BOOK OF THE WEEK

Old Firm favourites' secrets revealed
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The Independent Online
Fields of Green: Unforgettable Celtic Days Blue and True: Unforgettable Rangers Days

both by Roddy Forsyth (Mainstream Publishing, pounds 14.99 each)

An atheist, in the Glaswegian definition, is someone who attends Celtic-Rangers games for the football. So intense is the partisanship, to use one euphemism for the sectarian loathing, that the extent to which the rival squads socialise may surprise those who invest in either of Roddy Forsyth's new books (for only the most perversely ecumenical fan will buy both).

Take Chris Morris and Stuart McCall. Neighbours after moving up from England to Parkhead and Ibrox respectively, they met at an out-of-town hostelry to compare impressions. When Morris went to order drinks, one of the seven other customers collared McCall and demanded to know why he was fraternising with a Fenian.

When Morris returned, McCall warned him discreetly about the little local difficulty. "Well, you won't believe what happened to me," came the reply. "While I was at the bar a bloke came up and asked me what I was doing with that Orange bastard."

The story is typical of the rich seam of anecdotal evidence mined by the BBC's voice of Scottish football. In other hands, inviting 12 players, past and present, from each of the Old Firm to relive their most memorable matches might have been an excuse to wallow in nostalgia. Forsyth seldom allows sentimentality to rear its tipsy head and spoil two absorbing additions to the oral history of the Glasgow giants.

A third of his interviews cite collisions between the clubs. One from each camp picks a European victory over Leeds which, though separated by two decades, illustrates the one cause which unites Tims and Bluenoses: gubbing the English. Some even cast new light on long-forgotten failures.

We learn why Andy Goram was "raging and cursing" after Rangers had done the double at Elland Road, and discover the dubious delights of the teenaged Charlie Nicholas's pre-match diet (which may explain why an exquisitely gifted striker never possessed the pace that would have made him one of the immortals).

Ally McCoist has one of the best yarns. Scotland were on the verge of qualifying for Italia 90 when his French opponent, Luc Sonor, snapped at him: "You bad player." "Maybe," McCoist responded. "But me 2-0 up and me going to World Cup finals."

If there is one jarring note it is that, while Forsyth is rightly disdainful of stereotypes about Scottish goalkeepers and wheezing bagpipes, he appears to condone the we-are-the-people machismo of a "burly Glaswegian" who refused to allow the police to remove the pals who were illegally packed into an executive box at Leeds. Furthermore, he would doubtless view the Scottish equivalents of the misspelling of Wolves' ground and relocating Norman Hunter to midfield as proof of a patronising Sassenach attitude.

These are minor quibbles, however. Let Goram, English born and bred yet immersed in the lore of Ibrox, have the final word. "There's no time for religious bitterness at Old Firm games," he declares. "We're all too busy kicking each other."

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