WEEK FOUR – Billy Bremner/Archie Gemmill

>> Billy Bremner

Archie Gemmill <<

Billy Bremner              Archie gemmill

This week we dip into the world of football, where Scotland’s soul is arguably at its most tortured. We hark back to an era when Scotland were last able to compete regularly on the world stage – the dozen years straddling the mid-1960s to the late 1970s. We’ve chosen two iconic figures representing both halves of the game – Billy Bremner, the pugnacious, combative yet dazzlingly-skilful and inspirational captain of fearsome Leeds United and Scotland in the early 1970s, and the rather more artful Archie Gemmill, whose miraculous goal at the 1978 World Cup against Holland was more an act of ballet than football.

As a footnote, the editors originally paired Bremner with the mercurial tormentor of then-world-champions England in 1967 Jim Baxter, but no-one seemed to want to write about the ball-juggling genius from Fife, so we brought Archie on from the sub’s bench. What can that mean?

by Harry Smart

for the sake of Leeds United

As Joe Jordan said, Billy could make or ride the kind of tackle
that would have most players off their feet then hit
a pass as he came out of it, forty yard, precise.

When I was small, growing up two mile exactly
from where his statue stands,
the sound of a goal at Elland Road
would reach me like the bellowing of beasts.
When I heard about Minotaurs, it matched.

We were in the boys and dads enclosure
at the Gelderd End: before they built a covered stand
there was just a concrete ziggurat
that climbed into the plain white sky;
white as a Real shirt.
Bobby Collins was the captain but when the cloak fell
from the Wee Barra’s shoulders that night against Torino,
Collins’ thighbone broken, Billy got the job.

One Saturday, standard procedure up against
talent, some thick defender hacked him down;
they hauled him to the cinder track behind the goal;
for a moment, blood-faced and grimacing while Les Cocker
worked on him, he stared up at me,
almost close enough to touch.

He took the penalty. The net filled
like the mainsail of a fighting ship,
his leap of celebration was the bursting out
in white and bright-rust iron of exuberance itself
born from Stirling. Eddie Gray from Glasgow,
Lorimer from Dundee: theirs and Billy’s flesh
and blood of Scotland set on raw Leeds grass,
them, Allan Clarke, Big Jack, Norman, battered
till we loved them more than family
as I have somehow come to love this land
that sits like rebar in the heart of life.

You can take your ginger clichés,
‘he’s a vicious little bastard
but he’s our vicious little bastard’,
Dirty Leeds, all that, shove them like a boot
up Dave Mackay’s broad arse.
I speak in praise of skill that football’s rarely seen
and of a man who, for his adopted home,
would break himself in two.


Archie Gemmill Scores in a Parallel Universe
by Graham Fulton

there’s a loop on a screen
        in a dimly lit corner
                of the Scottish Football Museum
as if we’re entering a church
        of Archie Gemmill’s goal
in the 68th minute
                of the World Cup match
against Holland
        in 1978
which put Scotland 3-1 up
                for three minutes,
                                and the commentator
is going ballistic
        and wee Archie
from Paisley is guiding
                the ball over Jongbloed
and punching the air
                                in defiance until
the end of time

                and they’ve recreated
the complete ballet
                using white statues
like rejects from a Greek myth
                with the ball hanging
in mid air
                and Jongbloed
                                        frozen in the act of diving
                                and Van der Kerkhof
looking on helplessly
                                and Rudi Krol
                has the wrong number
on his shorts
with a cosmic arc of white circles
on the green carpet
                showing the trajectory
of Archie’s voyage
                                    to immortality,
                                                    and Archie
                            has turned to the left
so we can all look into
                          his white bloodless face
although in reality
                he turned to
the right


Harry Smart
Harry Smart
 was born in Dewsbury, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. He went to school in Morley and Batley, then in 1974 to the University of Aberdeen. He has lived in Scotland since. He has published three books of poetry, Pierrot, Shoah, and Fool’s Pardon, and one novel, Zaire. He lives in Montrose.


Graham Fulton taken by Iseult Timmermans

Graham Fulton was born in 1959. He has published over 15 pamphlet collections and several full-length collections include Open Plan (Smokestack Books, 2011), Full Scottish Breakfast (Red Squirrel Press, 2011) and One Day in the Life of Jimmy Denisovich (Smokestack, 2014). His most recent collection is Brian Wilson in Swansea Bus Station (Red Squirrel Press, 2015) and a new collection entitled Paragraphs at the End of the World is due from Penniless Press Publications in 2016.



Images taken from:
Graham Fulton photo is courtesy of Iseult Timerman


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