Author: Tony Evans ; Publisher: Bantam Press
Reviewed by Shunter
Don’t be too taken in with the title here, this is more than a book about the fortunes of the Merseyside giants.
It’s a look at mid 1980s Britain through the lens of football, 85/86 season, and the political tumult of the times: football hooliganism, Tory hooliganism, riots and the seeming decline of organised football. This seems surprising now when you see where we ended up with the ever increasing commercialisation of the game, which has eventually taken it far away from its working class fanbase.
The book resonated with me especially having been a Scouseophile in my youth and having travelled all the way down from Aberdeen to attend a number of the matches described in the book. Spoiler alert: including the title decider at Stamford Bridge. Being squeezed into the away end (pay at the gate, not everyone did mind) looking back with the hindsight of Hillsborough I think about that game, the potential was already there several years before. I remember feeling claustrophobic and uncomfortable. The Police were content to let anyone in though that showed up regardless, so they weren’t causing trouble outside. As was the way then. Health & Safety was non existent!
Other memories of that season were striking miners collecting outside Lime Street station and lads wearing badges in support of the Liverpool Council who were standing up to Thatcher. Different times.
The start of the book paints a social history of Liverpool, Irish immigration, the ghettoisation of the Scotty Road area and also the formation of working class teams in general, not only the Scouse ones but West Ham United and Manchester United, who were all in contention for honours that season. The book meanders off into stories of McAvennie and Big Ron’s United, racism in the game, even the great West Brom side of a few years previous.
The author moves back and fore from football to related subjects, such as what was affecting the fans at the time. The roots of the ‘casual’ phenomenon, told countless times now, though the author still managed to unearth some anecdotes that I’d never heard such as the theft from a lorry park near Scotland Road of Adidas T-Shirts which fuelled the craze. Haircuts inspired less by Bowie’s Low than Nick Nolte in Rich Man, Poor Man (aye I had to look it up too).
One of the features of the book that I most enjoyed was the input from Neville Southall and Peter Reid, on the pitch but also understanding of what was going on off it, in the streets round the grounds but also in the fans everyday lives, unemployment, fighting back against Thatcher. Both seem to be a healthy antidote to the modern millionaire Tory voting player of today (notable exceptions proving the rule, in fact I am struggling to think of an exception now I come to think about it).
Back to the politics again and the book moves to leaked memos from top Tories discussing punishing Liverpool for standing up against them, the ‘managed decline’ of the city, goes to the heart of the sheer callousness of Thatcherism, whose cheerleaders are still much in evidence in the present. I write this the day after watching a Scouser, Esther McVey, give her pitch to be next PM of this country with a photo of Maggie next to her on the lectern.
Clearly the fight continues…….