The Origins and Evolutions of Derby Double

George Best of Manchester United the basis for Seamus O’Brien and the spark that made this idea come alive.

The origins of Derby Double began in 1987 in a small apartment in Manchester Massachusetts. I was living with my sister at the time. She had encouraged me to come down to the North Shore right after I had completed college. It was a time when I needed to figure out what I wanted to do. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I did want writing to be a part of my life. She got me a job at a little restaurant called 7 Central. I did anything they asked of me. When I wasn’t working, I was writing.

At Christmas I went home for the holidays. I was looking for something to read. I raided my Dad’s bookshelf and found a book, on “All Time Football Greats.” It was published in the 1970’s and the book had been a gift from my Dad’s boss. Believe it or not, I had this book since I was a child and I never read it. The book was a look at the careers and lives of some the greatest Football players that had played the game. Most of the players were British with some world players sprinkled in.

The book came out, when George Best was the talent of a day. I remembered him well. Some people called him the Northern Irish Pele, because of his craft, guile and natural ability. I watched him on “Match of The Day and “The Big Match,” two important soccer highlights shows that were popular. When you watched George, you didn’t want to turn away, because you never knew what he was going to do. Usually what he did was brilliant. He had tricks that the average player only dreamed he could have. He literally could turn a game on it’s head and take it over in an instant. He wasn’t just a great goalscorer, he was the playmaker of his day.

George’s biography was the last in the book. I found it a fascinating look into a very conflicted shy man. On the pitch, George was free and happy and played with a passion like no other. Off the pitch, the rigors the game caught up to him. His fame and fortune, which he didn’t seek drove him away and led him to boozing, lots of women and partying. When things became too intense for him, he would walk away from the club for days, weeks and months at a time. The game outside the game had become a chore for him and all he really wanted to do was play, because George simply enjoyed being on the Football pitch.

After I read George’s biography, a character came to me. A Football player like George Best, a cocky, cheeky player on the pitch and a shy misunderstood personality off the pitch. Now I could have done a movie about George Best, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted something different. There was a movie in my head, but I wasn’t sure what it was.

I decided to come back to the character later. It was time to figure out the rivalry I wanted portrayed on the pitch. I chose something completely different. The English Football League has some of the biggest rivalries in the sport. There’s the Liverpool Derby with Liverpool and Everton. The Manchester Derby. The Arsenal, Spurs rivalry. I didn’t want any of that. I also didn’t want the rival to be a big club. I wanted something that wouldn’t be seen as cliche. The club that wins the Championship should be a club that has never won it or hasn’t won it in a long time. I scoured my Football Books for team histories. Sheffield United stuck out to me. They hadn’t won the Championship in close to a hundred years. So the natural Derby rival was Sheffield Wednesday. I could have switched it and made Wednesday the underdog, but I didn’t. I realized Sheffield United was perfect. Although I was a Chelsea fan, I always enjoyed watching the greats. Tony Currie was one of my favorite players of the day and one of the most gifted. He was a player whose skill epitomized Football’s nickname, the beautiful game.

Now that the club was in my head, I went back to who this character was. I read George’s Best’s biography again. I discovered George was the son of a Protestant Dock worker and he lived in Estate housing in Belfast. His religion shouldn’t have been important, but it became important. I had always wondered what it must be like for a Catholic Football player to play in a country that had established law an order in theirs. I wondered what it must have been like for the Catholics of Northern Ireland to play with the Protestants of Northern Ireland. I always wondered why there was not more violence on the pitch. Somehow religion had been set aside so the sport they loved could take center stage. That spoke volumes to me and that was to be part of my character’s core.

I decided my character’s name would be Seamus. Gaelic for James. Seamus would be Catholic and that in the midst of his brilliant career, it would end through a horrifying injury on the pitch. He dropped out for ten years only to discover he wanted one last chance at a winners medal. So he joins Sheffield United and he makes the team and would help a rag tag Football club to glory. This was the basis of my story. It also became a struggle, because ignored the more controversial idea.

I wrote a script that played it safe. Seamus religion was a background but not the main focal point. In fact I had two conflicts in the picture. I wanted to explore match fixing, which is a big problem in the sport. So I had Seamus come into contact with the British Mafia. The second conflict, was the Sheffield United Owner was a wealthy steel magnet named Lord Herbert Manning, who wanted to keep Seamus away from his daughter Elizabeth. I never finished the first draft, because there was a little voice inside my head. His name was Seamus O’Brien and he was pissed off at me. “Hey Murray, what’s your problem? You put my childhood in Belfast Northern Ireland and you made me Catholic, but you don’t have the guts to see the very story that is staring you in the face. You’ve put a match fixing plot in this movie. It shouldn’t be the mob, it should be the IRA.”

The day Seamus spoke to me I woke up and smelled the coffee. Seamus needed a deeper, darker past. It couldn’t be the injury that took him out of the game, it should be something far more tragic. It had to be a death and it had to be the death of the woman he loved. From there things took off. I began to realize that there had been a few popular movies about how the Republic of Ireland came to be, but not many had been done on the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Suddenly I didn’t care whether I pissed people off about the Irish conflict. I did my research. I began to understand the complex religious issue that haunted Northern Ireland. I learned about prominent Protestant and Catholic politicians. I learned about the Protestant rabble rouser Ian Paisley, who always seemed to be in the news when I lived in England. Names like Gerry Adams, Bobby Sands, Bridget Devlin and Martin McGuinness were now prominent in my brain as I learned about important parts of Northern Irish history. With all the knowledge at my fingers, the fascinating backstory of Seamus O’Brien came alive. Bridget Devlin was of particular interest to me. I remembered her as a prominent outspoken civil rights leader and I remember her death was big news. Bridget became the inspiration for Seamus’ finance Hannah Laughlin. As the troubles moved from the 60’s through to the 90’s, the violence got worse and both Protestants and Catholics began to weary of the war. It sucked in everyone that lived in Northern Ireland and ate them alive. I wanted to explore that aspect. Both sides spoke out. I decided to use this by creating a political wing for peace, called the Belfast Peace League.

To create further conflict, I had two of Seamus’ childhood friends heavily involved in the IRA. His best friend Roary Riordan, travels to England with Seamus to trial Manchester City. Seamus is signed to apprentice forms and Roary is sent packing back to Belfast. It was a harsh blow. Roary’s cousin was Paddy Cleary, a man with a tortured soul. His brother Sean was a poet, who formed the Belfast Peace League and Paddy idolized him. He watched him shot down by a military Protestant Wing called the Ulster Volunteer Force. From then, Paddy became bitter and angry and saw he had no choice but to avenge his brothers death and join the IRA.

After Hannah is cut down, Seamus discovers who killed her. A trade unionist from Sheffield England, with IRA ties. His name, Albert Renneville. Instead of seeking revenge, Seamus disappears from Belfast and joins the International Police.

Ten years later, Seamus goes undercover to bring down Renneville who ordered the hit on Hannah.  He joins Sheffield United and turns the club around while bringing down the IRA.

Alan Rickman Die Hard. He would have been the perfect Albert Renneville.

The movie has gone through many drafts and cuts. There were times when certain characters were sort of there, but not fleshed out. My antagonist Albert Renneville was extremely difficult to write. During the first few drafts I had left out the murder of a key character, Lord Herbert Manning. Leaving out the murder, caused a huge problem. I had no where to go with Renneville, but create him, black and white. I didn’t want that. My feeling is that villains should always be gray and not caricatures. I wrote in a bit of background which allowed me to explore Lord Herbert, his daughter Elizabeth and Renneville. After I put the background scenes in I added the murder. The scene happens on a night when Lord Herbert Manning is about to hand over his business to his future son in law Albert Renneville and Elizabeth Manning his daughter. Before the meeting, Lord Herbert Manning had found out that Renneville had been embezzling money from his Steel company and using it to buy caches of guns for the IRA. The scene helped me establish the relationship between Renneville and Elizabeth. These two things allowed me to add a gray color for him. With a little more gray in Renneville’s character, there was one other aspect I needed to fix. He was too bland. He had color, but he had no taste. I fixed it by sheer accident. I re-read his first scene with Seamus. In the beginning of the scene, I noticed that I had him play with a toy train set. In the script he explains that the set is a gift for his son Roger. Suddenly it dawned on me that Albert should have this obsession with trains. I made sure that Albert invested in trains and that one of his visions for Manning Steel was to get the company involved in the train industry. He buys an antique locomotive train. I also made sure that when Seamus meets Albert they would meet at a train station. Renneville came alive and I was free to add touches of humor.

Diana Rigg as Emma Peel the basis for Elizabeth Manning.

Creating Elizabeth Manning was difficult. I had the general idea for Elizabeth but I felt she was just there for the love story. I wanted her to be far more than Seamus’ love interest. I wanted her to be one of the focal points of the script. In the draft I never completed, Elizabeth had no substance. Once I changed the concept to the IRA, I came up with a different concept for Elizabeth. I began to see Elizabeth as an Emma Peel type. As a little kid, I loved the Avengers and Diana Rigg was my favorite actress. Elizabeth was sophisticated, intelligent, funny and a take charge woman. She was the type of woman, you’d hire to run your company. Once her father dies, she takes her Father’s stock and is given the club by the retiring owner.

I created a deep past for Elizabeth. She had gone to work for Interpol and had left due to some bad decisions she had made. One involved being responsible for one of her Interpol colleagues being killed. For the first few drafts, I had the intelligence, the sophistication and the funny, but she was not as take charge as I would have liked. During those early drafts Elizabeth is kidnapped by Renneville and Seamus has to save her. When I had my friend Kim read it, the damsel in distress ending, really bothered her. She thought it was too cliche and that it might work better if she saved him. I loved the idea. It just fit with this Emma Peel persona I created. I flipped it on its head. Elizabeth doesn’t just save Seamus at the end, she saves him throughout the whole movie. It also fit Seamus’ character. I have a scene when the love interest has sparked. Seamus is worried about Elizabeth, so he hands her revolver. She plays with the revolver and opens it. Elizabeth remarks that is very tidy. Seamus explains he hardly uses his weapon and when he has to it’s to maim and not kill. This fits Seamus perfectly, as he is a man that abhors violence.

Derby Double continues to be a work in progress for me. There are still some holes in the script and it is still too long. Right now I am working on a new draft that I hope will help shorten it and clean it up. The story is good, hopefully when I have finished the script it is worthy of being on the big screen. If you are interested in how this script is coming along I plan on creating a writing diary page on this blog. I will keep you up to date there.

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