I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


‘Red or Dead’ by David Peace tells the story of the great Bill Shankly coming to Anfield and becoming a legend. It is a completely weird book, but most of David Peace’s books tend to stray into the world of weirdness. This time he is intent on reducing every single sentence down to the very bare bones of simplicity. Bill got into his car. Bill started the engine. Bill checked his blind spot. Bill drove to Anfield…. On and on it goes, for page after page until it passes through the seven hundred page mark. Wow. He lists every one of the games Shankly managed. He gives the scores and when the goals were scored. He gives the crowd and sometimes he describes the weather and how muddy the pitch was.

Game after game. Year after year. Different players. Different teams. Different opposition teams. Ups and downs. And of course that is the point. The whole point. For in the end football can be seen as being a bit like a river. It flows on and on from season to season. It never stops. In the end there are only subtle differences. We have a river here flowing past the house and down and away to the Solway Firth. Sometimes it is full to bank bursting when it has pissed down for days. Sometimes it is a mere trickle during rare heat waves. Sometimes there’s a heron fishing. Sometimes the early morning sun picks out the vivid colours of a kingfisher. But the water always flows. It’s a gravity thing. Day in day out. Year in year out.

This is how Peace sees the relentlessness of football. Different characters flit in and flit out, but the game goes on and on as unforgettable triumphs drift into treasured history.

Would I have made it through all 700 pages had the book been about a different man and a different team? No chance. But it is my team and my man and my life. It gave me a shiver when all of a sudden I reached the moment on April Fool’s Day 1972 when West Brom came to Anfield. Liverpool won 2-0. 46,000 turned up to bear witness. It was the first time I ever stepped into Anfield. I was eleven and a half and the minute I reached the top of the steps and looked into the swaying masses of the Kop I knew I never wanted to go and watch football anywhere else.

And I never have.

And of course Shanks was still in charge back then and the Kop sang his name over and over to the tune of Amazing Grace.

Before ‘Red or Dead’, my memories of his retiring were a little vague. I recall being on the Kop when he came along and stood with the rest of us. I recall the hints and rumours that all was not well with him. I recall getting a sneak preview of Hillsbrough when the cops lost control of the crowds trying to get into the Kop before they locked the gates when we played Swansea on the Saturday after he died.

‘Red or Dead’ becomes almost unbearable when it describes the slow misery of his retirement. The way the club betrayed him. Dumped him. Hung him out to dry. For me this was when the book was at its most brilliant. It depicts an increasingly sad man confronted by a world going to hell all around him. The club he gave his life to doesn’t want to know him any more. The unions he was raised to trust implicitly are bringing the country to its knees. There is suddenly open war on the terraces and Liverpool the city is being reduced to a sad shell of its former glory.

And yet the river of football flows on and the Reds at last conquer Europe. Once and twice and three times. And in the end of course Bill dies as the author hints at the fact that the streets outside the hospital are all on fire as the city has been swallowed up by riots.

On many levels the book was a painful read. It was painful as the endless repetition of the same thing drove me to distraction. It was painful as the passage of football time marked the passage of my own time. Inexorably. Where on earth did that wide eyed eleven year old kid disappear to? Painful in the way it draws a picture of the slow death of the hope that socialism once upon a time offered until Maggie Thatcher killed it stone dead. In those lost days of the late seventies and early eighties I was never a socialist. I wasn’t anything. I was a punk! It took the miserable age of Thatcherism to bring me round to the idea that socialism was maybe the best way to run a railroad. But then the dream was hijacked by Derek Hatton and Tony Blair and now it lives and breathes no more.

Shankly was very much an old school socialist. One of a breed that seems to have gone extinct. Men from the mills and the mines and shipyards. Men with a steel rod of morality running through their spines and souls. Men like Jock Stein and Matt Busby and Brian Clough and of course Sir Alex. Men who have now all been left behind in our new world of Nike and fifty quid to sit on the Kop.

Most painful of all was the way the book picked over the bones of the club tossing him aside like a worn out pair of shoes. In 1984 I got the chance to meet Bob Paisley. At the time my dad held the glamorous position of secretary of the Lancashire Egg Producers Club. I know. You couldn’t make it up. Every month it was dad’s job to book an after dinner speaker.

So he pushed the boat out and tracked down Bob Paisley’s home number. By this time Bob was a few months retired with three European Cups in the bag. He was delighted at the prospect of speaking to a room full of Lancastrian chicken farmers. His fee was somewhere in the region of £50 and his terms included having someone to drive him to and from Liverpool so that he could have a few whiskies. Oh, and he insisted on a free bar.

I got the taxi driver’s job. Unsurprisingly I was just about as nervous as I have been in my life. After all, this was the most successful manager in the history of British football and if you use number of European Cups won as a benchmark, then he still is. His house was a wholly ordinary bungalow in a non-descript suburb and he turned out to be one of the nicest blokes I have ever met. He was more than happy to talk football all the way from Liverpool to Chorley and all the way back again.

In hindsight I can see that there was a touch of sadness about him. Retirement had brought no place on the board and he was seldom seen about Anfield in the years before his death in 1996.

Sadly there is a trend here. A miserable and sickening trend. Liverpool Football Club is one of the world’s greatest sports institutions. There are reasons why 95,000 people turned up at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch a pre season friendly, every single one of them in a red shirt. There are reasons why north of fifty million people across the planet name Liverpool when asked who they support. The reasons are Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish. Great, great men. All three. And yet all three were unceremoniously dumped by the owners of the club when they were deemed to be of no more use.

When I read about how Shanks was shunted out into the cold, I realised that our currant owners are in fact no different from the men who held the purse strings back in 1974. For a club that has always exuded such class, it really is quite sickening that we always get landed with such owners. When Matt Busby and Sir Alex retired, they were given a place on the board alongside Bobby Charlton. And in the beating heart of Mordor, there is a stand called ‘The Alex Fergusson Stand.’

We have four stands at Anfield. The Kop of course can only ever be called the Kop. But what of the other three? The Main Stand, the Centenary Stand and the Anfield Road Stand? How important are those names? Not remotely. These three stands should each bear very different names. The Bill Shankly Stand. The Bob Paisley Stand. The Kenny Dalglish Stand. Surely it's a no brainer. And I find it hard to imagine that a single one of our fifty million fans would have a problem with three sides of the stadium carrying the names of the men who made us what we are. And yet hell would freeze over before the people who own the club would do such a thing. For of course they no doubt harbour unspoken ambitions to rename the terraces the McDonalds Stand and the Kentucky Fried Chicken Stand and the Coca Cola Stand.

Anyway. In a few hours time I will set out on the all too familiar 300 mile hundred round trip to watch Liverpool FC take on Notts County FC in the second round of the League Cup. And my money will be shunted across the Atlantic into an account somewhere in New England. And at some stage the Kop will sing the name of Kenny Dalglish but the man himself will not be there to acknowledge the chant. The man himself doesn’t feel welcome at Anfield any more. Just like Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley before him. Just like all of those who grew up to follow the team through thick and thin and wind and rain only to be priced out of going to the match.

Lots has changed since a wide eyed eleven year old lad stepped into Anfield and gasped at the sight of the swaying Kop. The river of football has flowed on much like the river of life. Shanks wouldn’t like much about the way the world has moved on and changed. The Peoples Game is the Peoples Game no more. How can it be when it costs £50 to sit on the Kop?

In the end ‘Red or Dead’ made me feel sad and nostalgic. Sad for the man and sad for the way things now are and sad for a dream that was crushed.

Crushed with corporate contempt, until all that is left is a memory and a sense of loss.

There is much more f this kind of stuff to be found in my book 'King Kenny's Revolution'. You can find it in the Kindle Store by following the link below.


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