Ste Hoare interviews the author of ‘Red Machine, Liverpool FC in the ’80s: The Players’ Stories’, Simon Hughes.
Simon gives some great insight into what the book entails.
Simon Hughes (@simon_hughes__) has written a new book; ‘Red Machine, Liverpool FC in the ’80s: The Players’ Stories’ which will be published and available to buy soon. We will be running a competition to win a copy of the book via our Twitter feed as soon as the book is available for purchase. To give you an insight into what the book is about and why Simon decided to write it, Ste Hoare conducted an interview with the man himself for you to enjoy.
So Simon, your new book ‘Red Machine, Liverpool FC in the ’80s: The Players’ Stories’ has just been released. Can you give us a brief insight into why you chose to focus on this decade?
The idea for this book was initially born out of personal frustration rather than the significance of the decade, even though the story behind it is probably one of the most absorbing in Liverpool’s history. I explore this in the introduction. A perception perhaps exists today that it is only by speaking to or, if you are lucky, getting to know a footballer that you can establish a true picture of the factors that influence the game. Yet few of the active footballers that I have met since beginning a career in journalism have anything that is genuinely interesting to say. Retired players, however – those from a different era – have a very different personal landscape. All of the people interviewed were polite and more generous with their time than necessary. Most current footballers, particularly young ones, project the image that they can take on the world, as if they are somehow invulnerable. Yet these former players were refreshingly candid and generally comfortable enough to admit their own weaknesses. The book isn’t intended to be a comprehensive account of what happened in the 80s at the club on or off the pitch. That has been written about so many times already. Instead, it focuses on the characters of the players and their stories. Some performed a significant role in the club’s history while the contribution of others was relatively minor. But they all played a part.
In the 80s, Liverpool won six league titles, two European Cups, two FA Cups and four League Cups. Having gained an insight into the teams of that era, can you explain to some of our younger readers who might not have seen much of the club in that era just why Liverpool where that much better than everybody else?
Liverpool had been building up to a period of dominance like this for two decades. It did not happen by accident. It was a process of constructing then knowing when the time was right to reconstruct. So much of the focus in modern football is on the individual. Liverpool did not always have better players than other clubs but the team, indeed, was always superior. Speaking to these players, it really became apparent how the Liverpool team identified with the cause they were fighting for. That’s why I decided to interview Ronnie Moran, the first team coach who had already served Liverpool across three decades by the start of the 80s. He is the only person still alive with the inside knowledge that can contribute towards explaining why the club sustained its culture of success for so long and the mind-set behind the staff that helped make the 80s become Liverpool’s most dominant decade in terms of trophies. After just a few minutes speaking to him, I could sense the base human qualities in an individual that when placed in a collective, helped make Liverpool great.
As part of the book writing process, you interviewed a number of people connected with the club, such as some ex-players and coaches. Where they all very forthcoming with their stories and do you have any particular highlights in terms of who you got to speak to?
I was transparent from the beginning with every person I approached about my intentions. The book is split into 11 chapters with each one representing a different player or coach. I tried to target figures that had not already published autobiographies but still had an interesting story to tell. I felt that some of these figures deserved truer representation rather than through a few anodyne quotes for which they are remembered. I accepted, though, that a book about Liverpool Football Club in the 1980s simply had to feature some of the star names. There were, indeed, some enjoyable occasions: getting half-cut with Bruce Grobbelaar inside a Liverpool watering hole or getting fully cut with Michael Robinson over a late lunch, early evening, late evening and eventually early morning in Madrid.
The online description of your book mentions that the lines you got from your interviews with ex players offered a refreshing change from the “on-message interviews” with modern players. Just how pleased and surprised were you to get such candid answers rather than the often tedious quotes you get in interviews nowadays?
The majority of interviews today are rushed and news focused, often immediately after a match or a training session. If you do not know the player already, there are usually layers of management to pass through before arranging a suitable date and a time if the interview is not on match day. As a result, interviews are held under cautious circumstances and can often feel like formal occasions. There are too many barriers between the footballer and the journalist and – sometimes, at least – the football club and the journalist. The barriers only inspire misunderstanding and often, distrust. Listening back to the interviews for this book, the conversation is relaxed and friendly, but the setting helps most. I tried to get good life stories that were not just about football. I put the miles in to establish relationships face to face. When you sit down with a player for a full day, often over a few beers, you get a lot more.
Your book not only focuses on what happened on the pitch, but also the ‘activities’ that took place off it. Looking back at those times and comparing them to today, do you feel football nowadays misses this social element and do you feel that the modern, 100% professional approach makes football and footballers that bit duller?
You could write a book on this subject. I sympathise with modern players in the sense that their working schedule of matches and society’s understandable envy towards their earnings has made it almost impossible for a social culture to exist at any club. Football is now a business. Youth development is now an industrial scale industry. This has a consequence. Such is the focus on reaching the top that youngsters are actively discouraged from developing interests outside the game. It means that a footballer now has to do little more than participate in Movember to be instantly dubbed a ‘character.’ It’s not entirely a footballer’s fault that they seem or are, indeed, are duller. What really became apparent in writing this book is that each player had real experiences of life before becoming a footballer. Grobbelaar, for instance, fought in the Rhodesian Bush War. He’d encountered death. It shaped the way he became as a human being. Then there was Howard Gayle, who spent time in a young offenders’ institution after getting on the wrong side of the law as a teenager. Others held normal jobs. It gave them a natural sense of perspective. Perhaps they also later felt comfortable living life to a fuller extent because of the era they lived in. Before the 1990s, players could enjoy themselves more; people would just read about it and wonder if it was true. There was a mythical element to their off-field activities. Now, with the advancement of technology, there’s actual footage, which usually isn’t as flattering as the mythical stories.
Finally Simon, can you explain just what you hope readers will get from your book if they decide to purchase it?
Whenever I go for a pint after the game, one of the most frequent discussions in the pub concerns the whereabouts of the game’s characters. I hope that in some way, this book answers that.