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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Why hasn’t British Asian entertainment built on the Goodness Gracious Me golden age?

It is 20 years since the original radio series of Goodness Gracious Me aired. Over two decades, the UK media portrayal of Asians hasn’t used its success to evolve.

Save for a handful of special one-off episodes, Goodness Gracious Me hasn’t occupied a primetime TV slot for nearly two decades. Yet still it remains the measuring stick for British Asian comedy.

The sketch show, which transitioned seamlessly from radio to screen (it started as a BBC Radio 4 series in 1996), has stood the test of time and is as much a staple of modern British Asian culture as Tupperware or turning up an hour late.

What Goodness Gracious Me did so expertly was to take a set of serious issues facing first, second and now, I suppose, third generation migrants, and turn them on their heads. 

In making light of the pressures of academic expectation or family drama, Goodness Gracious Me wasn’t playing down the poignancy of such concerns; it was raising awareness and combatting their uglier side with humour.

It offered resonance and reassurance in equal measure; it was ok to have an embarrassing uncle who insisted he could get you anything much cheaper, including a new kidney, because other people like you did too.

That Goodness Gracious Me was broadcast on a mainstream channel was also a victory for minorities; it made us feel integrated and, perhaps more importantly, accepted. Against the backdrop of Brexit, what wouldn’t we give for that treatment now?

Really, though, the jewel in Goodness Gracious Me’s crown was its willingness to recognise diversity within diversity. It is a relic of a departed era when discourse on TV around Asians was different, when the broad church of that term was truly represented, rather than reduced to one catchall perception of British Muslims.

Goodness Gracious Me offered insight into the experiences and idiosyncrasies – religious or otherwise – of Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and even English people. It’s what made it so accessible and, in answering why subsequent programmes have failed to reach similar heights, this is a good starting point.

Without the flexible sketch format, the modern Asian sitcom Citizen Khan has struggled to cover multiple topics, and, by being specifically about a Muslim family, it leaves many non-Muslim Asians wondering: where’s ours?

I hasten to add that I feel plenty of sympathy for the British Muslim community, hounded by tabloid headlines that attack their faith, but it would be disingenuous to suggest that non-Muslim Asians are sitting pretty in 2016 and don’t need a similar level of support in terms of positive public perception.

The current volume of British Asian media products is fairly good. The BBC has its dedicated network, The Good Immigrant essay collection was one of the outstanding reads of the year, and we still have champions of comedy in Romesh Ranganathan and Nish Kumar.

But I think ultimately it comes down to the broadness of appeal, rather than the quantity of products. Goodness Gracious Me was not only able to engage the full spectrum of British Asia; it transcended its target audience and was on terrestrial TV.

The British Asian media on offer now is up against it, released as the country’s attitude towards foreigners completes a full circle back to the same suspicion my grandfather encountered in the Sixties.

Fewer outlets are willing to explore the stretch of what it means to be Asian, either by denying it due consideration in mainstream shows or by peddling their own monolithic observations. The BBC Asian Network, for example, is laudable in its existence, but does little to engage the young Asians who aren’t into techno spliced with Bhangra.

The mainstream representations of Asians in Western film and television that are commissioned, meanwhile, are irritatingly limited and sometimes inaccurate. In an article for the Guardian last year, Sara Abassi lamented the disproportionate appetite for “gritty post-9/11 films about conservative Pakistani families”, and that the researchers of American series Homeland failed to realise that the national language of Pakistan isn’t Arabic.

When I interviewed the actor Himesh Patel for the No Country for Brown Men podcast, he suggested that the answer to re-establishing Asians in mainstream media, both here and in America, was three-fold. The first challenge to overcome was for outlets to acknowledge that not all Asians fit the same religious or cultural profile; the second was to be open to placing Asians in non-Asian specific products to better reflect their presence in society.

Patel, who is best known for his portrayal of Tamwar Masood in the soap opera EastEnders, made his third recommendation based on this role. He felt that characters should be written with only their personality in mind, making the ethnicity of the actor who plays them incidental. Tamwar’s awkwardness but underlying kindness, Patel said, was what defined him – not his skin colour.

Goodness Gracious Me, though a primarily Asian show and a comedy at that, actually taught some salient lessons about representation. It succeeded in providing a window into a multiplicity of cultures, but at the same time wasn’t a total slave to the politics of identity – several of the 100-plus characters needn’t have been Asian at all. It was reflexive to the times we lived in and a perfect advertisement for empathy. That is why we still talk about it today.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.