Many years ago I worked with a chap called Eddie Bevins who was a Manchester United fanatic. It was the time of the first Premiership title. The magic of Cantona, Giggs and Kanchelskis. Eddie loved that side, Eddie loved every United side but the one he adored more than any other was the pre Munich team forever now immortalised as the Busby Babes.
He loved nothing more than at every dinner time to spin tales and tell tall stories about his all-time heroes.
‘You should have seen them John. They were the best lad. They were bigger, faster, stronger and more skilful than anyone else. They were magic John lad.
Then came Munich and Eddie’s world fell in.
More so that he tells the story of how he had met Duncan Edwards only weeks before the air crash on the Old Trafford forecourt. Eddie claimed he asked for his autograph but the pen did not work. With none others available Edwards asked him to give him his autograph book and he would take it to Belgrade and not only would he sign it, but all the other players and manager also. Two weeks from that day Edwards promised to meet up with Eddie again on the forecourt and return his book. Sadly fate decreed otherwise. Eddie always told this story with a tear in his eye and I have no doubt to ever believe it was not true.
Who was I, who was anyone to disbelieve him?
Thus the premise for The Promise came around. Eddie became Tommy Doyle and whilst the rest of the story is nonsense and magic his original meeting with Duncan Edwards remains the basis for all what unfurls.
Another great influence was the Kevin Costner drama Field of Dreams. A film I don’t think I have ever watched without ending up in tears. Much to the continuing disbelief of my little boy.
‘Grow up Dad it is just a movie’?
Maybe so but the line uttered by The Ray Liotta character Shoeless Joe Jackson ‘Is this heaven’? gets me every time. As anyone so generous to buy and read the book will discover this particular comment is given a Mancunian/Salford makeover.
So sue me Costner.
I like to believe this story is a modern Mancunian fairytale. So different to anything I have done before. Although Tears of a Mermaid where I have an avenging mermaid sinking the Titanic comes near, I believe the return of the Busby Babes to 2014 Manchester, magical lightning bolts and voices from the skies above Moston cemetery tops even that.
For me the lifelong friendship between Tommy and Ron Wilson is the heartbeat of the story. Other characters are based on people I know. No names to protect the innocent and guilty. As in the case of Brian Hambley, a rabid Manchester City supporter. Sadly we all know one, but even Brian is touched by the magic of the Promise and come the finale under floodlights at the old Cliff training ground he is left open mouthed in shock and awe.
‘Typical reds we win the league and you still manage to knock us off the front pages with this madness.’
Ultimately the Promise is about enduring friendship and love and to quote a song we all know well ‘Man United will never die’ Maybe they don’t come back? Maybe there is no such thing as angels? Maybe we will never hear voices from the sky telling us to be ready for the time of miracles and wonder?
Then again who would have thought when one down we would have won the European cup with ninety minutes up back in Barcelona 1999? A wink from the stars on Sir Matt Busby’s birthday and a miracle occurred.
Same in Moscow 2008, Georgie Best’s birthday. A little nudge and John Terry falls on his backside. Some call it luck others fate, destiny even?
Everybody believes their club is special but with Manchester United we have the history to prove so. Though tragic it may be.
As comebacks go from the end of that Munich runway ours has been spectacular.
And finally The Promise is my homage all those reds no longer with us. To Dads, Mothers, sisters and brothers and friends. Forever and ever in our hearts.
I hope you enjoy.