PO Box 306, Glasgow, G21 2AE, Scotland
Bobby Lennox, My story: thirty Miles From Paradise by Bobby Lennox with Graham McColl; Headline Books; 278 pages hardback; £18.99
Footballer biographies; if only I had a tenner for each one I’ve had to review for this blatt. I’d buy myself a pulping plant and do the world a favour by rounding up 90% of them and disposing of them in an environmentally-friendly way.
It would have been too much to bear had one of my all-time Celtic heroes been involved in a book unworthy of his stature. Imagine my relief when I discovered to my delight that this is the best of the recent crop of Lions’ books.
There’s certainly plenty for him to write about. The only player to have played for the Hoops throughout Jock Stein’s reign as Celtic manager, you begin to wonder if it’s not so much a trophy cabinet he needs to show off all his gongs as an extension to his house. Apart from 11 league championships he also won eight Scottish Cups, and four League Cups. He scored 273 goals in 571 appearances for Celtic and is one of a very select band of Scots who have played in two European Cup finals. While all that was going on he scored against the World Champions in a Scotland victory at Wembley.
As if that wasn’t enough, when you read through the pages of his book it strikes you how many times Lennox was on the scoresheet in matches when it really counted, the cup finals and the European matches. Not until Henrik Larsson came along have we been fortunate enough to witness such a prolific goalscorer in the Hoops in recent history.
Apart from his goalscoring exploits, something he shares with Jimmy McGrory is the scandalous lack of caps he managed for the national team during his illustrious career. Between 1966 and 1970, when he was his peak, he was awarded the princely sum of ten. “It got to the stage where I wasn’t even looking when the Scotland team was named,” he says.
One of Billy McNeill’s accolades for Lennox was that, “Bobby knows what wearing a Celtic jersey means.” It’s another of his endearing qualities which is evident from the earliest chapters. When he was 14 he eventually persuaded his parents to let him travel to Celtic Park from Saltcoats to watch a League Cup tie. It was 1957... and he even remembers the opposition (Airdrie, for the record). It’s only real fans that can remember that kind of detail.
Even his father, who comes across as a lovely character as well, was too anxious to attend the 1965 Cup Final to watch his son playing for his beloved Celtic. The thought of his old man in tears when he heard the final score still affects Lennox to this day.
His recollections of the club during his early days as a pro are funny, principally because Celtic had a Pythonesque quality about the way the team was run at managerial and boardroom levels in those days. The directors don’t escape lightly later on the book either.
Lennox won the European Bronze Boot, for being the third highest goalscorer, in 1967-68. Rather than let on, the directors kept this a secret from him. Jimmy Farrell (who he? Ed) went to the gala dinner organised by France Football in Paris instead of the player and collected the award on Bobby’s behalf. He didn’t even know at the time he had won it. The next night it was presented to him while he was having a pre-match dinner.
There’s no bitterness in the book, however. The stories are told with a sense of self-deprecation, good humour and humility typical of the man. He spent his entire career at Celtic (two careers really, with a brief sojourn at the Houston Hurricanes - the Celtic supporters’ club in Houston is named after him and together with his wife he is invited out every year for the Christmas party - in between) with barely a hint of being in the papers for anything other than the right reasons.
In fact, there is a definite hint that at times it was the easier option for Big Jock to drop Lennox rather than somebody else who might have made more of a fuss a fuss about it.
There are plenty of anecdotes about Jock Stein in the book, and it was clearly a complex relationship, even though Bobby has the highest praise for the Big Man. “On his first Saturday back at the Park after his car crash I scored a hat-trick against Dundee [in a 4-0 victory] and it was good to see him smiling again at full-time”.
Neither is Lennox grudging about the lack of money players in his era earned compared to their counterparts today, most of whom would stand little comparison to a legend like Bobby Lennox. On one occasion recounted in the book the Lions were having a reunion in London They walked into a restaurant then all walked out after seeing the prices on the menu. Lennox sees things instead in terms of higher values: “I have had a great career - played with great teams and worked with great managers. I also have a very happy home life. Would I like more money? Who wouldn’t? But I wouldn’t swap my experiences and memories for anything.”
Most of them are recounted in the book and skilfully rendered by Graham McColl.
A great Christmas present for somebody you think highly of. Just make sure you read it yourself first.