“No, it’s no right, it’s no right, this disnae happen, it’s no right.”
John MacCrone is struggling to hold it together. The roughly folded sheet of A4 paper flaps about wildly in his trembling hands as the man from Mull furiously attempts to blink the tears away from the corner of his eyes. Family and friends are charging in his direction carrying bottles of varying colours and sizes and a swarm of media, organisers and fellow competitors are gathering nearby. Before John has time to gather his thoughts he is swept outside and thrown in front of a camera and microphone on a freezing Glasgow night.
The events that took place seven minutes before this scene could prove to be a massive, massive moment in the story of Scottish rallying. The great and good of our nation’s favourite mud-plugging pastime had gathered in the Marriott Hotel in Glasgow to honour the achievements of Scotland’s top rally competitors. Centre to this evening of festivity was to be the announcement of the winner of a fully-funded drive on a Chinese international rally in a top-spec car. The winner of this award was to be the junior competitor deemed most worthy from a shortlist of six.
A punchy video played through twice on the big temporary screens in the conference hall. The obligatory sponsor and management committee speeches followed, praising the very meritable achievements of all six finalists. “Get on with it!” screamed one woman overcome with the tension. Her request was answered after an (admittedly predictable) lengthy pause, but it only required the pronounciation of the “Jo” sound to send the huge Mull contingent in the audience into hysterics.
Fast forward seven minutes and forty-five seconds, and a remarkable story is unfolding in front of the cameras. “I’ve never left Britain, never been on a plane, I don’t even own a passport,” explains the 20 year-old apprentice joiner. There is not a hint of a grin, not even a suggestion of humour, as he delivers this statement. And there would be no reason to expect such a thing, because what John says is entirely true. Behind the cameras, twenty or so Muilleachs lean against the low walls of the hotel garden, dragging on cigarettes and swilling various kinds of alcohol. They nod sagely as John delivers a sincere and heartfelt thanks to the entire Isle of Mull community, without whom his rallying dreams would never have been realised.
Perhaps proudest of all among the onlookers is Peter MacCrone, John’s uncle and co-driver. The normally unflappable water operative simply gazes straight ahead at his nephew and the Hankook-liveried Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X behind him, complete with the name ‘John MacCrone’ on the rear side window. Peter’s class winner’s trophy, still filled to the brim with a vile concoction of whisky and champagne, hangs from his left index finger at a forty-five degree angle, rocking gently in the breeze. “Bloody hell,” is as much as I can get from the uncle at this point, who seems equally as stunned as his nephew.
Whilst the interviews wrap up and the photoshoot proceeds, the smoky crowd around the door parts. Through the gap steps a medium-sized, middle-aged, balding and bespectacled man, dressed unassumingly in a dark suit, shirt and tie. The presence of this gentleman prompts a lengthy and energetic cheer from the MacCrone army, and with good reason. When the story of John MacCrone is written in years to come, this man will fit into the narrative in the same way Big Jim Brown fits into the tale of Colin McRae. This man is Steve Davies.
“John’s nothing without Steve – and he knows it!” Peter explains. John gives a thumbs-up and a nod to confirm his uncle’s assertion. As chief of Bear Cub Rallysport, Davies has helped scores of Mull youngsters to get involved in rallying by preparing, competing and maintaining a basic Vauxhall Corsa. It was this Corsa that kindled the very young John MacCrone’s interest in rallying, and John’s younger brother Ali looks set to be the latest product of the Bear Cub car.
As the media opportunities draw to a close, a truly heartwarming gesture presents itself. Out of the darkness appear Colin Smith and Craig Chapman, the Brick and Steel 205 Ecosse Challenge crew who ran John and Peter so close over the course of the year (had it not been for a technical infringement on the Speyside Stages, in fact, the Peugeot title could have had a different destination).
Colin brandishes a large bottle of champagne, whereas Craig carries four champagne glasses between his fingers. “This is on us,” Colin announces to the MacCrones as Craig readies the glasses. John cracks open the champagne, and for a glorious few seconds he sprays the champagne wildly in the direction of his supporters. Soon after, however, the Muilleach in him kicks in again and he realises he’s wasting good alcohol. The champagne bottle’s contents are distributed among the four glasses, and the two leading crews in the 205 Ecosse Challenge toast John’s phenomenal success. The sportsmanship between the MacCrones and Colin and Craig over the course of this year has been nothing short of remarkable, proof that nice guys need not finish last.
“Here, we don’t need to fly to China, we’ll just divert the ferry!” comes a shout from somewhere. “Let’s face it, there’ll be nobody left on the island for those three weeks anyway!” Dozens and dozens of supporters announce they will be joining John on his trip to China over the course of the evening, and as the hotel staff bring out the bacon rolls and call last orders at the bar the question “are you coming with us to China” is ringing through the air. Drunken agreements to go to far-off places are the staple of travel books the world over, but I can tell you one thing for certain: every single person that said on the night they would be going to China will be. The word ‘community’ gets bandied around an awful lot in our modern society, but the way in which the good folk of Mull have got behind one of the most talented young drivers really does reaffirm my faith in human nature.