It was that most atypical of a sun-kissed English afternoon, late in May 1999, with the uniquely iconic twin towers of Wembley gleaming above and beyond the dreamy gazes of everyone down below. Dripping with sweat but without a care in the world; were it not for the most unusual surroundings, Jandro (or Alex as he had by then become known), could quite happily have been sat outside his homely Altamira high-rise flats, dreaming of the local asphalt football pitch – crammed in poetically behind the community’s school.
Proudly wearing not only the immortalised blue and yellow kit of his adopted home, but also underneath the flag of his first homeland – he was arm in arm with Brian Laws, hoisting aloft the beautiful giant silver trophy, one handle each with seemingly indescribable joy. It was at that moment he realised just how far he had come since those heady days growing up in and amongst the Basque mountains; and didn’t the adoring masses know it too.
The newly released book chronicling Garcia’s heady rise to that zenith peak of success and beyond, simply titled ‘Scunthorpe Hasta La Muerte’ (Spanish for ‘Scunthorpe Till I Die’); paints and recreates a vivid picture of just how crazy this journey really was. From his own father’s extraordinarily brutal treatment at the hands of General Franco’s fascist security services, to his nervous arrival in North Lincolnshire via Manchester Airport, and even a promotion-sealing goal at Wembley; the book is a rollercoaster ride well worth diving straight into for an unashamedly white-knuckle ride across every page.
Newly available here via deCoubertin Books, this piece of Scunthorpe United literary history was ably translated into English from its original Spanish by Madrid-based Iron fan Matthew Kennington – who deserves as much credit as anyone for ensuring that Iron fans old and new can enjoy either treasured memories from their own nostalgia, or whose parents and Grandparents still talk about.
Brilliantly brought to life by noted Spanish football journalist Iñigo Guruchaga, the foreword from the one and only Xabi Alonso is an unexpected highlight – whose own father managed Alex during his semi-professional stints playing in Spain, with Beasain and Eibar respectively. Waxing lyrical about the impression Alex’s early quality made on him, the world-cup winning midfielder’s homage to Alex sets the tone for an impressive see-saw of stories, rocking from one to another.
Very much also aimed at a wider audience, this book is by no means a statistical recollection – and nor should it be. So if you’re expecting a dissection of the minutiae of all 268 appearances for the Iron, you’re going to be disappointed – but the book is better for this. Brought alive by the stories and the broad brushstrokes, with both local and Spanish history liberally interspersed, it’s the stories of the Jerry Mahonys and John Staffs of this world that most effectively capture the colour of these idyllic years, not repeated arse-kickings at Sincil Bank.
So without providing too much detail for anyone not lucky enough to have read the book yet, it is these stories that bring the book to life. From Mark Lillis’ well-remembered St George’s Cross, to Paul Wilson’s questionable driving skills and Sean McAuley’s taco that are the gems beneath the hidden rough of lower-league football, especially life at Glanford Park.
Books of these kind when related to Scunthorpe United, especially those painting us and our community’s people in a positive light, are rarer than rocking horse manure. So definitely pick this one up if you possibly can, you won’t be disappointed – one of those reads that you simply won’t want to put down, no matter where and when you’re being transported via its pages.
After all – Scunny’s only indisputable foreign star, has got a few stories to tell – whilst waxing lyrical about just how much football is a game which commences at three o’clock on an English Saturday. And indeed, a certain Alex Calvo Garcia remains proud to proclaim “Scunthorpe Till I Die”.
Written by Max Bell.
You can follow Max on Twitter at @UseTheLeftWing.