Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Red or Dead by David Peace

Emdad Rahman: BBC Radio 4 was what bought this novel to my attention. Intrigued I tuned in to avidly listen to Allegra McIlroy's production read by Gary Lewis.

David Peace, acclaimed author of the 'Red Riding' series, 'GB84' and 'The Damned United', had now turned his attentions to a football folk hero and pulled "Bill Shankly out of the football world and into the mainstream." Peace’s latest book tells us the story of the man, not just the manager who he has describes as "one of the greatest men who ever lived."

Years before he appeared for Glenbuck Cherrypickers in East Ayrshire, Shankly's main passion was football. His background fuelled his socialism, his view of the world and his view of football: "The socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards. It's the way I see football, the way I see life."

Red or Dead is a revolutionary novel about a revolutionary man; Bill Shankly, perhaps the first great football manager of the Modern Age.

With Jock Stein & Matt Busby he formed the Trifecta of working roots Scots who rose to the pinnacle of the beautiful game. In light of Sir Alex Ferguson's new autobiography and the slamming reserved for many of football's greats it's refreshing to note that Red or Dead recounts the story of an inspiring figure whose noble persona has almost become mythical in today’s modern game.

The subject of the book is one of the greatest managers to have come from these shores. Peace’s pen panache is simply amazing and the reader will complete over 700 pages of flowing verses, highlighting in vivid depth almost every significant happening in the life of the legendary Scotsman – from the precise moment he was handed the keys to the Anfield empire till his death and departure from life itself.

As Red or Dead touches on the story of the growth of Liverpool Football Club and Bill Shankly the novel offers momentous accounts of Bill Shankly as manager of Liverpool FC and of Bill Shankly after retirement from Liverpool FC.

Shankly was a Socialist and his life mantra was based on incessant and scrupulous toil. Hailing from a mining village allowed him to relate his experiences and worked diligently towards instilling a hard working ethos into the lives of his players and his colleagues. It wasn’t just about football – these values and disciplines would serve his young charges excellently in the outside world too.

Shankly drilled it into anyone who would listen that there was no magic wand and one made their own fortune through sheer hard toil. The onus therefore focussed on tackling ones day to day issues, the daily cycle of life’s mundane chores. If anybody focussed on these ever occurring rituals and worked at them hard, then significant and positive changes could be bought about in any person's life. This mode of positive thought was not exclusive to Shankly himself but to great effect, his natural magnetism and force of personality sold it as an easily achievable, simple and exquisite philosophy.

Shankly transformed the fortunes of this amazing British institution. A floundering and underperforming Liverpool were languishing in the lower realms of the second Division until he came along. With a powerful sweep of his broom Shankly set in motion a change in attitude, fortune and unrivalled success that would shake the footballing world. It was upon Shankly’s cornerstone which was built the platform where Red gladiators would make their mark, as the Merseyside club would like an unstoppable juggernaut steamroll the best of their rivals. In 15 glory years Shanks laid the foundation for three First Division Championships, the UEFA Cup and a brace of F.A Cup wins. He unearthed gems of the calibre of Ray Clemence, Emlyn Hughes, Ian St John and Ron Yeats.

As a high energy individual the first 110 pages or so really tested my concentration levels as it took me time to get into the unique rhythm of the narrative writing style. Once I had settled into the rapidity and pulse the gratification I was already experiencing rose a few degrees.

Amongst some accounts of fiction there are mentions of several factual minutiae of the games played under Shankly’s reign from 1959 to his stunning resignation in 1974, by which time the Reds had with relentless success been transformed into the most successful team in England. Bill Shankly by this time had become widely acknowledged as a reformer. He changed the perception of those he came into contact with and gave hope and encouragement to the masses.

Red or Dead is a requiem, a passionate epistle dedicated to a type of mettle and temperament that is rarely seen these days.

Bill Shankly lived and breathed a brand of footballing socialism. It was the medium he used best to inspire millions.

Bill Shankly made the people happy.

This is another amazing football book by David Peace – one of a rare breed of writers who are able to mesmerise the reader with sheer no frills penmanship alone. Peace has a distinct habit of bringing about that effect on the reader and I’m struggling to name another writer with his determination, persuasion and ardour.

"I have written about corruption, I've written about crime, I've written about bad men and I've written about the demons. But now I've had enough of the bad men and the demons. Now I want to write about a good man. And a saint. A Red Saint. Bill Shankly was not just a great football manager. Bill Shankly was one of the greatest men who ever lived. And the supporters of Liverpool Football Club, and the people of Liverpool the city, know that and remember him. But many people outside of football, outside of Liverpool, do not know or do not remember him. And now – more than ever – it's time everybody knew about Bill Shankly. About what he achieved, about what he believed. And how he led his life. Not for himself, for other people." David Peace

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