Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Father and other Working-Class Football Heroes by Gary Imlach (Yellow Jersey Press 2005)

Later, I called around and discovered that two other members of Scotland’s 1958 World Cup Squad had been in the same situation as my father. Archie Roberston of Clyde was dead; Hibs’ Eddie Turnbull had never bothered pursuing the SFA for a cap. I was inclined to agree with Eddie’s stoic acceptance of the rules as the rules, and the players simply victims of the period in which they’d played. Then I spoke to Tommy Docherty, who had gone on to manage the national team in the early ’70s, and heard the story of how he’d intervened to help get a cap for Bob Wilson. Bob, he told me, had played for Scotland but never against the home countries.

What? The Scottish Football Association, with its fear of floodgates and its respect for tradition, had been dishing out retrospective caps on a selective basis? It was only Tommy Docherty’s famous assertion that the best football managers are liars that kept me from calling Hampden Park there and then. Instead, I contacted Bob Wilson. He cautiously declared himself unaware of any intervention by Tommy Docherty on his behalf; but otherwise confirmed the story, which apart from the outcome sounded exactly like my father's. He’d written periodically to the SFA over the course of two decades with no success. It was only after Craig Brown took over as national manager that he’d got his cap. jim Farry had also been helpful.

I mentioned this discovery to Eddie Turnbull. ‘The English keeper? He got a cap? You’re kidding’ He was scarcely less incredulous by the time I’d outlined the sequence of events to him. ‘That’s ridiculous. That takes some believing, that Wilson got a cap.’

To many people, Bob Wilson - born in Chesterfield and a key member of Arsenal’s double-winning side of 1970-71 - was an English keeper and a very good one. In fact, he was perfectly well qualified to play for Scotland through his parents and turned out twice for the national team: in a European Championship qualifier against Portugal and a friendly against Holland, both in late 1971. His cap, inscribed with the initials P and H, finally arrived in 1996. That made it two years after Jim Farry had first written to my father, all sympathy and tied-hands, to say that it simply wasn’t possible, and four years before the SFA - following ‘some research into the circumstances’ - had turned him down for a second time.

The implication was clear: a well-known, well connected television presenter who could call on the Scotland manager to lobby on his behalf was worth an international cap in the eyes of the SFA; an older name frm a less spotlit era, sitting at his dining-room table with a ballpoint pen and some Basildon Bond, could be safely fobbed off with the official line.

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