Peace gets us into spirit of the season

I see a lot of ink, or air, or gigabytes, being expended on a new book by David Peace, Red or Dead, about Bill Shankly, who once managed Liverpool.

Peace gets us into spirit of the season

Peace has form, as we say, when it comes to soccer and novels: he wrote The Damned United, which tracked Brian Clough through his troubled stewardship of Leeds United, which lasted about a month and a half.

Before that he wrote books about Yorkshire in the 70s and 80s, the Red Riding series, which are overshadowed by the looming presence of the Yorkshire Ripper.

One of the significant points people are making about Red Or Dead seems to be the style, with Mark Lawson noting in a generally positive review for the Guardian that his writing innovations “bravely wager on the patience of even readers friendly to the game”.

Is it fair? The opening words are a good hint at what’s on offer — (“Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.”) while this is a decent sample of the fare (“And now Liverpool Football Club were drawing two-all with Burnley Football Club. At home, at Anfield. And then Dobson glanced home a third goal for Burnley Football Club. And Liverpool were losing three-two. At home, at Anfield.”)

Lawson makes the fair point that there probably isn’t much of an intersection between two particular Venn diagrams, one containing fans of soccer, and the other holding lovers of modernist fiction, which makes this even more of a gamble for Peace.

The interesting thing about his style is that the subject matter is not in itself that interesting; that it is a realistic enough reflection of much of what top flight soccer offers. The goals and thrills are rare, when you think about it: a 3-2 scoreline suggests a roller-coaster, thrill a minute game, but those five goals take up how much time? A few seconds? On that basis Peace’s rendition of the action has the ring of truth, particularly when he sketches out the action over the course of a few weeks, not a few minutes.

Your appetite may not exactly be sated by this, of course (“Liverpool Football Club had drawn one-all with Scunthorpe United. Away from home, away from Anfield. On Saturday 27 January 1962, Liverpool Football Club went to Boundary Park, Oldham. And Liverpool Football Club beat Oldham Athletic two-one on the Fourth Round of the FA Cup...”)

But Peace has done something special in his new novel. He has conveyed a lot of the reality of a long season. The cliche is right after all: it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Enjoying a pleasant surprise in the post

Elsewhere on this page I’ve discussed the writing style of David Peace, though in that corner of the paper I omitted to mention that I interviewed him by phone when The Damned United was made into a movie, and very nice he was too, on the line from Tokyo.

Earlier this week I got a letter in the office, which I picked up gingerly. I use that word because a) who can resist dropping the term ‘gingerly’ into one’s everyday discourse and b) well, you never know the treats people feel you’d be interested in.

I’ve never been sent a live animal, which famously happened to a female sportswriter in America a few years ago, and cheques, large or otherwise, are depressingly rare, but people with QUITE A LOT TO SAY often feel the need to put pen to paper and share, often in capitals.

For a while during one of the Cork GAA strikes, mar shampla, a chap in Tipperary used to drop me a line regularly about said topic, meandering around the topic with many ‘Michael my pal’ or ‘my friend’.

I won’t say the missives unnerved me, but once or twice I imagined TV news bulletins in which an impassive reporter tells the camera that the arrested man “was described by neighbours as a quiet man who kept to himself”.

The letter I got during the week was not in that vein, thankfully. I won’t repeat the writer’s name but he was simply dropping a line about a piece I wrote before the Cork-Dublin game in which I focused on the late-blooming career of the great Cork hurling keeper Dave Creedon, and his All-Ireland final performance of 1952.

The man who wrote to me last week was able to run through the substitutes Cork named for that game, as well as tracing other notables who played top-flight hurling that season.

It was the kind of letter that encourages you, because any kind of letter in this age takes time and effort. That somebody goes to the trouble of writing to respond to a piece in the paper is something that means a lot in this corner of the publication, anyway.

My correspondent signed off by saying that on account of being around as a witness to the exploits of Dave Creedon and company, he was old.

Old, maybe, but still golden.

Perfect time to explore feelings

Ah, now the season of PremDread is abroad throughout the land; you may almost hear the beating of its wings.

Sorry for the poetic borrowing — it’s John Bright — but it seems apt.

A couple of weeks ago I referred to the fact that the Premier League ceased, momentarily, not so long ago, and now it grinds its infernal engines to start all over again.

As blowing air about this topic is clearly a means for the emotionally constipated and permanently-arrested-in-adolescence to duck the issues that truly matter to them, I propose to respond to any conversational sallies referring to ‘United’ or ‘Arsenal’ with a piercing rejoinder that forces them to confront those issues.


Q: “What did you think of (insert name of South American non-entity here) on Sunday?”

Answer from me: “Are you still unresolved about your sexuality?”

Q: “Leave it to us, we’ll always come through, goal in the last minute — fantastic!”

Answer from me: “It’s okay to cry. Everybody does that and they don’t feel guilty about it.”

Q: “Is (write name of mouth-breathing psychotic from anywhere here) the worst signing of all time?”

Answer from me: “If you want to talk about your feelings, don’t be shy, kid. What’s on your mind?”

Count on me for the truth when it comes to PremDread. With no score draws.

Sideswipe proves you can’t win them all

It was interesting to hear the bafflement being expressed about the Limerick management team spending so much time on the sideline yesterday. Yet yours truly remembers John Allen (pictured, right) and his selectors doing much the same last year as well, and earlier this season. Funny, that: when you’re winning it’s all part of a masterplan. When you’re losing, it’s a mistake. Which is correct? On a slightly tangential note, there were some pretty passionate Clare fans near the press box yesterday afternoon, and they roared their team on at every opportunity. It was nice to see them all clap Seamus Hickey off the field when he had to go off injured early in the first half, though: there’s always room for the important things.

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