The Diary

Cod Almighty | Diary

Who could possibly play Alan Buckley?

18 March 2014

Last night Luton lost 1-0 at home to Woking, to an 87th-minute goal. It is their first defeat in 27 matches. It means that if Grimsby win their three games in hand, starting tonight at Forest Green, and beat Luton next week, we'll be a mere eight points behind them. And people say that Cod Almighty is negative.

The Telegraph, the Western Daily Press and the Gloucester Citizen are making great play, if not great headlines, out of the abandonment of our original trip to the New Lawn in January due to floodlight failure. Players are pouring out of the Blundell Park treatment room, leaving Liam Hearn and Dave Moore a free hand with the lucozade and the draughts set. And Paul Hurst is displaying an uncharacteristic note of snippiness: "I can't remember getting too many plaudits on Saturday for putting Andy Cook on and having a positive response, but that's the life of a manager."

There isn't too much straw for making bricks with in all that. Instead your Middle-Aged Diary will regale you with my current reading, Red or Dead by David Peace, the author of The Damned United. The books actually provide a curious counterpoint. While Peace encapsulated much of Brian Clough's career in an account of his short spell at Leeds, in Red or Dead he concentrates almost exclusively on Bill Shankly's long reign at Liverpool, and then his retirement.

Parochial interest for the Grimsby supporter is therefore minimal: three one-word references in the first 40 pages then, much later, a walk-on part for Mike Lyons. However, if you valued Pass and Move for the insight it gave to the emotional price paid by Alan Buckley for his success, you might want to get hold of Red or Dead, at least from the library. It revels in repetition, of planning, of training drills, of the bare facts of matches, even of domestic chores (you inevitably find yourself skimming after a while), contrasting Shankly's obsessiveness with the ebullience of his public persona. Given that repetition, and given its length, the book is suprisingly economical, always showing rather than telling. Shankly's relationship with his wife, Ness, for instance, is beautifully conveyed. The reader understands vividly, 500 pages in, both why Shankly had to retire and why nothing could fill the gap afterwards.

The Damned United, of course, became a film (which actually I enjoyed rather more than the book). This demands the question: when (not if) Pass and Move is adapted for the big screen, who should play Alan Buckley?