From Liverpool to Olympus


Last year the Boston Red Sox won the World Series. A team of superstars, castoffs, youngsters and a couple dozen bench players and rookies who stood in when members of the first team were injured, the Red Sox won the World Series. If you don’t like the Red Sox or baseball or sports, please don’t stop reading. This piece isn’t about the Red Sox; it’s about British novelist David Peace’s latest masterpiece, Red or Dead.

I watched or listened to virtually every minute of every Red Sox game in 2013. My fandom consumed three or more hours every day. My housemates, realizing they couldn’t fight it, became fans, too. The story of this team that was supposed to go nowhere became a tale of a team that won it all. Sometimes they won by several runs. Sometimes they won in their very last at bat. The ride up and the ride through the season and the magical period that comes afterwards for those teams good enough, lucky enough to make it–the postseason–was riveting, consuming stuff.

David Peace’s new novel is not about baseball. It’s about a football club in England. Soccer to us Yanks. And, just like he has done with the subject of the 1984 British miners’ strike or murders in the county of Yorkshire and the prefecture of Tokyo, David Peace has captured the emotion, the passion, and the compulsion similar to that which Red Sox fans experienced in 2013. It is the story of a coach, Brian Shankly, whose reputation in British football history exceeds his magnificent record as manager of the Liverpool football club.

It is also a novel about obsession. To be specific, about the obsession sports enables. It is a novel about a manager obsessed with his sport and his team. It is a novel about a city obsessed with its sports team. It is also a testament to the author’s own obsession with soccer and the passions it breeds. A passion that in its best moments provides an exhilaration and joy unlike any other. A passion that can, in its worst moments, provoke violence and hatred. It is a passion perhaps only imitated by the passion war can provide; although it is without the unreasonable sacrifice war requires from those citizens sending their children to fight one.Red or Dead

The time period Red or Dead encompasses is a time that saw the dying British Empire fade further into the dustbin of history. The reality of the changes wrought by World War Two was part of British daily life. Although Labor was still a working person’s party, the Tory influence was well on its road to taking over; it was also on its way to taking British politics in a rightward direction destined to destroy any hope working people might have of maintaining their unions and their power. The election of Edward Heath midway through the story of Liverpool Football Club told in these pages was but a hint of that future. Maggie Thatcher (who wins her first election near the book’s end) and her ilk would propel the rise of the ruling and corporate elite forever to the top in the decades to come, destroying the British working class in the process. Tony Blair would merely put a Labor Party face on Thatcher’s farce.

Mostly, Red or Dead is the fictionalized biography of one of Liverpool Football Club’s greatest managers. His name was Bill Shankly. Like Brian Clough, the subject of Peace’s other sports novel The Damned United; Shankly’s story is closer to legend than to mere biography. It is fitting that a novel would be the best vehicle to tell the man’s story. In a time when heroes are rare–and untainted ones even rarer–Shankly is one such man. According to Peace’s fiction, he managed his club for the fans, not for money. Furthermore, he insisted his players play for the team and for the club’s supporters, not for the gold. In a time when British football was quickly transitioning from a reasonably paid profession into a well-paid profession, Shankly kept his mind on the team and not on his bank account. Like the capitalist world itself, football players were considering their worth in Pounds Sterling instead of goals scored or goals prevented. One only wonders what Shankly’s ghost thinks of the entire sporting world today, where millions of dollars are paid out to athletes and managers—whose only allegiance is to the gold owners throw at them. Shankly was repelled by the greed shown in the game during his tenure, having always considered himself a socialist who played for love of the game and a decent paycheck, but never just for the riches that many believe have poisoned the very essence of sport.

David Peace’s prose reminds me of an album by The Clash. There is a spareness of language combined with a simplicity of language. This composite creates a rhythm that sometimes dances and sometimes pounds. When absorbed from the page or record album, the reader or listener becomes wholly engaged with the creation these elements have become. David Peace’s novels push the idea of the novel to a place only the best novelists reach. Red or Dead is a prose poem to football, to the contests we engage in; to those who live and die with the fates of the games those contestants play; and to the men and women who manage and coach these athletes because their lives depended on their success. His writing takes a simple game, the egos and effort that go into playing that game, the men who play it, and lifts the entire enterprise to the heavenly place populated by the heroes of Olympus.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of  The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

October 07, 2015
Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Witness to a Troubled Saint-Making: Junipero Serra and the Theology of Failure
Luciana Bohne
The Double-Speak of American Civilian Humanitarianism
Joyce Nelson
TPP: Big Pharma’s Big Deal
Jonathan Cook
Israel Lights the Touchpaper at Al-Aqsa Again
Joseph Natoli
The Wreckage in Sight We Fail To See
Piero Gleijeses
Jorge Risquet: the Brother I Never Had
Andrew Stewart
Do #BlackLivesMatter to Dunkin’ Donuts?
Rajesh Makwana
#GlobalGoals? The Truth About Poverty and How to Address It
Joan Berezin
Elections 2016: A New Opening or Business as Usual?
Dave Randle
The Man Who Sold Motown to the World
Adam Bartley
“Shameless”: Hillary Clinton, Human Rights and China
Binoy Kampmark
The Killings in Oregon: Business as Usual
Harvey Wasserman
Why Bernie and Hillary Must Address America’s Dying Nuke Reactors
Tom H. Hastings
Unarmed Cops and a Can-do Culture of Nonviolence
October 06, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Afghanistan, the Terrible War: Money for Nothing
Mike Whitney
How Putin will Win in Syria
Paul Street
Yes, There is an Imperialist Ruling Class
Paul Craig Roberts
American Vice
Kathy Kelly
Bombing Hospitals: 22 People Killed by US Airstrike on Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan
Ron Jacobs
Patti Smith and the Beauty of Memory
David Macaray
Coal Executive Finally Brought Up on Criminal Charges
Norman Pollack
Cold War Rhetoric: The Kept Intelligentsia
Cecil Brown
The Firing This Time: School Shootings and James Baldwin’s Final Message
Roger Annis
The Canadian Election and the Global Climate Crisis
W. T. Whitney
Why is the US Government Persecuting IFCO/Pastors for Peace Humanitarian Organization?
Jesse Jackson
Alabama’s New Jim Crow Far From Subtle
Joe Ramsey
After Umpqua: Does America Have a Gun Problem….or a Dying Capitalist Empire Problem?
Murray Dobbin
Rise Up, Precariat! Cheap Labour is Over
October 05, 2015
Michael Hudson
Parasites in the Body Economic: the Disasters of Neoliberalism
Patrick Cockburn
Why We Should Welcome Russia’s Entry Into Syrian War
Kristine Mattis
GMO Propaganda and the Sociology of Science
Heidi Morrison
Well-Intentioned Islamophobia
Ralph Nader
Monsanto and Its Promoters vs. Freedom of Information
Arturo Desimone
Retro-Colonialism: the Exportation of Austerity as War By Other Means
Robert M. Nelson
Noted Argentine Chemist Warns of Climate Disaster
Matt Peppe
Misrepresentation of the Colombian Conflict
Barbara Dorris
Pope Sympathizes More with Bishops, Less with Victims
Clancy Sigal
I’m Not a Scientologist, But I Wish TV Shrinks Would Just Shut Up
Chris Zinda
Get Outta’ Dodge: the State of the Constitution Down in Dixie
Eileen Applebaum
Family and Medical Leave Insurance, Not Tax Credits, Will Help Families
Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure
“Boxing on Paper” for the Nation of Islam, Black Nationalism, and the Black Athlete: a Review of “The Complete Muhammad Ali” by Ishmael Reed
Lawrence Ware
Michael Vick and the Hypocrisy of NFL Fans
Gary Corseri - Charles Orloski
Poets’ Talk: Pope Francis, Masilo, Marc Beaudin, et. al.
Weekend Edition
October 2-4, 2015
Henry Giroux
Murder, USA: Why Politicians Have Blood on Their Hands
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Lightning War in Syria