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.

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

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