George Sheridan; WH Smith; £16.99
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An unusual offering this. Published alongside its Rangers counterpart by WH Smith, you have to ask yourself about the timing of such a book and its shelf life as a recognised contender as far as club histories is concerned.

The history of Celtic must be the best documented of any football club, and it has been well served by the likes of Campbell and Woods in the past with The Glory and the Dream. Nowadays it would appear than in order to hit the back of the net with a published tome you need to find a niche that no one has explored in any great detail before. Hence, in recent years we've had the likes of 'Jock Stein - The Celtic Years', 'Celtic in the League Cup' 'The Head Bhoys - Celtic's Managers' (by the same author) and 'Oh Hampden in the Sun...' a book entirely devoted to the history surrounding one particular match.

'The Essential History' might be an attempt to buck this trend of increasing specialisation but maybe it's because I've been bloated on the niche market that to me it comes across as neither fish nor foul.

It's well enough written, even if the decades fly past in a breathless rush. By page 100 we've had eighty years of triumph and tragedy and we're only halfway through. It's actually to McColl's credit that he manages to keep his narrative as interesting as he does.

It's also a history that does not have the imprimatur of the club, which means that once-revered figures in Celtic's history, such as Robert Kelly, are no longer given the sacred cow treatment but regarded as 'a real barrier to progress at the club.'

The story is brought right up to last season's Champions League campaign, but unfortunately an opportunity to rake over recent events was passed over and the later chapters are lacking as much depth as the others.

Apart from a straightforward narrative of the club's history (lavishly illustrated it should be said) the book also includes biographies of the great players and managers over the years as well as historic matches. These are featured throughout the book rather than in a section by themselves which, if you pause to read them, has the effect of breaking up the narrative. Eventually I became so irritated I stopped reading these bits and came back to them at the end.

I'd also take issue with some of the author's inclusions in his 50 Greatest Players selection. With respect to the players themselves, neither Billy Stark nor Stilian Petrov are ready for induction to the Hall of Fame just yet, in my opinion.

The statistics section (around 100 pages at the end of the book) is superb. There aren't too many arguments down the pub that won't be settled once this is produced. The raw data - compiled by George Sheridan - is further enhanced by wee Statto nuggets he throws in; for instance, did you know that Celtic once fielded three different players in goal in the same match or that in the European match against Partizan Tirana the Celtic captain Roy Aitken handed over the traditional club pennant and received in exchange a book on Albanian architecture?

The cover price for this is prohibitive as well at a penny short of seventeen quid, although with 7 off the price the day I bought it I suspect it won't be too long before you're able to pick it up at a real bargain price. Which would be worth it for the statistics and trivia section.

MANFRED LURKER

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