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

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Politics doesn't just connect us to the past and the future – it's what makes us human

To those people who tell me that they’re not interested in politics, I often say: “But politics is interested in you!”

I have long been haunted by a scene in George Orwell’s great novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Winston Smith, the hero, is forced to watch propaganda films depicting acts of war and destruction. He is moved by something he sees: a woman trying to protect a child by wrapping her arm around him as they are attacked. It’s a futile gesture. She cannot shield the boy or stop the bullets but she embraces him all the same – before, as Orwell writes, “The helicopter blew them both to pieces.”

For Winston, what Orwell calls the “enveloping, protecting gesture” of the woman’s arm comes to symbolise something profoundly human – an expression of selflessness and of unconditional love in an unforgiving world. Scenes such as this we now witness daily in footage from the besieged eastern Aleppo and other Syrian towns, people in extreme situations showing extraordinary dignity and kindness.

I read Nineteen Eighty-Four for the first time in late adolescence. I’d dropped out of sixth-form college without completing my A-levels and was commuting on a coach from my parents’ house in Hertfordshire to London, where I worked as a junior clerk for the Electricity Council. During this long daily journey – sometimes two hours each way – I started to read seriously for the first time in my life.

I was just getting interested in politics – this was the high tide of the Thatcher years – and Orwell’s portrayal of a dystopian future in which Britain (renamed “Airstrip One”) had become a Soviet-style totalitarian state was bleakly fascinating. Fundamentally the book seemed to me to be about the deep ­human yearning for political change – about the never-ending dream of conserving or creating a better society.

Nineteen Eighty-Four was published in 1949 (Orwell died in January 1950, aged 46), at a time of rationing and austerity in Britain – but also of renewal. Under the leadership of Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill’s deputy in the wartime coalition, the Labour government was laying the foundations of what became the postwar settlement.

The National Health Service and the welfare state were created. Essential industries such as the railways were nationalised. The Town and Country Planning Act was passed, opening the way for the redevelopment of tracts of land. Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent was commissioned. New towns were established – such as Harlow in Essex, where I was born and brought up.

To grow up in Harlow, I now understand, was to be part of a grand experiment. Many of the families I knew there had escaped the bomb-ruined streets of the East End of London. Our lives were socially engineered. Everything we needed was provided by the state – housing, education, health care, libraries, recreational facilities. (One friend described it to me as being like East Ger­many without the Stasi.)

This hadn’t happened by accident. As my father used to say, we owed the quality of our lives to the struggles of those who came before us. The conservative philosopher Edmund Burke described society as a partnership between “those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born” – and I find this idea of an intergenerational social contract persuasive.

Progress, however, isn’t inevitable. There is no guarantee that things will keep getting better. History isn’t linear, but contingent and discontinuous. And these are dark and turbulent new times in which we are living.

A civil war has been raging in Syria for more than five years, transforming much of the Middle East into a theatre of great-power rivalry. Europe has been destabilised by economic and refugee crises and by the emergence of insurgent parties, from the radical left and the radical right. The liberal world order is crumbling. Many millions feel locked out or left behind by globalisation and rapid change.

But we shouldn’t despair. To those people who tell me that they’re not interested in politics, I often say: “But politics is interested in you!”

And part of what it means to be human is to believe in politics and the change that politics can bring, for better and worse.

What, after all, led so many Americans to vote for an anti-establishment populist such as Donald Trump? He has promised to “make America great again” – and enough people believed him or, at least, wanted to believe him to carry him all the way to the White House. They want to believe in something different, something better, in anything better – which, of course, Trump may never deliver.

So politics matters.

The decisions we take collectively as ­humans have consequences. We are social creatures and rational agents, yet we can be dangerously irrational. This is why long-established institutions, as well as the accumulated wisdom of past generations, are so valuable, as Burke understood.

Politics makes us human. It changes our world and ultimately affects who we are and how we live, not just in the here and now, but long into the future.

An edited version of this essay was broadcast as part of the “What Makes Us Human?” series on BBC Radio 2’s “Jeremy Vine” show

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage