Red Men: Liverpool Football Club, the Biography
September 7, 2010, Mainstream Publishing
It is 6 AM and I have begun writing the first of what will likely be many drafts of this review. Why have I awoken so early to do such a thing? Is it for a class or work? No, neither of those and I did not wake up, I simply have not gone to bed yet. At some point in this book, I think around the Shankly era, it took hold of me and I was forced to read on. When you read a book like this as a fan, you probably know the basic story, but there are small details that have eluded us all in some manner. Those details are what make the story of Liverpool so fascinating.
I assumed this chronicle of Liverpool Football Club would scratch the surface of the inception of the club and then briskly move on to the boot room days when the majority of the accolades were earned. I was wrong. Great attention is given to almost every season that Liverpool played, especially the important ones. Let’s face it, they were all important. Williams begins his timeline before Liverpool FC existed at a time when the club who played at Anfield was Everton and the other club on Merseyside was Bootle. If you are a sports historian, you will love the majority of this book. Many interesting tidbits are scattered throughout this work such as the early preference of a 2-3-5 formation and a technique of passing the ball backwards. The latter did not show up in the English game until the 1950s.
As you would expect, much of the book is written as a historical account. The details revealed about early matches and what was going on in Liverpool at the time is astounding. A few chilling pieces of information are letters written to local papers in 1901 complaining about stadium overcrowding. Unfortunately, it is obvious that no one paid attention to them.
“…suddenly felt as if all the juice was going to be squeezed out of us. Word came that the entrances were being rushed and for a time we were like sardines in a box and literally panted for breath. (87)”
Williams does not dwell on any particular part of Liverpool FC’s history and I think that it is a good thing. Managers and players who have been around more recently are not any more or less important than those in the earlier days. An example of this is Tom Watson who was Liverpool’s longest serving manager (1896-1915). He is described as the first great manager. If you read this book, you will find he is labeled as such with good reason.
While I thoroughly enjoyed Red Men, I have two gripes: 1) there are a few parts between the Shankly and Dalglish chapters that seem to jump forwards and backwards in time to explain a few key events. 2) Also around the part about where Dalgish enters the story, the tone of the book changes from a historical account to a fan’s account.
My first gripe is not that big of a deal, because while momentarily confused, I figured out what was going on. The second is a bit more complicated. John Williams is obviously a fan of Liverpool, one would have to be to have written the number of books that he has and to be able to commit to that kind of in depth research. Being a fan, personal opinions are bound to come out in writing and honestly, they probably should. After all, fans are a major part of the club so the attitudes are bound to be and should be reflected. My complaint has more to do with consistency. The reason for the change in tone at a certain point in the book is likely due to Williams beginning to follow the club around that time. It would be hard to write passionately about persons and events that were before his time. I found myself annoyed but agreeing with Williams and stayed up all night annoyed but agreeing with Williams.
The timeline of the book ends in about 2007 when life at Anfield under Rafa Benitez was really headed south. An epilogue was added that takes the reader up until just before the club hit rock bottom with the appointment of Roy Hodgson. But between the foundation of the club and the appointment of Hodgson is a historical journey that every Reds fan should be obligated to take. It is not always terribly exciting like the amazing blog entries written here, but it is much more important and informative. The random facts alone about the club, the players, and the beautiful game is worth the read. Liverpool fans are very proud of their history and this is an excellent account of what they have to be proud of. So–go buy it!
Here, I’ll even point you to a store: Amazon UK