Damned United author pens Bill Shankly novel

David Peace.
David Peace.

Writing about a beloved football manager brought author David Peace no end of trouble.

But when it came to writing Red or Dead – his fictional account of Bill Shankly’s life as Liverpool FC manager – Peace never hesitated in tackling the legendary football manager.

Peace had a different goal in mind for his latest novel, which recognises Shankly as one of the greatest to have ever graced the beautiful game.

“This book is quite different to that of The Damned United in it is a celebration of the man,” he said.

“I didn’t write the book for the supporters of Liverpool Football Club but it is a story for every football supporter.

“Shankly was a man whose life was his work and his work was his life and I wanted to explore why he was so consumed in football.”

Initially, Peace wanted to focus on Shankly’s retirement – which the Scot announced at a surprise press conference in July 1974, just two months after Liverpool FC won the FA Cup for the second time.

But while researching Shankly’s career, he realised “I couldn’t just right about his retirement as I needed to explore what led up to the shock decision.”

Red or Dead grew into a book of two halves, the first beginning in 1959 when Shankly joined Liverpool from Huddersfield Town – the team which Peace supports.

It charters how the ex-teenage miner transformed Liverpool from a struggling, second division side to a trophy-laden team on the brink of European dominance.

It ends with his decision to step down 15 years later.

The second chronicles Shankly’s eight years of struggle between retirement and his death in September 1981.

As well as the football, the novel explores Shankly’s political beliefs and how they informed his view of the world.

The book is Peace’s second football novel after The Damned Utd, an account of Brian Clough’s 44-day spell as manager of Leeds United.

Following the release of the film in 2009, Clough’s family took exception to what they believed was a negative portrayal of the late manager.

But Peace was keen to tell the tale of another beloved football giant.

He said: “Both managers are iconic figures in football but The Damned United focused on Brian Clough’s worst days in management; this book reveals more about Shankly and what drove him to his success.”