BY MARK GODFREY
For the uninitiated, Alex Totten is a man who has spent his whole life immersed in football; as a one-time team mate of Alex Ferguson – who, with Walter Smith provides a foreword to the book – and then on the managerial merry-go-round of the Scottish league circuit. This is his story co-written with experienced journalist and writer Jeff Holmes.
From very humble beginnings in post-war Falkirk growing up in a supportive family, Totten’s route into professional football took him south to some of the biggest clubs in England, but it was Liverpool – and their charismatic patriarch Bill Shankly – that helps to form him as a player and as a man; the appreciation of hard work, self-discipline and integrity learned at Anfield serve him well during his long career in the game. Unfortunately, Totten didn’t make the grade on Merseyside and returned to Scotland to spend the next 15 years bouncing around some of the league’s lesser lights.
His was an unremarkable time on the pitch after such a high profile apprenticeship, and with help from the author, they do their best to bring some of the characters and situations he experienced to life. This is achieved with mixed results. This is not the fault of Totten or Holmes but perhaps mine as the reader. This section is pleasant enough and a reasonable historical journal that will probably enthral supporters of Totten’s former clubs and Scottish football of the era, but I was expecting significantly more anecdotes of dressing room shenanigans and the quirks of a career spent far from the spotlight. Not everyone can be Gazza, I suppose, and as a seemingly model pro and stand-up, decent guy, Totten’s lack of a sinister side contribute to the book’s lack of light and shade contrast.
His time in the dugout is far more eventful; serving his time at Alloa and Falkirk before becoming number two to Jock Wallace at Rangers during the mid-80s just before Graeme Souness got to throw David Murray’s millions to the four corners of the Earth. Wallace, like Shankly, is revered as a friend and mentor by Totten and the constant thread that goes through the book is the camaraderie and loyalty he shows to his players and colleagues in the game.
Fans of the Ibrox club will enjoy stories of foreign tours and Ally McCoist getting up to no good while those who follow St.Johnstone (where Totten was controversially sacked after a hugely successful spell) and Falkirk will also find this autobiography a good read – his exploits in difficult circumstances in the near-distant past are an eye opener about how the game operates and survives below the highest level.
As his managerial career draws to a close, we re-live Totten’s brush with death after being struck down with septicaemia and what is evident is the love he has for his own family and the wider football family – and the love with which the Scottish football family have for him through decades of service to the game.
Holmes does a very good job in ghost writing Totten’s story, and while the football clichés and terminology expected of someone so steeped in the game is plenty evident, it seems to be something that he’s tried to steer away from as much as possible without decimating what the subject has to say. Totten is the archetypal ‘football man’ and while his career and life story don’t have the reading appeal of his friend and contemporary Sir Alex Ferguson, his story and this book will have its admirers .