By Ally McRoberts
July 18, 2021 - A tale about Cowdenbeath FC that became a cult classic and Sir Alex Ferguson’s favourite book has been turned into an audio play.
Ron Ferguson, a former minister in the town, wrote Black Diamonds and Blue Brazil about the pain and joy of supporting a lower league team in Scotland.
A chronicle of coal, Cowdenbeath and football, it’s set against the rise and decline of the local mining industry. and touches on journalism, politics, religion, tragedy and community spirit.
A sharp, funny and insightful read, the book is set for a new lease of life as an audio play with plans to perform it on stage in a theatre when circumstances allow and audiences are allowed back in.
Adapted by award-winning playwright Gary McNair, and directed by David Greig, it centres on a successful woman who returns to Cowdenbeath after many years for her father’s funeral.
The dad was a fanatical supporter all his days who wants his ashes scattered at Central Park, and it comes during the infamous 1992-93 season when the Blue Brazil became the first team in Scottish league history to go an entire season without a home win.
Ron, who now lives in Orkney, told the Times: “I’ve seen the actors go through their stuff virtually, they’re really good and it’s terrific.
“The way Gary has done the script, he’s taken ideas from the books and made them into a story, so it’s not like some wee documentary about Cowdenbeath.
“It’s about life and death and all sorts of other things. He’s done it quite brilliantly. It’s not the language of the Presbyterian church mind you!”
He added: “It’s quite an emotional story, a woman returning from Rio for her dad’s funeral.
“It’s taking those themes of loss and defeat, of picking yourself back up again and putting it in an almost international context that makes it work as something much wider than just a football story.
“I would love to see it on stage and would definitely come down to see it. It would be magic.”
The world premiere is a collaboration between the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh and the Pitlochry Festival Theatre, and the fifth in the Sound Stage series of digital-audio productions.
It stars actors Cora Bissett, Bruce Fummey, Phil McKee and Nicola Roy, features a live recording of Cowdenbeath fans and commentary from the legendary Scottish football pundit Archie Macpherson.
Gary said: “I’m not your typical sports fan, I don’t have a season ticket or a Sky Sports package but I do love a good sports story, so when David asked me to have a look at Ron’s brilliant book; Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil, about Cowdenbeath FC, I was delighted.
“I knew it had a cult following when it was released and that it was Sir Alex Ferguson’s favourite book but I’d never had the pleasure of reading it.
“And what a pleasure it was; it’s a sports story like no other – not following your usual tale of triumph and glory but rather charting the season of a club steeped in history that is hanging on for existence, cheered on by a dwindling number of supporters to whom it means the world, all set in a community that has, likewise, seen more prosperous days before the decline of the coal industry which drove the town’s heyday.
“This is not a story of winning, it’s a story of what it means to keep losing and not give up.”
He continued: “Being given the opportunity to dramatise this true story of the now infamous 1992/93 season for Sound Stage has been a real honour.
“I really hope that it will appeal to football fans and non-football fans alike, as I believe that supporting a club like Cowdenbeath every week not only teaches us something about the fundamentals of sport but also something innately human as well.”
The idea for audio productions came after theatres had to close due to the pandemic. Rather than give up, and with one play already in rehearsals, they decided to make an audio version of it for audiences to enjoy.
Gary said: “It’s been strange but great fun doing it this way and it’s a nice experience.
“You broadcast at a specified time on the website, once you buy your ticket you’re given a link, there’s even a bar where you can see everyone online before it and have a chat and then the audio play comes through your speakers.
“It’s really high quality audio and lovingly put together, it’s not like a recording where the mic is in the middle of the room and the actors are all round the table. It’s been made for this experience.”
The audio version also features Archie Macpherson, who provided the voice of Scottish football for decades.
Gary explained: “Archie recorded some commentary written into the play to tell what’s going on in the games but to move the story along too.
“I had written some commentator-type stuff and thought it’d be brilliant if, rather than getting someone to do an Archie Macpherson impersonation, we could get Archie himself. We thought it’d never happen but he was up for it and he was great.
“I was having that conversation on the phone and I had to say ‘This is a very surreal experience for me Archie, to hear your voice speaking down the phone to me’ and he said ‘I imagine that would be the case for a lot of people’!
“It was a real honour to have him in it. He is totally synonymous with Scottish football in the early 90s, it’s comfort and nostalgia. When his voice comes in and says ‘Welcome to Central Park’ you’re just there, the picture is already painted in your mind.”
Gary said Ron also proved a huge help and it was a relief to get his blessing.
He added: “Ron was very generous and let us do our thing. He was a source of wisdom and was very supportive, the fact he was along at rehearsals and recordings and he read drafts.
“So it meant a lot to us that the original writer was excited about what he saw and heard, it was like clearing the first hurdle.”
Audiences may be able to see the play in future and the playwright confirmed: “We’re very much hoping to put it on stage and we’re having those chats now.
“It’s been a joy to adapt as it’s such a brilliant sports story, the like of which I’ve never read before. I think that’s why it’s amassed such a cult following.”
Gary added: “I guess to put it bluntly it’s about loss. Football runs through it but it’s very much about the main character, how they navigate their way through life and and how watching Cowdenbeath can help with that.
“Hopefully people listening to the play will find that out, and a few more things besides, as it’s all the stuff of life.”
Gary has been to Central Park to record some fans singing and shouting chants for the play and added: “I’ve not seen a game there but I’ve definitely got plans to go when it’s all safe and open again.
“Knowing Central Park had a stock car race track, it’s always been a curiosity of mine.
“Getting involved in the play, we went there a while back to record the fans and I thought it’d be great to see a game there as it’s a cracking place. You can see its history.”
The audio performances of Black Diamonds and the Blue Brazil are at 7pm on Friday 23 and Saturday July 24 and at 4pm on Sunday July 25.
The ‘at home theatre experience’ gives you the chance to soak up the virtual theatre atmosphere, mingle with other theatre-goers, bring your drinks and chat in a virtual bar, there's even a call bell to take your ‘seats’, and post-show talks too.
For tickets and more information, go to https://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/black-diamonds-and-the-blue-brazil.