Kevin Sampson first wrote Awaydays in 1982. That version was an awful lot slimmer – about 60-odd pages – and concentrated much more on the fashion and music side of the story. He started the book after The Face, the U.K’s style bible through the 80s, had turned down an article he wrote about the way Liverpool’s football lads had pioneered a way of dressing at the match in the late 70s. In declining the article, The Face’s Editor Steve Taylor implied that, as this was a youth cult he didn’t recognise, it was too marginal for the magazine. Rejection is one of the most powerful motives in creation, and Kevin was determined to get the story out there.
“That look – wedge haircuts, Lois jeans, Pod shoes and that, it had been around for a while. You look back at Souness’s debut away at West Brom in January 78 and Liverpool must have had 15,000 there. The season before maybe the look was a cult thing, 30 or 40 lads in the Road End wearing mohair jumpers, straights and Samba. But by that West Brom game, everyone had a flick, everyone had a duffel coat, everyone looked the part…
I decided to set Awaydays in late 1979 for a few reasons. One big thing I wanted to do with the book is to show how, six months into their first term, Margaret Thatcher’s governement was already sewing the seeds of discontent and disillusionement among Merseyside’s youth. It was like watching a virus start to take a hold – the symptoms start to show, then people start to drop, one by one. I tried to show that through Elvis’s gradual disintegration.
But on the positive side, there was also the Liverpool indie scene that centred round Eric’s and Zoo Records. Both the Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes released their first singles in 1979, and there was a real sense of something new and brilliant happening. I wanted to weave all those things in – the unique look of the boys at the match, the music scene and the start of Thatcher’s gradual undermining of the working class in general and Merseyside’s youth in particular.
Yet I shied away from making it a Liverpool story. Again there are many reasons. Chief among these is that Awaydays is an intimate and reflective tale of a young man’s search for meaning and identity in his life. Somehow the open terraces of Tranmere and the Northern wastelands of Crewe, Doncaster, Halifax etc lend themselves better to that kind of narrative than the packed stadia of the old First Division. The likes of Man.United and Arsenal and even Nottingham Forest in those days.. they were News, they were in your living room, you knew everything about them. There was no mystique. Setting Awaydays around Tranmere was purely a creative decision and one I made instinctively. If Carty and Elvis followed Liverpool they’d have been two lads in an away following of thousands. They’d have never met!”
The 1982 version was only ever sent to Penguin, who rejected it in unambiguous terms. Kevin didn’t put himself through the humiliation again. He concluded that the world of publishing was dominated by remote academics who would never in a hundred years get the point, or the appeal of Awaydays. The Face came back a year later, in July 1983 and asked him to re-submit the article he’d written on Liverpool’s match lads. By then Wham! had begun cavorting in Fila tennis shorts and the London media was alive to these crazy young Casuals (how can a youth cult so dedicated to fine detail be called “casual”, by the way? As ever, with this thing, the style commentators badly missed the point, and the moment). But getting published by The Face opened the door to the magic kingdom for Kevin, and he began to write regularly for The Observer, The NME and Arena.
But if it weren’t for Irvine Welsh, Awaydays may well have remained a lost classic. The publication of Trainspotting in 1993 was a landmark moment – Kevin’s literature equivalent of Punk Rock.
“Trainspotting re-drew the entire map for me”, says Kevin today. “Up until then there had been very, very little new writing coming out of the U.K that chimed with young peoples’ lives and experiences. You kept reading about supposed young guns like Ian McEwan and Martin Amis but, for me, they were middle-aged. They read middle-aged – even when they were quite young. And they were very middle class. Trainspotting came along and blasted all that cold, analytical prose out sight. To book-lovers, Trainspotting was revolutionary – brave, visceral, savage, unrestrained, dirty, seething brilliance. I will always love Irivne Welsh for that. And I just thought, fuck it, I’ll have another crack at that Carty story. There’s something in that. I know there is.”
This time round the publishing world agreed. In May 1997 four publishers bid for Awaydays, with Cape securing a two-book deal acquiring Powder, too. Awaydays was published as an Original Paperback by Cape in March 1998, the Vintage paperback following in April 1999. First Editions of the Cape Original now change hands for hundreds of pounds.