Ready, Teddy, go

Teddy Jamieson
Teddy Jamieson

When Camelon-based writer Teddy Jamieson left his native Northern Ireland in 1982, he couldn’t wait to get away.

“I had had enough of the place, enough of the troubles,” said Teddy, who was determined to forget where he came from and “reinvent myself as Scottish”.

But there was one thing stopping him: “Sport was the thread that connected me back to where I came from,” says the writer, who has just had his first book, ‘Whose Side Are You On: Sport, the Troubles and Me’, published by Random House.

Watching Barry McGuigan on telly, or rejoicing as his country beat Spain in the 1982 World Cup confirmed one thing – however much he had wanted to leave, he still cared about Northern Ireland.

When he left Coleraine, nearly 30 years ago, his destination was Stirling University, where he met his wife Jean, from Denny – and where he followed the spectacular successes of his fellow countrymen such McGuigan, Alex Higgins and the motorcyle legend Joey Dunlop, the five-time world champion who lived just eight miles down from Teddy’s childhood home in Coleraine.

“Every so often I would be reminded of where I came from – like when I’d be sitting up at midnight to watch Dennis Taylor beat Steve Davis at snooker,” he said.

Teddy, a feature writer with the Herald and Sunday Herald, became fascinated by the way in which the troubles became entangled with sport; sometimes transcending sectarianism, sometimes becoming a catalyst for its ugliness.

“They say sport and politics don’t mix. Well, of course they mix – anyone who says otherwise is an idiot,” he says.

His book mixes his own memories with the stories of some of the sportsmen and women whose successes, at least for a moment or two, brought a divided country together. In it, he interviews sports stars such as World Cup hero Gerry Armstrong, track star Mary Peters, goalkeeper Harry Greg, who survived the Munich air disaster, and Dennis Taylor.

“I think I came out with a slightly more positive idea than I had gone in with.” said Teddy. “I took some optimism from the rugby player John McBride, who was a bank manager in Belfast at the worst of the bombing, and who was there on Bloody Friday. He had to run for his life on that day and on other days and I asked him how, in those circumstances, could you play rugby? He said, ‘It was the chance to be normal’.

“There were lots of people just trying to be normal and sport was one of the ways they could do that.”

Belfast, once the centre of the troubles, is now a very different city – handsome and vibrant – but Teddy’s daughters, Rachel and Elizabeth, are Falkirk bairns through and through.

And if you ask him, ‘Whose side are you on?’, he has an answer: “In Scotland, I support Stirling Albion,” he says, with a smile.

n ‘Whose Side Are You On: Sport, the Troubles and Me’ is published by Random House, priced £14.99.