Sunday, 5 May 2013

Mark Nevin - A Deeper Shade of Red (book)

So, why am I reviewing a book?  And why a book about Manchester United?

I declare an interest.  Mark Nevin and I share a fascination and a love for Manchester United that goes back to childhood.  While inevitably some people will screw their faces up at that and question our mutual allegiance to a multinational giant, Nevin's book has the answers to any objections the anti-United guide might throw in our direction.

His remit is, initially, to explore the United/Liverpool rivalry from extremely close quarters. Nevin was born, he reveals, to Liverpool-supporting parents during a time when Liverpool FC were easily the most successful team in English football, but chose to support United.  He went to school a few miles from the Merseyside boundary and, staying true to the United cause throughout, continued to be surrounded by triumphalist scousers, even finding himself at the University of Liverpool as the tide was beginning to turn in United's favour.

He is thus well-placed to grasp the true and original appeal at the heart of United - that of an outsider club who originated among the labouring classes via the Newton Heath (below right) railworkers while so many north-west clubs (including Liverpool, Everton and Manchester City) were nurtured by the established church or within the middle class privilege of cricket clubs.  United, just a few years into their existence, attained the label 'the outcasts' because of their players determination to stick to their guns over a players union and retained this identity throughout their history.  It's a pariah status fans continue to relish.

Even now, after successive clubs' owners attempts to erase their radical history, hardcore United fans remain attached to this early vision and have shown their colours in the successful campaign against Murdoch's proposed ownership in 1999 and the more recent, and rather less successful, anti-Glazier campaigns.  This book doesn't go as far into the modern age as that, but ends at the point where Ferguson has established them as the dominant force in English football in the nineties: the club attaining their greatest successes under the stewardship of a trade unionist who relishes that outsider status as much as any fan.

Nevin places the club within the context of Manchester as both source of creativity and innovation (he manages to connect, with some success, industrialisation and the Manchester Ship Canal to such artistic pioneers as L.S. Lowry, Shelagh Delaney and the Stone Roses) and radical socialism.  He sees United, despite recent attempts to sanitise their image, as culturally linked to the forces of chartism, trade unionism and even the suffragettes in an utterly unique way, much of which has set the club apart from all others in England from the very beginning.

It's unlikely anyone other than Manchester United supporters will find much to appeal here.  Indeed, it will probably irk those many enemies of the club who are much happier to accept the conventional view of United as a globalized super-entity with bloated, success-hungry fans. Nevin makes a convincing case for the opposite identity - a club deeply connected with working people, with socialist politics and with fans so loyal that, even when the club was briefly relegated in 1974, they not only remained the best supported club in the country but actually increased their attendance significantly.

For United fans, though, it's a treasure drove of information to use in the vitriolic debates that inevitably surround this great club.  How many people would understand, for instance, that there are more United than city fans in two-thirds of Manchester postcode areas?  Or that the author went through his whole school life with United experiencing the winning of just one trophy?  Or that the proudly left wing city of Liverpool only elected its first Labour council as recently as the fifties?

That it's also part autobiography and part cultural history too is a considerable bonus.   You can get the Kindle edition for just £1.53 here but it's available for download here at an even cheaper price (just $1.49 that you can convert and pay in your own currency via PayPal).  

No comments:

Post a Comment