Babylon was born. ‘I’ve always been a fan of Babylon books,’ explains Cosgrove. ‘I’ve got a whole collection ofthem. Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger is obviously one of my favourites, but there’s a great Country and Western one called Nashville Babylon, and another one I picked up that’s not really all that good is called TV Babylon, about American prime-time TV. I thought that was the approach I wanted for this book.’
Once the idea was up and running, the incidents and anecdotes came thick and fast. ‘The first source, and for some reason I was taken to task for this but I’m unapologetic, was the tabloid newspapers in Scotland over the last 40 years. They provided a wealth of information, and some idea of people’s viewpoints on the stories. The second way was just using people’s tales that they’d heard. I’d take friends, fanzine editors or whatever out for a drink with a tape recorder running, and got a great deal ofmaterial that was completely unproveable because none of these scurrilous stories had a shred of evidence. There’s a legal term called ‘veritas’ which none of these tales quite measured up to, unfortunately.’
What those stories were defies the imagination, because some of the stuff that did make it into Hampden Babylon i might stretch the credulity beyond acceptable limits, were the details not faithfully recorded in screaming 96 point tabloid headlines. We all remember the Willie Johnston drugs scandal, and the Jimmy Johnstone boat trip, but hands up who recalls Peter Marinello’s drunk-driving spree in a Mini Clubman, or Tommy Docherty’s ﬂing with the wife ofthe club physiotherapist? It’s all here, gleefully set down in black and white, with pics.
In its delight in the ludicrous minutiae of soccer, and its constant harking back to the 705, the last Golden Age of football, Hampden Babylon echoes the fixations of the fanzine movement, a phenomenon that has radically altered the popular image of the football supporter from trouble-making yob to smartass with a xerox machine and an endless stream of lavatorial jokes.
‘1 did try to reflect some of the attitudes of fanzines,’ Cosgrove admits, ‘but one of the things I was quite adamant about was that we wanted to make the book look really good. We wanted to do something that hasn’t been really done before, and produce a book that had a really high-quality feel to it that deals with football in terms of its visual style and look. I wanted that fanzine style
ability of being unorthodox and unofficial, slightly jokey about football, but at the same time I didn’t want it to look cheap and tacky. Fanzines have lost a bit of steam. Some of the people involved don’t fully appreciate the potential of the form, and some of the fanzines now are pretty crass, all sort of “Dundee fans are fucking wankers” type stuff. They’re just cheap goading at other fans, so I wanted to do something that would have more longevity. There’s been a couple of fanzine style books, El Tel Was A Space Alien, and another one by Phil Shaw that just reproduced the best bits of fanzines, but I wanted to get away from that, and at the same time have a sort of post-fanzine feel to the writing.’ Hence the plethora of outrageous haircuts on display. From the picture archives it soon becomes apparent that footballers seem to have a tendency to lag five or six years behind standards of public acceptability in facial hair.
Now this triviality is all very well but aren’t there serious issues at stake here? What about the racism (Celtic’s Paul Elliott said that the racial abuse he received in Scotland was worse than anything he’d heard in
England or Italy), or the sectarianism? Cosgrove makes a rather feeble jokey analogy in the first case, comparing the likes of Mark Walters and Elliott to American Civil Rights activists, but on the subject of sectarianism he makes a stronger case for his light-hearted approach.
‘It’s very obvious what the liberal consensus is on something like sectarianism, that it is wrong. That’s so fucking patently obvious that it’s redundant to state that ad nauseam. In the chapter on sectarianism I made a point which I thought was worth saying, that in Scotland, and to a certain extent in Ireland as well, people actually use sectarianism as a kind of pressure valve. They release the pressure by making jokes about it, around football. All this stuff like Mo Johnston wouldn’t sign for Celtic because he couldn’t read the Latin in the contract, Rangers goalkeepers not liking crosses, all that kind ofthing. You hear these jokes, and they are meant to take the piss out of sectarianism rather than be sectarian.’
It’s an appealing concept, this idea of hordes of frustrated males, happily letting off steam by shouting ‘The dirty orange bastards ran away’ or ‘We are the boys from Londonderry, fuck the Pope and the Virgin Mary’ at each other. Cosgrove feels it is not entirely unhealthy, as you’d-expect from the
man who took a Pope impersonator along to Ibrox to film the crowd’s reaction. ‘It’s a very middle-class attitude to think “Oh this is something terrible. We have to purge it from our national consciousness, therefore we have to say it is ridiculous and outrageous and small-minded.” Of course we know it is all of those things, but it’s also the source of a great deal of self-mocking humour. I’ve got two or three friends who are all in Masonic lodges, but they take the fucking piss out of themselves. You ask them anything about the Masons and they’ll roll up their trouser legs, waggle their hands, they don’t take it as seriously as a lot of people seem to think.’
At this point he gets slightly concerned that Cosgrove the laddish Saintees fan has taken over completely, and makes a half-hearted attempt to convince us that there is some semi-serious intent behind Hampden Babylon. ‘1 don’t want to sound totally pretentious,’ he says, ‘but there was a way in which I wanted the book to be a very long essay on the Scottish national character, the national psyche, covering things like nationalism, the relationship with England,
l-l The late great Hughie Gallacher out tor a pint ortwo, accompanied by his moil . . . er, matte thatwite.
The European Cup-winning Celtic squad of 1967 getstucli into some serious training.
Scotland's nautically-mlnded winger Jimmy Johnstone emerges trom yet another 70: courtroom appearance, accompanied by dapper briei Nicky Fairhaim.
Alan Rough, sporting his 1978 World Cup perm, assemblesa couple ot character witnesses tor the case of the Stolen Mince.
sectarianism, the whole attitude to money and wealth and all the rest of it. Throughout the book what I’ve tried to do, without it ever overstaying its welcome, is run a sort of cultural theory of what Scotland is and what feelings Scots have, their paranoias, their small-mindedness, all that sort ofthing.’ Essentially Hampden Babylon is a happily scurrilous collection of all those tales you hear on the terraces from Pittodrie to Palmerston Park, tales like: ‘The current St Johnstone captain is a guy called Don McVicar, and he was the first player to be charged by opposing fans for giving the V-sign. I think it was a group of Partick Thistle fans took him to court. I was talking to him in a bar in Perth the other night, and when I told him I’d left him out ofthe book he was quite disappointed. “I fucking wanted to be in,” he said. Don McVicar will nevertheless go down in history as Perth rhyming slang for knickers. There’s a popular saying in the town that goes “Phooar, I can’t wait to get the Don McVicars off her. . I wonder ifhe’ll tell Sarah Dunant that one, next time he’s on the Late Show.
published by Canongate at£9. 95 (paperback)
Hampden Babylon by Stuart C osgro ve is ’
The List 17-30 May 1991 7