There is a new book out, or just about to be, from David Peace, he of The Damned United fame. His subject this time is Bill Shankly, the man who made Liverpool into a Big Club. I have no particular interest in Shankly, given I was still very young when he retired, but of course he was present when his Liverpool team played Arsenal in the 1971 FA Cup Final. Fortunately Arsenal triumphed that day. That was to prove a high point for Arsenal for quite a few more years, but Shankly bounced back with three major trophies in the following three seasons before retiring.
Peace’s book is currently being serialised in The Times, and they started with the section that deals with the 1971 FA Cup Final.
In the build up to that game Arsenal had to play Spurs on the Monday night, needing a win or a goalless draw for the title, while on the same day Shankly was preoccupied with signing a youngster from Scunthorpe by the name of Kevin Keegan. According to the book, Shankly heard the result of the Arsenal match on the radio and phoned Bertie – or ‘Bertram’ as he apparently called him – Mee to congratulate him, while promising a tougher match at Wembley. Then the description moves on to Saturday May 8. The ebb and flow of the match is described in detail in a rather idiosyncratic way. There are repeated references to ‘the heat, the punishing Wembley heat’ that made me wish for the description to end after about the twentieth time. For me it’s quite an annoying way of writing after a paragraph of it, never mind a page. If it wasn’t for the happy ending of Arsenal winning I would honestly have been put off reading to the end. There’s so much repetition it could be a One Direction lyric. Obviously it wasn’t a happy ending for Shankly this time, but as he’s the hero of the piece he is portrayed as a gentleman at least, going round to congratulate the Arsenal players one by one on the pitch before saluting the Liverpool supporters and applauding them as they applauded him.
I can’t vouch for the historical accuracy of all this – I’m sure there is some licence with the phone call at least, given both protagonists are now dead.
Anyway, that’s probably it for interest in the book as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure Liverpool fans will love it – it’ll give them something to remember happy times with, times when they were on the brink of greatness. Because let’s face it, that ain’t going to happen again any time soon. (Cue abuse. Go on, leave a comment, I dare you. I double dare you.)