Tuesday, 17 August 2010

A first phone call

I promised blog followers that I would provide regular updates by way of diary entries that I kept during the writing of In Search Of Alan Gilzean but so far I haven't really delivered on that promise.
One of the major challenges in writing the book was trying to juggle the arrival of a new-born son with finding time to get words on to screen. Believe it or not, now that the book is finished the challenge is proving even more demanding. So I've had a rummage around in the attic and blown the dust off a couple of books to give you another flavour of what kind of journalistic endeavours I was involved in just over a year ago.

Tuesday 14th April
Phoned Ronnie Scott who works for the Sunday Post and who was once of the Dundee Courier. He has interviewed Alan Gilzean in the past and he tells me that he was recently at the Dundee Hall of Fame dinner when Alan was voted in. “He wasn't there to pick up his award, his son Ian picked it up for him,” he tells me “he's quite reclusive, as I'm sure you've already discovered.”
“Have you read the Hunter Davies book The Glory Game?” I tell Ronnie that I have.
“There's the famous story in that where Alan goes to a Greek restaurant the night before a game and the owner says to him 'Your usual, Mr Gilzean' and then plonks down a bottle of Bacardi and four cokes in front of him.”
Ronnie informs me that Ian lives in Carnoustie and I tell him that I will arrange to meet up with him, if and when, I arrange a sit down with Ian. I have a home number for Ian which I had assumed to be an old one but I check the dialling code for Carnoustie and it is the same as the number I have.
“Hello?” asks a young voice. “Hello, is Ian there?” I ask. Silence.
“It's for dad,” whispers the voice, as the phone is passed to someone else.
“Hello,” asks a woman, who has an undeniable east coast of Scotland twang.
“Hello, is Ian there? I repeat my question. My heart's in my mouth and it's constricting my throat.
“He's workin, whose callin?”
“My name is James Morgan. I am a sports journalist with The Herald in Glasgow. I'm thinking about writing a book about Ian's dad and was wondering if he would be amenable to meeting up with me to discuss it.” Amenable? I think, where did that come from?
“He won't be home for another hour. I'll get him to call you back.”
“Did you get my name okay?”
“Yes, it's James Morgan.”
I give my number, hang up and wait.

Monday 20th April
12.30 I telephone Craig Brown, the former Scotland manager and erstwhile team-mate of Gilzean's at Dundee. His voice sounds frail and distant like he's speaking from inside a box. I ask if it's a good time to talk and he tells me he's on his lunch and in the car driving but he says he'll happily tell me a few stories if I call back later. He adds this caveat: “He's a hard man to track down.”
2.00 I try Craig Brown again. Fortunately, the line is significantly better. He tells me he is driving from Preston, his English home, to Prestwick, where he has a home in Scotland. “I've got a dental appointment in Glasgow, tomorrow,” he adds. It's a good start: if he is prepared to give me small seemingly unimportant details like that, he is unlikely to hold back on other information. Brown proves to be a charming interviewee.
From the off, it's clear he recalls Gilzean with a measure of awe but also with genuine fondness. But it his descriptions of Gilzean the player that interest me most. So far, I have read little about what type of footballer he was, although the one thing I'm certain Brown will impress upon me is Gillie's aerial prowess.
“He had a great reputation for his ability in the air particularly crosses from the right rather than the left. All strikers have a favourite side and his was the right.” Bingo.
“At Dundee, Gordon Smith provided excellent crosses for him. He was very, very good on the ground and this has often been overlooked. His touch was excellent and he had medium to good pace. He had many great attributes; he was athletic, and he seemed to glide about the pitch – that wonderful gift that some people have and he had a wonderful ability to finish. He was never flustered when he had a chance to score, he was always calm.”
“We wore white shorts at Dundee and after the game we would come into the dressing room and everyone's shorts would be filthy and muddy but his shorts would be immaculate. He was not the kind of striker who put himself about. He was a gentleman's striker. He wasn't rushing into tackles and chasing up ball. He had this zip about him and although he was not the hardest worker a lot of people said that's why he had that extra zip.”

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