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Books: Red Or Dead

Life of obsessed football legend Shankly a Peace dividend

Red Or Dead

by David Peace

(Faber, £20)

"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."

Thus the legendary Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly, whose 100th birth anniversary was marked by the club with a 1-0 win over Manchester United recently.

That day, the team did a number on their east Lancashire rivals because they worked more diligently for each other and consequently "shared the rewards."

Tempting, watching that game, to remember the good old Shankly days and hope - probably deludedly given the club's recent history of ownership by Yankee snake-oil salesmen - that the club is returning to the collective principles of "the Liverpool way."

That way, embodied in the persona of Shankly, is memorably captured in David Peace's part-fictional, part-biographical book Red Or Dead.

It forms a fitting companion piece to his portrayal of another socialist-inclined football obsessive Brian Clough in his book The Damned United.

The book charts the arrival of Shankly at Liverpool when the club was a "sleeping giant" languishing in what was then the second division of the football league.

Over the next 10 years he and his boot-room staff transformed the team, winning league titles and FA cups and reaching the semi-finals of the European Cup.

In doing so, they laid the foundations for the club's entry onto the world stage.

For the non-LFC partisan, the 700-plus pages of the narrative, with resumés of virtually every match played by LFC during Shankly's tenure and continuously repeating passages detailing Shankly on the training pitch, during matches and undertaking the domestic rituals which in their obsessive attention to detail mirror his working life, may come across as overkill.

But that surely is Peace's point - he succeeds in capturing the mindset of the obsessive who devotes every conscious moment to a single goal, the success of the club, because he is fired with a passion for its supporters and the city they live in.

Without doubt Shankly's upbringing in a Scottish pit village shaped his socialist principles and, as this book eloquently demonstrates, if anyone lived up to the adage that "Nothing's too good for the working class," it was he.

That is what makes his shoddy treatment by the club's hierarchy after his retirement - he was essentially banished from the stadium and traning ground - all the more poignant.

But that didn't stop him from taking his place on the Kop with the fans he loved and respected.

It's a reminder that in the era of corporatised football, the beautiful game can only be at its most compelling when the relationship between club, manager and fans is as symbiotic as that.

That's why the Shankly legacy, so painstakingly explored by Peace, is such an affecting reminder of what football sometimes was and what it might still aspire to be.

Len Phelan


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