Friday, 29 February 2008

Stocking up on fitba memories

First published in Sons View, 23 February 2008, Dumbarton -v- Arbroath

While clearing out a hidden corner of my home office recently, I came across a treasure trove to brighten the eyes of fitba fanatics. I was looking for old programmes to pass on to Tommy Hughes, who does a great job selling them on eBay for the Sons Supporters Trust's Youth Development Initiative. What I found, in addition, was some old hardback copies of The Scottish Football Book from the early 1970s.

If you’re 40 or under, that title might not mean a lot. But for me and many others it was the other meaning of Christmas. Along with International Soccer, the more obviously youth-orientated products (Shoot and Score annuals), the Scottish Football Book was the present I really wanted my parents to remember. Mostly they did. Sometimes I’d have to wait for my fix, by spending some tokens which, they hoped, would be employed expanding an interest in history or literature instead!

Figuring that in the Internet age of information overload football annuals would be confined to antiquarian bookshops, I was initially surprised (but then again not, thinking about it) to discover a website called doing a buzzing trade in yearly titles, old and new, alongside the usual panoply of memorabilia – badges, flags, scarves and shirts.

Along with scraps from the press (I live in England, remember), the Scottish Football Book, which first appeared in 1956 and lasted just over 30 years, was an oasis in what felt like an information desert concerning the game north of the border. It was the brainchild of sports journalist Hugh Taylor. The fact that he did a deal with respected London-based publisher Stanley Paul meant that his yearbook was even available in my neck of the woods, sedate Kew Gardens.

Naturally, there was a fair spattering of the Old Firm and the national team, but what made the annual special was that Scottish football at all levels got the treatment in a series of well-crafted pictorial essays that told the story of the previous season in vivid, passionate terms. Players also had a voice. Dumbarton’s heroic 1970 League Cup semi-final showing against Celtic at Hampden featured in edition number 17, one of my treasured possessions.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, this kind of publication was in its element. But Taylor got there first and dutifully fought off the opposition, including attempted annuals from the Scottish Daily Record, the Scots Sport TV show and, in 2004, the Glasgow Evening News’s The Big Red Book – as writer and fan Alan Cunningham recalls in ‘Fitba Mad’, an article for Textualities. My late parents would at least be gratified to know that the writing in The Scottish Football Book was good enough to merit the attentions of an online literary magazine!

Quite apart from mushrooming on the net, with wildly varying results in terms of quality, the market for football writing has continued to explode in printed form over the past fifteen years, too. Who says the web and the book are enemies? However the style of publication has changed radically. A lot of the material now comes out in ‘branded’ packages from the PR departments of big teams, from tabloid hacks seeking an extra buck, and in reams of ghosted biographies for name players well short of their prime.

The international game is also seeing more publishing action, with Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific starting to take their place alongside the established football arenas of Europe and South America. The best regular coverage, admittedly, is on the web, with sites like and giving a global twist to our domestic passions.

Talking of which, Sons supporter Tim Rhead recently sent me a programme from 18 March 2006, a goalless Division Two draw against Forfar (who visit SHS again on 8 March). Nothing too global about that, you may think. Except that this was the occasion when Dumbarton became the first British football club to host a game dedicated to an Amnesty International campaign to release a prisoner of conscience held in Burma, 40-year-old teacher and mother Ma Khin Khin Leh.

Tim will be at the Rock later March, when I’ll update you further on that one. Football memories aren’t just about nostalgia. They’re also about the difference the game makes to our lives. Including those Sonstrust youngsters funded by eBay programme purchases, of course… so lets give Tommy some more sales (tommyhughesATblueyonderDOTcoDOTuk).

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