Nobody who met Joe McGunnigle ever forgot the twinkle in his eye as he followed the Scottish football team throughout the world at a time when they qualified for major competitions on a regular basis.
He first fell in love with the national side after getting on his bike and embarking on a 300-mile round trip to Hampden to watch the SFA’s finest tackle England in 1958. (They were trounced 4-0, but the teenager didn’t let the experience dishearten him and followed his heroes to five World Cups between 1974 and 1998).
In later years, Joe was diagnosed with terminal cancer, but was determined not to let it defeat his innate joie de vivre and he became an unlikely sensation at the Brave model show at Aberdeen’s fabled Beach Ballroom in 2018, where he sashayed in the spotlight.
He died two years later, but his grand-daughter Cassie resolved to produce an enduring tribute to Joe and knuckled down to writing The Cycle to Hampden; a book which chronicled his achievement in nurturing generations of youngsters in Woodside and revealed how he persuaded the fabled Manchester United and Scotland star – and fellow Aberdonian – Denis Law to become honorary president of the club.
It also raised funds for Friends of ANCHOR and Cassie was entitled to feel proud of how she brought Joe’s colourful, charismatic antics so vividly to the page.
But now, she has turned it into an audiobook – and there’s a chance for Press & Journal readers to hear for themselves the adventures of this larger-than-life Granite City loon.
‘I’m always up for a challenge’
As Cassie, who works for the charity the Archie Foundation, explained: “I suppose, when the book was completed, I was left thinking: ‘Well, what’s next?’ I’m a lot like that in person and when one task is done, then I’m always ready for the next challenge.
“I certainly wasn’t ready to stop speaking about my Granda and sharing his (sometimes whisky-infused) tales, so the next feasible option was to create an audiobook.
“These and podcasts are becoming increasingly popular, so I’m hoping that the audio version will also engage a new audience – especially because it’s free.”
‘I hope I have done book and stories justice’
Cassie’s an ebullient character in her own right and admitted that she is in her element whenever there’s the chance of a good natter – Joe was “equally keen on yapping” – and she has shown trademark enthusiasm in bringing the stories to life.
She added: “My Granda was a brilliant raconteur and I think he would love the fact that his stories are now being recited. The audiobook is recorded solely by me, so I really hope that I have done the book and its stories justice.”
There is no need to worry on that score. You can’t really go wrong in the company of Joe; one of those indomitable souls who may have died, but has never really left us.
Especially with Cassie flying the torch.
The book is free to download on Spotify and Apple Podcasts by searching: The Cycle to Hampden.
Further information on how to access the book/audiobook can be found at: thecycletohampden.co.uk