There's Only One Sauzee: When Le God Graced Easter Road
Edinburgh author Ted Brack has a fine record of books based on his beloved Hibernian FC. From his own history of 50 years on the Hibee Highway as a supporter: "There is a Bonnie Football Team" through his collaboration with a Hibs Hero in producing `Pat Stanton's Dream Team' to his recently acclaimed biography of `Last Minute' Lawrie Reilly, written along with the great man himself.
His latest offering, again from Black and White Publishing, takes a slightly different tack - the legend is still there but the biographical angle is eschewed for an account of three remarkable years in the club's history when the green and white was worn by French Internationalist and European Cup Winner Franck Sauzee.
Franck, or `Le God' as the book's title reminds us was his soubriquet among the Easter Rd faithful, is a famously private man who tends to shy away from publicity. Though he is working as a TV pundit on French TV channels and has verifiable contact details, he resolutely ignores all blandishments to come over to Edinburgh to renew his love affair with the Leith club's supporters, so this book has been written without any direct input from the man himself.
Ted makes this clear from the start and, sensibly, suggests no pretensions to a biography, though, if one comes, presumably in French, it will be an interesting read. In this account, the author rather seeks to recapture some of the seasons of excitement and magic that Sauzee, along with The Little Magician, Russell Latapy, manager Alex McLeish and their team mates, brought to Easter Rd around the millennium.
There is a recap of Sauzee's career before he found his way to Easter Rd, which only serves to remind the reader of the shock engendered by the star's appearance in Hibs colours - compared, more than once in the book, with the emergence of George Best twenty years previously, though, as is also noted, Sauzee was far closer to his pomp when he arrived than was the Belfast Boy.
Much of the book, and its account of games won and lost, provides a context for that time a decade ago when Hibs were a major force to be reckoned with at the top of the league. Manager Alec McLeish put together two teams, really: one to escape the first division, which the team won by a record number of points, and then one to challenge the Old Firm. Whilst Sauzee and Latapy were the foundation of the success enjoyed, it is good to be reminded of the skills and contributions of team mates such as Zitelli, Pataaleinen, Laursen, Lovell, the emergence of a young Ian Murray and the youth team goal scoring exploits of O'Connor and Riordan (whatever happened to them).
It's an enjoyable journey, particularly for the reader who shared its highs and lows - from regular Derby victories to the deflation of a defeat to Aberdeen in the semi-final and the disappointing showing against Celtic in the Final, the following year. A recurring theme in the book is the thought that, if Hibs were ever to break their Cup hoodoo, this would be the team to do it.
However, as the title states: "There is only one Sauzee' and his presence looms over the book just as surely as his influence directed Hibs whenever he was on the pitch. Tale after tale and memory after memory refers to the class he showed, off and on the field, and his obvious love for the club and its fans. He was a world class footballer, but the fans honoured him at least as much for his appreciation of what the `Eebs' meant to the support.
His exploits on the pitch are all here - the four teeth lost in a winning header v Hearts; his 80 yard sprint to the fans after his 30 yard goal at Tynecastle, the jig with Mixu, the volleys, the backheels and the raking passes. In Ted's words the match reports - whether from contemporary press accounts or his own memory - are never mundane, and always contain a wee nugget of information or colour. The night of glorious failure against AEK Athens, when Easter Road rocked with atmosphere, is particularly well evoked, and you can almost hear the echo of the sound made when an injured Sauzee uncharacteristically took out his frustration with a powerful kick at the Hibs dugout.
Fittingly, given the esteem in which Franck was held in the Scottish footballing community, as well as by the fans, Ted has given the latter part of the book over to the views of team mates, like Stuart Lovell, John Hughes and Ian Murray, to sports journalists like Chic Young and Richard Gordon and to the Hibs fans themselves. Regardless of age, background or angle, there is perfect agreement - Sauzee was a star, and a class act - on and off the pitch. Of particular interest is a section from Derek Emslie, Lord Kingarth of the Scottish Supreme Court, who, as a Hibs fan, became a close friend of Sauzee's. Perhaps nothing more than the accounts of their times together suggests just how different the Frenchman was to your average Scottish footballer; I don't suppose many SPL players socialize with Supreme Court Judges, nor spend down time in art galleries and museums. It makes it all the more remarkable, then, that Franck became so close to both team mates and fans.
The sad end to his time at Hibs, sacked as manager after only 89 days, receives a balanced coverage, enlightened by some interesting comments from Malcolm MacPherson, who was Chairman at the time. As Ted says, we'll never know how good a manager Le God could have become, but there is a lingering undercurrent that suggests he was too different to the Scottish breed of gaffer to link effectively with the less cerebral members of his squad.
Perhaps the sorrowful end to his tenure, and his reluctance to reappear in Leith, only adds to the legend of this most likeable of Frenchmen, who impressed all who saw or met him.
If you sometimes doubt that Hibs so recently almost had the football world at their feet, that they played football that Chic Young said he "would gladly have paid to see', or if you have a younger relative who doesn't believe you when you get all misty eyed - this is the book to bring back the good times and reaffirm that, whatever else, the Hibs are always likely to surprise with sudden elegance.
Gordon Smith, Pat Stanton, Franck Sauzee - not a team on earth would not be proud to say those players had worn their colours. The Hibs support are just grateful it was their team who had the privilege, and, as the content of this book suggests, they will talk for years of the times when `Le God graced Easter Rd'