When Bill Shankly Ruled Liverpool

One of the best books of 2013 will come out in its first American edition next week when Melville House publishes Red or Dead, David Peace's long, strange, and transfixing novel about Bill Shankly's career at Liverpool FC. The single most convincing fictional depiction of the endless repetition that makes for a successful sports career and a study of success in the same way that Peace's earlier, much-loved soccer novel, The Damned Utd, was a study of failure, the book is as rewarding as it is demanding, and in all strongly recommended. The excerpt below comes courtesy of Melville House.


In the first week of July, 1961. On the first day of their preseason training. The players of Liverpool Football Club gathered in the car park at Anfield. In their new kits, their brand-new training kits. In the sun, the July sun. Bill Shankly came out of the stadium. He greeted every player. He shook their hands, he patted their backs. He asked after their families, he asked after their holidays. And then Bob, Joe, Reuben, Arthur and Albert joined Bill Shankly and the players of Liverpool Football Club in the car park at Anfield. And in the sun, the July sun. They all walked out to Melwood. And the players jogged once around the training pitch. Then the players passed the ball back and forth, in pairs, back and forth to each other for twenty minutes. Then the players jogged once more around the training pitch. And then in the sun, the July sun. The players and the coaching staff of Liverpool Football Club all walked back to Anfield.

On the second day of their pre-season training. The players and the coaching staff of Liverpool Football Club all gathered in the car park at Anfield. Then the players and the coaching staff of Liverpool Football Club all jogged out to Melwood. And the players ran once around the training pitch. Then the players passed the ball back and forth, in threes, back and forth to each other for thirty minutes. Then the players ran once more around the training pitch. Then the players and the coaching staff of Liverpool Football Club all jogged back to Anfield. And on the third day of their pre-season training. The players and the coaching staff of Liverpool Football Club all gathered in the car park at Anfield. Then the players and the coaching staff of Liverpool Football Club all ran out to Melwood. And the players ran twice around the training pitch. Then the players passed the ball back and forth, in fours, back and forth to each other for forty minutes. Then Reuben blew his whistle. And Bill Shankly gathered the players in the middle of the training pitch. Bill, Bob, Joe, Reuben, Arthur and Albert divided the thirty players into six groups of five.

And Bill Shankly smiled—

Right then, lads, said Bill Shankly. Enough bloody running. We're going to play some football! Some five-a-sides, lads . . .

In the second week of their pre-season training. The players of Liverpool Football Club gathered in the car park at Anfield. Bill Shankly came out of the stadium. He greeted every player. He shook their hands, he patted their backs. He asked after their families, he asked after their weekends. And then Bob, Joe, Reuben, Arthur and Albert joined Bill Shankly and the players of Liverpool Football Club in the car park at Anfield. And they all climbed on the bus to Melwood. And when the players of Liverpool Football Club arrived at Melwood, when the players of Liverpool Football Club got off the bus at Melwood, the players of Liverpool Football Club saw the box on the training pitch at Melwood. The box ready for them, the box waiting for them. And the players groaned. And the players laughed. And the players of Liverpool Football Club ran twice around the training pitch. Then the players passed the ball back and forth, in pairs, back and forth for twenty minutes. And then the players went into the box. In pairs. And a ball came over the top into the box. And the first player shot against one board. First time. Then the other player hit the same ball on the rebound. First time. Ball after ball. Every second, another ball. Into the box. Every second for one minute. Ball after ball. Into the box. Then for two minutes. Ball after ball, into the box. Then for three minutes. Ball after ball, into the box. Again and again. Ball after ball, into the box. Every second. Shot after shot. Every second. Inside the box. Every player. Inside the box. Player after player. Pair after pair. Into the box. The players working in the box, the box working on the players. Then Reuben blew his whistle. And Bill Shankly gathered the players in the middle of the training pitch. And Bill Shankly smiled—

Right then, lads. Enough bloody exercises. Now we're going to play some football! Some five-a-sides, lads . . .

And that was the second week of their pre-season training. And the third week. And the fourth. And the fifth. The players of Liverpool Football Club did not practise set pieces. They did not practise corners and they did not practise free kicks. The players of Liverpool Football Club practised passing. Always forward, always faster. Faster and

faster, always forward. Always forward—

And always to a red shirt,

always to a red shirt,

a red shirt.

. . .

On Saturday 19 August, 1961, on the first Saturday of the new season, Liverpool Football Club travelled to the Eastville Stadium, Bristol. And before the whistle, the first whistle of the new season. In the dressing room, the away dressing room. The players of Liverpool Football Club looked up at Bill Shankly. Bill Shankly in the centre of the dressing room, the away dressing room. Bill Shankly looking around the dressing room, the away dressing room. From player to player, Liverpool player to Liverpool player. From Slater to White, White to Byrne, Byrne to Milne, Milne to Yeats, Yeats to Leishman,

Leishman to Lewis, Lewis to Hunt, Hunt to St John, St John to Melia, Melia to A'Court. And Bill Shankly rubbed his hands together—

This is it, said Bill Shankly. This is it, boys! Everything we've been doing. Everything we've been working for, boys. It was all for this moment, all for this game. This first game of the season, boys. This season that will be our season. Our season, boys…

In the seventh minute of this first game of this new season, Kevin Lewis scored. And in the fifty-fifth minute, Hills scored an own goal. And Liverpool Football Club beat Bristol Rovers two–nil. Away from home, away from Anfield. In the first game of the new season.

On Wednesday 23 August, 1961, Sunderland Football Club came to Anfield, Liverpool. That night, forty-eight thousand, nine hundred folk came, too. On a Wednesday night, for the first home game of the season. In the forty-eighth minute of the first home game of the season, Roger Hunt scored. In the seventy-eighth minute, Kevin Lewis scored. And in the eighty-third minute, Hunt scored again. And Liverpool Football Club beat Sunderland Football Club three–nil. At home, at Anfield. In the first home game of the season.

After the whistle, the final whistle. In the dressing room, the home dressing room. Bill Shankly sat down beside Ron Yeats. And Bill Shankly smiled. Bill Shankly laughed –

That lad Clough is some player, said Bill Shankly. And I tried to sign him. But tonight he never had a sniff, son. He never had a touch. Because you marked him out of the game, son. You made him look ordinary. And that is why I signed you, son. And that is why I made you the captain of Liverpool Football Club. Well done, son.

Three days later, Leeds United came to Anfield, Liverpool. That afternoon, forty-two thousand, nine hundred and fifty folk came, too. In the sixth minute, Roger Hunt scored. In the forty-eighth minute, Hunt scored again. In the fifty-third minute, Kevin Lewis scored a penalty. In the sixty-eighth minute, Jimmy Melia scored. And in the seventy-fourth minute, Hunt scored his third. And Liverpool Football Club beat Leeds United five–nil. At home, at Anfield.

And after the whistle, the final whistle. In the dressing room, the home dressing room. Bill Shankly sat down beside Roger Hunt. And Bill Shankly smiled. Bill Shankly laughed—

That lad Charlton is some player, said Bill Shankly. And I tried to sign him. But today he could not get near you, son. Today you made him look very ordinary. Well played, son.

On Wednesday 30 August, 1961, Liverpool Football Club travelled to Roker Park, Sunderland. In the twenty-sixth minute, Roger Hunt scored. In the thirty-ninth minute, Ian St John scored. In the sixty-ninth minute, Hunt scored again. And in the ninetieth minute, the very last minute, St John scored again. And Liverpool Football Club beat Sunderland Football Club four–one. Away from home, away from Anfield. That night, that season, Liverpool Football Club had played four games and they had won four games. They had scored fourteen goals and they had conceded only one. It was a good start. A very good start. But it was only a start, only the start.


David Peace—named in 2003 one of Granta's Best of Young Novelists—is the acclaimed author of the Red Riding Quartet (1974, 1977, 1980, and 1983), which was adapted into a BBC television series that was released theatrically in the United States, and is currently being adapted into a major motion picture directed by Ridley Scott. Peace is also the author of the highly praised Tokyo Trilogy, which so far includes Tokyo Year Zero and Occupied City. His book GB84 was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and The Damned Utd was called "probably the best novel ever written about sport" by The Times. His newest book, Red or Dead, was shortlisted for the UK's prestigious Goldsmith's Prize.

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