Relentless and uncompromising. These two words could describe the subject of this book – Bill Shankly. These two words could describe the author of this book – David Peace. Bill Shankly and David Peace. Correspondences and correlations. Bill Shankly managed Huddersfield Town Football Club. David Peace supports Huddersfield Town Football Club. Bill Shankly was an honest manager. David Peace is an honest writer. This book is not a biography. This book is a work of fiction. This book is repetitive. This book is experimental. This book is brave. Peace re-imagines Shankly’s life, the football life, the training and the matches, the talks and the negotiations, the family and the team, the players and the managers, the comedy and the tragedy, and he does so through the driven narrative of events, through the monologic sequence of time in which memory can always and only come after – of course – we all live on memories, we all regret but only once time becomes apparent, only when what you live for has stopped, only when the future is behind you. Think Beckett’s Endgame, Krapp’s Last Tape, Molloy, Malone, The Unnameable, “to pass the time, no matter, the question may be asked, off the record, why time doesn’t pass, doesn’t pass from you, why it piles up all about you, instant on instant, on all sides, deeper and deeper, thicker and thicker, your time, others’ time, the time of the ancient dead and the dead yet unborn.”
Arguably, David Peace is a historical novelist, he writes about times past 1974, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1984, 1974 (again), 1946, 1948, and now 1913 – 1981. He writes about the past not in an attempt to relive it, to reawaken any dormant golden era, but as a means of understanding the collision of good and evil, right and wrong, left and right – a simple template, a huge undertaking, a brave (that word again) task. And so this book is obsessed with time, with dates, with years and seasons, with months and weeks, with hours, with minutes to go, with seconds on the clock until the final whistle is blown in matches and in lives. Like Heraclitus’s river – like Plato’s river – in which “ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers”, where “all things move and nothing remains still” and “everything changes and you cannot step into the same stream twice”, those years, seasons, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds are never the same, no matter their mathematical insistence, their naming, their inescapability. And there’s another river that this book maps and shadows, sketches and illuminates, another language this book echoes, written by another relentless man, another uncompromising author, “A way a lone a last a loved a long the riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to…” James Joyce. Match after match, season after season, the same team, different players, the same cup, different opponents, the same league, different results. The same focus. “On Saturday 19 October,” “One week afterwards,” “On Saturday 2 November,” “One week afterwards,” time and narrative, repetition and renewal, revolution and respect.
As Gilles Deleuze writes in Difference and Repetition, “Words possess a comprehension which is necessarily finite, since they are objects of a merely nominal definition. We have here a reason why the comprehension of the concept cannot extend to infinity: we define a word by only a finite number of words. Nevertheless, speech and writing, from which words are inseparable, give them an existence hic et nunc; a genus thereby passes into existence as such; and here again extension is made up for in dispersion, in discreteness, under the sign of a repetition which forms the real power of language in speech and writing.” And so Peace re-animates Shankly into the here and now, gathers the dispersive collection of events and recreates a man in the amalgamation of repetitive actions, the real power of language, “Bill put down the letter on his desk. Bill opened the top drawer of his desk. Bill took out another piece of paper. Bill closed the drawer off his desk. Bill threaded the piece of paper into his typewriter. Bill turned the platen knob. And Bill began to type. Again. Bill began to type. To type and to type and to type. To type and to type and to type. To type and to type and to type. Letter after letter after letter. Letter after letter after letter. Letter after letter after letter.” Peace’s work reminds me of Andy Warhol’s “serial” pictures of Elvis Presley, of Campbell’s soup cans, of Coca-Cola bottles, “in which all the repetitions of habit, memory and death are conjugated … the novelistic manner in which little modifications are torn from the brute and mechanical repetitions of memory and ultimately lead to repetitions in which life and death are in play,” – Deleuze.
Red Or Dead investigates the individual as part of a team, the team as part of a crowd, a crowd as part of a city, a city as part of a nation. Bill Shankly transformed Liverpool Football Club from an underachieving Second Division side into a major force in European Football. He built the framework upon which Liverpool would dominate world football under Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, and Kenny Dalglish. David Peace has meticulously taken that framework apart and rebuilt it in his own vision of a man who stood among the supporters on the Spion Kop at Anfield and watched his team and listened the Kop sing, “SHANK-LEE, SHANK-LEE, SHANK-LEE…” Where, “Only there does the cry resound: ‘Everything is equal!’ and ‘Everything returns!’” However, this “Everything is equal!” and “Everything returns!” can be said only at the point in which the extremity of difference is reached. A single and same voice for the whole thousand-voiced multiple, a single and same Ocean for all the drops, a single clamour of Being for all beings” – Deleuze. Shankly the socialist.
Any Kop?: David Peace has recreated a life of a man very much like himself. He has written a book, a novel, that stands with the best in fictional and nonfictional football writing – Maradona: The Hand Of God by Jimmy Burns, Best And Edwards by Gordon Burn, The Soccer War by Ryszard Kapuscinski and Peace’s own The Damned Utd; and one that can justifiably rub covers with Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song and Don DeLillo’s Libra. I would also argue that David Peace has invented his own genre – Fictional-psychobiography.