Gibbo by Davie Gibson and Chris Westcott: The monster of British football as an adolescent

Davie Gibson, an old-fashioned inside forward from Scotland, was my childhood hero. His book is a nostalgic read for those who wish to remember his talents but also to remember football's glory days.

Gibbo: the Davie Gibson Story
Davie Gibson with Chris Westcott
Amberley Publishing, 160pp, £15.99

Davie Gibson, a brilliant, old-fashioned inside forward from Scotland, was the hero of my youth. Signed in 1962 by Leicester City from Hibernian for £25,000 during his national service, the miner’s son became the star of a side that briefly threatened a greatness that never materialised. But the “wee tanner ba’” man, overshadowed in the public eye by Tottenham’s presciently nicknamed “Ghost” John White, was a major star and won international honours for Scotland. “Whisper his name and people become bewitched,” said Alan Hoby of the Sunday Express. It was a time when English football ruled the world in playing rather than in financial terms.

In this engaging memoir, Gibson writes of this football world, a million miles away from today’s, without a trace of rancour, bitterness or jealousy. Though the maximumwage system had been abolished a couple of years before, Gibson moved south for the same wage he was on at Hibs, £25 a week. He never thought of asking for more: “I was happy to be given the chance to play in the First Division.” He got no share of the transfer fee – then a record for the Midland club – and nobody negotiated on his behalf.

A little later, at the age of 24, before he even had a driving licence, he bought a secondhand car for £750. He married in the less-than-glamorous surroundings of Hinckley registry office on a Thursday and on the Saturday scored against Burnley, as shown on Match of the Day. Leicester reached four Cup Finals during Gibson’s eight-year spell at the club but only won one. We read of his devastation when he “ballsed it up” at Wembley in 1963, giving the ball away easily and calamitously for Pat Crerand and Denis Law to combine for Manchester United’s opening goal: “After 50 years, it still hurts.”

A year later, Gibson freakishly scored with a header direct from a fiercely struck corner to win Leicester their first major trophy, the League Cup. I can still picture that goal vividly in my mind. Along with the Beatles, whose haircuts I attempted to emulate, Gibson, with his bow-legged strut, was my style model.

There are tales here of invitations to settle the score in the gym in encounters between Gibson’s Gorbals-born minder Frank McLintock and Everton’s Jimmy Gabriel and of an apoplectic Gordon Banks’s fury at the referee when Jimmy Greaves calmly rolled a penalty into the net as Leicester’s England keeper fiddled with his gloves in the corner of the goal – what followed was that his teammates doubled up with laughter, rather than the breakfast-television inquests and questions in parliament that might ensue today. When Gibson left Leicester, the manager said, “You’ve given me enough trouble. When you go out of that door, don’t fucking come back.” “Perhaps he was having a bad day,” writes Gibson mildly.

Modern football, were one able to ignore the shenanigans of venal agents, dodgy, moneylaundering owners who view their clubs as mere cash-flow generators in a giant game of Monopoly and spoilt, greedy players and boorish managers – likewise regarding their employers as irksome bus stops on a journey to El Dorado – is in so many ways preferable. We sit in safer stadiums; the fitness levels and skills of the players are higher; the relegation and promotion dramas that scriptwriters die for, so brilliantly chronicled on our television screens, are a great advance. I make no excuse for having been involved in pushing the rewards of the players higher but this book is a gentle reminder of a time before the circus got into its awful swing.

It is a tribute to Gibson that his retirement spent as a postman and care-home proprietor has given him great satisfaction and it’s a mark of the man that he details the story of a chance encounter with someone also called Gibson, who named his son David after him. The eponymous offspring happened to be an outstanding amateur golfer with whom Davie once played in a competition. Their match progressed with the footballer playing no part in the team effort until, as the round concluded, he bounced one on to the green off a tree and got down in two putts to make his only telling contribution to the card. “That day . . . is up with the best of them,” he writes with typical modesty.

Gibson’s biography is a nostalgic read not only for those who remember his talents but also for those who like to look back on the history of the game and reflect on the monster as an adolescent.

Jon Holmes is a former football agent, former stadium announcer and chairman of Leicester City

Nostalgia kick: football in the 1960s. Photograph: Getty Images.

This article first appeared in the 08 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The world takes sides

Photo: Getty
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The End We Start From imagines London underwater

Megan Hunter's fictional apocalypse is a tender one. 

It is six months after the flood. The nameless narrator of The End We Start From is a new mother and a refugee, and by the midpoint of the novel we have followed her and her baby from the “Gulp Zone”, where their London flat was swallowed, to a safe house that proved to be not safe enough, and then refugee camps, every move stripping life a little closer to the essentials. First what can be fitted in a car as you flee to safety, then what can be carried in your arms; first porridge, then only gruel.

Halfway through, the narrator and her baby make it to an island under the guidance of another new mother she befriended in the camps. Here, a family has established a small life of plenty. The narrator has left behind a “place of not-enough”, but here there is food to spare. Seeds grow into vegetables. The baby “likes to eat butter in chunks”. But where has the butter come from? There’s no mention of cattle on the island, no bucolic descriptions of churning. We’re told there is no electricity. So how do they have butter and why is it not rancid?

It’s a small thing, but an outsize irritant in a book whose prose is pared back to match the minimal existence it describes. Every detail feels weighted with significance because it was chosen over something else. Megan Hunter is a poet (this is her first novel), and her poetic instincts are underlined by the TS Eliot-referencing title, borrowed from Four Quartets: “What we call the beginning is often the end / And to make an end is to make a beginning. / The end is where we start from.”

Apocalypse and rebirth are central to Hunter’s story. Butter aside, it invokes a thoroughly plausible end of the world. Like Emily St John Mandel’s luminous Station Eleven, or Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, you read it with the conviction that this is what it would be like. (These stories are told from the perspective of the resourceful fortunates who make it through. Apocalypse literature kindly dodges the reality that, if it came to it, most of us would die whimpering in a dirt hole.)

But realism is not the only dictate here. The End We Start From is also deeply invested with symbolism. It begins with the narrator going into labour: “Finally I am waterless, the pool of myself spreading slowly past my toes.” Maternity is a kind of apocalypse, an end to being one kind of self who lives one kind of life, and the beginning of another. Names, like everything else here, are cut back to the barest essentials, becoming just initials. The narrator’s husband is R, her in-laws are N and G, and her baby Z – an alphabetical end who is at the beginning of his life. Anyone who has welcomed the catastrophe of a newborn into their lives is likely to feel sympathy for this parallelbetween infant and Armageddon.

There is a cost to the allegory, though, and it comes through in moments when Hunter sacrifices the merciless logic of calculating survival in favour of giving play to her metaphor. Milk is, as it would be for a new mother, a theme. The milk in the narrator’s breasts that keeps her baby alive becomes an analogue for all sustenance: “As for food, I have started to think of it all as milk,” she says. “I wonder how long we would survive, how quickly human milk runs out in famine.” Perhaps it’s inevitable, then, that the unexpected gift of security and nourishment the narrator and Z find on the island should be represented through dairy; but it also punctures a world you could otherwise believe in utterly.

Hunter’s apocalypse is a tender one. There is violence and disorder at the start: one of the most affecting uses of Hunter’s spare style is when the narrator’s mother-in-law fails to return from a brutal trip to gather provisions, and the narrator simply announces: “No G.” But while R chooses isolation and suspicion of others, leaving his wife and child to make his own way, the narrator chooses humanity. She tells us how she “falls in love”, deep and quick, with those with whom she forms alliances. To borrow again from Four Quartets, “The houses are all gone under the sea” – but The End We Start From promises the possibility of life afterwards. 

The End We Start From
Megan Hunter
Picador, 127pp, £9.99

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear