In “Red Men”, Williams’ provides a comprehensive history of Liverpool Football Club (LFC), but places the narrative in the larger social context. John Houlding and John McKenna gave life to LFC from 1892 to a turn-of-the-century Britain, at a time when the city of Liverpool was looking towards Ireland and America for inspired cosmopolitanism, yet filled with startling images of poverty. Such were the years of the quiet and hardworking manager, Tom Watson, as well as Alex Raisbeck, often considered LFC’s first star player, and the great Elisha Scott, who held such a remarkable relationship with the club’s supporters.
The narrative then moves into the impacts of World Wars I and II on football, as well as an account on how Britain views the football of the Continentals (so while modern association football was born in Britain, there hasn’t been much success on the larger stage, save for the 1966 World Cup victory by England). LFC did not meet much post-war success and were eventually relegated to Second Division.
Until the coming of Bill Shankly, that is. Here was a man who, so to speak, walked with swag and was one day set to become an Anfield legend himself, reaching much success at a time when Liverpool was a global center for culture, thanks to the Beatles. Together with his Boot Room members (Joe Fagan, Reuben Bennett, and Bob Paisley), Shankly created the winning LFC side in the 1960s through the early 1970s. More importantly, Shankly was well loved because he identified with the working class men that formed the bulk of the clubs supporters.
Success for LFC translated well into the 1970s and 1980s under Bob Paisley, who passed on managerial duties to Joe Fagan, whose success was marred by the Heysel Stadium Disaster in 1985. Following Fagan’s resignation, one of the clubs greatest stewards took the reigns, “King” Kenny Dalglish. LFC’s success under King Kenny was to be overshadowed once more by another stadium disaster–Hillsborough in 1989, and to date, the 96 that lost their lives in such tragedy have yet to receive justice.
LFC in the 1990s onwards struggled with changes, including the “Continentalization” of the squad, and eventually, the change in ownerships. The brightest spark in the last 20 or so years of the club’s history has definitely been the Miracle of Istanbul, when LFC came from three goals down to beat AC Milan in a penalty shootout to be proclaimed winners of the 2005 UEFA Champions League.
I greatly appreciate the research that Williams has put into the book (as if that wasn’t obvious enough, and I somehow managed to summarize a bit of LFC’s history). What is laudable in his work was that Williams has managed to piece together the stories in between 18 league titles, 7 FA Cups, 7 League Cups, 5 European Cups, 3 UEFA Cups, and 3 UEFA Super Cups, creating a fluid transition that spans most of the club’s 119-year history. I do think, however, that the last couple of chapters could have been written much better, with perhaps a more objective lens that filtered the period from the club’s beginnings until the 1980s. (And why is there no mention of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, among other things?)
Of course, there is still a large part of the club’s history that remains to be written, and while the book’s last chapter ends on the balance (it ends at the start of the 2010-2011 season, with the ownership situation dangling and with Roy Hodgson taking the reigns and when Fernando Torres could possibly be a Liverpool legend), there is much optimism with the current situation in LFC, now that King Kenny is back at the helm.
Yes, this book is a must-read for every Liverpool supporter. It will give one a sense of being in a turbulent ride, but as every Liverpool supporter knows, you always have to walk on with hope in your heart.
The future is bright; the future is Scouse.
(Cross-posted on Polilla de Libros; the book also states that Steven Gerrard was ‘devastated’ when Xabi Alonso left—while I’d like to see those two link up again and Xabi has stated ‘Why not?’ on a possible return to Anfield, I don’t think it will be happening, not soon at least, Xabi’s too vital in the other club I support, Real Madrid)