GUARDIAN – David Peace: ‘Bill Shankly was a good man, as close to a saint as you could get’

The writer on his new book about Bill Shankly, living in Japan and racial segregation in West YorkshireAfter the controversy surrounding The Damned United, when Johnny Giles and several other ex-Leeds players objected to their portrayal in the book, what brought you back to football in Red Or Dead?The fallout from The Damned United wasn’t particularly pleasant. I’d written about police corruption, the miners’ strike, war criminals, problems in Tokyo with the American occupation, but I never imagined that the most controversial thing I would write would be a book about football.I wanted to write a book that would be more than another dark conspiracy. My plan was to write about Harold Wilson. Wilson was somebody whose life and achievements, I thought, had been forgotten. Then a film producer, Mike Jefferies, a passionate Liverpool supporter, was curious to know if I’d ever considered writing a script about Bill Shankly. It sounds dramatic, but it was as if the scales had fallen from my eyes.Harold Wilson turns up in Red Or Dead: does that mean you’ve now dealt with him?Having spent so long writing about that period of time, and with Wilson in the book, I thought maybe I’d finished with it. But actually, now, a couple of months down the line, I realise I do want to write about him. I think he could have a relevance.What did you know about Bill Shankly before you started researching the book?My football memories really start in 1974. The first game my father took me to was when Brian Clough brought his Leeds team to play Huddersfield in a pre-season friendly. And Shankly, although I was aware of him, was never an active manager within my memory. Older friends talk about how Mike Yarwood used to impersonate him, but I just had this very vague notion that he was a good man. The book was really going to focus on the mystery of his resignation [as Liverpool manager, in July 1974] and the aftermath. But starting to do the research, I felt that you couldn’t really talk about the retirement of the man without talking of the work of the man. I read everything on him. And at the end I did still feel that he was a good man, as close to a saint as you really could get… maybe that’s over-egging the pudding – as usual for me.You’ve lived in Japan since 1994. When you first arrived, you were heavily in debt. What was life like for you?I didn’t know anyone at first, so my options were somewhat limited. I spent a lot of time walking about, but I didn’t go down to the Roppongi, where all the foreigners go, and spend my nights drinking. I didn’t go out in the English sense of going out – getting pissed. I’d lived in Istanbul for the previous two years. But when I came to Tokyo, it oddly seemed an easier place to get your bearings more quickly. Silly things, but there was a Tower Records, and an HMV; that kind of thing didn’t exist in Istanbul.Before going to Istanbul, you wrote a book that was rejected by everyone. What was it about?Up until Red Or Dead, it was the longest book I’d written. There were three different voices: one in the first person, an unemployed pseudo-private detective solving a case of a missing girl; the second narrative was in the second person (which I’ve used many times), a man obsessed with a woman; and the third voice was in the third person, set in the slight future, where the apocalypse had occurred and a man was in search of the birthplace of the antichrist, which turned out to be in Blackpool.So it didn’t lack ambition?No, you could say many things about it, but it didn’t lack ambition.That experience of being rejected – did it knock you back?It did initially. Certainly to me, being unemployed and living in Longsight, in Manchester – it was the time of Gunchester. It was endless bad news, one thing after another. And with the arrogance of youth, I thought it was just a matter of time before I was recognised as Britain’s greatest author. And when that didn’t happen, I went to Istanbul and didn’t write for two years.You returned in 2009 to live in Yorkshire for two years, after 17 years away. What changes did you notice?It’s all very subjective and I’m wary of making sweeping pronouncements. There were many positive things. From abroad, I had an image that the education and healthcare were very developing world. But I didn’t find that at all. My kids went to the local primary and secondary schools and I can’t speak highly enough of them. Same with visits to the hospital. I had my wisdom teeth out, no complications. We’d moved back to near Dewsbury and – not to look back with rose-tinted glasses – when I went to school in Batley it was a very racially mixed class. People got on and mixed. I had friends from all religions and so forth. It struck me that in somewhere like Dewsbury that seemed to have disappeared. Certain towns in West Yorkshire just seemed segregated. Friends of mine spoke openly: “That’s an area we don’t go into.” That’s the biggest change. The only time I met people who were non-white was getting in a taxi or going for some food.How is your Japanese?In daily life I get by but when I do interviews I always do them with translators. This conversation, for example, I wouldn’t have wanted to do in Japanese.That’s a relief. Neither would I. Can you read Japanese?I can read the sports newspaper, but anything the equivalent of the Guardian is too much for me. Every year my new resolution is to get better. But I spend most of my life writing about Britain.What are going to do this evening?I was in the office at six this morning. It’s been a very long day, so I’m going to go home. My son, for my sins, is a Manchester United supporter. They’re about to arrive in Japan. We’re going to watch them train at Yokohama stadium.FictionLiverpoolDavid PeaceAndrew © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Guardian: Roy Hodgson: great expectations? Not this time | Observer profile

The football team opens its Euro 2012 campaign against France tomorrow in Donetsk, yet its cerebral new manager has inherited a squad shorn of talent and tainted by controversyThe football team that will face France on Monday evening in Donetsk in the opening Group D game of Euro 2012 is perhaps the most unfancied English side ever to take part in an international tournament.Wayne Rooney, the team’s one true star, is suspended and several other first-choice players are nursing injuries at home. The remainder of the squad is said to be lacking in technique, confidence and cohesion, and the presence of John Terry and absence of Rio Ferdinand continues to provide an unpleasant subplot in a setting – Ukraine – that has already generated plenty of racial tension.Given that hysterical optimism is the traditional prelude to an early England exit, the current downbeat national mood surely amounts to a long overdue engagement with reality. But there remains one positive omen amid the bleak forecasts: in Roy Hodgson, England have a manager who thrives under circumstances of low expectation.Indeed, it could be said that Hodgson’s almost 50 years in football have been one long battle to turn modest beginnings to winning ends. A Voltaire-quoting fan of Milan Kundera and Stefan Zweig who speaks five languages, Hodgson has gained a reputation as a deep thinker in a game in which wearing rimless glasses is normally all that’s required to be thought of as an intellectual.As much as he has been characterised as suspiciously cerebral, Hodgson did not emerge from some bookish bourgeois upbringing. Like most British football managers, he was born into a working-class family. He grew up in Croydon, where his father was a bus driver and his mother worked in a bakery. Passing the 11-plus, he attended John Ruskin grammar school. One former student recently recalled Hodgson as a “diligent, fairly quiet, decent steady Eddie”, with a passion for little-known soul and R’n’B music, who was always in the school team “but not a great footballer”.By his own admission, Hodgson’s career as a footballer was an essay in the “inglorious”. He was rejected by Crystal Palace and made his way through a forgettable series of non-league clubs: Tonbridge Angels, Gravesend & Northfleet, Maidstone United, Ashford Town, Carshalton Athletic.That’s a hardly a CV that sparkles with international promise, but Hodgson realised his limitations as a player and studied to be a coach, gaining his full badge at the precocious age of 23. He became assistant manager at Maidstone to his former schoolmate, Bob Houghton. Moving on to Ashford, he combined his duties with a job as a PE teacher at Alleyn’s school in Dulwich.Once more following Houghton, he then journeyed to apartheid South Africa in 1973 to play for a team called Berea Park in the country’s white-only league. Hodgson recently stated that he went “purely for football reasons”. That phrase, in an unfortunate echo, has also been used to explain his rancorous decision to select Terry – who is to stand trial for allegedly racially abusing Anton Ferdinand – and not Ferdinand’s brother, Rio. Whatever the truth of the Terry-Ferdinand drama, Hodgson is a manager who places maximum emphasis on team unity. His philosophy of the game is based on organising a team that operates not as a springboard for individual creative talents but as a well-drilled single unit.Simon Davies, who played for Hodgson at Fulham, once said that “every day in training is geared towards team shape on the match day coming up”. Zoltan Gera, another former charge, was even more telling: “Put it this way, when I wake up in the middle of the night, I know what I need to do in the game, I know everything about how we play.”For all the talk of Hodgson’s literary abstraction, he has little time for dossiers and diagrams, preferring to impose his ideas on the training pitch with repetitive practice exercises. It was this approach that he first employed in the Swedish backwater of Halmstad. Hodgson’s mentor, Houghton, had already galvanised Swedish football in winning two championships in a row at Malmo by instituting a long-ball English game with a high line of defence.Still only 28, Hodgson repeated the formula at Halmstad, who were rated favourites for relegation in 1976. Not only did he save the team, he managed to win the league in his first year and again the following season. With only a smidgen of irony, he has referred to that feat as his “water-into-wine job”.In Sweden, he and Houghton were seen as heretical revolutionaries. Lars Arnesson was an influential Swedish coach who was opposed to the new English style. “I thought it was a very basic way of playing,” he says. “They got the ball forward by hitting it upfield and then winning possession rather than playing through the team. But I found Roy an easy man to talk to. He was very clever, with an open mind.”Not for the last time, Hodgson would find that his exploits abroad meant little at home. His reward for the Halmstad miracle was to be made assistant manager of Second Division Bristol City. If his message had shaken Sweden, he was far from a prophet in his own land. Although he was made manager after a season, Hodgson was sacked after just four months in charge.Returning to Sweden, he took Malmo to five successive championships. He was offered a job for life but, continuing one of the most peripatetic coaching careers in Europe, he chose instead to relocate to Switzerland. Following a stint of club football, he became national manager and took Switzerland to their first World Cup finals in 28 years in 1994. At one stage under Hodgson’s reign, Fifa ranked the perennial Swiss minnows the third best team in the world.Some years later, when manager of unfashionable Fulham, whom he led from the brink of relegation in 2008 to the Europa Cup final in 2010, Hodgson explained his ability to reverse the fortunes of struggling sides. “Of course it’s nice for people to believe some managers are born with a magical quality that will transform bad into good, but I don’t,” he said. “It’s about leadership skills, practice, repetition and bloody hard work.”Hodgson’s impact on Switzerland was a prime example of him doing what he does best: making the whole much greater than the sum of its mediocre parts. This time, the achievement was noticed – not in England, of course, but in Italy, where in 1995 he was appointed coach of the sleeping Milan giants, Internazionale.Here, though, was the other side of the Hodgson story, a coach who has never excelled under the high-pressure conditions of the media spotlight, big-money players and executive power struggles. He was rattled by the Italian press, often blowing up at conferences.Nevertheless, among his various jobs in Finland, Denmark, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere, Hodgson has landed three major club appointments, as manager of Inter, Blackburn (during its financial heyday) and Liverpool, and in none of them has he been considered an unqualified success. In fact, at Blackburn and Liverpool, he was seen as a failure and was duly sacked.In both cases, he suffered from bad timing and a lack of rapport with the fans. But it may also be true that Hodgson’s rigid operating system is not ideally suited to players who perceive themselves as gifted individuals. Although he has adapted the long-ball game that first brought him success in Sweden, he has yet to produce a team admired for its creativity and skill.The question is, does the England team conform to the Liverpool or Fulham model? Is it a collection of underperforming stars or a unified group of willing but not exceptional players? In the last few international tournaments they’ve taken part in, England have conducted themselves as Liverpool-like celebrity losers. The degree to which Hodgson manages to shape and motivate the squad may well depend on whether it is prepared to knuckle down to play like a national version of Fulham.Either way, the result is unlikely to be pretty. Yet it’s worth remembering the response of Hugh Grant, Fulham’s most famous fan, to Hodgson’s inspirational effect on the Cottagers. “I want to sleep with Roy Hodgson,” said the star of Love Actually.England fans probably won’t stretch to that kind of ardour, but if Hodgson can avoid the lacklustre performances of recent years, they may finally give him the respect that he has travelled so far and wide to earn.Euro 2012Roy HodgsonEnglandLiverpoolFulhamAndrew 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds