Red or Dead: A Novel by David Peace (Brooklyn: Melville House Publishing, 2014. 736 pp)

David Peace is an English writer best known for his Red Riding Quartet and The Damned Utd. In 2003, Peace was named one of the Best Young British Novelists by Granta.

According to the Scriptures

The Gospels represent a fascinating literary genre. As Luke mentions, they are written so that we might have certainty. This statement separates the Gospels from straight non-fiction, where historical fact takes on a level of scientific exactitude. But the narrative removes itself from fiction, where the crux of story pushes the reader into far-off places where truth functions as a non-entity.

The Gospels are different. They approach history from a unique angle, where the event that has taken place exists only as a setting for a deeper truth that emerges in narrative.

Leaning heavily on the form and function of the Gospels, David Peace presents his holy writ on Liverpool Football Club, Red or Dead.

The Messiah of Football

Almost as a messianic figure, Peace writes historical fiction around the man and myth of Bill Shankly, the Liverpool Football Club manager that set the stage for the Liverpool dynasty we consider today.

An exacting but friendly human being, Shankly took the Liverpool job on the condition of autonomy:

“Bill said, I’m interested. But I have a number of conditions.
Go on, Mr Shankly.
Well, I have to have total control of the playing and the coaching staff. I have to decide on the training methods and the playing style. I have to select the team without any interference from you or the directors. And if I feel we need new players, then you and the directors must make the money available for me to buy the players I want. And I also want a salary of ₤2,500. And so if you cannot accommodate all these conditions, then I’m afraid I’m not interested” (8).

Set in two halves, Red or Dead follows the rise of Liverpool Football Club at the hands of Bill Shankly in the first half, before exploring the post-managerial years of Shankly’s life in the second half.

When the Saints Go Marching In

Quite often, Peace intersperses quick bits of game summary with the atmosphere of Anfield, Liverpool’s home pitch.

“The roar and then, then a sudden silence. A sudden silence as Tambling equalized for Chelsea. One-all. One-all and Bill Shankly was on his feet. On his feet, his arms outstretched. Cajoling his team, rallying his team. Orchestrating and conducting. Not only the team. Orchestrating and conducting the crowd. Lord, how I want to be in that number. The forty-eight thousand, four hundred and fifty-five crowd inside Anfeld, Liverpool. When the trumpet sounds its call. The crowd and the Kop. Some say this world of trouble. The Kop clapping again, the Kop cheering again. Is the only one we need. Shouting again and singing again. But I’m waiting for the morning Roaring. When the new world is revealed. Roaring again in the twenty-eighth minute as Roger Hunt scored. Oh, when the new world is revealed. Two-one. Oh, when the new world is revealed. Roaring again in the forty-first minute as St John scored his second. Lord, how I want to be in that number. Three-one. When the new world is revealed. Roaring again as Jimmy Melia hit one post. Oh, when the saints. Roaring again as Ian Callaghan hit the other. Go marching in. Roaring again and again as Bonetti made save after save. Oh, when the saints go marching in. Then roaring again, louder than ever, roaring again in the forty-fourth minute as Alan A’Court scored. Lord, how I want to be in that number. Four-one—
When the saints go marching in” (70-71).

As an overall fan of soccer and a person with the slightest affiliation to Liverpool (mainly from FIFA), Red or Dead
serves as a proof text for further fanhood.

So that We Might Believe

But even more, Peace’s style reinforces the Gospel narrative of Shankly with a heavy hand.

“Bill stared down at one page. One page of dates, one page of fixtures. The Easter dates, the Easter fixtures, in the drive, in the ar. In the night and in the silence. Bill gripped the steering wheel. Tighter. Bill closed his eyes. Again. Bill prayed for resurrection. Again” (131).

Even the prose itself feels akin to a Greek translation of an “original” text. Every chapter carries the vibe of “It came to pass” so often associated with Biblical style.

Peace writes of Bill Shankly so the reader might come to believe in the sanctity of Liverpool Football Club.

I’m a believer.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5

Affiliate Links:



Leave a Comment