WRITTEN BY Mike Knowling
PUBLISHED IN The Morning Bulletin – August 3, 2013

IT’S one of life’s truisms that those with much to say sometimes never have – or take – the opportunity to say it.

For 46 years, it seemed silence might well be the fate awaiting many who could remember watching with sheer enjoyment the skills and goal-scoring exploits of one of Scotland’s most talented footballers, Willie Wallace. Both they and the sport itself have been spared that disappointment with the arrival of the former Glasgow Celtic, Heart of Midlothian, Crystal Palace and Scotland international player’s autobiography, Heart of a Lion.

Whatever else he achieved – and during a 21-year professional career he collected a host of trophies – Willie, now 73 and living in retirement with his wife Olive on the Gold Coast, was first and foremost part of Glasgow Celtic’s biggest triumph on the international stage.

In 1967, he wore the No.8 shirt he made his own as Celtic became the first club side from the British Isles to win the European Cup (now known as the Champions League). Celtic defeated Inter Milan, of Italy, in the final held in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, the Scottish players in the process earning the nickname the “Lisbon Lions”.

By the time Heart of a Lion: The Life and Times of Lisbon Lion William Wallace, was launched in Glasgow on May 25, the twists and turns of Willie’s life and times – and those of others – had led to strong Central Queensland connections emerging in its preparation for United Kingdom and online bookstores where, even in early days, it has sold well beyond the publisher’s hopes and expectations.

Having known Willie and Olive for over 30 years and being lucky enough to count them as friends, I was one of them. As a page designer and sub-editor with The Morning Bulletin’s parent company, APN Australian Regional Media, at Rockhampton, I took on the task of editing his 10 chapters of reminiscence and reflection up to publication stage. Of course, it also helped that I grew up in Scotland, so the two of us could communicate without sub-titles.

Julie Robertson, one of Central Queensland’s leading graphic designers, was the other who helped bring Heart of a Lion to the bookshops. Also a friend of the Wallaces and having this year already supplied successful designs for businesses around Australia, the UK, Europe and the US for her Capricorn Coast-based graphic design house CQ inSight, Julie was offered the role of designing the cover jacket. It was quite a brief for someone who cheerfully admits her knowledge of soccer is akin to her understanding of Bolivian history or the laws of thermodynamics.

Undaunted, her design for the jacket has taken Heart of a Lion successfully into the market. While accepted wisdom says you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, Willie is the first to agree it has made a real difference to buyers’ first impressions. There are many books about Celtic and its players and Willie believes Julie’s design to be the best of any of those in recent years.

Julie said she hadn’t imagined herself designing the cover of a football book – let alone one published overseas – but she was extremely proud to be asked.

“It just goes to show good design principles are effective, no matter what the subject matter is,” she said.

“This would be a prime example of designing something aimed at having the widest possible reach in an international market. It’s been good to hear the feedback saying it’s been such a success. And it is a real thrill to see your book cover standing out from others in bookshops around Britain and on websites such as Amazon,” she said.

Julie said the publisher had already asked if she would design further covers for books for British and international publications.

Meanwhile, for me, editing the book was a year or so of absolute pleasure, a real labour of love. After all, how many chances like this come along in your lifetime? Chapter by chapter, the memories prepared by Willie and Olive rolled out and went through the editing process.

It was also a privilege to have a chance to see Willie’s extensive collection of career caps, medals, badges, souvenirs and clippings, talk with him about his experiences and edit the drafts of each chapter, researching and checking dates, places and players involved in his career. Olive – married to Willie for 51 years –also played an invaluable role in organising much of the material.

The project benefited enormously from the trust that surrounded it. Willie accepted modifications without a whimper while I was determined to remain faithful to the language, intent and spirit of each of his stories.

What you read in Heart of a Lion is pretty much what the main man wanted to say and how he wanted to say it. It’s old-school, unobtrusive journalism – just like the best referees are the ones you don’t notice, the best editors, I think, are those you don’t realise are involved.

It was even more enjoyable because they are both just terrific people to be with, full of good cheer and great memories. Willie has a joke for every occasion and your sides can literally hurt from laughing after a few of them. Some of the printable ones turn up in Heart of a Lion.

As bonuses, the 274-page volume includes a foreword by singer, entertainer and Celtic supporter Rod Stewart, a tribute by veteran Scottish sports broadcaster Archie Macpherson and a gallery of illustrations from Willie’s time in the game. Was there ever a time I foresaw myself editing the words of Rod Stewart? I don’t think so! Heart of a Lion is different from many autobiographies. Obviously it’s based around football but it’s about much, much more than that. It’s about growing up in the post-war era of the forties and fifties, about relationships with family and friends, about the endless laughs football players have when they’re together and playing tricks on each other and about the characters who make up the game in one way or another.

Today, many players in their early twenties – some, apparently, already convinced of their own greatness – offer up “memoirs” a few years into their career. The self-importance of some of these, perhaps based on the amounts of money they now earn, contrast with many sportspeople of earlier decades, such as the Celtic No.8. Despite being part of the most successful club side in Scottish football, Willie never sought the limelight in his playing days and hasn’t since. If he was going to write something, he was determined to tell stories, about other people and places, those that filled his early days and about the years after 1967 when the fates moved him on from Celtic and eventually led to Australia.

He had a mountain of memorabilia tucked away in boxes and thousands of memories to sift in his head before putting pen to paper. The decades since that now-legendary cup final and the 35 years since he last competitively kicked a ball have given him many chances to reflect on football itself, the people who play it and, of course, the amounts of money involved, now and then.

In the book, he recalls one of his early club transfers bringing him a signing-on fee of 200 pounds.

“I thought I was a rich man,” he says, pointing out that as a result he bought an Austin A30 for 60 pounds down and a bank loan for the rest – which eventually covered 200,000 miles for him. No Porsches or Maseratis in those days.

Also In the book, he notes all the Celtic players involved in the 1967 triumph were born within a 50km radius of Celtic’s home ground, Parkhead in Glasgow’s east end, and says in chapter two:

“As the years have gone by, it seems more and more amazing that a group of football players who were, by European standards, practically neighbours should have managed a feat such as winning the continent’s most coveted club trophy. And you could safely bet now, in these days of multi-million dollar teams assembled from all over the world, that the European Cup will never again be lifted by a bunch of players not only from the same country but just one small part of it.”

The surviving Lions who played on that day in 1967 are still treated like royalty by Celtic FC and its legions of supporters in Scotland and around the world. Willie is patron of the Brisbane Celtic Supporters’ Club and regularly makes the journey up the highway to attend their gatherings.

Willie and Olive have just returned from a six-week trip to Britain involving book signings and other promotions and the club was as hospitable as ever towards them.

At the many book signings in Scotland, Willie Wallace showed he has lost none of his ability to connect with football supporters with ease and mutual respect.

It is a characteristic that made him extremely popular during his playing days and, probably as a result, already there is talk of another print run before Christmas and release of a paperback edition.

And it is testimony to the esteem in which Willie Wallace’s footballing skills and personal qualities continue to be held close to half a century after he and his team-mates showed the hearts of lions on a sunny evening in Lisbon.

Find WW at WWW

TO COINCIDE with the launch of Willie Wallace’s autobiography Heart of a Lion: The Life and Times of William Wallace, Julie Robertson’s graphic design studio has also created a spectacular new website, which you can visit at www.williewallace.com.

The site contains details and pictures of Wallace’s career, including footage of some of his best goals both for Glasgow Celtic and Heart of Midlothian.

It also offers statistics on his performances for each of the clubs he played for and extracts from local newspapers from those times.

If you are in the UK, Heart of a Lion (RRP £20) can be purchased at the major highstreet bookseller Waterstones. Online, it can be ordered from Waterstones and at amazon.co.uk and booktopia.com.au. An electronic version for e-readers may be purchased at amazon.com.

Willie Wallace’s website is full of interesting material on his career and is regularly updated as more becomes available from many sources.

Make sure you visit it at www.williewallace.com.