Alan Bissett’s Souness: An exclusive extract

Souness's manner in the dressing room was rewarded in equal measure by critics off the pitch. Illustration by Grant Paterson

Souness's manner in the dressing room was rewarded in equal measure by critics off the pitch. Illustration by Grant Paterson

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IT’S the 1980s and a new era dawns on Scottish football. Rangers stride on to the pitch to face Hibs. What happens next isn’t pretty, in the re-imagined first match of their swaggering player-manager

I am Souness. I am, simply, the best.

This is my dressing-room now.

Concern yourselves not with how this miracle has come to pass, only with the fact the Ibrox grass out there’s the stage – the global stage – on which you, my army, Rangers, will be under my command.

Bring me the head of Scotland.

You will have heard my legend. I’m spoken of by smaller men who still pretend to know the game from commentary boxes, broken alcoholics tipping gin – women! I’ve come to Ibrox from Sampdoria.

Do you know how hard Italians are?

Look at this scar. Like a shark bite.

I was captain of the mighty Liverpool FC, who I led to European glory twice, while you were running up and down the Gullane Sands pretending to be men, languishing – what is it? – fifth? Below the Celtic, Hearts, Dundee Utd, Aberdeen. What team is this! The fabled Glasgow Rangers? I think not. You couldn’t swat a fly. Let’s not be shy here: I’m not in this to be nice, or fair. Fear and fear alone is what will win the day, the fear a man has when he comes towards you, playful, sashaying, tempting as a spoiled princess, rolling near, until a behemoth he’d never reckoned with clatters him to death. The rest will scatter. Follow me and I will bring to Ibrox such success that other squads will fall upon their swords and look up, baffled, asking what just happened, by which time a reborn Glasgow Rangers – mine! – will’ve stormed to nine league titles in a row. That record may sit prettily in Parkhead now, but will be snatched away by Graeme Souness one fine day.

On this side of the room: Ally Dawson, Dave McKinnon, Colin Miller, Derek Johnstone, John McDonald, Nicky Walker, Williamson, McCloy and Paterson – ye’re oot!

Davie Cooper, ‘Super Ally’, Ted McMinn, you have the scent of victory, so may stay. Don’t make me regret this decision. I’ll need some skillful kids: Durrant, Macpherson, Nisbet, Fleck and Ferguson. You will form the backbone of a side that will become the best in Europe. All the rest? Just go. Just get your arses out my dressing-room.

And so.

Now that I have taken out the trash, I introduce your captain, freshly bought from Ipswich Town. The jewel in this crown. Such is my ambition I have switched that time-worn flow into reverse: the finest English talent come to Glasgow for my project. You will give this man the same respect which you accord to me. He will be joined by stars from far afield, so many that for several years it will seem as though the England team has but a single dream: to play for Rangers. Celtic are pretenders. Meet your future, gents, our new defender, Terry Butcher.

BUTCHER:

Thank you, Mr Souness.

Lads. To be your captain is an honour.

I’m asking you to carry swords, to do me justice.

I live by just three rules: fair play, courage and the school of hard, hard knocks. The English way. I am an Englishman. Yet here am I surrounded by the Jocks. How did that happen? The English have no place here.

Or do we? Or do we?

Are not Rangers British?

More to the point, how do the Scots fit into this?

Durrant? McCoist? Can I call you Jocks?

Can you call me an English bastard? No, you can’t.

I am on higher wages than you lot.

Thatcher’s law: the best is richest; richest is the best. Let’s test this, take it to the field of play. If you produce results the way that I do Mr Souness will, no doubt, pay what he pays me. But I have faith in my ability. Under Bobby Robson I won European trophies. I’ve just returned from Mexico, the World Cup, up against Diego Maradona. He cheated, but I kept my honour. These are the highest reaches of the game. Who here can say they’ve reached the same?

In this dressing-room there hangs a portrait of Her Majesty; take in the sight. I am her knight, defender of her glory, borne from England’s history, from the lineage of Cromwell, Churchill, Nelson, Merlin, Wellington, The Conqueror and I, Sir Terry Butcher. Here lies my future, everything, my heart, my soul, my blood, my guts. My studs will slide through Scottish mud all for the honour of this club. And so, Rangers FC, I take this sword and kneel before thee, promise you that if you will accept this Englishman he won’t just lead, but die for you, the highest rank of duty in this beautiful endeavour we call football.

Let’s do battle! Our learning begins with this first match against Hibernian; they never liked the Rangers. We’ll give them greater need to hate us: our newfound status, glamour, wealth, celebrity. Expect their enmity and spite. So let’s fight them. For goodness sake, for Graeme Souness, for the UK, Queen and Union Jack, let us take this country back, take that field and make them feel the wrath of Glasgow Rangers!

ARCHIE:

Whoof! It’s August. Football is upon us. Busloads of fans have docked in Leith, Easter Road resplendent in the summer sun. The season has begun. It’s Rangers versus Hibs, in Souness’s first game as player-manager. Nothing average about this atmosphere. Look at that stride. Look at the thighs on him, the size of them. The air is heightened. There’s the English signings, Terry Butcher looking sharp, Chris Woods in goal. Brave souls to travel all the way up here to earn a crust. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly theme tune’s playing for them. Game on! Here come Hibs, making angry tackles on the Rangers gaffer, that’s bound to be a yellow card, but no – the referee ignores it. Ohhh lovely bit of play from Souness, making space like some big graceful antelope on steroids. The crowd noise here is deafening! Several foes are hoping to get in about the midfield general now, trying hard to crowd him, oooft, McCluskey comes in late. Souness doesn’t hestitate he’s-

He’s attacked the man! Studs-up! McCluskey looks I’d say, well, pretty f***ed up. That’s a bad retaliation from the Rangers player-manager. Both sides have flung themselves into the fray now! It’s a pub mêlée! Three, four, seven, nine all have a go. Oh these are shameful scenes at Easter Road.

And it’s a red card! Souness has been given marching orders. Why did he barge around as though he owned the place, his first match in charge? His father’s watching this disgrace. Such ugliness just doesn’t augur well, it’s quite absurd. The SFA are bound to call him in to have a word.

SOUNESS:

Father. I apologise for my behaviour. Your good son Graeme gave you games in which you could take pride, years of them– not once a sending off – but, I fear, this time the red mist overcame me, shamed me. I hope you understand. I know you must be hurting badly, felt you witness from the stands, the same way you observed me – cautious as a bird of prey – hurtling over Saughton pitches as a boy, slicing through, and I’d look up and see you there, stern arms crossed and taking in my every move, my every kick, my every momentary loss, while planning how to school me over dinner.

In such ways did I become a winner.

But you must know just why that card was flashed. Father, I was suckered into lashing out, acted out of f***ing desperation. Rangers face intimidation but we will never let ourselves be trampled on. These dreams of ours are made of stone and steel. We must meet fire with fire with yet more fire; with physicality, with every fibre of our being we will prove ourselves superior. They won’t be allowed to beat us. I am not cowed, oh father. I can’t change tack or attitude, my mood is real and strong, a barely-dimmed aggression simmering beneath this tailored frame. You share my name. You know all this. You brought me to the game. I thank you, Mr Souness.

SFA:

Mr Souness.

Explain for us this case of Hibs v Glasgow Rangers, for it strikes us as most strange. A yellow card was shown to twenty men, ten of these under were your control. You’ve been called before the SFA, this disciplinary, because this is a serious event, quite without a precendent in Scottish football. Luckily, there was no crowd trouble, but if this rowdiness had happened on the street there would have been arrests. And so, a test of your supposed manners: there will be a four-match ban, for failing singularly to meet what is expected of a man. Now, what action will you take against your own?

SOUNESS:

None. I won’t rebuke them.

SFA:

Then we will throw the book at them.

Do you condone their immature behaviour?

SOUNESS:

Yes.

SFA:

And thus, you set the tone for the Souness era.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alan Bissett is a novelist and playwright from Falkirk, who lives in Glasgow. In 2012 he was Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Writer of the Year. His novels include Death of a Ladies’ Man and Pack Men, both of which were shortlisted for the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Fiction of the Year prize. His Collected Plays will be published in February 2015 by Freight. Souness will be performed onstage in 2016, 30 years after the appointment of Graeme Souness as player-manager of Glasgow Rangers FC. This script is a theatrical conceit and not the actual words or testimony of the real-life people it depicts.

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