Graham Reid had it all; money, fame, the adoration of fans across the world. Yet, it wasn’t enough. CHRIS McQUEER brings us the story of a man who yearned for a very different existence.
Terry stood with his forehead pressed against the cool glass of his office window. He watched as Graham, once his favourite client, climbed out of a black taxi below him. Only he wasn’t a passenger in said taxi; he was driving it. Terry let out a sigh which fogged up the window, clouding his vision for a moment. Terry hoped when the window cleared all his problems, but mainly the problem with Graham, would disappear with the condensation. He had no such luck.
Graham strode across the road, looked up and gave Terry a wee wave. Terry reciprocated, grudgingly. He was finding it harder and harder to contain the rage he felt towards Graham. Terry walked over behind his desk and slumped into his office chair. The phone buzzed giving him a fright.
‘Terry,’ came Sharon the receptionist’s voice from the loudspeaker, ‘Graham Reid’s here to see you.’ The usually gregarious Sharon sounded as if she’d had all the joy sucked out of her. This was a common side effect of speaking to Graham Reid.
When Terry first met the world’s most boring footballer, he had clocked him straight away as the perfect client; quiet, shy, awkward but with an enormous amount of talent. He didn’t smoke, drink or even do drugs; Terry thought he was a freak but he knew Graham would make him a fortune and he was right. And now, after nine years of working together, Graham was throwing it all away to drive a taxi.
Fucking cunt taxi, taxi cunt fucking, fucking taxi cunt.
Terry sighed again, ‘send him in, the door’s open.’ A moment later there was a single knock on the door. My god, Terry thought, even the way he knocks on doors is boring. Graham swung the door open then gently closed it behind him. Terry motioned wordlessly for him to take a seat.
‘Hi, Terry,’ Graham said. His voice bored its way into Terry’s ears. Terry rubbed the bridge of his nose, he felt a wave of tiredness wash over him. ‘Awrite, Graham,’ Terry stifled a yawn. ‘So this is it then? You’re actually going through wi this?’
‘Aye, just picked up my new brief this morning. She’s a belter, eh?’ Graham nodded to the window.
‘I cannae believe you’re chucking fitbaw to drive a fucking taxi!’ Terry slammed an open palm down on the table. ‘I had a move to Man United sorted oot fur ye. Five times the wages yer oan the noo and you go and fucking retire? You’re twenty-eight year auld!’
‘You don’t have to be so aggressive, Terry,’ said Graham. He didn’t see the problem with retiring from football at twenty-eight. He’d captained Partick Thistle to a monumental Scottish Cup final win over Celtic, won a domestic treble after moving to Celtic the following season then single-handedly dragged Scotland to the semi-finals of the World Cup in Russia two years later. He was heralded as the best Scottish player in generations but he’d had enough. He wanted a job that wouldn’t make his da moan about ‘how easy he had it.’ He bought himself out of his contract with Celtic and officially retired. He didn’t want to be in the public eye anymore. He was constantly derided for being boring. The way he dressed – boring. His choice of car – boring. His haircut – boring. The taunts hurt him. Graham couldn’t understand what was wrong with driving home after a game on a Saturday afternoon (in his second-hand Citroen Picasso) and doing some work at his allotment (the one luxury he afforded himself). He always felt a sharp pang of guilt course through him whenever he checked his bank balance. His ma and da had struggled through a string of low paying jobs while Graham had made millions just from kicking a ball. He didn’t have any friends in football, or outside of it for that matter. Graham turned his nose up at the activities of his fellow pros; drug-fuelled orgies, driving supercars, mad parties and reckless gambling. Graham often thought to himself, how could they be bothered? It was staying behind at the training ground after everyone else had left, early nights, steam engine documentaries and gardening for our Graham.
‘Look, for the love of God, please reconsider this?’ said Terry.
‘It’s too late, I’ve passed all my tests. I start tomorrow, I’m looking forward to making some good, honest money,’ Graham replied with a smile.
An idea popped into Terry’s head. Graham was right, there certainly was some good, honest money to be made here – especially by Terry. He could see it now; magazines and papers wanting exclusive interviews, telly appearances, sponsorship deals, the fucking lot. Graham’s new career would be big news all over the world.
‘Do the papers know yet?’ Terry asked, narrowing his eyes.
‘Eh, I don’t know, mate. Wait, hang on, I’m a taxi driver now, why would they be interested in me?’
‘Graham, just because you’ve retired from fitbaw doesn’t mean everyone’s going to forget about you. If anything, you’ll be more famous now. And you’ll definitely still be needing me as your agent…’
The next day Graham was on the front and back pages of all the Scottish papers:
REID ‘EM AND WEEP! – CELTIC’S STAR MAN RETIRES TO BECOME TAXI DRIVER
TIME YOU ON ‘TIL? – GRAHAM REID CLOCKS OUT OF FOOTBALL
And there was, of course, the inevitable, TAXI FOR REID!
Graham started work at seven a.m. in the city centre. It was a drizzly, grey morning and he hoped to catch a few commuters not willing to walk from the train station to their offices. A man in a suave, navy blue trench coat flagged Graham down.
‘Just round to Pitt Street please, mate. I don’t fancy getting soaked walking round,’ the man said as he got in, rain dripping from him onto the floor of the cab. He looked at Graham in the taxi’s rear view mirror. ‘Here, you’re that footballer, aren’t you?’
‘Used to be,’ said Graham, ‘not anymore though.’
‘You’re fucking mental giving up that kind of money,’
‘Ach, money’s no everything.’
As Graham pulled on to Pitt Street, the man said ‘Anywhere here.’ Graham obliged and smoothly brought the taxi to halt. ‘Just three quid, please,’ Graham announced.
‘Fuck off!’ the man spat these words at the glass separating him from Graham. ‘As if you need more money,’ he said, jumping out the vehicle and disappearing into a glass-fronted office. Graham was far too timid to chase after him. He hadn’t expected that kind of reaction from people. He pressed the button to put the light on top of his taxi back on and drove off.
The rest of Graham’s shift was just as eventful. He was threatened by a woman stabbing a needle through the holes in the glass behind him as he drove her through the Gallowgate. An elderly man pished all over his back seat and he was pulled over by the police as he unwittingly helped a shoplifter make his getaway.
Graham’s phone rang as soon as he got home. It was Terry.
‘Graham, my man! You’re no gonnae believe what I’ve got lined up for you. You’ll need to take the morra aff work, you’ve got photoshoots, interviews, the full whack,’ Terry gushed down the line.
‘Nah, you’re awrite. I was hoping to try a few airport runs tomorrow, get out of Glasgow for a bit. Maybe hang about the taxi rank at a shopping centre or a supermarket or…‘
Terry butted in. ‘Fuck that for a carry on, daft arse. There’s money to be made here. We can make a fortune off this without you having to drive some fucking auld biddies hame fae ASDA. Be at my office for nine the morra morning. You can drive us to yer first photoshoot.’
Graham’s maw and da fawned over their son as he joined them in the dining room. Mince and tatties for dinner, Graham’s favourite. No butter through his mash, no salt either and just a wee bit of gravy with his mince. He liked his food plain and simple, nothing mental for him.
‘I’ll tell ye something, son,’ Graham’s da said, ‘That fitbaw. That’s nae way tae earn a living if ye ask me. Bunch a big jessies, nae offence son, prancing aboot in their wee shorts and getting paid a bloody fortune fur it.’
‘I know, da. It’s a nice feeling to be earning some good, honest money for a change,’ Graham said. His mouth was dry from shovelling in the arid mashed tatties. He thought he might celebrate with a nice glass of fizzy juice for a change. That notion passed quickly though and he opted for a glass of water as usual. He didn’t want to be up all night, after all.
‘How much did you make today then, son,’ his maw asked, ‘hope ye got some nice tips.’
‘Mary, fur chrissakes. Ye cannae be asking the boy how much he’s earning. Ya cheeky cow,’ Graham’s da said.
‘Wit? I need to know how much am gonnae be getting for dig money,’ his maw retorted.
Graham allowed himself a rare chuckle at his maw and da’s wee fight. ‘Well it’s early days, I’m still figuring out the best areas but, after paying for diesel, I’ve walked away with thirty quid,’ he smiled.
His da spat a mouthful of mince back on to his plate. ‘Fuck sake, son. Yer auld maw would make more than that punting her arse to the lowest bidder!’
At Graham’s first photoshoot, he posed awkwardly in front of his taxi. He sat on the bonnet, his arms crossed and flashed his trademark squinty teeth at the camera. Terry stood behind the photographer laughing and shouting encouragement at Graham. After striking a few more poses, it was time for Graham’s first interview as a taxi driver.
‘So, Graham,’ the interviewer, Jenna, said. She got herself comfortable in the chair and opened her notebook on her lap. ‘You really are big news just now since you retired from football at such a young age to become a taxi driver. What everyone wants to know is, why?’
‘Um, I wanted to quit football so I did and I wanted to become a taxi driver – so I did,’ said Graham. His monotonous voice hung heavy in the air. The interviewer couldn’t help but let out a yawn. Silence filled the room. Jenna apologised and painted a fake smile across her face as she waited for Graham to continue. He didn’t. Terry thought to himself that if they were in some shitty American sitcom there would be the sound of crickets chirping in the background. He had to intervene.
‘Hi, I’m Terry. I’m Graham’s agent,’ he said, pulling a stool over next to Graham. ‘I think what Graham would like people to know is that he had become, shall we say, disillusioned with football. Yes, he’s had a glittering career, he’s won everything, he’s earned a good living from the game but that’s not what Graham’s after. He’s after real . . .’ Terry snapped his fingers as he searched for the right word. ‘Fulfilment. Aye, that’s it. He’s after happiness. He’s a grafter at heart, is oor Graham. He needs to be working hard tae be happy. He’s just an old-fashioned Glaswegian man. Bit like masel to be honest.’
Jenna looked Terry up and down. ‘I see, I see,’ she said, nodding. ‘Graham, how was your first day on the job? Did you enjoy it? Did you get any grief off the punters? Any funny stories – anything?’
Graham thought about the events of the previous day; almost being stabbed in the neck with a hypodermic needle, cleaning pish off his back seats, assisting a shop lifter. . .
‘It was awrite, nothing much to report,’ he said with a smile. Jenna snapped her notebook shut and picked up her phone. She couldn’t be around the world’s most boring man for another second or she thought she’d end up tanning her wrists.
Over the next few months, the interest in Graham from the press and the public waned. Being a footballer had been the only interesting thing about him and now, with that behind him, he was free. Terry was raging he couldn’t cash in on the initial media furore that surrounded him but soon even he almost forgot about Graham’s very existence. Graham, however, loved his new life.
A year after Graham’s retirement, Terry stood in the queue for a taxi outside Glasgow Central Station after a night out. He swayed back and forward as he devoured a black pudding supper. The grease on his fingers glistened under the streetlights. As Terry reached the front of the queue, a marshal guided him gently into a taxi. He flung the remnants of his late-night munch at a seagull in the middle of the road.
‘Where ye off to, pal?’ the driver asked. Terry concentrated hard on the back of the driver’s head. He was sure he had been in this taxi before.
‘Eh, Bearsssssden,’ Terry slurred. He looked in the rear view mirror to get a look at the driver but he couldn’t quite focus on the man’s face. He thought he recognised him but the memory of who he was or where Terry knew him from faded out of existence. Trying to remember who this unremarkable, almost featureless man was felt like trying to catch smoke.
Graham had clocked Terry immediately. He didn’t say anything. He always thought Terry was a bit of a prick.
At a taxi driver’s awards ceremony, Graham received the prestigious ‘New Driver of the Year’ award. Graham’s eyes filled with tears as his name was read out. He hadn’t expected it; he was thrilled to even just be nominated.
‘That’s ma boy! That’s ma fucking boy!’ Graham’s da shouted, punching the air, as his son went up to collect his trophy. At the after party, a few other drivers stood around as Graham regaled them with his tales of difficult customers, fights and celebrity passengers. Graham had become the resident patter merchant of the taxi ranks of Glasgow. Arriving home, Graham went to his room, clutching his trophy; a golden taxi on a plinth. He looked at his shelf full of his football trophies; Man of the Match, Player of the Year, Goal of the Season, a plethora of winner’s medals. Graham snorted. With one sweep of his arm he sent them flying. The mementos of his previous life clanged and smashed as they crashed to the floor. He proudly sat his golden taxi in their place. He breathed on the taxi’s miniature bonnet and rubbed off a few fingerprints with his shirt sleeve.
CHRIS McQUEER – @ChrisMcQueer
ILLUSTRATION BY DANIEL DUNCAN – @DanielDuncan