Chester novelist looks to change course of history


Romilly Scragg

A BARRISTER is celebrating after the publication of his second novel.

Whatever Happened to Billy Parks? by Chester lawyer Gareth Roberts, goes back in time to imagine what might have happened if England hadn’t failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup finals after drawing with Poland in October 1973 – just seven years after winning the World Cup.

The novel brings a fictional council of football greats together to reconsider the crucial last minute choice of substitute, which Roberts said was often seen as the beginning of England’s decline.

Mr Roberts said he wanted to write a football book that went beyond the stories celebrating footballers as glamorous or focused on the pursuit of glory.

“I asked myself why I watched the game,” said Mr Roberts. “The short answer is for the thrill of the seeing the ball hit the back of the net. But it’s more than that.

“There’s a cultural element too. How many times have you sat around, talking about the game and found yourself ultimately discussing the things that went wrong – how you would have won the match if it wasn’t for the referee, or the post, or a couple of blinding saves made by the goalie?

“These conversations about regret and anguish are just as important as the ones about triumph and glory.”

Mr Roberts, who makes regular appearances at Chester and Mold Crown Courts, said for most English football fans regret and anguish revolved around the “constant hand-wringing about the state of the national team”.

“Many connoisseurs pinpoint the decline to the England–Poland game of October 17, 1973,” he said. “Even as a boy, I felt the failure was wrong, against how things should be.”

He said he wanted to right that wrong – through fiction and the back story of Whatever Happened to Billy Parks? is the story of that match.

“In the real match with a few minutes to go, Sir Alf Ramsey brings on Kevin Hector who then went on to miss an open goal. I wanted to turn back time and relive that moment, to see if anyone else could have scored that goal,” he added.

So Mr Roberts created Billy Parks, the type of football hero he said he worshiped as a boy with “a proper working class boy, who found football desperately easy, and found himself with more money and time and adulation than anyone in his family or community had ever had”.

Fast-forward to today and Billy’s life is one of wasted talent, with a failing liver and selling football memories on the after-dinner circuit to anyone who will listen and buy him a drink.

Mr Roberts’ book imagines how life might be different for England and for Billy if Sir Alf had chosen him that day.

“The book asks: What if he could be given a second chance?” said Roberts. “What if he could go back in time and win the game for England? What if he was able to undo the pain he’d caused his loved ones?”

Whatever Happened to Billy Parks? is published by The Friday Project and is priced at £7.99.

See full story in the Chester Leader

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