The Beautiful Game
Author David Peace now resides in Japan but the Huddersfield-born, former Manchester resident and graduate from Manchester Polytechnic (now MMU) is thrilled to be back to promote his novel about the late, great Bill Shankly, Red or Dead.
Shankly became a manager after he retired from playing in 1949, managing Carlisle United, Grimsby Town, Workington and Huddersfield Town, before accepting the job as team manager of Liverpool where he stayed for 15 years.
He took charge in 1959 when they were in the Second Division and rebuilt the team. He led the club to win three First Division Championships, two FA Cups, four Charity Shields and one UEFA Cup. Shankly announced his surprise retirement after Liverpool won the 1974 FA Cup Final. He died seven years later at the age of 68.
Befitting the event, the reading and Q&A takes place at the National Football Museum in Manchester and legendary Haçienda DJ, Dave Haslam comperes the proceedings. It’s not your usual literary audience but it’s clear why the room is packed.
Firstly, the subject matter is close to many football fans’ hearts. Shankly was the sort of manager teams and fans dream of – someone admired across the game for his candour and passion for the beautiful game.
Secondly, there’s a healthy amount of Mad-chester fans – music lovers who have come to listen to Haslam (a writer himself) talk with the successful novelist.
Thirdly, Peace is probably best-known for his Red Riding novels which were adapted for the small-screen to much acclaim. In addition, Peace, also a life-long football fan (Huddersfield Town, for your information) has had hits with Tokyo Trilogy, GB84 and The Damned United –another adaptation.
Reading from the book, Peace is confident and entertaining. He has good subject matter. Shankly himself was an entertaining man, famed for quotes like this: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” It becomes clear why Peace felt compelled to dig a little deeper and write more than 700 pages to explain his adoration.
His excerpts are visceral and the imagery is clear. He’s chosen to read from the beginning of the novel and another excerpt towards the end – a rather poetic and moving moment as Shankly begins his retirement. They are terrific tasters – full of repetition and humour – to what is surely a knock-out book.
Peace describes his admiration for the man and for football during the 70s, as well as how the game has changed and become little more than a millionaire’s play thing and asks rhetorically:
“Has Liverpool pissed away Shankly’s legacy?”
One could argue that Liverpool went on to yet more unprecedented success under the management of Shankly’s friend, Bob Paisley. But it’s clear that’s not what Peace is really asking. He’s asking if football has pissed away Shankly’s legacy if the game isn’t a game anymore but a hollow, multi-million pound advertisement for big business and fat controllers?
He doesn’t answer it. Neither does anyone else. But, somewhere, Shankly’s got a quip about that very issue.
Review by Lucia Cox
What: David Haslam meets David Peace as part of the Manchester Literature Festival
Where: National Football Museum, Manchester
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