READ THE FOREWORD
TO KELONG KINGS
You will never be quite the same if you read this book through to the end. It enters into you and envelops you and you come out of Wilson's extraordinary personal labyrinth with all its twists and turns inside you, and yet with no clear idea of what path you took or why you chose or were chosen for that route. A little like the gambler himself. It is both a bewildering and fascinating book and a minefield of personal revelation, exploration and confrontation with many ghosts and realities. If you love soccer as I do, or perhaps any competitive game that people bet on, you will never again be able to watch a single game without myriad doubts emerging and merging. I'm not sure whether this is an advantage or if it is, of what kind, but it does add some enriching level of ambiguous depth to the experience, and that cannot be all bad. It is a book that blows apart the myth of all innocence, much like mortal sin does, in a wider context, and yet they are not unrelated. They alternately explain each other and much else that is human besides.
I grew up in a small town in the West of Ireland and as I grew into adolescence that secret enclave, almost conclave, of bookies, their betting shops and the pubs nearby, their up-front clubs, so to speak, began to intrigue me. There was something of the hushed mysteries and solemnity of a dark church about them. I never entered because my father (luckily!) was not a betting man, except for a quick 'flutter' on a horse, every now and then, the Grand National, the Irish Derby, Ascot and so on. Relatively innocent. But I was fascinated by the bookies shops themselves, their secret, enticing, sinister even, character, their sense of exclusiveness, of male intrigue, of something apart and with its own aura of almost tangible mystery clinging to its peculiar and particular world. And when I began to visit the adjacent, complicit pubs, the atmosphere was even further enhanced and deepened. Groups of conspiratorial men gathered in whispered lore around television sets with non-stop betting odds flashing across multiple screens. Nothing else seemed to exist or have any other importance compared with the business in hand. It was deadly serious, totally engaging and self-defining in its absoluteness. It also had a destructive quality that ruined some and their lives forever. I began to understand and be inquisitively entranced by its deadly aspects as well. It was suddenly no longer just a well-intentioned, male passtime, a fantasy world for a curious child, but was also full of lurking, insidious dangers and pitfalls too, and perhaps those especially.
Two old students of mine, now adult friends, introduced me to this book, to the person and personality of Wilson. I am grateful and enriched by the experience and by the book itself. It could also be a bombshell in the extent and reach of the world it portrays and exposes. Another risk and wager perhaps. In this world, Wilson is amoral and yet moral enough not to wish to harm his friends, or his family, not even for money. Money is everything in (t)his world and experience, and yet it is nothing: temporary, transient, unrewarding in itself, merely the structural wheel on which everything turns. Riches and wealth come and go in immense quantities and also mean nothing. The gambling, the pervasive mind-set of wagering, of fixing, the thrill of the organising of bets, huge ones, and the immediate ambience around them, of involving and manipulating others skillfully and profitably, of using them as unscrupulously as they would use you, of savouring the thrill and temporary elation of that evanescent winning moment - this is where his aspiration and life are, up to the very end.
I like Wilson. I came to have a deepening and growing liking for and appreciation of him throughout the book, an empathy and sympathy for the path he took in the daily battle for survival, its labyrinthine twists and turns. His philosophy is perhaps crude but authentic: we are all animals who will prey off each other when and if necessary. It is hard to dispute this, even with the highest of moral and altruistic intentions, when the chips are really down, to use a relevant metaphor. All you have to do is watch a good programme on animal habits and survival or listen to or read a professional commentary on the widespread, depressing state of the world today, the abysmal living conditions of the great poor, the cynical, hard-nosed indifference of the great rich, the spiritually impoverished state of religion, under corrupt politicians and hardened, bureaucratic church leaders, without exception, almost. Theirs too is a different, much more pernicious kind of gambling, with far more serious consequences where the un-named stakes are considerably higher in human terms.
Wilson has opened my eyes and mind to a different world than the one I envisaged as a child. I cannot condemn him for what he did, the path he followed. Who am I to do so. He sets it out with compassion, kindness and gentleness. And with lucidity and frankness, great self-honesty and awareness, as he outlines the devious paths he took or life took him on. There is a joke I once heard from a serious gambler: an Irishman and an Englishman, friends, who, on their last boozy night in Rome, find out that the Pope is dead when they trip over his prone body in the narrow streets around St Peter's. Sworn to secrecy for three days (so that a 'suitable' death scene can be arranged!) by a cardinal, they return to London and decide that putting a bet on the Pope's death won't be breaking their promise. Everyone would simply think they were crazy. They go their separate ways and meet up again six months later. Tommy drives up in a chauffeur driven Mercedes and sees a man he takes to be Paddy sitting by the railings of the fancy hotel. It is indeed Paddy and he readily admits to be begging 'for a few bob' to put on a horse that evening. Perplexed, Tommy asks him if he didn't place the bet on the Pope's death, since it was his idea and suggestion in the first place. Paddy's reply is classic, "Ah, I did indeed, but sure didn't I go and do the double on the Archbishop of Canterbury!"
There is much of Wilson in Paddy and much of Paddy in Wilson throughout the book. The joke has always seemed to me to get right to the heart of the gambler's psychology. A certain bet, a sure thing, doesn't ever have the thrill that the risk involves. Wilson is a prime character and player in every sense in this bizarre world that the book portrays and exposes. May the rest of his strange, perhaps unenviable, yet deeply colourful, life grant him the peace he would seem (so richly!) to deserve.
Prof. Tony Brophy