Interview with Tony Roper – Writer & Director of ‘The Celts In Seville’


Actor, Writer, Director and Celtic supporter TONY ROPER kindly took time out of his busy schedule as ‘The Celts In Seville’ starts its second run at the Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow to talk about the play, his inspiration for writing it and why a little piece of his heart will forever be in Andalucia . . .


ImageTony Roper – an Anderston Bhoy at heart



How soon after Seville did you first think – I could make a play out of this? 

The play was produced in 2008. So the maths tell you that I let the notion nestle in what passes for my brain for four years and set about getting it produced in the fifth year. I keep hearing about mythical people who had the same idea but I nicked in and  stole it from them. Four years is a long time to nick in



How long did the writing stage take? 

Can’t remember exactly. A couple of month probably. With a few trial drafts before settling on a producible play that would stand a chance of people willing to spend their hard earned dosh to recoup the very sizeable outlay that’s needed to fund a production of that size.



Are the McMahon family based on a particular family you know or different individuals? 

Different individuals. I always base any characters in my plays on real people. It helps the actors get a realistic grip on their portrayal. 



Image Tony’s dream come true – he finally gets to meet Paul the Tim in Turn



What was your favourite memory from the play’s first run back in 2008?

The very last night. The surge of belonging to the Celtic diaspora that merged the cast and the audience was almost overwhelming. Every member of the cast said they had never had an experience to match it on a stage. I’ve said it before that the theatre almost levitated and I don’t believe that to be an overstatement.



Rab Douglas – blameless or hopeless? 

Neither. I am not in the camp that lays the blame on big Rab. Having spoken to almost all of the team neither are they. He had more than a few great saves throughout the campaign, Hartson missed sitters, even  Henky missed a penalty. ‘Let he without sin cast the first stone’ as they say.



The final whistle blows at the end of extra time on 21st May 2003 – explain your emotions at that immediate moment? 

Along with all the other Celtic fans I stood and applauded a team that had given a thousand per cent. In the play there is that moment when the dream inexplicably turns on us and we are the runners up. Every night, with no cajoling from the cast the audience replicate that night in 2003 and stand up and applaud, not the production but the Celtic team and their effort. Which is very gratifying as that sense of pride in being a Celtic fan who could embrace the lows as well as the highs with pride and dignity was what inspired me to write the piece in the first place.




The Jimmy McGrory song used in the play – how did you come to know it? 

This was a song my father’s generation sang at parties in the house. McGrory was the Larsson of his day and was the player who my old man measured all others against. He signed the majority of the Lisbon Lions and if you speak to any of them they will all say the same thing. An absolute gent of a man and a giant of a player. I voted for him as the greatest ever Celt.



If Derlei’s shot in the 115th minute had been stopped on the line and the game had gone to penalties . . .

a)      Would Grandad Devlin have survived the tension? If we’d won either way he would have lived or died a happy man

b)      Would you have survived? Yep and there would have been a very different end to The Celts in Seville.

c)       Who would have won the shoot-out?  I think Rab Douglas would have won that contest as it did not involve diving around as if he had been shot, unlike the heid-case in the opposing goal.


Image The cast at the Pavilion – many of the actors from the 2005 run are back again



Are there any other episodes in Celtic history that you think would merit a play or even a film?    And could you be tempted to write the script . . .

 Yep. But I’ll keep them to myself. That way I can nick in and steal them from some genius in a pub. 



How long before you think Celtic will be back in a European final? 

 I’ll never see that day. Money is Mammon in today’s competition and until that changes we’ll never see eleven guys from Glasgow do what Jock Stein’s lads did. That was when the competition was pure and not sullied. I count myself very lucky to have seen it.



From the many years you’ve been watching Celtic, how does Henrik Larsson rate among the strikers seen? 

He could still hold down a first team place. He wasn’t just a striker. He was an all round consummate professional who could play anywhere. Celtic have been blessed with terrific strikers throughout the years, McBride, Lennox, McGrory, McClair, Dalglish, the list is endless. I think that Henky would fit in their company very nicely.


 ImageTony in his own Theatre of Dreams – Paradise


What was your Seville story? 

After the game we wandered around for hours as there were no taxis and we had no idea where the hotel we were in was. It was about fifteen miles away on the motorway but we had no idea in which direction. A couple from Seville stopped us about three in the morning and asked if we wanted a lift. We showed them the hotel card and they took us back, with no question of payment. Of course we did give them an amount but that was not part of their offer. I always thought that the fans must have made a great impression to spark that sort of kindness in a foreign land.



When will your play about Rangers in Manchester be ready – and how many extras will you be needing for the riot scenes?!?

Thankfully that task will never fall to me. If enough succulent lamb can be conjured up I’m sure there will be some willing members of the press ready to turn fact into fiction.


Image Tony in his famed role of Jamesie Cotter enjoying a cocktail with Rab at the well-known Rangers pub ‘The Loupen Tavern’


Did you ever find out what is the Portuguese translation for “dirty, cheating, diving bassas”? 

Yep. FC Porto.


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Read The Shamrock’s review of the play here:


‘The Celts In Seville’ runs until 12th April 2014 at the Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow. 

Box Office: 0141 332 1846

Book online at




John Glass was one of Celtic’s leading founding members, along with Brother Walfrid and Dr John Conway. Glass was the most influential Celt behind the scenes through the club’s first two decades and this portrait, which remains on display at the modern Celtic Park today, was commissioned by the club in honour of the work John Glass did in its name.

The painting used to hang in the Celtic manager’s office, as confirmed by Willie Maley writing in 1915: “Of the great and good men whom I was privileged to join with in that famous first year, I would give pride of place to John Glass, whose photo hangs above me as I write, and it seems but yesterday since I heard him invite me to throw in my lot with the Celts. A man of whom Celtic will be ever proud.

To have any idea of the work John could, and did, do for the club he loved, one had to live with him to realise it. For years he thought of nothing but Celtic. He was at it from morning till night. If a fellow had to be persuaded he was coming to the best team in Scotland Glass could do that in a jiffy, whilst many a fellow’s fortune was made right away once he had listened to the voice of the charmer in the person of the burly Celt. For nineteen years we had in John Glass the most faithful clubman any club ever had, and one who never grumbled at any job as long as it was for the club.” (Weekly Record and Mail, 1915)

Review: ‘The Celts in Seville 2014’ by Tony Roper


It was the surprise that surprised me most.  I thought I knew what I would be getting when heading to the Pavilion Theatre to see Tony Roper’s 2014 version of his play about Celtic and Seville in 2003: a fairly standard re-treading of stories about the fans who made it to Andalucía for the final with a few Celtic songs and scarves thrown in for good measure. Turns out I couldn’t have been further off the mark if I’d been wearing Filip Sebo’s boots. 

Somehow, this show manages to capture a lot of the excitement, joy and sorrow that made up that unforgettable sequence of games that took us from Suduva to Seville with stop offs along the way in Blackburn, Vigo, Stuttgart, Liverpool and Porto (for the semi-final v Boavista).  It achieves this with a story that has been expertly crafted by the writer of one of the most popular Scottish stage plays of recent times, The Steamie, and which shares that play’s rich seam of working-class Glasgow humour throughout.  It is of course a help that the writer/director is a dedicated Celtic fan himself. 

Tony Roper was originally driven to write the play as a celebration of the support and the unique nature of the event which drew tens of thousands of Tims from across the globe to the southern Spanish city.  He wisely chose not to focus the play on Seville itself though – only a few minutes of stage time is taken up there – but instead tracked the march with O’Neill through the rounds as the realisation slowly dawned that Celtic might just make it to their first European final in over three decades. 


ImageWriter and director Tony Roper keeping his colours under wraps


The songs are plentiful and they’re not simply manufactured for this production either.  Many of the popular fan chants and songs from 2002-3 are recalled here although the best moment is probably a rendition by Ginty (the mother, wife and daughter of the three main protagonists) of a song which popularised a glorious Jimmy McGrory hat-trick from the 1920s, which she learnt at her father’s knee.  Within the cast there are three tricoloured troubadours who make frequent appearances at various junctures with guitar, banjo and bodhran to get the audience clapping and singing along.  (Although opening night was a Wednesday the audience then really didn’t need much encouragement to join in). 

The naysayers may of course proclaim that there’s little point in watching a play about something that ultimately ends up in defeat for Celtic – but they’ve missed the obvious point.  It’s not about the team, it’s about the fans.  And it’s not about the final, it’s about the journey to the final.  What the play brought back was a lot of great memories about some fantastic performances and nights at Celtic Park and beyond.   There is footage shown from almost all of the games along the way and it was these scenes that transported me back over a decade to a very different Celtic team and time – Momo Sylla’s tremendous strike against Basel, the clinical despatch of Blackburn on their own patch, the goals scored and then conceded at an alarming rate in the Gottlieb Daimler Stadion, the unexpectedly glorious performance at Anfield, the missed penalty against Boavista in the semi-final first leg, the tension of the away leg.  And, of course, the King of Kings at every turn whose presence throughout receives the warmest of welcomes. 

It is the characters of the extended McMahon family that take us on this familiar journey.  There’s armchair fan, Grandad Eddie, who conducts a running battle by phone with his neighbour and pal, Roddy the Proddy, with most blows being struck in the aftermath of either team losing valuable points in the title race.  There’s Ginty and Mick, the mother and father of Michael, whose impending nuptials with Anne-Marie provide a love story (of sorts!) running through the production.  There’s Michael’s best man and fellow supporter Kevin, bar man extraordinaire, who can only parry rather than keep secrets – much in the style of Rab Douglas.  And then there’s the familiar face of Douglas Sannachan in the pantomime villain role of street vendor for the ‘Daily Deceiver’ – he’s been treading the boards in Scotland for a good few years and featured in Bill Forsyth’s early films including the role as window cleaner in the unforgettable ‘Gregory’s Girl’ with the line: “If I don’t see you though the week, I’ll see you through a windae”.  He certainly seemed to enjoy the reaction from the audience as his vendor gets more and more agitated as Celtic home in on the final spot in Seville, which he tries to downplay unsuccessfully with all the bitterness of a tyro Jack Irvine. 


ImageThe McMahon family celebrate another Celtic goal en route to Seville


The success of the play lies in the attention to detail paid to the nuances of Glaswegian speech and banter, such as the crucial difference between ‘bhoys’ and ‘boys’ – especially when Graeme Souness is using them.  Not all the jokes work, naturally, and some are telegraphed like a Bobo Balde bone-shaker of a tackle which you can see coming from a mile away.  Sometimes the humour strays into Mrs Brown territory which is not to everyone’s taste – but it is the Pavilion after all.  The quality of the music, generally good, should improve as the run progresses also.  Yet, the production as a whole achieves its aim of re-telling the story of one of the most exciting and unforgettable times as a Celtic supporter in the modern era.  

All in all, a truly memorable Celtic night out with an engaging story and performances, some wonderful memories rekindled, lots of laughs, great songs old and new – and an atmosphere that has been sadly lacking at times at Celtic Park this season. 


The Shamrock rating: 7/10 


Review by The Obliterator


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