Adventures in a Golden Age: Scotland in the World Cup finals 1974-1998

Archie Macpherson

Black and White £11.99

Red Card: FIFA and the Fall of the Most Powerful Men in Sports

Ken Bensinger

Profile £16.99

ARCHIE Macpherson is the most eloquent, persuasive and informed witness. Not only does he know where the bodies are buried in Scottish football, he was at all of the funerals and delivered most of the eulogies.

His fame derives mostly from his television commentaries – a climactic burst once spectacularly recreated for a scene in Trainspotting - but he is a writer of substantial gifts. His biography of Jock Stein is simply one of the great Scottish books, placing an extraordinary figure in a specific time and culture.

He brings the gift of inside knowledge and fluent writing to Adventures of a Golden Age. But he is also unencumbered by any need to be placatory to the living or the dead. In his 80s, he has outlived many of his contemporaries and has no compunction about being frank about those who remain.

It is a book that drips with succulent anecdotes. Macpherson was there for Germany 74 to France 98, so can carry the tales of national breakdown in Argentina to the sudden, brutal full stop against Morocco in St Etienne on June 23, 1998.

He was friend, co-commentator and fellow traveller with Stein. His relationship with Alex Ferguson was volatile but based on a shared closeness to the inner workings of Scottish football. He was familiar to the players over the six World Cups and this has led to a trust that is reflected in the frank, revelatory interviews in the book.

There are the almost obligatory stories about the drunken Scotsmen, unfortunately most of the early tales being about those performing in the national jersey rather than watching in the stands. Billy Bremner, for example, an irrefutably great midfielder, comes across as a troubled soul who could prove the thesis that turmoil can be contagious. The fallibilities of managers such as Willie Ormond and Ally MacLeod are examined with Macpherson indicting them both, but with a sense of gentle humanity as well as cold reality.

Macpherson may be refined, even sophisticated in his writing, but he does not shirk a challenge. Both Stein and Ferguson – certainties to be in any list of greatest managers ever – are scrutinised in terms of personality and strategy. The gradual diminishment of the colossus that was Stein is brilliantly observed, made all the more powerful by an ineffable sense of regret.

Macpherson’s most contentious theory, however, may be contained in the title. Does drawing with Iran, a player failing a drug test, getting skelped by Costa Rica, tonked by Morroco and a myriad of other humiliations constitute a golden age?

The answer has to be in the affirmative. Scotland never had it so good. The qualification for the 1974 World Cup was the first appearance on such a stage since 1958. It is now 20 years and counting since the national team has reached a major finals, European or World.

The squads from 1974 to 1998 contained such greats as Danny McGrain, Denis Law, Graeme Souness and Kenny Dalglish, all of whom were at one time or another dropped in finals matches. This testifies not only to managerial ruthlessness but to the depth of resources open to the national squad.

Macpherson looks the truth squarely in the eye. He does not shy away from the unacceptable, the incompetent and the downright absurd but he also charts a period when Scotland enjoyed unparalleled success in qualifying for major tournaments.

It serves as wonderful history, breathing life into matches and tournaments that seem to have been buried under decades of comment. There is a freshness, an energising spirit to his Adventures. But there is an ache, too. This is what it makes it truly authentic.

Ken Bensinger’s Red Card, in contrast, is a powerful piece of reportage that eschews the sentimental to cut to the chase with the sharpest of scalpels. This is the story of how major corruption scandals were uncovered at FIFA. The detail is extraordinary but the larger picture fails to astonish.

Bensinger’s capacity for research and his propensity to lay out fluently the results is more than admirable. This is a brutal indictment of the way global football was run but it is delivered in the breathless style of someone who is constantly surprised at the depth of the corruption. However, those who have followed the work of journalist Andrew Jennings - regularly in the Sunday Herald – will be familiar with both the crimes and the cast.

Bensinger, who has written for the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times, has a firm grasp of the figures and the issues but perhaps has a blessed innocence that cannot be shared by those who have followed world football closely since Joao Havelange took over at FIFA in1974. FIFA then had about $50m in the bank. Two decades later it could garner $3.5bn annually in sponsorship, merchandising and TV rights.

And where there is such a flow of money, there is a surfeit of snouts that want a dip in the trough. This culture made millionaires of a generation of FIFA apparatchiks. There was an almost universal acceptance of this. It was the US of A that brought down a system built on bungs for favours, whether in TV deals or awarding World Cups to hosts.

One canny tax inspector noticed that Chuck Blazer, a one-time general secretary of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, had not filed returns despite living in Trump Tower and travelling in limousines to Michelin-starred restaurants. Blazer was brought down with others quickly following.

The story is related as good triumphing over evil. But there is an afterword beyond the book. Many of the allegations concerned money being awarded to delegates to vote for Russia to host the World Cup. A host of indictments were served, some of the corrupt jailed. However, the World Cup is taking place in Russia.