Book #57

The Young Team by Graeme Armstrong

2005. Glasgow is named Europe’s Murder Capital, driven by a violent territorial gang and knife culture. In the housing schemes of adjacent Lanarkshire, Scotland’s former industrial heartland, wee boys become postcode warriors.

2004. Azzy Williams joins the Young Team [YTP]. A brutal gang conflict with their deadly rivals, the Young Toi [YTB] begins.

2012. Azzy dreams of another life. He faces his toughest fight of all – the fight for a different future.

Expect Buckfast. Expect bravado. Expect street philosophy. Expect rave culture. Expect anxiety. Expect addiction. Expect a serious facial injury every six hours. Expect murder.

Hope for a way out.

There’s nothing I enjoy more than reading a novel set firmly in my country, and written in the language of my streets. This love started with Welsh in Edinburgh, moved to McQueer in Glasgow, and was very recently strengthened by Percy in Renfrew. Only now have I landed practically out my back door with Armstrong in Airdrie. Good old Lanarkshire; murder capital of Scotland.

And I know this world; I lived this world, and I knew my own town’s version of these guys. They were brilliant, hyper, hilarious, but always with a rippling undercurrent of unpredictability, always an unspoken knowledge between the lassies that despite how good the night is, if one of the boys decides to start, we boost.

Armstrong encapsulates all of this perfectly. The mentality, the social insistence, the substances, the violence. He describes everything to the point of near nostalgia, yet adds explanations and added pressure which we never would have guessed our boys to be suffering; but, of course, they must have been. The drive of masculine conformity is a strong one, and dangerously precarious.

Yet, despite all these important points he’s making, and the way he makes us sit back and consider why all of these things are prevalent in the young people of Lanarkshire, Armstrong manages to create a balance. There’s community here, there’s love, and there’s some absolutely class patter, some of which I haven’t heard in years. The relationships are heart-rending whilst the hopelessness is consuming. The violence contrasts with loyalty, with family values and aspiration, hopefully igniting realisation that these boys can’t possibly be only the fragmented picture you’ve built up in your mind.

This is a masterpiece, and something we’ve never been allowed inside before. It’s clear Armstrong has drawn on his own experiences here - it’s too stark not to be real - and the message he has to relate is so important. I truly hope this book finds its way to the people who need to read it.

It’s time tae defy this pre-Columbus notion that the world ends wae Lanarkshire.