Whether you're a lifelong Rangers fan who would relish the chance to relive a period of immense excitement for your team, or a football fan hungry to learn more about the history of a titan of British football, Revolution: Rangers 1986-92 will take you on a journey.
From Rangers’ success on the pitch to the impact of cultural phenomena such as football fanzines, author Martyn Ramsay revisits one of the most exciting eras of British football.
In this interview, Marytn discusses what he learnt about Rangers during his research for the book, the advice he would offer new writers and much more.
Read on to find out more…
- What factors in your social and educational background have most influenced you?
The experiences of going to games from such an early age, all the way through childhood and adolescence up to adulthood shape who you are and how you think about football and how it relates to life. It is this little microcosm: justice and injustice, beauty and horror, highs, lows and so much of what is in between. You also pick up the language of football and how much it means to people.
From an early age, I probably did have an interest in how the game was being presented to us on tv or in the newspapers and searched out what I could as I got older, trying to understand what made some writers better than others and how they brought the game alive on the page.
I’m sure I have a hundred influences, both conscious and not, but even though he hardly wrote a line about football, Clive James is my ultimate literary hero. His ability to turn a phrase, to make a tightly packed argument and to marry the higher arts with the rest is something to always aspire to.
- What is your motivation for writing?
Like most others, I imagine it is a way of getting thoughts and ideas out of the head and into a nicer format that perhaps others might enjoy. The process of ordering those thoughts is therapeutic before we even get into the business of selling books.
If I have an interest in a subject that has either not been covered at all or as I would do, then my mind is off and running. I try and shape those ideas in some way, whether a book, an article or a podcast and then it’s all done.
- As a Rangers fan, what does the football club mean to you? Do you have a favourite/stand-out memory of the club?
It means a great deal, of course. Rangers have been a constant presence in life – for better and for worse – so to dismiss football as trivial is too easy. It is something that you share with family and friends, especially in those younger formative years, so the real value is in those moments and how you witnessed them, who you hugged at that goal, and who you moaned with on the way back home.
So many but I shall choose the most recent which was the semi-final, second leg of the Europa League in May 2022. I have never seen Ibrox Stadium the way that it was that night. Louder than ever, more vibrant than ever, just this communal outpouring of joy that we were seeing another European Final when those days seemed like a dream not that long ago. It was a reminder that this is why we do it.
- Did the passion behind the book make the writing process easier or harder?
Oh, a bit of both certainly. The passion for getting it right and being immersed in a subject on which you could talk for hours drives you to complete what you set out to do.
However, you have to separate the lifelong fan from the historian. The two jobs are very different and that means properly re-assessing what you’ve always believed to have been true or significant. That can be difficult, but necessary. A book on the past that isn’t critical, is of no value whatsoever.
- What was it like trying to reach that balance between historian and storyteller for the book?
It is the ultimate challenge in writing any history book, I think. Firstly, you need an idea that works as a book and then you need to do diligent research. Both of those are pretty much a given in nearly all sports books. But then you need to be able to write well but not verge into something that is all style and no substance.
History is about making an argument. Why did this happen how it did? Everything else is secondary. If you aren’t even attempting to do that – and some don’t – then it’s a chronicle or some kind of curation, rather than a history book. But if it is all dry, then no reader is going to engage. It is such a tricky balance to pull off but it is part of the fun.
A little turn of phrase can make the detail and point jump out and having a narrative hook at the start – I like to pick a moment in time and start telling that story – before taking the reader into some actual analysis, works well too. For me, at least.
- Is there something you learned about Rangers during your research for the book that you didn't know before?
You always come across some little bits of trivia which are great for acting as a narrative sprinkle rather than anything substantial. Finding out more detail about the job done by the Chairman of the club in 1986, David Holmes, was important as his role is so often underplayed. There were a lot of bits and pieces that I had totally forgotten about and, when doing the podcast series on the era, clearly listeners had too.
I guess my biggest takeaway was finding a better understanding of why this story happened the way that it did. A case of perspective allows me to throw light and shade appropriately rather than any specific fact popping up.
The prologue to Revolution: Rangers 1986-92 is around 7,000 words and there is good reason for that as putting three events that happened before Graeme Souness arrived – the indeterminate nature of the Hesyel ban, the club moving to a single majority shareholder and Liverpool making the old idea of player/manager fashionable again – were so important to lay out and explain in detail. If just one of those things hadn’t happened, the story that would unfold wouldn’t exist.
- What advice would you give to new writers?
Firstly, everyone works differently and there are very few golden rules for us all! I’d always recommend sketching out the skeleton of an idea before you add meat to the bones. Often that involves a lot of questions. Do you have a long-form essay or a book here? If it is longer than an essay, can it be contained and captured in one book? Finding that balance and the right avenue is so important.
Long-form pieces are brilliant if the subject fits. Two books are better than making cuts that you don’t want to make, just to squash your project into one. If the words aren’t flowing, go back to the sketch and be sure you’re trying to get to the right destination. Finally, write the introduction last. You might think you know what you’re introducing but in fact, you’ve no idea until you’ve written it.
- Can you give us a taste of what might be coming next from you and your writing?
My next book – ‘The Pursuit of History: Rangers 1992-98’ – is effectively the sequel to ‘Revolution’ and should be out, all things being well, at the end of 2023. It tells the second part of this story of success and glory but there is a very different tone to it.
The same amount of league titles and trophies were won in those six years as there were in the previous six years, but it was more complicated. Whereas ‘Revolution’ tells the story of Rangers changing the game and being at the forefront of modernisation, this book recognises that the real change is now surrounding the club and completely outside of their control.
It is the story of nine-in-a-row, Gazza, laddism and Britpop but also one of wasted opportunities and the sense that bigger and better things were happening elsewhere. It was a real challenge to capture that constant duality, but I think it makes a better book as a result.
As Martyn points out, as football fans, ‘we don’t play but we still live it all.’ And in Revolution, readers get the chance to do just that. They get to relive a period of tremendous buzz and change. Get your copy of Revolution: Rangers 1986-92 here and explore a captivating era in football.
You can also find out more about Martyn’s other book The 50 Greatest Rangers Games on our website.