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lou macari book

Football My Life by Lou Macari and Kevin Garside; Bantam Press; 276 pages (24 pages of colour and b/w pictures); £18.99 hardback.

Lou Macari is an interesting character in the club’s history. As one of the Famous Quality Street Kids, he looked set to step into the team after the Lions broke up and continue Celtic’s domination of Scotland and Europe.

It was a reserve team that would probably thrash the present Celtic first team, they were that good: “I remember playing in a reserve league cup section with Rangers in it. By the last section game we had to beat Partic Thistle bu eight goals to qualify and put Rangers out. Big Jock came into the dressing room and offered us £20 a head if we did it. That was some money for a reserve team bonus and we were all peeing with excitement before we went out to play. I remember Kenny (Dalglish) making a bee-line for the toilet and shouting “Come on, we’ve got to f****** win this!!” By full time we’d won 12-1 and Big Jock paid out. I think thats when he realised how good we were.”

That he preferred to leave halfway through the 1972-73 season was a worrying omen that the club was going to struggle to hold onto its best players as the powerbase in football shifted from employers to players and their agents.

It’s common knowledge that money was the reason for Macari’s departure. He had grown up a Celtic fan (there’s a great picture of him as a wee bhoy watching the players training at Inverclyde) and was living the dream as a player breaking into the first team, but he nonetheless pinpoints his growing dissatisfaction with his terms and conditions of employment: “The lack of bonus or appearance money after the Inter Milan game (the 1972 European Cup semi-final) was the moment when one or two of the players started to get a bit disgruntled with the old regime.”

The players had been expecting anything up to £1,000 for reaching the semi-final. Big Jock gave them nothing.

Just as Bertie’s book will be something of a disappointment for anyone who supports Birmingham City and wants to read about his time at St. Andrews, so most of the middle chapters of the book are taken up with Macari’s career as a Manchester United player. Diverting, but not exactly rivetting if you’re a Celtic fan.

He played for United 401 times and scored 91 goals, which isn’t bad, but he played at a time when the reds were on the skids. Trophies were notable by their infrequency (only one FA Cup during Macari’s time). When you think of what might have been in terms of glory had he stayed at Celtic you begin to wonder who he’s trying to convince when he includes passages like: “The last game of the 1974-75 season was at home against Blackpool… We had won the Second Division Championship. The 58,796 crowd took the total for the season at Old Trafford past the one million mark at an average of 48,000 – proof to me of what United was all about. Any doubts I might have had about the decision to leave Celtic and come to United ebbed away that sunny afternoon against Blackpool when I scored in a 4-0 victory to take my tally for the season to eighteen.”

A few weeks before that Celtic had played Atletico Madrid in another European Cup semi-final.

As a manager he had spells in charge of Swindon, West Ham, Birmingham and Stoke. His struggles in the lower reaches of the Football League are interesting in that they perpetuate Macari’s view that modern football is rubbish. Not like in his day. Rather than study tactics manuals, he would buy his players fish suppers to eat on the team bus.

If his style appears somewhat mad, his decision to take the Celtic job when Liam Brady was sacked and leave a relatively happy post at Stoke City is certifiable. He had a five year contract at the Victoria Ground, “But when the call came I turned a blind eye to the political unrest. Celtic were my club. I wasn’t interested in the negative stuff. I had my rose-tinted specs on. I’d stood on the terraces in the bad old days before Jock Stein took over. I’d played under Jock during the glory days. Now I had a chance to complete the circle.”

Despite what revisionists might claim, it was actually a popular appointment at the time. But the circle soon became a circus ring. Macari claims he was faced with a group of senior players who didn’t want to work and who were undermining morale, although he doesn’t go as far as naming them. Players, in turn, among themPeter Grant and Charlie Nicholas, have since publically criticised Macari’s management style.

Lou does a manful job of sticking up for himself as the old board crumpled in a heap of senile despair to make way for the Rebels, mainly by way of portraying Fergus McCann as a cross between a tyrant and a loony. His removal is described in terms of McCann’s Machiavellian manoeuvres, but signing Carl Muggleton was a sackable offence on its own.

The whole sorry episode of his court case just degenerates into farce. He should never have got involved.

Around the same time as he was hearing the result of his appeal against the original decision involving fergus, Macari was devastated by the death of his son. This understandably overshadows the whole book, yet it somehow underlines Macari’s strength of character as well.

Despite everything, there’s still something about him I find quite endearing. If only he’d listened when they told him he’d be bonkers to take the Celtic manager’s job.