Author Jim McCreath has a compelling novel out releasing on June 5, 2018 titled Renaldo: A Tale of World Cup Soccer, Terrorism, and Love. Set against the real-life backdrop of the 1978 World Cup, Renaldo is a powerful story of hope. A Canadian descendant of Italian and Scottish immigrants, McCreath recently answered questions about his new book, soccer passions and the upcoming World Cup!
Please describe your daily process when writing your novel Renaldo.
To describe my writing process I must take you back to 1990 and reveal what was going on in my life. I had just become a widower, my wife of fourteen years, Carol, having passed away after a three year illness. Our two daughters were ages ten and twelve at the time. My business career was in commercial real estate but I started to worked part-time so that I could look after my girls. As a place to go in my private times I started to put together a fictional story in my mind, one about Argentina’s 1978 World Cup championship victory.
I had been a soccer fan since 1966 when I travelled through Europe on a school tour during the World Cup that was being held in England. I was eighteen years old at that time. >Unlike Carol’s illness, my fictional story was something I control. I realize now that writing fiction was my major source of therapy while I was trying to cope with her loss and my new reality. The problem was that the only computer in our home was my eldest daughter’s basic school Mac, and I didn’t know how to type. I bought myself a new PC One and started to peck away while the girls were at school and after they had gone to bed at night. My typing gradually improved and my computers got better too but the process of writing ‘Renaldo’ took me seven years to complete. My daily routine took place whenever I had a spare moment off from the most important job of my life.
How did you approach this sizeable story (over 500 pages) centering on these two brothers, Renaldo and Lonfranco, which began 40 years ago?
I can remember watching Argentina win the 1978 World Cup in our local professional hockey arena because there was no television broadcast of the games, only satellites. What has always fascinated me about soccer is the sociology of the sport, especially when two national teams were playing. I had watched two rival countries that hated each other, England and Germany, face off on a football pitch in the1966 World Cup final just twenty years after World War II. The hatred and past memories were very thinly veiled.
Similarly I remembered the trauma that was facing Argentina in the 1970’s. A brutal military junta having deposed President Isabel Perón in 1976 continued to arrest and murder thousands of leftist leaning intellectuals, journalists and educators. These people were called “dissidents.” The Mothers of the Disappeared, seeking to find out the whereabouts of their loved ones, marched in front of the Presidential Palace for months on end. This became a global story that shed light on just how bad things were in Argentina.
Violent acts of terrorism, crushing financial inflation and lack of facilities and communications had the governing body of football, FIFA, on the brink of rescinding Argentina’s right to hold the World Cup tournament. Miraculously, the tournament was held in the ‘Land of Silver’ and home side heroes hoisted the championship trophy. Those circumstances formed the foundation of my story.
In the bigger picture, my maternal grandfather, Vincenzo Franceschini, immigrated to Canada from Pescara Italy in 1906. He was fifteen years old and all alone. A few years later his younger brother, Renaldo, joined him in Toronto. I have used my great-uncle’s given name for the lead character of the novel. I grew up with two younger brothers and a sister. We lost our mother when she was only forty-six years old. Her death had a profound, lasting impact on all of our lives. In Renaldo, I wanted to introduce the sibling relationship that was so important to me growing up, and also how the death of a parent, in the book’s case Renaldo and Lonfranco’s father, affected their emotional well-being differently and ultimately lead Lonnie to become a terrorist.
On a lighter note, one of the fascinating things that happened during the 1978 World Cup was that the English professional club Tottenham Hotspur sent a group of their executives to Argentina with the goal of bringing back fresh talent for their team. This had never happened before in British football, and it ended up being quite the controversy. But it wasn’t against the Football Association rules, so two of Argentina’s star players, Oswaldo Ardilles and Ricardo Villa, ended up playing in England for several years.
These facts allowed me to introduce the English element into my book. Hence Sir Reginald Russell and his daughter Mallory become major players as the tournament evolves. The deal with Tottenham was brokered in Argentina by an agent, Oscar Martinez, who was nicknamed ‘El Gordo, The Fat One.’This person gave rise to my character and the novel’s chief protagonist, Astor Gordero. As a history buff, I wanted to write the back story of my characters which allowed me to expand and develop rich storylines that ran parallel to the reality of the times my people lived in.
Please describe your research process and related collaboration.
My research process will seem like it took place in the dark ages compared to how I would handle information gathering today. In 1990 when I started my research the internet was unknown in my world.Home computers were becoming popular but being technologically challenged at the time I resisted getting a computer. So, what was available to me as research materials were resource libraries, encyclopedias, magazines and periodicals, books, maps and films about Argentina and it’s people. No Google.
I was totally on my own but I spent hours and hours reading and compiling stories and facts. Soccer magazines that I had kept from 1978, especially ‘World Soccer’ magazine were invaluable. I could not travel to Argentina because of my family situation, so I absorbed all the information I had garnered and then used my imagination for sights, sounds and dialogue. It turned out that other than the editors I hired to read my manuscript there was no collaboration with the core story of Renaldo.
What is one of your most memorable/special moments in soccer?
I wanted to see the great German players that had won the 1974 World Cup in person, and as luck would have it the core of that group was playing for Bayern Munich the following year. Players like Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller, Uli Hoeness, and Sepp Maier in goal were all on that squad.
In 1975 Bayern was so good they made it to the final game of the European Cup, now the Champions League, symbolic of the best club team in Europe and the U.K. The match took place in Paris that May as the inaugural event at France’s new national stadium, ‘Parc Des Princes.’ Carol and I were engaged, so we decided to make it a short sightseeing/soccer trip. She wasn’t into football so I went to the match alone. That turned out to be a good thing. Bayern’s opponent would be a very good English team, Leeds United, with stars Peter Lorimer and Billy Bremner. I managed to scalp a ticket from a very inebriated Leeds fan and found myself sitting in the end zone with ten thousand members of the ‘Leeds Service Crew,’ the name of their ‘firm,’.
Much has been written about the British hooligans whose sole purpose is to cause trouble and beat the stuffing out of the other team’s hooligans. An organized group of hooligans came to be know as a ‘firm.’ They especially loved to travel to foreign countries and wreak havoc on the host city where the match involving their team was held. As I sat with my new English friends I had no idea that many of them had been involved in running street battles all afternoon with their Bayern counterparts. Bandages and blood stained shirts were a bit of a tell-tale sign though.
Leeds started the game strongly and had the Germans confused and back on their heals. It was a rough and tumble affair with lots of fouls called, especially called on Leeds. Strangely, the French referee seemed to keep his whistle in his pocket whenever the red-shirted Bayern men stepped out of line. A blatant infraction inside the Munich penalty area should have resulted in a penalty kick for Leeds, but once again, no call. By now my companions, who continued to consume vast amounts of alcohol throughout the match, were getting very vocal and upset, screaming expletives at the main official. Just after half-time Peter Lorimer scored a beautiful goal. The crowd around me erupted in joyous hugging, singing and waving of their huge flags and banners. But wait, what was this? The referee had waved the goal off, citing obstruction of the keeper or offside or both, I will never know.
>What I did know was with that call changed the euphoria around me in a split second into venomous hatred. I started to feel a little uncomfortable. Eighteen minutes from full time Bayern scored. The Firm was getting uglier. Because the Bayern fanatics were in the other end zone and none were handy for any shenanigans, the Leeds fans started fighting with each other. Ten minutes after their first goal, the incomparable Bayern striker Gerd, ‘Der Bomber’ Muller tickled the twines. This is when things got really out of control with plastic seats being torn from their frames and hurled onto the warning track along with anything else that could fly.
A huge surge toward the pitch left the fans in the front rows pressed against the barrier wall. It was time for me to head for the exit while I was still able to. Outside the stadium the scene was very chaotic. Fans from both sides were engaged in verbal and physical battles. Several times screaming Germans approached me but because I wasn’t wearing Leeds colours they moved on.
There were no taxis or public buses to be found anywhere, so I walked very, very quickly into the dark night having no idea where I was going. Eventually I hailed a cab and made it back to my hotel. The street battles continued all night and inside the stadium a television camera man lost an eye and a police officer suffered a broken arm, along with a host of minor injuries received by the hooligans on both sides. But it could have been a lot worse. No one was killed. The events I had witnessed and narrowly escaped have stayed with me to this day, a real soccer riot.
What were some skills of players you remember most?
Going back to my first real soccer experience, World Cup 1966, there were a few players there that stood out. I had heard of the amazing Pelé from Brazil, but in this tournament he was injured in their first game and Brazil went home after the first round. Pelé did make an amazing recovery four years later when he scored a goal and assisted on two others in the 1970 World Cup final game as Brazil beat Italy 4-1, so he must rank among my favourites.
Back in 1966, the champion English team was full of character players, which included two brothers, Jack and Bobby Charlton. Geoff Hurst scored a 3-goal hat-trick in the final match which rarely happens. But the player I remember the most was the diminutive Nobby Stiles, a shut-down midfielder who, after England won the match, pranced around the pitch with the trophy in one hand and his false teeth in the other.
Stiles made me aware of how important good defence was to winning a game. Franz Beckenbauer was rightly called ‘Der Kaiser’ because he had no equal. His ball control skills have never been surpassed and his field generalship was equally enthralling.
Diego Maradona was a spark-plug of a player with great speed and skill. Another Argentine, Mario Kempes, was the charismatic, good looking, leading scorer in the tournament that Argentina won in 1978. He made the ladies swoon.
The amazing Spanish team that won the 2010 World Cup had many super stars but Andrés Iniesta was a passing magician who scored the winning and only goal in the final. >His opponent in that match, Dutchman Arjen Robben, was as tough and skilled a competitor as you will ever find. He is amazing to watch, and could run like the wind. The entire French team that won the 1998 World Cup on home soil was full of great players, the most prominent being Zinedine Zidane whose two headers in the final match against Brazil made him an instant international hero.
Who are you cheering for in the 2018 World Cup?
First of all, I am terribly upset that the United States failed to qualify for the tournament. They have been so close to advancing up the table the last two tournaments, I felt that this would be their year, but alas. Emotionally I have soft spot for England, being Canadian and part of the Commonwealth. But the English continue to find ways to lose the big games.
Their problem most recently has been their goal keeper. These men have been consistently terrible over the years. Goodbye Joe Hart! They have two great strikers in Harry Kane and Jaimie Vardy, so maybe this year? I love the way the Spanish and Brazilians play the game and Argentina has been a long time favourite too.
Portugal with Ronaldo is always a threat but they tend to underachieve. Germany are the favourites, but enough already. So, I guess my answer is ‘England,’ until they mess up, and then I can choose the most exciting, most deserving team left kicking.
Please describe one of your past World Cup experiences.
In 1994 the United States held the tournament for the first time and it was a huge success. I wanted to take full advantage of this opportunity so I flew to Boston, then took a train packed with fans to Foxboro Stadium to see Maradona and Argentina beat Greece 4-0. Then it was on to Orlando to watch Mexico beat Ireland tie 2-1 and Holland take on Belgium. These last two countries are usually bitter rivals on the football pitch and the Orlando police were out in full riot gear expecting trouble. Well, it turned out to be a love-in with the Belgians, whose team is nicknamed ‘The Red Devils’ decked out in their red, black and yellow face paint, wigs and two-horned devils caps, drinking, singing and dancing with the ‘Clockwork Orange’ Dutchmen and women, many of whom were dressed as carrots. How can you fight with a carrot? The Devils ate the Carrots 1-0.
The game that I had hoped would take place with great anticipation was to see Italy play in a semi-final game at Giant Stadium in East Rutherford. This was a pilgrimage for me because I had been a Giants football fan since the days of Y.A. Tittle. As luck would have it, they got to East Rutherford by beating Spain 2-1 in the quarter-finals. Their opponents would be that renowned football powerhouse, Bulgaria. Bulgaria? Yes, they had knocked off the Mexicans and the famed Germans on their way to Giants Stadium so they earned their shot.
I flew into Newark with no ticket or hotel room, rented a car and managed to scalp a ticket in the nose-bleed section, but I was there with my red, white and green scarf and hat. Mama Mia, this was one of the best sporting experiences ever. Nearly 72,000 piasanos crammed into a steaming concrete cauldron singing Italian songs. What a party! And the best thing was that our boys won 2-1 with superstar Roberto Baggio scoring both goals only minutes apart. Viva Italia, on to the final game. How I got home I can’t remember. (Italy lost to Brazil in the final 3-2 on penalty kicks. Tragedy.)
Any underdogs that you think will surprise people in the World Cup? Who are your favourites to win?
The World Cup is always full of upsets and surprises. Many of the African teams are unknown quantities to the rest of the world, and they are often skilled players with something to prove. Take a hard look at Egypt, with Liverpool’s player of the year Mohamed Salah leading the way. He is an inspirational player in so many ways especially to his countrymen. If he can lift up his supporting cast, watch out! Croatia could surprise, and they have one of the world’s best players in Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modrić. From South America, Uruguay is my pick with the explosive team of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani up front and a strong defence under the direction of Diego Godin. While my heart is with England, my mind picks France to win it all.
Thank you for your interest in my story.
You’re very welcome. Thanks so much for your time.