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In a League of its Own: Awaydays

After over ten years, Kevin Sampson’s novel Awaydays has finally been turned into a film.

What’s in a cult novel? A great story, charismatic characters, a powerful narrative voice and an evocative style. If these are the basic ingredients to achieve the perfect cult status, then Kevin Sampson’s Awaydays, had them all.
Written in the late 90s while Sampson was working for the NME and The Face, Awaydays was only superficially a story about football fans and violence set at the end of the 70s. What made it different from other books about football gangs was the fact that it was also the story of a friendship between two young men, Carty and Elvis, and of growing up, struggling to find your own identity. Gripping and convincing, this passionate tale quickly turned into a bestseller.  
After “a decade of pain and rejection”, the film taken from the novel - directed by Pat Holden, starring Nicky Bell (Paul Carty) and Liam Boyle (Elvis) and with a screenplay written by Sampson himself - is finally ready.
Tipped as one of the best movies of 2009, Awaydays is set to turn into a cult film. The best thing about it, though, is that, after all this time, Sampson is still passionate about the story and, above all, still loves going to football matches.           

Dazed Digital: After over 10 years since you wrote the novel, Awaydays has been finally turned into a film, how do you feel about it?
Kevin Sampson: I’m elated. It’s not the bravado of hindsight when I say I never gave up on it, but the longer it went on with the experts telling us it could never work as a film…that can either kill you or spur you on. It’s been a decade of pain and rejection, but we finally got there - so my feeling is a mixture of unfettered joy and a quiet pride in the finished film.

DD: When you first started writing the script you loved the whole process of adapting the novel to the screen. After so many years, do you still feel the same about the script and do you still love the story?
KS: Oh yeah… I mean, every writer is different of course but I find the whole process of screen adaptation very liberating. With Awaydays specifically, the novel is written in a consciously fast-paced, first person narrative. It’s done to give the reader an immediate, almost documentary experience - but the downside is that everything we discover is seen through Carty’s lens. It’s very one-dimensional. Adapting the story for the screen allowed me to open up Carty’s universe and offer Elvis’s point of view, Molly’s (Carty’s sister) and Bob’s. And yep - I still love the story. Gets me every time!  

DD: Was there ever a moment in which you threatened to quit the project? And, most important, did all this waiting and waiting put you off going to football matches?
KS: No, in terms of quitting, quite the opposite. I had to fight a little sometimes, but I became almost obsessed with seeing this thing through to reality. Quick aside: I’ve come to love the French term for “Produced by”. Realise. Realised. Made happen. That’s what it’s all about - making it happen. And stop going to the match? Never!
DD: What was the most difficult thing about turning the book into a film, distancing yourself from your own characters or trying to inject new life into Carty and Elvis, recreating them for the screen?
KS: Those things are a challenge, but not so difficult. For me, Carty and Elvis are living, breathing characters so it’s inspiring, really, being in charge of their destiny. The real difficulty lies in getting to the real heart of the story, working out what you want to say and how you’re going to go about saying it and being brutal about what material you need from the novel, what’s essential in telling that story - and what you can afford to leave out. And there’s a third thing - the practicalities and realities of filming (and the funds at your disposal) ultimately dictate what you can do. Some of my favourite moments from the book never made it to the screen - “Doctor Who” lighting a fart, the massacre of the Morris Dancers etc… but other things that were barely mentioned in the novel are now fully fleshed scenes that serve the overall story. That’s the tough bit for me.

DD: You once explained me that there’s a bit of you in both the Carty and Elvis characters. Is there a bit of you also in their screen “doppelgangers”?
KS: They are both far better looking. Seriously - I think we found a new generation of actors with Awaydays. Nicky Bell who plays Carty, Liam Boyle who plays Elvis, Oliver Lee (Baby Millan), Sean Ward (Robbie The Mod) - and as for the girls, Holly Grainger as Carty’s sister Molly, and Sasha Parkinson as his girlfriend Natasha are screen magic. Sasha’s only just turned 16 so heaven only knows how far she can go. The stars are the limit for all of them.

DD: Awaydays was a huge success when it first came out, what do you think readers liked about the novel? Do you think the film will be as successful as the book?
KS: I think that younger readers in particular - anyone under the age of 25 or so - just relate to the universal themes of searching for your own identity, breaking free of your constraints, finding your own way. The fact that it’s also laced with sex, drugs, fighting and lacerating black humour didn’t harm it either. All those qualities are there in abundance in the film, so I’m cautiously hopeful that audiences are going to embrace it.

DD: The era of Awaydays was the dawning of that period when football fans in England dressed in designer labels. The novel perfectly tackled the football fans’ passion for designer clothes: does this element come out in the film?
KS: Oh God yeah… it’s one of THE big talking points of the film. I mean, it wasn’t so much designer clothing…that whole movement which was pioneered by Liverpool football boys was very underground, self-labelled, self-defining. There were no designers driving the cult, and the labels we’d adopt were anything but high fashion… in 1978 it’d be Fred Perry, Slazenger, Lois, Pod… Perversely, that look - effeminate wedge haircut, skinny jeans, retro trainers (even though they weren’t retro then, if you get me) - is very now. We had a screening at the London Film Festival recently and half the crowd looked like they’d been sent along by Central Casting.  It’s a huge deal in the film though - definitely.

DD: Is it true that Adidas are launching a range of Awaydays-themed shoes and clothing to tie in with the film’s release?
KS: Top secret. If I were to say maybe, I’d already be saying too much! So yes…

DD: How was working with director Pat Holden?
KS: Brilliant. He’s an amazingly intuitive and sensitive guy, a natural storyteller and a wonderful director. I’ve no doubt that, across the board, Awaydays has showcased some fantastic new talent, and Pat is at the top of that list. He’ll go on to win Oscars, that boy.  

DD: You once told me you like midfielders, if you could turn the Awaydays film cast into a team, who would play as midfielder?
KS: Only one? Okay. Zinedine Zidane. Unique, beautiful, effortlessly creative, visionary, inspirational - and a natural born killer.

DD: Music plays a big part in the novel: did you get to choose any of the tracks featured in the film soundtrack?
KS: Lots of them. The Cure demo over the tragic love triangle between Carty, Elvis and Molly… I’m very proud of how well that works. All the early Ultravox stuff is my idea, and Joy Division and the Bunnymen of course. But the best moment in the whole film, the moment it transcends film art and becomes witchcraft is a marriage of one prolonged, spine-tingling shot with a perfect soundtrack by Magazine. That was chosen by our editor Mark Elliot and it is brain-melting in its intensity. There’s no point in me even pretending to be modest about it - it’s one of the great screen moments in modern cinema. You’ll see!

DD: Would you ever go through another ten years of madness to see another of your novels adapted for the big screen?
KS: Unlikely. Awaydays was my first born, my big love, and I would’ve slugged it out to the bitter end to see it reach fruition. Having said that though, Powder would make a fantastic movie.

DD: According to you, what’s the best film about football “casuals”?
KS: Casuals? Casuals!! That’s a London word for a Liverpool-born cult that was fastidious in its dedication to fine detail. There was nothing sloppy or casual about it. The fashions and styling in Awaydays piss on any of the other films that try to deal with this culture, though. Seriously. And as a film, it’s in a league of its own.

Awaydays will be screened on 22nd January at the 38th International Film Festival Rotterdam. The film will be released in the UK in Spring 2009. 
Kevin Sampson explains why the violent themes of Awaydays are still relevant to today's youth in the current January issue of Dazed & Confused.