Oh the Bear! The Bear!
The Bear is Everywhere,
Feed the Bear! Feed the Bear!
I had been looking forward to this book by John Hughes, the popular striker of Jock Stein’s Lisbon-era squad known to all as ‘Yogi Bear’ and feted by the Celtic support with the original chant of ‘Feed the Bear’. The Coatbridge bhoy was a fine goal-scorer with an unusual style known as much for his thrusting runs and fierce shooting as his maddening inconsistency at times. He missed out on Lisbon itself through injury but played in the club’s other European Cup final in 1970 and, having made his Celtic debut aged only 17 in 1960, should have a wealth of great stories and memories to share of the club’s golden era. What could go wrong?
Quite a lot, as it turns out. The warning signs were there when the book’s release was promoted in the press. The Daily Record headline was ‘John Hughes lifts lid on run-ins with Celtic great Jock Stein’ while the Daily Telegraph used quotes from Yogi for the astounding claim that ‘Jock Stein was intimidating, inhumane and corrupt’. Now, you might think there were at least a few positive angles to promote first in a Celtic career laden with silverware before getting round to dishing the dirt? Not when there’s a character waiting to be assassinated, it seems. “He got rid of me when I was in my prime and three months later I was finished at 28. People say to me, ‘Are you bitter?’ Yes.”
Now that’s curious, because in the book itself Yogi goes out of the way to deny this: “I repeat I am not a bitter guy.” Yet he says it so often, after yet another bitter outburst, that he quickly loses all credibility. Was he finished at 28 as he claimed in the Record? It turns out that he is as inconsistent off the field as he was on it at times. He left Celtic at 28 but then had two seasons at Crystal Palace before joining Sunderland where a persistent knee injury brought the curtain down on his career. But we shouldn’t let the facts get in the way of a sustained assault on Jock Stein’s reputation . . .
There is clear anger that Stein sold him to the London club when the player’s view was that he had plenty more to offer. But if Jock Stein decided that playing young strikers like Kenny Dalglish and Lou Macari the Quality Street Gang was a better strategy than sticking with a player regarded by all and sundry as inconsistent and nearing 30, that’s a decision that was entitled to take. Yogi wonders if his failure to score an easy chance in extra-time in the 1970 Final v Feyenoord might have had something to do with it – it’s hard to escape the conclusion it did. Bearing a grudge about his exit from Celtic Park over four decades later cannot be healthy however. Given that he chose not to attend his former manager’s funeral in 1985, it unfortunately doesn’t come as a huge surprise.
The attack on Jock Stein doesn’t end there. There is anger at being forced to join Crystal Palace without negotiating with other clubs and also at Stein’s decision not to advise him while away on a foreign tour that his wife had suffered a miscarriage back home. As others have pointed out, those were different times – Managers had almost complete control over transfers in the absence of agents and men were rarely directly involved in pregnancy-related issues. The story told in the book regarding the miscarriage highlights Stein’s apparent insensitivity. It’s a shame the story wasn’t put in the public realm while he was still alive to give him the opportunity to respond to it. At the very least, in response to the stinging criticisms made, Stein could have pointed out that John Hughes hadn’t won a single medal before he arrived, that stuck with him through the regular periods when he lost form and even recommended Yogi for his first management post – all facts which are, begrudgingly, admitted in the course of this book.
Unfortunately another great Celtic servant, Sean Fallon, comes in for similar treatment from Yogi. John Hughes made his dislike for the former Assistant Manager known with critical comments at a supporters event at Celtic Park last year. They appeared ill-judged at the time but his criticisms of Fallon in the book are unfounded as well. He claims that he wasn’t a regular first-team pick in the early 1960s because Sean Fallon didn’t fancy him: “It didn’t matter that I was scoring goals every other game, my face didn’t fit. He never bothered to tell me where he thought I was going wrong. I was left out of the team and I was too naïve to ask for a reason.” Did he ever ask for an explanation? Apparently not: “I would probably have been shooed away into a corner like some errant schoolboy.”
Yet Sean Fallon was never the manager and it was known to the players that chairman Bob Kelly picked the team – yet Yogi’s ire is directed solely at the Irishman. Despite everything that you’ve heard or been told previously about Sean Fallon you are now meant to be believe that he was unapproachable and uncaring. And if you think that’s far-fetched, what about this: “Sean Fallon had a lot of power in team matters and would even lock Jimmy McGrory out of the dressing [room] on some occasions.” It’s one thing re-writing history to try to undermine the popular picture that has emerged of Sean Fallon as a fair and decent man; it’s something else completely to suggest that he would lock the elderly McGrory out of the Celtic dressing room. You might be forgiven for thinking there’s a theme emerging here: Sean Fallon, of course, is also not around to defend himself from these ‘new’ five decades-old allegations.
There is more than one flight of fantasy in this autobiography. Intriguingly, the story of how Big Yogi almost became a Juventus legend wasn’t featured in the Daily Record promotional pieces. I wonder if it was because even they didn’t think the story held water. “John Hughes of Juventus. Doesn’t sound right, does it? Yet that could have been the case at the start of the sixties, remarkably only year after I had broken into the Celtic first team.”Something certainly doesn’t sound right. How often had the Juve spies watched the young Hughes in action? How much lira were they prepared to stuff into Bob Kelly’s biscuit tin? We don’t know. What we do know is that a Scottish reporter once asked him if he’d heard of Juventus and that they were keeping tabs on him. Was the young Celt interested? No, he advised the reporter. And that’s basically the entire story. Even Nacho Novo’s agent couldn’t have made up a better one.
Sourness is a constant feature in the John Hughes story, unfortunately, and it bookends his career. He believed he was due to be picked for a Scottish schoolboys international in the 1950s against England at Wembley, only to lose out to a striker from Helensburgh: “Yes, Helensburgh, that hot bed of football” moans Yogi, as if the fact he was from Lanarkshire and not the wilds of Dumbartonshire should have guaranteed his selection. When his playing career appeared over he was approached by former team-mate Bertie Auld, then managing Partick Thistle, to turn out for them. Yogi was surprised at the approach: “This was the same Bertie Auld who only passed the ball to me when he didn’t have other options!” Again, another double-take is required. Is he seriously suggesting that in the hundreds of games they played together winning every trophy on offer in Scotland Bertie refused to pass to him? Doesn’t he think this might have been noticed?
The book is littered with criticisms of his team-mates at different times although he’s far less keen to discuss his own shortcomings: “Please do me a favour and let’s get rid of the annoying inconsistency tag once and for all . . . I had to be reliable to get into any of Jock’s line-ups. Hopefully, this will once and for all bring a halt to the wayward assessments and unfounded observations that my form was up and down like a yo-yo.” And yet, the abiding memory of most supporters who saw him play regularly was . . . inconsistency. They must all have been mistaken then. That’s certainly the outlook in Yogi’s world.
Unfortunately ‘Yogi Bare’ has little to recommend it and I feel saddened to write that about a Celtic player’s memoirs. The book is at its best when recalling the great games he played and scored in. His scoring record in the Hoops is clearly a huge matter of personal pride, as it should be given that he’s in the top 10 of all-time Celtic strikers. The chapter on his experience of playing for Scotland is worth a read. Yet he has a knack of turning almost every positive into a negative and is a bundle of contradictions. He bemoans being underpaid at Celtic – yet criticises the enforced move to Palace where he doubled his wages. He says he doesn’t feel like one of the Lisbon Lions – yet he still attends functions as a Lion. He puts the blame for the failure to beat Feyenoord squarely at the door of Jock Stein – while saying that before the game “Most of us had already worked out how we would spend our win bonus.” If the manager was guilty of complacency in 1970, he wasn’t the only one.
The book costs a whopping £18.99 and is self-published. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear as though it’s been fully proof-read with some glaring errors (Is Billy McNeill’s nickname really ‘Caesar’?) and typos at times. The writing lacks imagination and comes across as tired, especially in the later chapters. One example is when comparing the obscene amounts of TV money that exists in the modern game to his time, the author states: “Sky was merely something that was above your head in the seventies.” Witty banter, it ain’t.
The book seems to have been issued for the principal purpose of boosting Yogi’s pension pot – and there isn’t even the consolation that a portion of the book’s profits are going to charity. That fact in itself is in keeping with this autobiography: it lacks charity in every sense.
The Shamrock rating: 4/10
The book can be purchased here via Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Yogi-Bear-John-Hughes-Story/dp/1904684882/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1400600573&sr=8-1&keywords=yogi+bare