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Book Review
'Birth of the Giant-killers' - a review


Birth of the Giant-killers, by various contributors - JLH Design - 6.99

It is unlikely any fan of the Glovers will not know that January 2009 sees the Diamond Anniversary of what still remains the most famous, if no longer the most important, match played by Yeovil Town F.C. Although the FA Cup may not be the huge draw it once was, it still remains the case that since the introduction of exemption to Round Three Proper for leading clubs in 1925 on only six occasions has a Non-league side knocked out a team from the highest division. Yeovil's achievement remains unique in that all other instances, by Colchester United, Hereford United, Wimbledon, Altrincham and Sutton United, came in the Third Round, while the Glovers made their greatest mark in FA Cup folklore in the Fourth.

As part of its celebration sixty years on of the victory over Sunderland, the club has produced a book subtitled 'A tribute to Yeovil Town Football Club's historic achievements in the 1948/49 FA Cup'. So, is it a fitting tribute, and has it captured the essence of that momentous event in the club's history?

It is a very thin publication, and even the claimed sixty pages is rather over egging the pudding. While common enough to include the covers in the page numbering sequence in football programmes this is not the usual practice with books. Inside, eight pages are taken up by advertising. The core of the book is a series of articles and the photographs. The producers of the work were fortunate enough to track down the last surviving member of the 1948-49 team, Victor 'Dickie' Dyke, just days before he too passed on, and understandably have built the resulting interview and photos from Dickie's own scrapbook into the main component of the book. It captures well a completely unassuming and essentially very private man a little bemused that anyone would remain interested in what he had achieved sixty years before. Martin McConachie follows up the feature on Dyke with brief thumbnails on all eleven Yeovil players in the Sunderland game.

The other articles are from: John Lukins on Alec Stock; Dorset Echo journalist Chris Spittles, who covers the matches in the 1948-49 cup run in some detail, and provides a brief trot through all Yeovil's other giant-killing exploits; the reminiscences of three there that day, Bryan Moore, later a chairman of the club, player's wife Audrey Hamilton and supporter Gerald Isaacs; and finally the opposition's perspective on the tie from Winston Young who is the Secretary of the Sunderland Former Players Association. Of these, Bryan has written better elsewhere on the game, notably in the programme of 25th July 1998 for the friendly against Sunderland, though the paragraph on his first kiss as a twelve-year-old from a woman other than his mother as the final whistle went, and remembered all these years, is touching. The piece from Mr Isaacs is an interesting inclusion. A self admitted occasional follower of the Glovers, it reminds us that so were the vast majority of the home support there that day. Such matches accrue their own mystique, and with hindsight claims of undying loyalty are easily scattered about, but in reality most 'fans' in such Non-league v Big Club events are there because of who the opposition is, and the club's support rapidly dwindles back to more normal figures once the glamour tie is over. The contributions of Audrey Hamilton and Winston Young stand out as providing a different perspective and some of the essence of what makes some football matches so much more than what happened in 90, or in this case 120, minutes on the pitch. Audrey's inaccurate recall of the game itself - Stock did not score the winning goal - matters naught, as it is the peripheral colour and memories that turn a result in the record books into a legend, and hers are simply but poignantly described. Winston Young's piece is an excellent evocation of the trauma and downright humiliation of being on the losing end of such an event, and how it haunts supporters for years every time it crops up again in conversation or the media.

The articles are interspersed with pages carrying reproductions of clippings from the time out of newspapers. These are a welcome addition, providing the immediacy of reporting that no subsequent recollections can, influenced as the latter are bound to be by hindsight and the layers of myth that build up and eventually supersede reality as the years advance. It would have been good to see the original publications from which they originated recorded though, but perhaps that's the historian and a dedication to the itemising of primary source material in the reviewer showing through.

So, back to the original questions. Is it a fitting tribute? Though the contributions are uneven in quality, the book does strike, whether by accident or design, the right balance between historical reality, the accumulated legend and panegyric. Though some passages do teeter on the brink, there's enough that avoids the trap of cloying sentimentality to maintain it as a worthwhile record, and quite a few of the photos are unfamiliar. The essence of how and why football provides memorable moments in so many people's lives does shine through. At 6.99 the price, however, is steep for the amount of content. Given all the contributions, and one should have hoped the work of JLH Design, would have been provided without cost, and that 13% of the publication is advertisements, one trusts that all the somewhat excessive mark up is heading into our club's coffers.

Hugh Gleave.

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