PO Box 306, Glasgow, G21 2AE, Scotland


Hail Cesar - The Autobiography by Billy McNeill
; Headline Books; 312 pages; hardback £18.99

I bought this book personally from the author at a tome-signing ceremony and shook hands with the great man. I'm also glad I got it at a discount because, by and large, the style of writing is banal to say the least. This, I would say, is down to collaborator Jim Black, an ex-hack with the Sun. I honestly feel Billy would have made it a more interesting read had he dispensed with the journalistic advice. To put it all in context, I read the book on a three hour train journey from Bordeaux to Toulouse.

The account of Billy's playing days may be old hat but he spurns the opportunity to enlarge on the 9-3 debacle versus England at Wembley in 1961 (his first cap) and the two losing Cup Finals against Dunfermline (1961) and Rangers (1963). Opportunities galore like this are missed throughout the book.

Likewise, the foundations of the Lisbon triumph may have been documented ad nauseam yet Billy seems to have nothing piquant to add, which I cannot believe. The result is that I had finished half the book before the steward had brought my coffee.

Only after Billy's playing career ends did I find myself reading more carefully about his time as a manager. I thought at the time - as I still do- that he was a good manager, whether at Aberdeen or at Celtic. He confirms the general view that Desmond White was a man leading the club towards a great black hole of despair with his total lack of ambition. I hope to God we're not to undergo a reprise of White's parsimony under Brian Quinn.

Interestingly enough, White wanted Billy to replace John Clark as his assistant with Frank Connor, a revelation stark enough to cause knowing nods in the basement of Celt House where Connor's stock has been bullish for years. Terry Cassidy was, 'a thoroughly unpleasant, untrustworthy, overbearing, offensive individual.' Hear hear!

Billy's account of Mo Johnston's leap from faith differs rather from the one offered by Jack McGinn. Billy felt the club could have made the truth public and legally prevented the ex-Celt joining up at Ibrox. The mystery is why Celtic didn't, if only to save some face at least.

His views are consistent with those of most Parkhead fans. He berates Dalglish for letting Barnes flounder. He is no admirer of Gerry McNee. He made McStay captain to bring the leader out of him, which Paul just was not by nature. The two Poles (Dziekanowski and Wdowczyk) were poles apart (oh stop me! I'm beginning to sound like Jim Black!) in devil, dedication and attitude. I nodded in agreement. 'That's just what I thought!'

Yet there are still echoes of moans and whines. For example, Billy feels he retired from his playing career prematurely. No you didn't Billy. You were perceptibly going backwards in your last two seasons. Remember the night Derek Dougan turned you with consummate ease when you were playing for Scotland at Hampden?

Leaving Pittodrie to take the Celtic job when he did (first time round) and going from Manchester City to Aston Villa are mistakes he acknowledges, but one he does not own up to is signing Martin Hayes from Arsenal (with the rider he had not actually seen him play). At other times he feels as if he didn't get the respect he deserved. He is voted Manager of the Year but Stein growls in his ear that it should have been the treble-winning Jock Wallace. He believes he should have been treated with more dignity when he got the sack (to let Brady take over) in 1991. I agree, but did he really expect Michael Kelly and co. to make him salaams on his way out of Parkhead? Do they matter any more?

There is a lot of admiration for Rangers players in the book along the lines of 'Greigy was an outstanding player', but nothing on the rapport - if it existed at all - between the teams. Another opportunity missed.

The prose itself is trite. It doesn't flow and seems aimed at a market of recently literate teenagers: 'The so-called swinging sixties were underway and we knew how to enjoy ourselves... but we weren't wild men.' I mean, 'Bremner's flame-coloured hair embellished his fiery temperament.' Who talks like that?

Give me a Campbell or a Sheridan or a Graham McColl any day. Overall it's a half good book but wait until it comes out in paperback.

SERGE NERAC