The Boy with the Thorn in His Side interview with Iain McMillan

By Red Casual 21st-Jan-2023

Holywell Street recently hooked up with Lanarkshire’s Iain McMillan. He is a long-term friend of mine and has recently written his first publication. Iain has always been an interesting character in all things football to a subculture which is why he is perfect for this blog section. I’ve always felt his creative streak was overdue. He has had a colourful past from the terrace scene with Motherwell, and his obsession with designer threads and music he has also travelled through some dark times. We could converse all day and usually do, but it is also good to get his memoirs on paper. We met up in McChuills – Glasgow’s Legendary Music Bar on High Street the only place to be.

Good to see you mate, I want to start with the book. I’m glad to see as much as your passion for reading you have now started writing. How and when did the idea come about?

I have written bits and pieces for a few years, mainly just for myself. I always found the process of writing enjoyable and therapeutic. I then wrote some articles in some Motherwell fanzines and contributed to Paninaro magazine. Always pieces about fashion or terrace culture, something I have always been into. When we went into the initial lockdown boredom got the better of me and I began battering away at the keyboard again with no real plan. I just thought I’d have a go at a short story. A few months later I had half the book written, and it flowed naturally. I got a real buzz out of writing it and enjoyed the whole creative thing which I never explored in myself in any great depth before. I found something in myself I didn’t know was there and just went with it not really knowing if it would ever be seen by another soul. When I finished it, I felt I would take the plunge and put it out there.

Photo by Sean Baillie

I like the title of the book I imagine there is a connection to a famous track or anything else linked there?

The title was just a working title initially. Like some of the names in the book I just used the first ones that came to mind when writing thinking I may change them at the end. I am obviously aware of the song and love The Smiths but there is no connection to the Manchester band. When I finished writing the book the title seemed to sit well, alcohol was well and truly a thorn in the main character’s side. So, I kept it, sometimes it’s good to go with your gut instinct and not edit your thoughts too much.

I enjoyed the book as more of a take on the character and his compulsive personality and going through the youth movements of the time rather than an average hooligan book, would you agree?

Totally. I made a conscious effort not to make the book a “hoolie book”. Although the casual thing was a part of the story, there was so much more to the casual scene than just fighting at the football. Clothes were an obsession for most and not just those of us with a compulsive nature. I wanted to show the lengths we went to obtain items of clothing in an era before credit cards or having a great deal of money. It was difficult being head-to-toe in Armani when you were earning £29.50 on a Youth Training Scheme but somehow, we would make it happen by any means. The clothes meant that much to us. I always felt that to those outside the casual scene, it can be misunderstood in a way and just seen as Neanderthals drinking and fighting at the football, but it simply wasn’t like that. There was the comradery and being part of something special. Like the mods of our generation.

The character in the book Frankie is interesting I’m sure a few will relate to him. Also perhaps a sign of the times living in a Northern town during the eighties where status was more important than anything else.

I think growing up in the eighties was a very tribal time. When I started secondary school, everyone was a mod, punk, or skinhead. Teenagers gravitated towards the tribe they identified most with. I think growing up we all want to feel part of something. The casual thing provided that for many young men looking for a sense of belonging and the fact it included wearing expensive clothes certainly added to your self-esteem. Of course, you only become aware of this in Hinde sight but some of those years shape who you are forever.

That’s a decent point about tribal groups, if you recall the late ’70s or early ’80s you had all those countercultures. Punk, Skinhead, Mod, Heavy Metal and you wouldn’t admit to liking each other’s music.

Yeah, you could get a doing for wearing a Specials patch or admitting to liking Spandau Ballet [laughs] it was the same with the clothes you only stuck with your tribe. I think the new generations are very different.

Frankie comes across more like a tough street romantic who is a deep thinker but just gets caught up in what he sees as status, would you agree?

I wanted the character Frankie to have some depth and be honest about his struggles and insecurities. Not just make him a one-dimensional hardman character. I don’t think many of us are like that in all honesty. I think you can be masculine and sensitive at the same time. I wanted to show a side of Frankie that people could identify with. I think the character Frankie was a bit lost and the status he finds within the casuals gives him something he is missing. It makes him feel part of a family unit he lacked at home. 

Photo by Sean Baillie

Motherwell seems to have a decent Ultras Scene over there, very impressed with their mental health awareness projects as well. Do you still attend matches?

I go to every home game and a few away every season. I am pushing fifty now and I still feel being part of something at Motherwell is as important to me as it always was. It has just evolved a bit over the years. The ultras are the generation below me and the Well Bois have done a great job to bring atmosphere to Fir Park and they make a big effort with displays week in and week out. Block E are the up-and-coming ultras. They are both very community minded and are always helping out with foodbank collections and making a contribution to the town. I think it’s the way football clubs should be, about the whole community not just supporting the team.

Photo by Sean Baillie

It’s that time again for your Top three Adidas shoes?

Trimm Trab
Zx 600
New York

In your opinion did the Casuals kill Stone Island or did Stone Island kill the Casuals?

Personally, I still like Stone Island but it’s not what you wear it’s how you were it as the quote says. However, there is a uniform that goes with it for example Adidas trainers and perhaps Aqua scarf. I have many friends who just won’t wear it. I still like Barbour and CP Company also Nigel Cabourn. These days I like to mix it up with a retro look. I’m not as closed-minded these days.

And can you give us your all-time favourite five albums?

Paul Weller – Wild Wood
John Martyn – Solid Air
The Beatles – Rubber Soul
Ocean Colour Scene – Mosley Sholes
Roddy Frame – Surf

Photo by Sean Baillie

Let’s talk about recovery. There seem to be a few people from our era that are working on themselves in a positive way. I noticed in the book that the character realised you don’t have to drink alcohol every day to be an alcoholic?

The word alcoholic has been demonised somewhere along the way. We grow up in a country steeped in booze thinking that alcoholics are strictly the guys sleeping on park benches. Guys who drink white lightning and beg for money. These unfortunates are in the minority of people with drinking problems. The stereotype is a big barrier for people who are trying to address the drinking issue. It feeds that attitude “But I’m not like that” alive. The truth is there are many out there who when they start drinking, struggle to stop. They accept the unacceptable parts of our drinking culture as we are surrounded by it. Alcoholism is normalised in our culture. Some alcoholics may drink daily but there are lots of us who never have. The after-effects of the weekend binge can be just as crippling. 

Back to the book. The character Frankie, can you relate to him through your past?

Although the book is fiction, the story is made up of loads of snippets of my life with a few bits made up to fit the story. The beauty of making it a fictional character is that you can play about with it a bit more. It was my attempt at documenting being young in the eighties and nineties, touching on the casual thing and the evolution into rave culture. I wanted to show the after-effects of a life lived to excess and the struggles with mental health thereafter not just a celebration of youth. I don’t think it’s a doom and gloom story I hope it’s more about redemption.  

The book for me is also an education on where trauma can lead to addiction and compulsive disorder. I think this needs to be highlighted more with a mental health epidemic upon us would you agree?

Yeh totally. There is so much more information and research out there these days about trauma’s effects on the brain and how this would lead to the compulsion for alcohol or drugs to increase dopamine or find a state of relaxation that is alien to someone who has suffered trauma. I personally found this information mind-blowing and it made the path to recovery far clearer knowing what you had to address to regain a balanced state of mind. I think the current cocaine epidemic is a great concern as it’s having a massive impact on people’s mental health. Recovery and mental health needs to be out of the shadows and show people there is help and hope.

I also thought it was very interesting when Frankie gets sober he finds it hard to find an outlet to channel into. It shows how it can take a lot of stages to unwind learned habits.

I think part of the problem is when you get sober you can feel a little lost until you find your feet a bit. If your whole social life has revolved around pubs and clubs you need to discover new things to fill your time and stimulate you. I can take time to feel comfortable in new situations without anaesthetic to help you along but as time passes you will experience a far richer life. The addictive part of your nature will also manifest itself in other areas, for me it was buying training shoes and records. Some run marathons, get engrossed in work or take some activity to extreme levels. In my experience, this settles a bit in time. It is better to channel this side of you into something positive though or you may end up sober but bankrupt at the bookies!  

From your own point of view, how did you find starting to write and get creative?

I have written small bits here and there for years but just for my own amusement. The spare time the lockdown provided enabled me to indulge in it a bit more with no real plan. I think I wrote more honestly as I never thought another soul would ever read it. The more I wrote the more I enjoyed it and I actually looked forward to getting to the keyboard. It never felt like a chore, I think that helped a lot to keep the writing flowing

Photo by Sean Baillie

And do you have any future plans for working on new material?

My plan is to learn from my mistakes and write another book this year. I want to see if I can improve on my first effort. I have a few ideas right now but I have not yet finalised all the details, but I will hopefully get another out before the year ends. I recently did a podcast in relation to the book and recovery and I’d love to do a few more if possible.

Thanks for meeting us, mate. Cheers to Davie and Frazer for their input also.

The Boy with the Thorn in his Side can be purchased here at amazon

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