Following Paul Larkin on Twitter (@Paullarkin74) doesn’t prepare you for the sledgehammer start that comes from the opening vignette in Channeling Charlie Mulgrew. All at once you get the sense of a complex, insecure and uncouth character in the narrative. Eh? What’s going here, I thought.
They say you can’t judge books by their cover, and the title of this collection leaves you all over the place. But in a good way.
Once you get over the incredulity of reading about a pokey flat in New York as a preamble to a book titled Albert, Dougie & Wim you start to understand that you are about to embark on a journey with more twists and turns than Tommy Burns. The difficulty with this book, like any written in a mixed dialect, is that you need to get into vogue with the language and the rhythm of the narrative. Then the reward comes.
I should point out at this stage that I was reading Irvine Welsh’s Skagboys alongside Albert, Dougie & Wim and I put the latter down until I finished Welsh’s epic prequel in order to do Larkin’s book justice, and not to get caught up in comparing it with the adventures of Rents, Sickboy, Spud et al.
It was a wise decision as I found that once I gave Albert, Dougie & Wim space to breathe, the deeper I got into the book the more enjoyable it became.
1986 was the first year I started attending Celtic games and so I recall the events of that year in the peripheral vision of my mind’s eye and in the section building up to Love Street and that most famous of turnarounds I was captivated by the stories, the pilgrimages and the detailed experiences shared. Not glorified match reports. These are yarns smelling like Players cigarettes and stale beer. It’s like you were. I was that young kid hanging around outside the pub waiting on the bus, drinking hot chocolate and eating KP crisps.
The mixed viewpoints from fans other clubs, especially the excellent Hibs report, adds a freshness to the overall story and offers a different perspective from the stale chronological journey that many fan’s eye view books are guilty of.
As you move on in the book it is easy to distinguish from the writing styles and establish that the book is to all intents and purposes a collection of 3 novellas with a few short stories. Whilst the opening section in Albert is the most romanticised, the mid-section with Dougie is probably the most representative of Larkin’s acerbic view on Scots football and the Dougie Dougie incident gets some special treatment in a collection of rambles on the subject. In respect to posterity it is worth having this in print but the relevance drifts through time. Makes for fine reading but you don’t learn much more than we already know.
The mortaring together of the sections via Channeling Charlie Mulgrew continues and adds mirth and madness in equal measure. Anything that involves Simon Donnelly not getting injured is a good thing. I do wonder if Donnelly regrets his Sheffield Wednesday move sometimes.
Anyway, the introduction of Donnelly and McNamara brings us to Wim and the most compelling collection in the book. This is perhaps drawn out by the fact that I was going to games and part of this famous season as opposed to being a 9-year old with a penchant for badges as I was in 1986. Somehow the writing feels more mature, witty and dynamic in Wim than in Albert and I would expect that Larkin felt more comfortable writing this section as he appeared to be reeling off the yarns with great gusto. Perhaps, like me, he connects easily with it, remembers it better and holds it in the same regard as most Celtic fans. It was quite simply one of the most important titles in our history.
Overall, Larkin’s book brings a fan’s eye view that is less superficial than most. His passion shines through and you get the feeling if the books sold no copies he wouldn’t care. He’s writing for the love of writing and for the love of Celtic. And that in itself is a virtuous combination.
You can follow Paul Larkin on Twitter @paullarkin74 or read his blog at http://www.lovestreet86.com