Monday, 30 April 2012

Sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll ... and football

THE night Jock Stein died on the touchline at Ninian Park, Cardiff, I was seven-years-old and in Yorkhill hospital in Glasgow having my tonsils removed. I remember my dad mentioning it, but its significance passed me by until I was much older.

I loved playing football, but was not so interested in any one team or player (Star Wars figures were my passion in 1985), a feeling that has not changed much over the years.

So, age prohibited me having any personal experience of Stein. Does this disqualify me from dramatising parts of his life in a novel? Some might say, but people's opinion should be based on having read the book rather than preconceptions.

In researching, I have immersed myself in almost everything that has ever been written or recorded about Jock Stein. I read about 30 books - some of which had been out of print for decades - and watched every interview, pored over newspaper cuttings and talked to dozens of people who knew him. From coming up with the idea to the finished manuscript took three-and-a-half years.

His life has been well-documented, no question. So why, in my arrogance, did I think I could add to the body of work on Stein? Well, his life may be down in black and white, but I felt there was colour missing. The complexities of his character, the drama of his achievements, there deserved to be many more splashes on the canvas, I felt.

We were also aware of the cultural, social and political context. Society was changing rapidly in 1967. It was the Summer of Love - a hippie counterculture movement that found its expression in an explosion of creativity, politics, sexual freedom, drugs and music (Sergeant Pepper was released exactly a week after Lisbon).
We wanted to get all that into the novel.

Sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll ... and football. Something for everyone.

Martin Greig

Friday, 27 April 2012

The Road to Lisbon: A brief introduction

WELCOME to our blog. My name is Charlie McGarry, co-author of The Road to Lisbon.

The novel, for those who don’t already know, is dual narrative; that is, it’s written in the first-person of two separate voices. One is Celtic’s legendary manager Jock Stein, and the other is a fictional Celtic supporter, Tim Lynch.

I wrote the Tim Lynch narrative, Martin Greig wrote the Jock Stein one.

I chose the name ‘Tim’ to coincide with that nickname for Celtic supporters, thus making him a kind of generic representation of all Celtic fans. Certainly he comes from a typically Celtic background. He is third generation Irish and was brought up in the largely Catholic ghetto of the Gorbals.

I reckon I had an easier job than Martin, in that I was creating Tim out of the ether, and wasn’t constricted by the historical reality of a particular person who actually lived and breathed quite recently, and whose life has been recorded in some considerable detail. People often say that novelists tend to base fictional protagonists upon themselves. While I’m sure that this inevitably holds a modicum of truth, I think that it’s quite an unconscious process.

Certainly there are a lot of outward differences between myself and Tim, not least that he’s a bit of a tough guy who used to run with a notorious street gang!

The two narratives of Jock and Tim are over the seven days up to and including May 25th 1967, the day that Celtic became the first non-Latin football club to win the European Cup. There isn’t actually that much direct overlap between the two stories, but we, and I think more importantly everyone who has read it, says that it works well.

The story alternates from one voice to another, several times within each day. There are a lot of flashbacks, particularly in Jock’s narrative.

The match itself, in which Celtic destroyed Inter Milan with an outrageous display of attacking play, is obviously a shared experience between Tim and Jock as they are both present at the stadium. Martin and I deliberated for quite a long time over how to best represent this, and we decided to tell the highlights of the game chronologically, with one piece of action told by Jock, and the next by Tim, then back to Jock, and so on. It’s the part of the book that I’m most proud of, which is just as well, because this match is sacred to Celtic fans the world over and we really needed to do it justice.