Ex-footballer David McVay comes face to face with himself in new play by Billy Ivory based on his Notts County diaries

David McVay's professional football career spanned only nine seasons, during which time the imprint he left on the game was such that the title he chose when he was encouraged to publish the journal he kept during part of that time seemed entirely apt.  

Diary of a Football Nobody, first published in 2003, was exactly as described: a collection of daily reflections, reproduced exactly as they were written at the time, on life as a player of modest ability plying his trade with a club associated mostly with modest attainment, in his case Notts County, the world's oldest football league club, during the 1970s.

McVay gave up keeping the diary, he recalls, early in 1976, thanks to "a lager-logged brain and an incurable bout of apathy" and though he had the foresight to stow his ramblings in a drawer rather than bin them, it was not in any expectation of revealing them to a wider world.

Yet for the next couple of weeks they are being not only revisited but brought to life, at the Nottingham Playhouse, in a drama written by Billy Ivory, the Nottinghamshire-born writer who had a 90s hit with the TV drama Common as Muck and more recently wrote the screenplay for the BAFTA-nominated film, Made in Dagenham.

Diary of a Football Nobody opens tomorrow (October 5) and runs until October 20 and McVay is just about coming to terms with the surreal experience of seeing himself portrayed on stage, having watched Perry Fitzpatrick, who is cast in the McVay role, going through his paces in rehearsal.

"I've met him a couple of times now," McVay said. "Is he anything like me? Well, he's tall, dark and handsome, so what can I say...

"I didn't know too much about the cast before but they all have solid careers behind them.  Perry is actually a local lad, from Long Eaton.  People will know him from the TV drama This is England, that was on Channel Four a couple of years ago."

Other characters who will rekindle memories for Notts County fans include former Scotland international Don Masson and fellow players Steve Carter and Arthur Mann, all played by Rupert Hill (once Jamie Baldwin in Coronation Street), plus Dave Smith and Kevin Randall, both played by Luke Gell (of Two Pints of Lager), and Les Bradd (Christopher Hogben).

In the challenging role of eccentric manager Jimmy Sirrel is a very familiar face -- Eric Richard, who for 20 years was desk sergeant Bob Cryer in The Bill.  Richard is 72 and an Arsenal fan from Margate, yet managed to transform himself into the idiosyncratic Glaswegian under whose peculiar brand of management McVay enjoyed some memorable moments.

"He really gets into the character," McVay said. "I think it helped that he knows football and will have remembered Jimmy.  He will have studied archive clips of Jimmy, too, so he has been able to pick up his mannerisms and intonation.


"And of course Billy (Ivory) grew up as a Notts County fan, so the characters are the players he used to watch.  He has been able to pass on a lot of first-hand knowledge, as did Colin Slater, who was covering Notts County for BBC Radio Nottingham then, as now."

McVay concedes that some of the events that will be seen on stage are not exactly faithful to his writing but is happy with Ivory's interpretation.  The tales of wild women and hard drinking are entirely authentic.

"Of course, you can't make an entire play from a collection of anecdotes," he said. "There has to be a plot, or at least a theme. So there are certain things that have been embellished, even made up, to keep it as a story.

"But in any case the play is really a celebration of the 1970s in Nottingham, and the lives of a group of footballers, on and off the field, with bits and bobs from my own personal life woven in.  One of Billy's great strengths is capturing the flavour of the times.

"In Nottingham it was an exciting time.  We had Paul Smith opening his first shop and we had our first wine bar, Uriah Heep, which became a haunt for footballers, along with the Flying Horse and the Palais."

McVay now works as a journalist for the Daily Telegraph as well as running his own small publishing company, Reid Publishing, under which imprint the diaries, originally published by the now defunct Parrs Wood Press, have been reprinted.

Previously, he was Midlands football writer for The Times, having developed his writing skills on the Nottingham Evening Post, which he joined a couple of years after quitting football. He covered his old club for the Post for a while, before showing his versatility by branching into feature writing, with a particular fondness for local history and nostalgia.

"I did have a period after I'd stopped playing when I didn't know what I was going to do," he said. "But I'd left school with three A-levels and if I was good at anything apart from football it was writing.  I suppose that's why I wrote the diaries, to keep my hand in.

"I was grateful to Barrie Williams, the editor of the Post, for giving me the opportunity to write for them."

Cameo role

As it happened, McVay knew Billy Ivory's father, Bill senior, who was night news editor on the Post, so the connection goes back a long way.

"When I originally dusted off the diaries, I asked Billy to read through them and give me his opinion.  He ended up writing the foreword and has been keen to do something with them, either a film or a play, ever since."

McVay once joked that if his work ever did make it to the big screen, he wouldn't mind a little walk-on cameo, Alfred Hitchcock style.  He has not quite been granted his wish in Diary of a Football Nobody, but he does make an appearance, after a fashion...

"There is a little clip of film at the start where you see someone's hands opening the pages of the diary -- they're my hands."

Diary of a Football Nobody opens at the Nottingham Playhouse on October 5 and runs until October 20. For more details and to book, visit www.nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk

Buy a copy of Steak...Diana Ross: Diary of a Football Nobody (to give the book its full title) direct from Reid Publishing or from Amazon.

Browse more football books at The Sports Bookshelf Shop


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