Living on the Edge

The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement. Furthermore, the writer is dedicated to declare and to celebrate man’s proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit for gallantry in defeat – for courage, compassion and love.

John Steinbeck, speech on receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1962

Where would those of us who revel in woeful puns be without Alan Edge? The opportunity for lamentable headlines is endless. “The Fan on the Edge of Forever”, “Edging Forward”, “Cutting Edge”, and so on. Even the title of his magnum opus, Faith of our Fathers, is ripe for all kinds of Freudian interpretation. But I’m too polite to go in to all that.

One thing is for sure: Mr. Edge won’t be emulating Mr. Steinbeck and addressing the Riksdag – that’s the Swedish Parliament, trivia fans; and yes, I did look it up – any time soon. As a work of literature, Faith of our Fathers is a mess. There is no attempt to link the various sections of the book apart from a vague sense of a chronological order. The book flits back and forth with tenuous connections between seemingly unrelated events. Irony is liberally sprinkled throughout the book but at times it is so subtle that it is difficult to tell whether the writer is joking or being serious.

Of course, all these factors would probably make him the prime candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, a prize only awarded to experts in opaqueness and obfuscation. No, what makes Alan Edge ineligible for the literary world’s greatest prizes is the fact that his book is readable. Actually, ‘readable’ doesn’t come close to describing just what a storming book this is. Just go out and buy it, okay? There’s nothing more that need be said on the matter.

(Hurried consultation in the background. Sound of someone being slapped very hard on the side of the head.)

Go bhfoire Dia orainn! Someone hand me that packet of frozen peas…that’s better. It seems Der Fuhrer and Il Duce expect me to justify that six-figure salary I’m receiving for writing this article, and to stop complaining that the aforementioned salary is paid in German marks c. 1923. The things I do for my club…

But back to the book. I have a confession to make. Actually, more a boast than a confession. I have never read the famed Fever Pitch. Football fans of my acquaintance have regularly exhorted me to read this book, telling me how it really captures what it is like to be a football fan, that you feel sympathy with Nick Hornby’s plight, that it cuts across team boundaries and other such phrases ad nauseaum. But I don’t want to have sympathy with a fan of the Arse. I don’t want to read about that calamitous night in May ’89 and feel anything other than heartburn.

Which leads me to observe: Faith of our Fathers is not for non-Reds. Don’t give me any garbage about appealing to all fans and being a cry from the heart on behalf of all football aficionados. This is a book for people who can’t mention Bill Shankly’s name without breaking into tears or those who fondly remember the warm wetness of urine flowing down their leg in the Kop. If you think that Liverpool city centre looks disturbingly like post-war Berlin or can hear the word ‘Red’ without INSTANTLY thinking of the ‘Pool, then don’t bother reading this book.

It would have been so easy for Alan Edge to turn this book into a memoir containing detailed paeans of praise to the Boys in Red. As he is a fan who remembers the days when Liverpool were stagnant in the old Second Division, he could happily have filled 221 pages with tales of Great Anfield Nights, such as beating St. Etienne in 1977, the return of Ray Clemence in 1981, Kevin Keegan’s debut, getting out of the Second Division in 1963, and other moments too numerous to mention. As it is, he confines himself to two glorious vignettes to illustrate what Liverpool are all about. Four Days in May 1965 when Liverpool won the FA Cup for the first time then stuffed Inter in the European Cup semi-final four days later; and the Kop’s disarming of Leeds United when Don Revie’s lot won the League in 1969 and the Kop cheered the new champions. The sparse use of football anecdotes gives those moments an extra emotional charge and will have you laughing and crying in equal measure.

What makes this book truly great is its sociological analysis…no, wait! Trust me, this is a good thing. I don’t know if everyone will agree, and I don’t know if this was Alan Edge’s original intention, but what kept me reading was the whiff of class warfare that permeates the entire book. The first 100 pages or so are spent detailing the ‘class’ that he comes from, the native Scouser whose only concerns seem to be football, family and religion, not necessarily in that order but with football usually at the top. The remainder of the book is an account of how those differences manifest themselves in a football club which has always – justifiably – considered itself to be more of an institution than all those fly-by-night, fancy Dan types that typify the rest of football.

Maybe that is why Liverpool never received the same level of hostility when we were at the top than the Mancs do now. While Man Ure are firmly a part of the Establishment, courted by Tony Blair and Rupert Murdoch and receiving their knighthoods, Liverpool were always a different breed, a class apart, peasants who continuously stormed the citadel.

But I digress. Hillsborough represents these differences for me, and Alan Edge captures the feelings of the entire city perfectly; the initial outpouring of collective grief as the city came to terms with its loss, followed by the barely coherent fury as the rest of the country sneered at both the loss and the emotional reaction of the people of Liverpool to that loss. Over here in Ireland, the concept of shared grief is perfectly normal. In England, the expectation was to button a stiff upper lip, and when Merseysiders didn’t react this way, they were dismissed as exaggerating their suffering, or looking for sympathy. Coming from a nation that would be brought to its knees by the death of the mistress of the son of a corrupt Egyptian businessman, this reaction must seem particularly galling. Other issues cross his line of sight; the police and Hillsborough, Thatcherism, the erosion of football’s traditional fan base, Jan Molby’s potbelly, the decline of the Kop; all these are dealt with in his usual scattergun but erudite fashion.

I suppose his book is not as scattergun as this review. It’s hard to put into words the feelings this book engenders, mainly because the book has no real coherent train of thought. But if you are interested in politics, history, comedy, tragedy, football or Liverpool FC, then you should follow the link buy Faith of our Fathers

And if you’re not at least interested in LFC, then what are you doing at this website?!

Alan Edge replied to this review by saying: Of everything I’ve ever read about Faith your synopsis has come the closest to capturing the spirit of what I was trying to write about. It even explained a few things to me I hadn’t thought of. It was THAT good.You do not know how warm the cockles of my heart are after reading your kind words. To think that someone has interpreted my work in the way I intended it has got to be any writer’s dream. The fact that I had not written anything prior to Faith makes your being so able to get into the message behind its text all the more rewarding.Above all, I am SO thrilled – and honoured too – that a person of profundity such as yourself thinks the book worthy of the institution to which we belong. There can be no finer accolade and I already have 200 copies – don’t worry there’ll be more going up tonight – of your review posted on the walls at our house.

Thank You.

Alan Edge