The last couple of years have given rise to the power of football fans on the internet, and the bampot blogger in particular. Celtic fans have led the way here, having long since established a plethora of quality sites which cater for every facet of the club’s diverse support.
In the last 6 months it feels as is there has been a rush to bring out books on all things Celtic too. From highbrow quality journalists getting in on the act to self-financed and self-published efforts: as you can imagine the quality varies. However, we have to celebrate Celtic fans looking to add to our rich heritage with books which put the club at the focal point of the story.
In Stephen O’Donnell’s Paradise Road (which I keep bloody thinking of as Paradise Lost) we have a fine addition to the growing canon of literature celebrating Celtic’s rich past.
The story follows erstwhile Scottish football prospect Kevin McGarry on his journey through life – so familiar to man -, as he grows from a banter-loving teenager to the sudden realisation of being a directionless 30-something with but one constant in his life: Celtic. But through the chronologically delivered narratives we learn that Celtic has been anything but constant itself.
Anyone who started supporting Celtic in the mid-80s has evolved with the club. Its metamorphic change from a dying institution in a ramshackle stadium to a pristine business with £££s dominating the fans’ mind more than the fare on the pitch at times has been remarkable. People of this vintage will feel a particularly close affinity with O’Donnell’s central character.
The Kirkintilloch lad narrates to us stories of his ‘best years’, inevitably with Celtic’s travails always providing the canvass on which his life is drawn out. There are stories of girls dumped for football, girls met because of football and him being dumped by a girl because of football. You get the gist.
Paradise Road is to all intents and purposes a collection of witty anecdotes weaved together into a fine novel. The timeline is mid-80s to present day (almost). Through this period we see McGarry grow frustrated with the commercialism of the game. His yearning for the camaraderie of the smoke-filled bus to the match, or terracing, or smuggling booze into the game marks him out as a whimsy character always craving something that he can’t quite get. McGarry wants emancipation; he just needs to find out what it is he needs to break free from.
And thus it becomes clear that Paradise Road is a character novel based around Celtic, not the other way round. McGarry’s journey could easily be told against the backdrop of an obsession with music, for example.
What makes it relevant to us as Celtic fans is how O’Donnell skilfully explores the changing political and economic landscape that accompanied Celtic’s own rebirth following McCann’s takeover. McGarry is an observant narrator often going on tangential rambles about one thing or another. These breaks add a richness and intelligence to a novel with a fair few laughs at the crude end of the scale too.
There are also breaks from McGarry’s first person narrative. In a style very reminiscent of Irvine Welsh, O’Donnell treats us to stories as seen through the eyes of characters close his main man and he brings the central threads together in a closing chapter in the beautiful city of Prague.
Paradise Road is a fantastic read. The short, sharp chapters make it easy to devour and the affinity most Celtic fans will feel with Kevin McGarry is palpable. But this is not a book about Celtic fan, Kevin McGarry. This is a book about Kevin McGarry, Celtic fan. The difference is small but the impact is great. Well worth a read.
Stephen O’Donnell will be hosting a launch night on Thursday 4th, October at Glasgow’s Berkeley Suite from 7pm. Paradise Road is available from Amazon and other outlets.