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Books - Celtic: A Biography in Nine Lives (2012)
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DetailsTitle: Celtic: A Biography in Nine Lives
Author: Kevin McCarra
Published: 5 Apr 2012
SynopsisThere is no other football club in the world like Celtic. Kevin McCarra's brilliantly researched and eloquent biography of the club explains why.
Celtic: A Biography in Nine Lives takes its structure from nine key individuals associated with the club since its inception, and touches on aspects of each of their careers to explore key themes in the club's history. From John Glass, their tenacious first president and Willie Maley, who played in Celtic's first match against Rangers in 1888, to the legendary Jock Stein, who led the club to European glory in 1967 and Martin O'Neill, the most popular and successful manager since Stein, Kevin McCarra explores the history and captures the flavour of this most unique football institution.
Featuring interviews with Henrik Larsson, Gordon Strachan, Martin O'Neill, Neil Lennon and Fergus McCann, Celtic: A Biography in Nine Lives is a book which evokes all the drama of Celtic's great history.
More so than any other club, Celtic has been blessed with a wealth of great writers who have been able to take the various strands of our history to sew them together to create some wonderful writing. “Celtic – a Biography in Nine Lives” is another great addition to this catalogue.
Written by the respected football journalist Kevin McCarra (how rarely is that said nowadays?), he takes us through the history of the club as reflected round the lives of nine significant figures through our history, from John Glass through to Martin O’Neill. However, it is not necessarily a biography of the various figures, more so he uses each as a standpoint around which he analyses not only the figure but also other people of the period and events that occurred throughout their tenure at Celtic. Notably, in the John Glass and Bob Kelly chapters there are large passages where neither are even mentioned.
It’s really an original way to look at the history of the club. He doesn’t necessarily take issues chronologically either, for example starting the chapter on Bob Kelly with his stances in 1968 on the issue over clubs from the Eastern Bloc in the European Cup. This style enables the book to be different to the rigid nature of similar tomes such as “Dreams and Songs to Sing”, and allows the author to add notes and short biogs on people & events he otherwise might not have had the opportunity to do so in such a book.
Each chapter involves enjoyable anecdotes and retelling of events that shaped the figures, but also he pieces notes from other areas to give the chapters more weight. For example, in the chapter on John Glass, the author relates the environment around the East End of Glasgow at both the past and present times (in social and economic terms) to give an indication of the environment of the local community to help to resonate the issues that have evolved around the club and the many that still remain.
The anecdotes are an honest (and sometimes even critical) look at the club, but as it is Celtic the book can be a little romanticised (Kevin McCarra is a self-confessed fan). A number of the stories I admittedly had not even read before. What the author does wonderfully is thread together the anecdotes to create a wonderful patchwork that flows well to give a great picture of the evolution of the club, which even somebody with little or no knowledge of the club's history would find accessible. He adds analysis which adds weight to his writing but not all will agree on all his points (including rehashing the irksome issue of whether Celtic is an Irish or a Scottish club).
It’s quite a refreshing way to look at the club, and coupled with the author’s excellent yet still accessible style of writing, it’s an easy read for anyone. Sometimes the more serious books can end up being a bit too academic in their style and can thus end up a dry read, but this one easily avoids that trap. There thankfully isn’t the dull videprinter style of writing either where the author simply trots out stats, figures and results which can easily be obtained from the web.
If there is an issue then sadly in the ebook copy of the book I purchased, the editors got the picture of John O’Hara wrong (it’s actually James Kelly) and captions were mixed up between Bob Kelly & John McLaughlin. These shouldn’t spoil your enjoyment of the writing, and hopefully will be amended in the next editions of the book.
Highly recommended, and for this reviewer, it is the best Celtic book written in the past few years (and that is despite an incredible wealth of Celtic books to compete against). I can’t see it being bettered this year.
Product DetailsPaperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Faber and Faber (5 April 2012)
Celtic: A biography in nine lives(When Saturday Comes fanzine)
Most club histories are too dry. Anything but the longest book can only scrape the surface of over a century in the life of an institution that means so much to so many people. Presumably that problem inspired the format of Kevin McCarra's biography of Celtic. Choosing to structure the book around the lives of eight key men in Celtic's history – and the relatively unheralded Flax Flaherty – lets him examine the soul of a club that he describes, in the first line of his introduction, as like no other.
It is a line that would irritate most fans of other Scottish teams, but it is one he immediately justifies in his description of the remark- able mass-migration of fans to Seville for the UEFA Cup final in 2003. McCarra is not shy to praise Celtic where he sees fit: the 1967 European Cup victory, Seville, and Fergus McCann and Martin O'Neill re-establish- ing the club as Rangers' equals off and on the pitch. He is equally clear about his opinions on fans who romanticise the IRA or wallow in persecution complexes. Perhaps his absence from Scotland helps him discuss Scottish football objectively without worry- ing about how his opinions will be received.
The "nine lives" structure lends the book more depth than the majority of club histories, but McCarra does not let that restrict him from going beyond each of his subjects to cover other ground. The result, particularly in the early chapters, is like the pleasant reminiscences of a benevolent grandfather.
Among other things, the Jock Stein chapter is a reminder of how limited Celtic's resources were when they won the European Cup in 1967. Has any other club ever paraded that trophy on a lorry they have borrowed from a builder? The McCann chapter reads like an extended love letter to the man who enabled Celtic to realise their potential. Great anecdotes and facts are scattered throughout.
In spite of the structure, McCarra seems to feel obliged to provide a full history of the club. This can be a slight disappointment at times, particularly in the chapter on Flaherty, the newspaper seller who was also Jock Stein's best friend. Flaherty brought the players their papers each day and his relationship with the club was so close that he regularly accom- panied the club secretary, Irene McDonald, to pick up the players' wages from the bank. This relationship reflects a time, particularly in Glasgow, when clubs were tied closely to their local communities. The prospect of this chapter was intriguing, but it left Flaherty behind and moved on far too soon.
The book is not perfect, but it comes far closer than most to capturing the essence of the club. As a supplementary book for those already well served with Celtic literature, it is worth a look. For those starting out on their Celtic library, it is a must-buy. Mark Poole
by Kevin McCarra
Faber & Faber, £16.99
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