Jock Stein: The Master
Bob Crampsey (1930 - 2008) remains the most respected voice there ever was in Scottish football. If you knew what it was like to listen to him on the radio, then you’ll imagine what a pleasure it is to read a whole book by him. Aside from being a master of storytelling and anecdote, Bob Crampsey retained facts in a way that few other people could.
It was this faculty that led him to being awarded Brain of Britain in 1965, a feat he followed up eight years later when he became a runner up in Mastermind, with the specialised subject of The American Civil War. It is the good fortune of every Scottish football fan that he devoted most of his incredible mental powers to our favourite sport however.
His biography of Jock Stein (1922 – 1985) is a purely enjoyable read. Even in the genre of football or sporting books, there are few that stand out and there’s a good reason for that. Fact is that football books are generally written in a functional manner and for fans, and generally don’t linger much on style or graceful reminiscence. In one respect, football books and football players’ biographies imitate the journalese of the daily papers, because this is how we tend to experience footie writing.
The one great expectation to that is Gazza: My Story by Paul Gascoigne. I know you don’t believe this but Gazza: My Story is one of the best football books going, simply because Gascoigne’s career was so remarkable, and because he is so mad. Aside from that Gazza’s first book is also one of the most epic volumes about depression out there. I’ve recommended Gazza’s book to many people and although they’ve doubted me, they’ve all come back saying what an incredible read it is.
To enjoy Jock Stein The Master by Bob Crampsey, you have to be into the Scottish game however. Bob Crampsey didn’t discriminate in his telling between team tactics, family anecdotes, any on-field anarchy that may have occurred and the social climate during Jock Stein’s time. I don’t even think Bob Crampsey’s mind was capable of applying separate tones to these separate aspects, such was its capacity as a mine of pure fact. This also means that you don’t necessarily learn much about Jock Stein the man in reading this biography. It’s as if every kick of the ball is covered, and not the private life, meaning this is very much a sporting biography.
Personally I enjoyed the stuff in this book from before my time; Jock Stein as Hibs manager for example, between 1947 and 1952. If phrases like ‘fast flowing attacking football’ mean anything to you, you’ll be right at home here, and enjoy reading about the first ever Scottish team to play European football.
Incidentally, if you are looking for external references to this paperback, the one pictured with this article, you should know you are looking for a book titled Mr Stein. For some reason, Mr Stein was the hardback title of the book, which remained in hardback only for some considerable time, such was its prowess and renown. Bob Crampsey published many books including The Game for the Game's Sake (The History of Queen's Park Football Club 1867-1907) and The First 100 Years (The Official Centenary History of the Scottish Football League). He also wrote a number of non-football related books, such as The Young Civilian, A Glasgow Wartime Boyhood (1987) and The King's Grocer, Life of Sir Thomas Lipton (1995)
Reading about Jock Stein was like going back to a Scottish sitting room, only you know how many years ago. Maybe this thought made this book such a pleasure. Here’s Bob on Wikipedia if you feel the need for more. Reading Jock Stein: The Master is actually like listening to Bob Crampsey, because he’s one of these writers who wrote as he spoke. If you can imagine his voice, then consider it as you have a gander at the opening paragraph of his book:
The mood of the Scottish supporters who thronged into Cardiff in the dawn hours of 10 September 1985 was markedly different from that of those fans who had attended the corresponding match against Wales at Anfield eight years before in 1977. In 1977 there had been a thoroughly unhealthy kind of hysteria, a determination on the terracings to qualify by fair means or foul and it is now history that Scotland qualified by dubious means which attracted instant and humiliating retribution.