Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Game of Two Halves: The Autobiography by Archie Macpherson (Black & White Publishing 2009)

Argentina, 1978, was wounding and stimulating at the same time. To watch a cheerful, personable, approachable guy undergoing an ordeal of which only a Torquemada would have approved was deeply unsettling. I had felt a personal stirring of unease, many months before, when I assisted him in a brewery-sponsored tour of the country to cities and towns, as he bathed in the glow of admiration which came from his ecstatic nation. I felt that if it didn't come off for him, the fall from grace would finish him. Failure, set against optimistic hysteria, could only mean a death warrant. When I watched him cuddle a dog on a hillside in Alta Gracia, the town we were all based in, after the defeat in the first game by Peru, 3-1, and heard him tell us that the animal was probably the only friend he had left in South America, you  could tell he was slipping into self-perpetuating misery. After the game against Iran, who we assumed were the Glenbuck Cherrypickers of the tournament  but which ended in a 1-1 draw, my colleagues in BBC television in London deliberately and maliciously edited pieces together with close-ups of Ally's contorted, tortured face on the bench which were the closest television has ever got to portraying Edvard Munch's The Scream, in a sporting setting, there really was no way back.

The win against the ultimate finalists, Holland, in Mendoza, 3-2, but which meant nothing in terms of qualification, was summed up beautifully from underneath a wide-brimmed hat in an airport lounge by a pissed-off looking Alan Sharp, the Scottish novelist, who had interrupted his screenwriting business in Hollywood to travel to the game, when he pronounced, 'We didn't win, we just discovered a new way of losing.'

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Full Time: The Secret Life Of Tony Cascarino as told to Paul Kimmage (Scribner 2000)

When I close my eyes and think of Glenn Hoddle, two images spring to mind. The first is of Hoddle the player, and that incredible goal for Spurs, when he raced with the ball to the edge of the Watford box and chipped the goalkeeper when everyone expected him to cross. The second is of Hoddle the manager, on the morning Paul Elliott arrived in our dressing room wearing an immaculate leather trenchcoat and stood there, stunned, as Hoddle the manager raced to the 'cover' of a bin in the corner and started shooting him with imaginary bullets — 'Pshhhh', 'Pshhhh' — like a five-year-old with a cowboy pistol set. What Paul didn't realize was that Glenn was trying to be funny, and when Glenn tried to be funny it was time pass around the laughing gas because he was probably the unfunniest man I have ever known, He was also completely besotted with himself.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Goalkeepers Are Different by Brian Glanville (Crown Publishers 1972)

Now and again he played in the games himself, like Charlie Macintosh, and you couldn't have had two more different players. His control was lovely, Billy's, he could do anything with a soccer ball, juggle it from foot to foot until you got tired of watching him, flick it over his shoulder with his heel, pull it back with the sole of his boot then go on again, in the same movement; he was lovely to watch. "Two stone more," the Boss used to say, "two inches more, and Billy would have been the greatest." One day Billy looked at him, deadpan, and said, "No, I wouldn't. I'd have been a player like you."

Monday, December 22, 2014

Auf Wiedershen, Pet by Fred Taylor (Sphere Books 1983)

Oz's '68 Zephyr had looked pretty down even before the three of them left Newcastle. By the time they reached the queue of traffic at the Dutch border, it was at the stage of needing terminal care. Not that Oz would admit anything that didn't suit whatever his momentary view of reality demanded.

'Afraid we're losin' Radio One,' he muttered darkly, fiddling with the car's studio. The material the knobs were made of looked suspiciously like bakelite.

Dennis grunted, took a drag on his newly-lit duty-free. 'We never had it in this wreck.'

'Canny car, this kid,' said Oz for the dozenth time.

There was no answer to that, or leastways none that didn't stray into the realms of fantasy or insult. Dennis's square, well-fleshed face creased into a frown. He decided to change the subject.

'Here,' he said. 'Why've you got a Sunderland sticker on the back? I never knew you supported them.'

'I don't. Bloke I bought it off did.' Oz stared down at the radio, gave it a final thump and treated his mates to a gap-toothed grin. 'I was goin' to scrape it off, but I was afraid I'd lose the bumper . . .' 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Seeing Red:The Chic Charnley Story by Chic Charnley (with Alex Gordon) (Black and White Publishing 2009)


I sensed danger. The guy appeared more than just a bit irate and was certainly looking for trouble. The clue, I suppose, was the Samurai sword he was wielding rather crazily above his head. I have to admit this was not a typical day at training for Partick Thistle's professional footballers.

I was in my second stint as a Firhill player and, as usual, we changed into our training gear before heading off for a session at nearby Ruchill Park. On this morning, though, a couple of yobs thought it would be a good idea to dish out some stick to the players. 'Hey, Charnley, you're fuckin' useless,' came the witty riposte from one of them. They picked on a few of my team-mates, too. We were ignoring these two wastes of oxygen and thought they would get fed up and go off and annoy someone or something else. We were wrong. These nyaffs were at full throttle and they kept up a barrage of abuse for ages. Eventually, I lost my temper. I shouted over at them, 'Why don't you come back in about an hour's time when we've finished training and we can have a wee discussion?'

To my surprise, Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber took off. I didn't think any more of it as we continued to work on our fitness levels. About an hour later I heard a voice shouting out, 'Charnley, we're ready for our discussion.' I looked round and, sure enough, our pair of hecklers had returned. This time, though, they looked as though they wanted to do more than have a natter. For a start, one of them was carrying a huge sabre. It wasn't an ordinary-looking sword you see in the Zorro movies, but one of those curved Japanese-type weapons that would terrify the life out of you. His pal was a bit more conservative, he was just carrying a carving knife. They had also acquired an angry-looking dog from somewhere. These guys were ready for business.

I had my back to them when they returned. One of my team-mates said, 'Chic, look behind you.' My first expression was, 'Oh, shit!' The two thugs looked as though they might want a few Partick Thistle scalps before they moved on. After gulping in some fresh air, I monitored the unsavoury situation. Some of my Thistle colleagues were in the same frame of mind as myself — this pair could do with a good hiding. Others decided it would be best to get back to the stadium as swiftly as possible. You just knew, though, that these halfwits would be back the following day once again noising us up and going through the same boring routine. Gerry Collins and Gordon Rae were two strapping six-footers who were afraid of no-one on the football pitch. Or off it, for that matter. I knew they could handle themselves. The three of us faced up to the sabre-carrying lout, his mate with the knife and the growling mutt.

There was nothing left for it, but to go at them. We started to run in their direction and, amazingly, the first thing to scarper was the dog! It took off down the hill as fast as its legs could take it. Smart dog. As I raced towards the moron with the Samurai I picked up a traffic cone. It didn't look like a fair fight, but there wasn't anything else handy. Sadly, no-one had left a spare machete lying around the public park that day.

Gerry and Gordon made a beeline for the guy with the knife. I kept on charging towards the other bloke and, out the corner of my eye, I saw my two mates jump on top of his pal. My adversary looked at the mess Gerry and Gordon were making of the knifeman and suddenly turned and chased after the pooch. At that point, I realise I should have stopped my pursuit of this headcase. That would have been the bright thing to do. So I kept running after him.

I was waving the traffic cone above my head and was startled when he stopped abruptly and, as I got closer, swung the sabre at me. I instinctively put out my hand and I felt the blade slash through my palm. I was raging, to say the least, and I dropped the traffic cone. I wasn't going to back out, though. I whacked him with a right-hander and down he went in a heap, thankfully releasing his weapon as he did so. We were now on a level footing, both unarmed. I won't go into the gory detail, but, suffice to say, we never saw those guys again when we were training. And God only knows where the dog went!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Killing the Second Dog by Marek Hlasko (Cane Hill Press 1965)

I should have told her all this. I wouldn't have needed Robert and his goddamn instructions to do it either. There was so much I could have told her about myself and my life, but she probably wouldn't have believed me. I could have told her how I robbed someone when I was fifteen and wasn't caught. And how three months later a friend and I robbed a ticket office at a train station; my friend was arrested, and I gave myself up so we could go to jail together, because I enjoyed his company. But she wouldn't have believed me. Nor would she believe me if I told her I lost my virginity at the age of twelve to a ripe German girl on the day of her engagement to a young lieutenant. Nor would she believe me if I told her about the German soldier who set his dog on me and then started kicking me and broke my nose just because I wanted to play with the dog—this happened when I was seven. Nor would she believe me that in 1944, in Warsaw, I saw six Ukrainians rape a girl from our building and then gouge her eyes with a teaspoon, and they laughed and joked doing it. Maybe I didn't believe all this anymore. I should have told her that I bear the Germans no grudges for killing my family and a few more million Poles, because afterward I lived under the Communists and came to realize that by subjecting men to hunger, fear, and terror, one can force them to do anything under the sun, and that no group of people is better than any other. Those who claim otherwise belong to the lowest human species and their right to live should be revoked. 

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Simply Thrilled: The Preposterous Story of Postcard Records by Simon Goddard (Ebury Press 2014)

In need of cheap soup and rich gossip, most lunch times Alan would wander to the Victoria Cafe, the social heart of the art school, open to students and casual interlopers, where the vain and resplendent gathered in conspicuous segregation according to their different artistic disciplines. Alan and Edwyn's catchpenny clothes stirred scornful laughs from the puffy new romantic posters of  the fashion school, but complemented the surrounding second-hand fixtures and fittings, plucked from an original site in Govanhill which had been due for demolition until rescued and reinstalled by the architecture students. The queen of the Vic was a big Irish woman called Mona, who specialised in assuring all patrons that the soup was vegetarian as she hauled the thigh bone of some poor slain unspecified beast from the same bubbling cauldron, and whose short-fuse hospitality blew at regular intervals in her cutlery-bending yell, 'Get outta ma cafe!'

The aloof fashion fops and their equilateral hair-dos aside, the art-school crowd and those who buzzed around its cafe and weekend discos were a sweet, oblivious antidote to the nice bores Alan had suffered at university. They were funny, nutty, fascinating and, to Steven's barely concealed annoyance, invariably 'greeeeeeat!'

The roll call of human specimens read as follows:

A candied darling who called himself 'Lucy Lastic'; who knew 'they' could never touch him for dragging up Sauchiehall Street as long as he didn't wear women's knickers; who knew no fear when it came to roaring 'fab doll!' at men the size of shipyards; who knew no shame when it came to recounting the gory details of his latest straight-corrupting conquest with his starter for ten, 'I've just been shafted'; and whose ultimate destiny in certain surgical procedures was beyond all reasonable doubt.

Jill Bryson, a pretty polka-dot Alice looking as if she'd missed the bus for Wonderland and ended up in Glasgow by mistake, living on the Great Western Road with her boyfriend and the rampant 'Lucy' in a flat below a dentist's surgery which rattled daily to the sound of drilling enamel.

Peter McArthur, Jill's boyfriend, a photography student and Southside punk who'd first befriended Edwyn at Glasgow College of Building and Printing, and later bewitched Alan with his shared love of Fellini, Pasolini, Cabaret and his unused ticket stub for the Pistols' phantom Apollo show. 

Drew McDowall, a performance poet from Paisley, and his young wife Rose from The Wee Scone Shop. When not surreptitiously handing out free pies to fellow punks under her boss's nose, Ross also played drums in Drew's band The Poems, once joined on stage by Edwyn and James for 'a musical recitation' of the hunting scene from War And Peace.

Gerry Hanley, Alan's usual lunchtime companion, who allowed him to join her cafe table of angry women in boiler suits, monkey boots and cropped hair, who shared a flat with the painter Adrian Wiszniewski and who herself, sometimes, could be coaxed on stage by Alan for a spot of performance art.

The tweedy man out of time called Malcolm Fisher, sufferer of untold allergies and pianist of unending jazz flourishes, who danced with his hands glued inside his raincoat pockets, whose flat, a chintz flock and floral eyesore like something from 101 Dalmatians, he shared with his similarly allergic sister.

And a punk graphic designer called Robbie Kelly, whose brother had very briefly strummed chords for the mythical Oscar Wild, and whose girlfriend, Anne, was usually seen pushing a shopping trolley down the street with a doll sat up front like a genuine baby.

As far as Alan was concerned, his new art school associates' rapturous reception to Orange Juice was an exploding plastic inevitability. He wouldn't be disappointed.

Detonation date was Friday 20 April 1979, as James Callaghan took forlorn stock of his final hours in Number 10 and as Art Garfunkel's 'Bright Eyes' bunny-hopped at number one somewhere above the shaking body of Michael Jackson, the wondering why of Sister Sledge and recently deposed yet eternally resilient Gloria Gaynor. The 1980s were but one catastrophic landslide victory and a few spins of the  glitterball away. The perfect time for Orange Juice, a name so wrong that it had to be right, to yodel their first Lifebuoy-scrubbed 'hello' to the universe.