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Even among the Lions Tommy Gemmell has carved a special niche for himself with supporters of a certain generation. Scoring in two European Cup finals (not to mention a World Club Championship) certainly helps, of course, and I was glad that he was voted on to the Greatest Ever team. But for me there was always something a wee bit different about him.
I was expecting something out of the ordinary, then, when it came to reading volume two of his autobiography (hands up if you remember the brilliantly titled 'The Big Shot' back in the late 60s?), although that wouldn't be hard given the paucity of good stuff in the footballer's lives genre. Given that Graham McColl was his collaborator on the book it makes for a promising combination.
Gemmell's early days in the game follow a familiar rags to (relative) riches pattern, yet funnily enough, his particular circumstances seem to have touched me more than I've noticed with other players who have recounted similar tales. It's hardly Angela's Ashes but it was an engaging enough beginning to big Tam's story.
It also helps you get a perspective on a recurring refrain throughout the book. As he gradually works his way up the ladder to regular first team player the subject of money crops up regularly. Gemmell's philosophy of 'take what you can get' from football might sound craven but it's made clear throughout - as it is in the best football biographies - that it is a precarious business in which to make a living. More so in the days when the clubs held all the aces rather than the players.
Tommy's recollections of his Celtic days had a familiar ring to them. He goes over his relationships with his team mates and the history that they made together and it's all done with great candour and humour. By the time he had established himself as Celtic's regular left back he was ready to cultivate an image of himself as flamboyant. His stories of life off the pitch offer a glimpse of a bygone age and are hardly in the same revelatory class as Frank McAvennie's, but Gemmell usually manages to raise a smile here as well with his couthy anecdotes.
There's actually a hint of the Carry On films about the players trying to hoodwink Jock Stein by smuggling booze into their various hotel rooms - and being caught more often than not, betrayed by a swinging chandelier at Seamill under which Stein would sit and watch for tell tale signs of creeping about upstairs. There are also some amusing anecdotes concerning the players' get-togethers with their Rangers counterparts, most notably Jim Baxter and Wille Henderson. Maybe there could have been more mileage in the book out of this because these stories are really entertaining, as are the tales of Scotland squads on the razz after internationals.
Even at the peak of his career with Celtic money rears its head. Gemmell was apparently annoyed that Billy McNeill was being paid more than him (even big Billy's book costs a pound more to buy!) and his identification as one of the ringleaders in attempting to secure more money doesn't seem to have gone down well with either the board or his manager.
The breakdown of Gemmell's relationship with Stein following his ignominious return from a tour of the USA in 1970 foreshadows his eventual departure from Parkhead (the player was on the transfer list for two years before Stein finally released him). It was a somewhat acrimonious split according to Gemmell's account, and he still appears to be bitter over the way it was handled, claiming that he had never wanted to leave.
After this I found the book actually got better as he describes his time with Nottingham Forest and subsequently as a player then manager at Dens Park, where he had a modicum of success, even managing to put one over on his former mentor in a League Cup final. He claims he was embarrassed at the time, but I'm afraid this is Gemmell indulging in a certain amount of revisionism. At the time he looked as if he was enjoying it very much, thank you.
Following his sacking from Dens he was appointed manager at Albion Rovers and we get a glimpse into life on the Scottish football slagheap which left me thinking that there must be enough material here for a book on its own, although you might find librarians filing it under 'fiction' such is the often surreal nature of the material. Gemmell once had to buy all the players long studs before a winter away fixture but was refused reimbursement by the Cliftonhill board (£17.50) on the grounds that they couldn't afford it, even though the boardroom drinks cabinet was always groaning under the weight of its contents.
The only part of the book I really couldn't enjoy was a chapter towards the end devoted to his life after football; of interest only to people who like reading CVs for financial advisors.
Tommy Gemmell had an exceptional career in football and he's produced an enjoyable testament to it here.