By: Martin Greig on 25 May, 2012 10:45
´They made a film about a horse called Sea Biscuit. They should make one about the Lisbon Lions.´
Sir Alex Ferguson
BEFORE his Manchester United team faced Sporting Lisbon in a UEFA Champions League group match in 2007, Sir Alex Ferguson visited the Estadio Nacional. It was an emotional pilgrimage for a man whose mentor, Jock Stein, was the architect of the greatest moment in Celtic’s history.
Ferguson took an MUTV camera crew along and they recorded him walking out on to the pitch and at different parts around that incredible amphitheatre. The footage was for Ferguson’s personal use and has never been broadcast publicly.
The reflections of Ferguson are key to putting Lisbon in context. The United manager, one of the greatest club managers in the history of the game and with no emotional attachment to the club as a supporter, remains in thrall at what was achieved on May 25, 1967.
“I was in Hong Kong with the Scotland team when Celtic won but I know that, from my part of Glasgow, everyone was behind them, even the Rangers fans,” said Ferguson. “Maybe there was the odd one who was against, but you are always going to get that.
“Basically, we all thought it was an amazing achievement for Jock Stein to build that team of players, all from within 30 miles of the Glasgow area.”
For Ferguson, Lisbon was a tactical and psychological triumph, two of the foundation stones of his own career. Not that he was immune to the emotional impact. He was correct in his contention that there should be a film made about it. It has everything, even a Hollywood ending.
Appropriately, the idea for our novel, The Road to Lisbon, started from a screenplay. My co-author, Charlie McGarry, had written a film script about a crowd of young fans driving from the Gorbals to Lisbon in a Hillman Imp. It was the non-football aspects that gripped me most. Charlie had put the road trip in a social and political context. I encouraged him to turn it into a narrative, which he proceeded to adapt from his original screenplay.
And so, as his main character, Tim, prepares to leave for Portugal he catches the wireless “murmuring something about Muhammad Ali refusing the draft.”
The boys then pass through London “a city brimming with the confidence of the age, sure of itself in its vastness, in its moment in time.”
It is the summer of love and the boys end up at an Art School party surrounded by beautiful hippy women, psychedelic music and hallucinogenic drugs. Society is changing, politically and socially the underdog is starting to find its voice, revolution is in the air and possibilities are endless.
The underdog theme leads neatly back to the achievements of those 11 men from in and around Glasgow. There was something about the Lisbon story – more than just the romance of the occasion – that fired my imagination. I realised that that ‘something’ was Stein.
He seemed different, full of paradoxes. A Rangers man who became the most significant figure in Celtic’s history; a man steeped in the working-class culture of the West of Scotland, yet with his sights set on distant horizons. Stein did not just want to conquer Rangers and Scottish football. He wanted to take on the world. He did. And he won. But how did he do it?
The idea of writing a Stein narrative developed in my mind. It would be written in the first person and would tell the story of the seven days up to and including the final. It would also explore his background and the key influences and events which helped make the man who, by May 1967, found himself on the brink of immortality.
And so the research began. I am not old enough to have had any personal experience of Stein, so I had to find out everything about him. Books, newspaper cuttings, interviews and old TV footage, I spent a couple of years trying to find his voice.
I wrote something and showed it to a few trusted confidantes, who thought it sounded authentic.
From there, myself and Charlie began to weave together the fan narrative with the Stein narrative. They are complementary and touch in one or two significant places, though they also stand alone as separate stories. The hope is that they reflect the full Lisbon experience.
We wanted to make the book as filmic as possible. Inspired by Ferguson’s quote about making a Lisbon film, we decided to shoot a couple of scenes from the book.
We hired three superb young actors from the Royal Academy of Scottish Music and Drama and spoke to a friend who owns a fleet of vintage cars. He said he’d be happy to lend us a Hillman Imp for the day and, as a keen amateur actor, would also like to appear in our short film.
There was one catch. “If you want to use the car, you’ll need to come down to my lock-up at Seamill,” he said. Our jaws dropped. As most Celtic fans know, Seamill was Celtic’s out-of-town training camp for a generation. It was where Stein took his players before flying to Lisbon.
So, we shot several scenes with cine cameras at Seamill (see image above) and turned it into a promo film which can now be viewed on YouTube HERE
The novel has been written. Now, for the full feature film…
The Road to Lisbon by Martin Greig & Charles McGarry is out today, May 25, published by Birlinn, priced £7.99
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