Both Sides of the Border – Archie Gemmill

Archie Gemmill will always be remembered for ‘that goal&’ – there is no getting away from it.

However, with a senior career of over 650 league games, 43 International caps for Scotland – over half as captain – and three English league titles, it could be said he should be remembered for more than just ‘that goal’ – however what a goal it was, but there is (a lot) more on that later.

The book opens with a foreword from Brian Clough; Gemmill played for over 5 seasons under Clough, at Derby County and later Nottingham Forest.

The foreword is heartfelt from Clough, who stated he was friends with Gemmill long after his retirement from the game, and although he calls him ‘a miserable little so-and-so’ and ‘cantankerous’, you can tell it’s with feeling and he explains how he signed Gemmill and how good a player he actually was – despite admitting that when he signed him first time around, he had never seen him play before! A claim that Gemmill himself debunks later in the book.

The book itself is quite fast paced, with lots of short sentences, as Gemmill sets up his life from the beginning, starting off in his early years and reliving tales such as scoring the winner for his school in the Paisley and District Cup, to shooting somebody (who had taken his football off him) in the shoulder with an air rifle!

He recollects how, despite talk of approaches from both half of the Old Firm, he signs with St Mirren, his local team, on schoolboy terms during the 1963-64 season, aged just sixteen.

Gemmill had a mixed time at St Mirren: winning the Player of the Year award in his first season (1964-65), aged only 17, but then spending the bulk of the next season out with injuries.

In the 1966-67 season, on 13th August 1966, Gemmill became the first official substitute to be used in Scottish football – when he replaced Jim Lunie – in a League Cup tie away at Clyde. This is mentioned in the book, almost in passing, as Gemmill prefers to spend time reflecting on a hat-trick he scored some four months later, on Christmas Eve 1966, in a 3-1 home victory over Ayr United – the first of only two hat-tricks he scored in his whole career.

At the end of that same season, in which Gemmill finish St Mirren’s top goalscorer with five goals and in which they were relegated, he was transferred to Preston for the princely sum of £13,000.

His three seasons, and over 100 competitive games, at Preston only get one chapter – you get the impression he has more important things to tell you later – but this chapter is wide ranging from his first vegetables, his engagement, marriage and first pregnancy of his wife, his struggles finding digs (due to him being a spoilt, only child at home), his one and only Scotland Under-23 cap, and a trip to a fortune-teller!

There is no mention of scoring in his debut for Preston, nor how his last full season at Preston mirrored his last at St Mirren – Gemmill finished top goalscorer, with only six goals, and his team were relegated, this time from the Second Division.

The book then moves to his first meeting with Brian Clough, the infamous transfer to Derby, all in detail, down to Gemmill’s wife finding Clough standing in nothing but boxers in their kitchen – to his first few month’s with his new team, including scoring his first goal for the side, against Nottingham Forest at the City Ground – endearing himself fully to his new fans by scoring against their bitterest rivals.

The chapters on his career at Derby then take shape, including being in Majorca with the team when they won the league due to Leeds and Liverpool not getting the points they required to pip them to the title – with Gemmill tasting his first ever alcoholic drink in champagne during the celebrations, having being a tea-totaller until that point in his life.

The way Gemmill describes his time at Derby is definitely of one of great affection, he refers to most of his teammates as friends still, and also of the squad unity – especially around the time when the Chairman and board of County were trying to get rid of Clough.

Clough’s leaving and an old teammate, in Dave Mackay, taking over as manager was a shock to the system, and one that Gemmill and his teammates’ rebelled against – but not even two years later, Derby County won the Championship again, and this time Gemmill, as captain, lifted the trophy – as he points out in the book, they won it again not by playing a game, but by watching others not win, and again in a social club.

Things turned sour at Derby, and Mackay left, a new manager came and left not long after – that opened the way for Tommy Doherty to become the new boss at the Baseball Ground.

Tommy Doherty is mentioned throughout the book, and never in a positive light – he blamed Gemmill for default against England while Scotland manager, Gemmill then didn’t play for Scotland for another three years – and then when Doherty took the reigns at Derby his first task was not only to sell Gemmill, to Nottingham Forest, but also to make it look like Gemmill had demanded the transfer.

A chapter then follows on, taking on the subject of the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, and ‘that goal’ – the chapter talks about the conditions in South America, Willie Johnston’s drug test and the disappointment at not going through, with such a good squad and such potential – the goal itself isn’t discussed and Gemmill almost seems too embarrassed to draw upon the subject. Not too embarrassed to use it to sell the book (judging by the cover) but definitely too embarrassed to dwell upon it in this chapter.

The end of Gemmill’s spell at Nottingham Forest is another of his regrets, he wasn’t chosen for the European Cup final in 1979 due to a recent injury, took the situation badly and had bust ups with both Clough and his assistant Peter Taylor – while it ended in a winner’s medal for Gemmill, it ultimately ended with a transfer to Birmingham City and a bad taste in the mouth.

Unprofessionalism seems to be Gemmill’s main gripe with his time at City, with a drink culture in the team, and no real ambition within the club – a promotion to and then a good finish in the First Division that came out of the best part of three seasons at St Andrew’s.

A short-lived, summer season, in the North American Soccer League with the Jacksonville Tea Men came next for Gemmill, and then a short spell at Wigan Athletic – these are covered in the book in passing, rather than in any detail.

A couple of seasons back at Derby are wrapped up with relegation to the Third Division and the end of Gemmill’s playing career.

The next few chapters are a tougher read, as Gemmill goes through his foray into management, and then an exhaustive list of all the players he ‘found’ as a scout – I’m pretty sure he was good at his job, given his talents and the players and managers he spent time with – but these chapters feel very laboured, in direct comparison to the flowing chapters of his playing career.

In his summing up chapter of his career, Gemmill names himself in his all-time team!

The last chapter of the book, is about Brian Clough, having just passed away while Gemmill was finishing the book – it’s a sad read about a great bond the two developed over time, and how the wounds healed since that European Cup final.

Overall, this book was good, although the last five or six chapters seem to labour upon Gemmill’s career in football after he stopped playing – I think the book would have been better served without these to be fair, and more about his playing days, as when he wrote about these, he wrote with passion.

You can tell throughout the book that he is a family man, and is very proud of his wife and two children – another striking thing about the book is the cover itself, it’s very simple, effective and to the point, with excellent imagery – all about ‘that goal’!

On imagery, the photo section(s) of biographies tend to disappoint, with familiar photographs or press shots, however this book has over 60 photographs of all types and a lot of family shots to prove the fact above about being a proud family man.

The book has a slight tendency to jump in some places, as you can almost tell that something has popped into his head and must be explained at that point – although this doesn’t detract from a good book, a good story and one that generally is well written.

Written by Derek Harvie | Issue 6 of The 12th Man Fanzine

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