A recent thread on the FF message board asked users how many (auto) biographies of former Rangers players were sitting on the shelves and bedside tables. The response was quite amazing – although there are some serious gaps in the literature (hopefully Mr. Struth will soon be done justice) it is quite remarkable to note how many ex-Gers are represented in print, a number stretching to multiple volumes.
Some of those stories, like some of those players, are rich and fascinating, while others are little more than a sketch. Many are the result of years of research and keen passion on the part of the author and celebrate a career of some distinction and others are simply little more than a cash-in. Not all are to be recommended but there is normally something in there to occupy the interest.
Kevin Drinkell spent less than two seasons at Ibrox but – and here I must declare an interest – he was one of my favourite players as I follow followed through high school. As such, this book stops in Glasgow for only a few chapters, amid a career as a player and manager that saw Kevin loyally serve eight clubs.
His hometown of Grimsby was the first port of call as a professional and much of the early material harks back to a world modern players may not recognise, although at least there are some highly-paid players around today (who said Manchester City?) who continue the traditions of pre-game boozing. Drinking, smoking, senior players assaulting youths, managers taking players to the docks at 5am to remind them who they represent: it’s almost like the screenplay for a black and white social film about the grim North and the game of the working classes.
All mildly diverting, but Drinkell also highlights the way clubs owned players and the lengths chairmen would go to in order to prevent the individual from controlling his labour. You sense Kevin took a long time to get over the departure from Grimsby, as he was represented in the local media as a greedy player whereas the truth was quite different indeed. What is truly interesting is that, reserving Rangers, Drinkell had problems with many of his clubs and their chairmen’s attitude toward players, an important point to note even if today player power may have swung back too far in the other direction. His time at Norwich would be personally successful, finishing top scorer and player of the year twice, and it was around this time that he was called up to the England B squad for a game against Malta, never to get on the pitch as Graham Taylor panicked and kept it tight.
Later in the book he tells of his time at Coventry, where the players resisted outsiders and made him and his wife very unwelcome. The gang mentality – which doesn’t change even when the manager is sacked and new man, a certain Terry Butcher who comes over as a weak manager, takes over – is more than a little depressing, extending even to changing labels on the Christmas turkey in order that Kevin ends up with a smaller bird.
Of course, the Rangers chapters are what will appeal to many readers and they start with the revelation that Kevin was less than pleased with his agent, the player mistakenly believing he was being lined up for a move to Loftus Road! This QPR confusion seems a regular in stories of Englishmen coming to Rangers (see also Gazza). Drinkell’s reservations about uprooting his family are swept away by his first look at our magnificent main stand.
It’s clear he was impressed by the standard and the character of many of the men at Ibrox at the time, although perhaps his first meeting with wee Durrant could have gone better, with the now Rangers coach noting Kevin’s heavy eyes and immediately labelling him “Chi-Chi the panda.” Abuse to Kevin’s U2 tapes, and of his hotel tab, duly followed, with Ian McCall carving out a nice cameo as a chancer and a half, as a dressing room of some talent and not little personality welcomed the Englishman.
Highlights of his brief spell at Rangers include – of course – scoring against Celtic at Ibrox and the chance for some silverware. A most revealing section on scoring goals is included, wherein he describes how as an older and established player the overriding feeling of relief has replaced the youthful euphoria of hitting the net. Expectations weigh heavy on good professionals, and one thing that comes over time and time again is the work ethic and honesty of Drinkell, as a player and then as a coach. Although, balanced against that, is the way he became a creature of habit, preferring to do his own pre-match warm-up - always including a fly puff - something only endorsed fully by Rangers after Souness forced him to join the players and it lead to an injury.
The man who brought him to Glasgow, and who then encouraged him to consider a move to Coventry and to think of his family, comes over very well. Souness was and is a controversial figure – described as someone who would go to extreme lengths to protect his players from criticism and undue attention and not adverse to pinning up opposition managers in the tunnel – but his impact on Rangers and willingness to fight the corner of the club and of his players are forcefully reinforced by the reminder made here. Drinkell regretted not staying and fighting for his place, but felt that Mo and Ally would be too difficult to dislodge and although the deal on offer from Coventry was good, it soon went sour.
His time at Falkirk – and the B&Q cup - is fondly remembered, as is his spell at Stirling Albion, where he both made the club tidy profits on players he brought through, and also took a part-time team up into a higher division.
Some minor points of criticism: Kevin Drinkell did not play in the ‘SPL’ and it is very grating time and time again to see him refer to the league as such. As the title suggests, a pun is never far away, but there are so many in this book that you begin to wonder if the writer - Scott Burns - was trying to break a record.
The overwhelming impression one takes from this book is the decency of the man, and the willingness of Kevin Drinkell to always try his best and to make the most of every situation, however grim and unappealing. At his best, it seems remarkable that he was passed over for minor England honours in place of men such as Fashanu, and one of the more passionate passages relates more details of just how repulsive and generally bad for football that Wimbledon side really were.
Kevin Drinkell was a good player, a fine servant at all his clubs and a success at most. His story is that of a decent man and is a decent read for anyone who remembers his small contribution to Rangers Football Club.