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celtic united book

Celtic United: Glasgow and Manchester ,Two Football Clubs, One Passion; by Frank Worrall; Mainstream Publishing; 352 pages; 9.99 paperback

“The best book I have ever read on Celtic and Manchester United” - Michael O’Brien, New York Daily News.

“The only book I have ever heard of on Celtic and Manchester United” - Manfred Lurker, Not the New York Daily News (or any other daily news).

I suppose this book is a bit like those beanie hats you used to see people wearing in the Jungle. One half would proclaim Celtic as the team, the other half would be an English team. Thinking back, I think Manchester United probably shaded it over Liverpool in the popularity stakes, but I seem to recall there would be a fair few Everton as well. There was even the odd West Ham/ Celtic hat (immortalised in the film ‘The Firm’ where Bex and his crew are on their way to Kings Cross to visit Birmingham) and one time I actually saw one guy wearing a Celtic/ Wolves hat. He must have knitted it himself.

The fad for adopting an English club on one’s headgear was relatively short-lived, so we’ll wait and see if Frank Worrall starts a trend of writing the literary equivalent with this book dedicated to the Hoops and United. Worrall is a Fleet Street journalist who has written regularly for The Sunday Times, The Sun, The Mail on Sunday and Melody Maker among others. The subjects of his other best-selling books include Wayne Rooney, Roy Keane and George Best, Brian Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, the five great players who have worn the Manchester United No 7 shirt. No doubt about where his first love is, then, but it’s clear from this book that he has a genuine interest in the history of Celtic as well as an affection for the Hoops that goes beyond the beenie hat.

The basic premise of the book is that Celtic and Manchester United have had remarkable parallels in their history. Fans of both clubs have also enjoyed watching similar types of players through the years (a few of whom have played for both) and preach the same philosophy of entertaining, attacking football. Worrall puts it like this in his opening chapter: It is hardly surprising that Celtic and United and their fans have a great affinity. Each is the undoubted glamour outfit in their respective countries; each has the biggest support, and the biggest and best ground; each has the most memorable players and history, and is intensely disliked by fans of certain other clubs; and each assumed legendary status, becoming the first two British teams to win the European Cup.”

And you can’t be fairer or more objective than that, can you?

The Celtic history, if all a bit familiar, is well researched, accurate as far as I could tell and pretty enjoyable to read. Worrall’s bibliography cites most of the Celtic heavy hitters, such as Campbell, Woods, Potter, McColl, and there were some interesting snippets I learned that I hadn’t come across before, notably in the chapter about the Celtic staff who went off to fight in the First World War, seven of whom failed to come home.

His account of the early days of Manchester United was of less interest to me and while I wouldn’t disagree with Worrall’s premise that both clubs in their formative years were reliant on inspirational businessmen to secure them financially - John Glass in Celtic’s case - I thought he was on less secure ground with the ‘Catholic club’ angle with regard to United, perhaps with an eye on what he perceives to be the market for his book among Celtic fans.

Perhaps the most striking resemblance for me was during the hiatus of the 80s and early 90s when both Celtic and United went through almost two decades of managerial and boardroom turmoil which only came to an end with the arrivals of Martin O’Neill and Alex Ferguson. Those who are under the delusion that the two clubs have enjoyed nothing but glory in the recent past should read the chapter ‘Blood, Sweat and Cheers’ and think on.

Indeed, Manchester United have had to endure far worse in this regard during their history than Celtic (hopefully) ever will. You simply can’t imagine Celtic being relegated or failing to win the league for 70 years.

As part of his evidence for the special relationship, Worrall includes a chapter on the players who have turned out for both clubs. I just found this annoying. Apart from Roy Keane, who turned up briefly for his highly entertaining swansong, I can only find three players who have been transferred directly from Old Trafford to Celtic Park. One of them, Joe Cassidy, doesn’t really count because United were called Newton Heath at the time (1893). Old Traff was still a glint in somebody’s eye. The other two are Micky Hamill (1918) and the hapless Lee Martin by Lou Macari in 1994.

When you read about the traffic heading in the other direction you’re soon reminded about who gets the best out of this deal: Delaney, Crerand, Macari, McClair... stop there. And as for Liam Miller...

By way of contrast, there are some excellent chapters in the book, especially those about Jimmy Delaney, Jock Stein, Matt Busby and the Munich air crash.

I’m not sure that I’m any closer to becoming a Manchester United fan after reading this. The only time I’ve ever uttered the phrase ‘come on Scholesy’ was when they played the Orcs in the Champions League a few seasons ago. Nonetheless, by the time I’d finished the book I’d learned a few things about them that, despite the naked capitalist greed that is often associated with their corporate image these days - acknowledged by the author - I actually found quite endearing.

In 1909, for example, they were suspended by the FA for refusing to renounce the trade union they had helped to form. As Worrall recounts: “Every professional player in the country had initially joined the union, but, after pressure from the FA all had dropped out, with just the United team left. The players dubbed ‘Outcast FC’ for their stance - but then players from other teams rejoined the union, admitting to their admiration for the stance of the United boys. This led to an eventual climbdown by the FA.” The Players’ Union still exists, of course. Not a bad entry on the CV, in my opinion.

If United happens to be your other team or if you’re just looking for a good read over the Christmas holidays, get someone to fill your football sock with this. Recommended.