I’m nostalgic, almost to a fault, almost to the point I could be accused of dwelling. I’m nostalgic for things that were before I was even born. So Timehop is pretty handy, especially at this particular point in my life.
This time last year was the period of time between my nana’s passing and her funeral. I had been asked to give the eulogy for her which, although very scary at the time, was really the biggest honour of my life. My mum and auntie Janice asked if I would do it and I couldn’t really say no. The reality was that however scary it was, it was probably the best thing they could have done for me, because I live away from my family and it was a way for me to feel connected and also a practical way for me to distract myself from my grief.
The Facebook pop-up today reminded me that five years ago today I fulfilled a life ambition. Sometimes when you have a bucket list item and you achieve it, you can have a moment of underwhelming where you pause and reflect. Oh, it’s gone. What next. Was it really worth the lifelong build? The ambition I fulfilled was, however, something that I truly appreciated and still do. But there was an extra significance I didn’t even realise until today.
At the minute I’m busy working on early promotion for my novel Peach which is out in November. You’ll know that from the podcasts and posts about the cover reveal. Peach, if you didn’t know, tells the story of a young man who self-destructs in grief, ruining his own life, and then he goes to the US to basically run away from his problems. He considers his decisions in the beautiful isolation of the countryside of the north west in Idaho.
If you have followed along with the promotion and early stuff for Peach (if you have any interest) you will probably know that when I have been asked how long it has taken me to write the story, I have answered that it has been around as a concept for maybe 10 or 11 years but I only started writing it in the summer of 2015.
And then today happened and I realised there is a little part of the story missing. I say little, but really, it is far more influential than I had previously given credit for. In May 2013, I was gutted when Brian Greenhoff died. Brian and I worked together on his autobiography, the first book I had written. It was thanks to Brian that at the time I was working with Gordon Hill on his autobiography.
It was probably around April when Gordon invited me over to the US, where he was living. He was actually coaching a soccer club in Cleveland, Ohio, and was due to return home to Tampa, Florida. In one of our conversations he told me, almost complaining, that he wasn’t looking forward to the long drive back. I laughed at him because what he saw as an inconvenience was one of my ultimate dreams in life, to drive across America. He invited me and my wife to come out and take the drive with him, and of course we accepted.
And then Brian died, and it affected me greatly. I was lucky in the sense that my wife was a fantastic support and I appreciated that; I also knew that Gordon was affected too.
Anyone who knows anything about Gordon, and maybe you’ve listened to the podcasts I did with him or the youtube shows he does with my good friends Dave Murphy and Nipun Chopra, will know that he is light-hearted. Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine that he would have deep and meaningful conversations as he just doesn’t come across as that type of man.
I know that Brian’s death had a big impact on him. Brian and Gordon were two of the most obvious attacking symbols of the team that brought their shared fame. Their fates were similar — they won the FA Cup as youngsters and then they were sold before their peak, leaving that big question of ‘what if?’ Neither had the career they should have had. As professional footballers/soccer players do, they drifted apart and made their own lives. Brian lived in Spain for a while after retiring before returning to live near Manchester. Gordon moved to America. They hadn’t seen each other for years and just before Brian died we were collectively talking about doing a podcast altogether.
For Gordon, Brian’s death must have been very difficult to compute. He’s not an overly nostalgic person but his memory of Brian would have been the same of himself at his peak; 21 or 22, with life and greatness awaiting them both. Now, Gordon and I never really talked in deep detail about Brian’s passing or the meaning of life. But we talked enough to know how it affected each other and the one thing that strikes me about that period of our shared grief was that Gordon was the one providing the comfort despite the hurt he would have been feeling. He was the one talking about how life can be cruel but how we have to deal with the blows and move on.
We spent some time in this tiny town of Cleveland called North Royalton, which to me was beautiful but I guess was just an average place to most locals. After a few days we travelled south to Florida, stopping overnight in Georgia. We arrived at a hotel just before sunset, on this stretch of road that had a perfect vista of the Smoky Mountains. It is another dream of mine to see a sunset or sunrise at the Grand Canyon but if I never get to see it, then the memory of the sunset in Georgia might well be sufficient.
The trip only took two days but I will remember it forever, for the fulfilment of a dream but also the help it gave me at a time in my life I really needed it. I continually tell Gordon how amazing it was and in my nostalgic way I always wish I could do it again. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to articulate just how grateful I am to Gordon and how much of an impact it had on me, but I think he knows without me needing to tell him. I’ve always said – and it is true – that the characters in Peach are not based on anyone. But if Gordon ever reads a copy of Peach (and he may well do, he’s very supportive!) I can imagine he’ll find a lot of things familiar.
I suppose it’s true that if you write, you are influenced by your own experiences and sometimes that can happen without you even being aware of it. I guess in a weird way I’m proud of that, even if it seems obvious on the outside, it wasn’t so obvious to me.