Shanks for the Memory

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Growing up on Merseyside in the seventies and eighties it was impossible to ignore the presence of Liverpool Football club.

In an area with high unemployment and decaying infrastructure they were one of the few things to swell the city with pride.

Yet only a few years before they had been a second tier team of nobodies. Until the arrival of Bill Shankly, a football obsessed Glaswegian who transformed them into world-beaters in a little over a decade.

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David Peace, author of the Red Riding Trilogy and The Damned United, has written a novel that attempts to show us the man behind the myth. It succeeds brilliantly. Even if you have absolutely no interest in football you can still thrill to the obsessive nature that makes a person excel in an endeavor.

Peace uses excessive repetition to portray a man who’s whole life was measured in the successive and failure of each fixture. A man who never rests and never stops thinking, even after the final whistle is blown, about how to create the perfect team.

In the final quarter of the book, perhaps the most interesting and revealing section of the whole enterprise, we see Shankly the man in retirement and see someone confronted with the vast football-less void of their lives stretching before them. Almost like a junky that has had his drug of choice taken away, Shankly struggles to make a meaningful contribution to the world but even here he emerges triumphant.

For the qualities of honesty, hard work and integrity that make him such a successful and beloved manager spill over into charity work and simple acts of human kindness towards ordinary men and women that he meets.

Here is a person who understands what is truly important in thought and deed, a man who unlike many who gain massive success is big enough to give praise to those around him and small enough to blend into the crowd of supporters who are as fanatical about the game as he was.

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