BY PAUL McPARLAN
“Luggy” is a really strange title for a book and does little to attract the casual buyer. Luggy is the nickname by which most in the footballing community know Paul Sturrock, but even I, as a footballing saddo, had never heard this name before.
Sturrock enjoyed a very successful playing career with Dundee United and was capped twenty times for Scotland. He achieved a certain degree of managerial success both in Scotland and England. He must be the only manager I know who has been in charge of five clubs beginning with the same letter, S. He has been involved in football for over 35 years and in recent years has had to cope with being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I was really looking forward to reading his story.
The book has a standard structure, with Sturrock’s career dealt with in chronological order. However, there are two tributes from both Walter Smith and Harry Redknapp , but strangely none from either Jim McLean, who was Sturrock’s manager and Chairman and worked with him for twenty years or Sir Alex Ferguson, whose words of advice to Sturrock appear from time to time.
Strangely, his highly successful playing career at Dundee United is condensed into only 15 pages and his two years as manager into just 6 pages. Nearly half of the content does not come from Sturrock himself; the other half is a set of conversations about what people think of him and adds little to our understanding of the man.
As a player, Sturrock was a key part of the Dundee United team who, along with Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen, formed part of the Scottish ”New Firm” in the early 1980’s, breaking the Glasgow clubs’ dominance. Dundee United won the title in 1983 and were 1 game away from appearing in the 1984 European Final.
Despite having been a coach at Dundee United for five years and fully expecting to take over from Jim McLean as the next manager, Ivan Golac was appointed to the post instead. Eventually, they fell out and Sturrock moved to St Johnstone as manager and helped them to gain promotion to the Scottish Premier League. After an emotional return to Dundee United as manager, things did not work out and he left after 2 years in charge. Surprisingly, his next move was to England where he achieved promotions with Plymouth Argyle, Sheffield Wednesday, Swindon Town and Southend United. He also managed Southampton in the Premier League. It is a little known fact that according to an analysis by football economists Simon Kuper and Stefan Symanski, Sturrock was amongst the highest performing managers in English football.
Sturrock’s story is a real case of what might have been. He felt that Dundee United had been cheated out of an appearance in the 1984 European Cup final by the referee and contacted Michel Platini years laterr to see if the players could be awarded a medal to recognise this. I think you can guess what the response was. He did reach the UEFA Cup final in 1987 but was on the losing side to IFK Gothenburg, despite having beaten Barcelona previously. He came close to signing for Terry Venables at Barcelona but chose to stay with Dundee United. He played in five Scottish FA Cup finals and lost them all. He was picked by Scotland for both the 1982 and 1986 World Cups but only played in one.
As a manager, he made it to the Premier League with Southampton but lasted a mere 5 months after falling out with Rupert Lowe the Chairman. He was also sacked by Southend United after guiding them to Football League Trophy Final at Wembley. Despite gaining promotions for both clubs, he left Sheffield Wednesday and Swindon Town after falling out with the owners. He led Plymouth Argyle to their highest league position in 20 years but, once again, fell out with the directors and was removed. It is really sad that such an impressive managerial record has recently ended with him being sacked by Yeovil Town who are currently bottom of the Football League.
There are some amusing stories here. Sturrock had a habit of going to the dressing room just before the end of a game. On one occasion he tore into his Sheffield Wednesday side for only drawing 1-1 with Hull, until his coaching staff pointed out that they had scored in stoppage time and had won 2-1. He also tells of how when he was manager at Plymouth Argyle, his star signing Emile Mpenza missed training because he had taken Viagra the previous evening and still had an erection.
In my view, co-author Bill Richards misses several opportunities to develop Sturrock’s story. The success of Dundee United in the 80’s was phenomenal and they have never come close to repeating it since. Sturrock gives no clear explanations of how they achieved this success and how manager Jim McLean’s leadership helped this group of players to so consistently over perform. He fails to give any clear examples of how poor refereeing by Michel Vautrot influenced their second leg game against Roma. Also – they lost 5 cup finals – why? He coached the youth team and a certain Duncan Ferguson but makes no attempt to describe the potential he saw in him or the role he may or may not have played in his development.
As a manager – what was the secret of his success – why was he so effective in turning mid-table teams into promotion candidates? What really happened at Southampton and given that opportunities for British managers to work in the Premier league are limited, why did he chose to resign after only five months? Gordon Strachan had warned him that Rupert Lowe would be difficult to work with, why was he not prepared for this? The book is filled with comments from ex-players about Sturrock’s abilities but sadly not a single word from Jim McLean, arguably the person who knew him best.
It was obviously a big decision for Sturrock to admit he had Parkinson’s disease, yet he gives little insight on how the symptoms developed or how it started to affect his ability to manage. In fact, the book devotes just over 2 pages to his condition at the very end. Sufferers of Parkinson’s disease looking for inspiration here will be sadly disappointed. Looking at how Sturrock’s career has declined in recent years, it would not be unkind to say that Parkinson’s may have played a role. Even his trusted coaching team infer that this was the case.
We learn little of Sturrock’s personal life. He split from his wife Barbara during his time in England, but we are not given any indication of how or why this came about. He talks about his new partner Andrea and how she has turned his life around (why do all footballers say this about their new partners?). I wonder if Barbara would agree?
I have read Ian Redford’s autobiography and it is so much better, especially when talking about his time at Dundee United and how personal tragedy affected him. Paul Sturrock has led a varied career in football but this book barely skims the surface. Frustratingly, this book has no index and no statistical records of Sturrock’s playing or managerial career. There is only one photograph from his playing career and none of him playing for Scotland.
Co-author Richards claims that he was the first journalist to spot the genius of diver Tom Daley. Take my advice Tom, don’t hire him to write your story.
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