Thursday, August 11, 2011

Passing Rhythms

Liverpool FC and the Transformation of Football
- Cathy Long, John Williams and Stephen Hopkins

This book is an excellent account of Liverpool Football Club and gives a beautiful overview of the club, its fans and Liverpool's place in the world of football. It is aptly (and perhaps a little emotionally) titled 'Passing Rhythms' - Rhythms describing the playing 'way' of a team in a single match or over a period of time; and Passing referring to progress of football, especially significant in the case of Liverpool FC, as they dominated the game in England from 1960 to 1990 and hav'nt been any where near winning the title since.

The book begins by talking about the city of Liverpool in the times when it was a dynamic and cosmopolitan seaport. The spirit of democracy and fierce independence reigned in the city, different from cities like Manchester and London. The city people have Irish roots and share a close bond with Celtic FC. Since the decline of sea-trade the city has had economic and unemployment problems and it became known as a tough place to live in.

The first football club in the city of Liverpool was ofcourse Everton (originally St.Domingo) formed in 1879. Liverpool FC was formed in 1892 after a dispute about club finances mainly initiated by John Houlding who controlled the ground at Anfield Road. Everton moved to Goodison Park, Houlding was kicked out of the Everton board and went on to form Liverpool FC. The clubs' base was strongly non-English as Houlding himself were Irish and player scout John 'Honest' McKenna recruited its earliest players from Scotland.

The book evolves gradually by talking about the pre-Shankly period, the first few titles that the club won. Special mentions for manager George Kay and the 1950's hero Billy Liddell (the 'flying Scottish winger') who was also worked as an accountant. The stories about Bill Shankly's time at Liverpool are an amazing read - "He will make his players learn to kill a ball and move it all in the same motion...he will make them practice complete mastery of the ball." He first got Liverpool promotion to the first division; followed by a league title in 1964 and the club first FA Cup in 1965. Other important figures under him were Joe Fagan, Rueben Bennett, Ronnie Moran, Roy Evans and Bob Paisley. More league titles in 1966 and 1973, FA Cup win in 1974 and the first European trophy - UEFA Cup - in 1973; then the European Cup in 1977 and 1978. His success marked a team built around the socialist ethic of collective effort with equal wages and no prima donnas. The five-a-side training and boot room tradition were established during his time.

"Courage is skill, plus dedication, plus fitness, plus honesty, plus fearlessness."
- Bill Shankly

Bob Paisley is given his praise. His words - "The longer you keep the ball, the less time the next man to receive it has." - inspired the 'early ball' game. There is a continuity of important players that was maintained during this era at Liverpool. Shankly resigned in 1982/83 which is believed to mark as the end of an era after which players started becoming more powerful and expensive. He was followed Paisley, Fagan and Dalglish who won the last league title for Liverpool.
There is an important chapter on fan culture at Liverpool. The Kop and its standing terrace (until 1994) is beautifully described. Liverpool's first all-red kit featured in Nov 1964. The great football tragedy's of Heysel (1985) and and Hillsborough (1989) are covered. Here is a comment that says something about the new 'supporters' of Liverpool FC:

"Stewards should patrol the Kop with a big net pulling out anyone under 12 with a painted face or with a Liverworld bag and eject them immediately. You have to be cruel to be kind. I wont harp about commercialization and Robinson dos'nt give a fuck anyway, but the arse who permitted the 'M' on the side of the Kop should be dragged through the streets by dogs!"

There is a chapter on John Barnes and racism in football. Hitachi was the first shirt sponsor for Liverpool in 1978. The fall of Liverpool began by the resignation of Dalglish after Hillsborough. It also marked an end of the boot room. 

"The bootroom was a professional touchstone of Liverpool club's playing success for some 25 years; a place where the club coaching staff would meet to discuss players, coaching and tactics, and, after matches, to suck in knowledge from other clubs about coaching techniques and 'likely' players in lower divisions."

Souness followed, then Evans and Houllier (first overseas manager of Liverpool). A 12million pound youth academy was established at Kikerby in 1998 under Steve Heighway. The 1998/99 season had Evans and Houllier as joint managers which ended up being a disaster. Houllier took over as manager a in 1999. There is a good chapter on Houllier clearly demonstrating his qualities and justifying his choice as a Liverpool manager. The book does not judge him; ofcourse we only know now that his reign as manager was not great but he still can be credited to move the club in the 'right direction' in my opinion.
There is an excellent chapter by Rick Parry on how television changed the whole economics of football in England. Also a chapter dedicated to female football fans.

"We fear that making football more 'female friendly' as a matter of policy might well contribute to the game losing some of its appeal, at least part of which includes being hugged and slobbered over by sweaty, scruffy men who have lost themselves momentarily and gone berserk as we score."

All in all a superb read; recommended to any football fan.