Peter Hooton is the vocalist of Liverpool-based group The Farm and a member and supporter of the Spirit of Shankly
How did you feel when you heard David Peace was writing a book about your Bill Shankly (particularly in the light of some of the controversies after the publication of The Damned United about Brian Clough’s controversial time at Leeds?)
I'm a big fan of David Peace’s work so I was really pleased that he was going to write about one of the great 20th Century icons. I couldn't think of anyone better to have tackled one of the football greats.
What are your thoughts on the book / How does this novel compare to Damned United?
I think the book is brilliant – for me it brings Shankly alive. I felt I was in the room as these historic events took place. I felt as if Shankly was talking to me. I have always been a Shankly obsessive as he shaped much of my philosophy on life but it was like a religious experience reading this book. As a youngster I was in awe of him – he was our leader, our inspiration and we would have followed anywhere, he was our ‘messiah’ but this book reveals his human traits like frustration and doubt . The attention to detail is quite remarkable. I liked The Damned United but I had no real emotional attachment to it whereas this was an emotional rollercoaster. The sheer scale of the book is awe inspiring. It is the Gospel according to Shanks!
Does the book capture the true personality of Shankly?
I really think it does. I was one of those people mentioned in the book who knocked on his door and asked him present medals at a football tournament I had organised when I was a youth worker in Cantril Farm. I felt a bit embarrassed doing it but I had been told he wouldn't mind and he was always most welcoming even if you did turn up unannounced at his house. Nessie answered the door and shouted for Bill. He came out and came out with ‘what can I do for you son!’ I was almost dumbstruck when I heard him speak and tried to compose myself and I asked him if he was free on a particular night to give out trophies and medals at St Luke’s Church Hall on Princess Drive. He went inside the house to get his diary and then when he came back out he talked about football with me for 10-15 minutes. He singled out Sammy Lee and Davey Fairclough at Liverpool as being two players who might be able to help me as he had a meeting at the FA in Lytham St Anne’s on our presentation night.
What is your reaction to the book as a LFC fan?
I'm proud of the book as I really do think it does Shankly’s legacy justice. It’s not an easy read you have to show commitment to get through it. You feel absolutely emotionally drained after reading it but I'm sure that was David Peace’s intention but you do really feel a sense of fulfilment after reading it!
What inspires you most about him?
His vision, ambition, drive, honesty, principles and most of all his love of football!
What do you think was the most important thing he brought into Liverpool Football Club?
Pride – he dragged this club up from Second Division inertia and mediocrity by hard work and complete and utter dedication to the cause.His visionary zeal created the template for the 30 year domination of football and totally transformed as conservative football club who lacked ambition. As Bob Paisley commented ‘Bill built the house I just put the roof on it.’
Why do you think he had such a strong relationship with LFC fans and the people of Liverpool?
He was one of us! We spoke the same language. He became an adopted Scouser and like true Liverpudlian’s he didn't suffer fools or hypocrites.
What do you think his view of the modern game would be?
I think he would be appalled at the greed, hypocrisy dishonesty selfishness and lack of loyalty but his own principles are still relevant today. Honesty, commitment, dedication and ambition can still be applied to the modern game, they are human instincts after all!
Why do you think his legacy and reputation among all football fans has endured for so long?
He was more than a manager, he was a leader, an inspiration a man of the people. If people lived their lives according to his doctrine the world would be a better place. This is not a utopian ideal but the product of an environment where people would help each other – if anything he epitomised post war optimism and sense of community which created the NHS and the Welfare State. He moulded his team to believe in the collective with every player working for each other – the team was everything!
Also that’s why we adopted his name and called our supporters union the Spirit Of Shankly so his ideals would live on. His memory inspired us to fight against businessmen with no idea of our clubs history or principles. We owe it to him to fight for the heart and soul of the club.
A lot of people will be very interested in the section of the book that talks about Bill’s life after he resigned as manager of LFC; what are your thoughts on how it represents that period of his life?
It’s heart breaking but he surely knew the supporters still adored him. We never abandoned him or made he feel unwanted. We used to sing ‘You’ll always be our King You’ll always be our king You’ll always be our King’ – this was sung to him when he came and stood on the Kop after he retired. It was at a match against Coventry I think.
Do you think it does justice to him as a person?
Yes I think it captures his indomitable spirit- it captures his drive- it captures his personality and of course the obsessive nature of the man.
Do you think the book will have an appeal to football fans and other readers outside of Liverpool?
I really think it will, because this is a story of a man who inspired all football fans not just Liverpool fans - quite a few Evertonian’s have asked me if they can borrow my copy but told me to keep it quiet!
Tell us your favourite Shankly story / quote.
Refusing to set his watch to American time/ Quote “Liverpool was made for me and I was made for Liverpool”