PO Box 306, Glasgow, G21 2AE, Scotland

The Mighty Atom: The Life and Times of Patsy Gallagher by David W Potter; Parrs Wood Press; £8.95

My father was not old enough to have seen him play but I remember in the late 60s when I was 7 or 8 dad passing on stories of Gallacher's brilliance that had been told to him by people who had seen him play.

I knew that Delaney (who my dad did see), McGrory, Napier, Thomson and the post-war greats were superb players, but it was Patsy Gallacher I wish I had seen play.

A brilliant essay in The Glory and the Dream I read some 20 years later reminded me that Celtic once had a player in the Maradonna class (in a football sense) in the 1910s and 20s. But when I read The Mighty Atom by David Potter I realised how little I knew about him.

The bare facts I knew, and some of the games - and his goal in the 1925 cup final - were familiar. But like most people the most I knew was that his grandson was a terrific player with Dundee United whose career had never quite lived up to its potential.

The problem after reading this book is that I'm not sure I know him that much better.

In many respects this is a terrific read in the style of other books by this author and Campbell & Woods, mixing as it does the Celtic of Patsy's career, some fascinating social titbits of the time as well as placing it all in a wider social/ historical context.

The author is not shy in giving his opinion - which is fine - and the writing does have some fine quirky touches (although he rather overdoes the exclamation marks to emphasise a point). But the real problem for me is that, particularly in the early chapters, there's not enough about Patsy Gallacher.

I have a feeling that Potter - who I would guess is in his mid to late 50s and perhaps has a father who saw the great man play - assumes that his readers are as familiar with Patsy's style of play as the writer himself obviously is and that Gallacher is as widely known by Celtic fans as Potter thinks he is. But I'm not sure that's true.

I, for one, would have appreciated a few more passages describing his playing style and the reasons for the excitement it clearly generated (as Campbell and Woods managed).

Those Celtic fans who know of Patsy would almost certainly acknowledge that he was the best player Celtic had fielded until the 1960s, but I wonder if he's as instantly recognisable to contemporary fans as McGrory or John Thomson. He should be.

On a personal basis I can't agree unequivocally with Potter's belief that Gallacher was Celtic's best player of all time. It may be the case that the standard of Scottish league football was higher in Patsy's time than it was during the period of 9-in-a-row, but I would think it highly unlikely that any Scottish club side which played between 1911 and 1932 was as good as the best teams Celtic defeated in European competition during Jock Stein's time. Johnstone, Murdoch, Gemmell and company succeeded at a level Patsy never did (or could). But that was not his fault, and given what is told and known of his style of play, as well as his professionalism with regard to fitness (which seems to have been far ahead of his contemporaries) only a fool would say that he wouldn't have made it in the modern era.

To be fair to David Potter there can't be too many people still alive who saw Patsy play in the flesh or who knew him well enough to provide the author with fresh insights. Newspaper reporting of the time seems to have been no better than it is now. The author himself acknowledges that there is very little in the way of a visual record either - the photographs in the book are often posed team pictures rather than action shots - and no newsreel footage exists at all.

Still, this is a worthy effort to fill a gap in Celtic books and the chapter on his time at Falkirk is terrific. Best of all, Potter's enthusiasm for his subject makes you believe that a small, thin, almost unhealthy-looking man from a background of desperate poverty became, for a time, quite simply the best footballer in the world.

And there can't be many people you can say that about.

 

JIM PAYNE