When Saturday Comes reviews All on Red

16 December 2011

Frank Gamble has given us a rarity: an original football memoir. ‘The idea for this book,’ he, ‘was to try and express what it was like crossing the threshold of just being a fan, no matter how fervent, to depending on that commitment for your livelihood.’ In the 1980s, he worked for Liverpool Football Club as the lottery sales manager. Liverpool FC taxed and insured his beige, nearly-new 1300cc Ford Escort estate. ’How cool was that?’ Frank writes. ‘Had somebody offered me a swap for a Ferrari there and then I would have politely declined.’

We get a chunk of northern social history along with an inside view of Anfield and the boot-room where the coaching staff discussed team matters. ‘The first thing I noticed about these revered gentlemen was how down to earth they all were but how focused and committed they were too.’

Joe Fagan was Gamble’s favourite: ‘Many’s the time I was sent to pick up tins of emulsion for him from [shirt sponsor] Crown paint’s depot off Cherry Lane and drive the short journey to Joe’s house to drop it off.’ Joe used to enjoy decorating , you see.

Gamble appeals because he is like us if we were in his shoes. He is dumbstruck, but delighting in his job, squeezing money out of the 150-odd retail outlets selling the lottery tickets. In those simpler times, scratch cards were novel (top prize: £1000!), the players’ lounge had a pay-phone, and Liverpool had had a backbone of Scots on the field _ as  had been told in Team of All the Macs, reviewed in WSC 297).

Just before 3pm kick-off ‘the Golden Goal lads would dash in and unload their numbered khaki canvas sacks onto the counter, rapidly cash up and then pick up their reward of a match ticket and a few quid’. Liverpool, you may recall, were pioneers by having a shirt sponsor, but Gamble reveals how Manchester United ‘were light years ahead’ commercially, even in 1983, when a meal at Old Trafford came with a bottle of red wine with a black devil on the label.

Gamble’s honesty avoids nostalgia. He can admit he was a ‘right cocky sod’ and that he left the club as his job soured. Heysel is given the longest and most agonised chapter. Besides the rioting fans, Gamble blames UEFA and the Belgian organisers.

Anyone with an interest in modern Merseyside will enjoy this book, written in a warm and easy style that lets Gamble relate funny (and filthy) stories; his Scouse pride; and his sadness after Heysel and Hillsborough. He can even end with hope: success comes in cycles and Liverpool will win another title. ‘I was just lucky to be around when it was last our turn and made a living out of it too.’