The Road to Lisbon… excerpt from novel about Celtic’s finest hour

‘Jack Kerouac’s On the Road meets David Peace’s The Damned United in Martin Greig and Charles McGarry’s spectacular novel’

The Road to Lisbon was written by Martin Greig and Charles McGarry. It was published by Birlinn in 2012. Martin wrote from the point of view of Jock Stein, Celtic FC’s legendary manager, while Charles wrote in the voice of Tim, a fictional supporter.

May 1967: The summer of love. Anything seems possible. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll… and football. Celtic FC’s home-grown team travel to Lisbon, to face the mighty Inter Milan in a bid to become champions of Europe.

For their manager, Jock Stein, it is the culmination of a long personal journey which began in the darkness of the Lanarkshire coalmines. After years of hardship, despair and rejection, he has created an irresistible attacking force who are out to free European football from the stranglehold of defensive tactics.

For Tim, a Celtic fanatic, the road trip to Portugal with his four friends marks a coming of age. Sixties London – and the love of a beautiful woman – is calling him, but can he leave his family and friends for a heady new world?

The Road to Lisbon intertwines Jock and Tim’s personal accounts of the seven days up to and including that legendary night in Estádio Nacional. It is about the underdog’s quest for self-identity against the odds, of hopes and dreams, of self-discovery, courage and of triumph over adversity.

Here, we have an excerpt from Tim’s pilgrimage, kindly provided by co-author Charles McGarry, who has gone on to write The Ghost of Helen Addison and The Shadow of the Black Earl (The Leo Moran Murder Mysteries).

We’re looking to have an interview up with Charles at a later date, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy this wonderful taste of that sunny day in Lisbon.

The road to Lisbon. Several thousand Celtic supporters strung along it in clusters like beads on a rosary.

As I walk back to the Zodiac my attention is drawn by a growing growl of motor engines. It is a strand of the Celticade. We all rush over to the roadside to salute them. Iggy is waving a green-and-white scarf to identify us as fellow pilgrims. Suddenly my mood soars as the convoy thunders by; what a joyous sight it is to behold! They are waving, and shouting greetings and slogans to us. One phrase is repeated several times. It sounds like ‘swear-us-a-suit.’ I hear it again and again. ‘Swear-us-a-suit, swear-us-a-suit, swear-us-a-suit.’

Then I decipher it: ‘Suárez is oot.’

Luis Suárez Miramontes of Spain. Inter’s classy, intelligent midfielder. Unfit for duty. Undoubtedly a boost for our chances. 

“The Celtic fans!” Rocky exclaims simply, once only a cloud of dust and fumes remains. The Celtic fans, indeed. The greatest supporters in the world. The salt of the earth.

In towns and villages in France and Spain, curious locals in white-painted squares are coming out to stare as every conceivable type and age of vehicle passes by, festooned in green-and white. Some of these motors look as though they would struggle to make it to the end of London Road, let alone to London, let alone to Lisbon. Most of these travellers haven’t been abroad before and for them a road adventure such as this is a true one-off. Boulogne, Rouen, Chartres, Tours, Angoulême, Bordeaux, Biarritz, San Sebastian, Burgos, Valladolid, Salamanca. Horns are sounded festively, cheers exchanged, songs sung.

We’ll be running round Lisbon when we come,
We’ll be running round Lisbon when we come,
We’ll be running round Lisbon, 
Running round Lisbon,  Running round Lisbon when we come!

Lisbon. A word so often used that it has already passed into folklore. Now less a place, more a concept, a state of being; a new mutual state of heightened being that has existed since the Dukla match in Prague.

Or a fictional, mythical place. Tir Na Nog, Narnia, Fairyland, Lisbon. 

On and on they drive, that single destination in mind, and a single goal: to be there. To witness history. To witness the culmination of everything good about Celtic. They sense that this is the hour, that this is the time. And afterwards – in ways not yet fully revealed or comprehended – nothing will ever be the same again. A victory will draw a dividing line in the collective consciousness between everything that has occurred before and everything that will occur afterwards. For an entire community Celtic has always been about pride, about defiance. But to become the first club from northern Europe to win the ultimate prize in the game; that would make their sneers ring hollow for evermore…


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