By Anthony Stanley
Shane Clancy, writing for The Anfield Index: “As I settled into the early chapters I just couldn’t put it down – the tales of the Roy Evans era, followed by Houllier’s entrance, Stevie Gerrard, the treble-winning season in ‘01, Houllier’s heart scare (which by Anthony’s account was far more serious than I initially realised), Rafa’s arrival, Stevie Gerrard, a certain night in Istanbul, El Nino making a name for himself, Stevie Gerrard, that fantastic ‘09 season and title challenge, the Hicks & Gillette debacle, FSG’s takeover (then known as NESV), Kenny’s return after Hodgson failed at the helm, Stevie Gerrard, Suarez’s signing, the hiring of Rodgers, his capture of Coutinho and Sturridge, Suarez’s rise to superstardom, the rollercoaster ride that was 13/14, Suarez’s departure, Rodgers’ burnout, Stevie Gerrard, Klopp stepping in, and right up to the present day. It’s all in there, folks.”
Straight up, and lets get this out of the way first, I’m an all or nothing type of lad. I never do things by halves and I’m the guy who is full of enthusiasm and will attack a project with effervescent and vigorous brio, only to sometimes lose interest dismayingly quickly. I want to get that out there to explain my mindset in October of 2015 and how this ultimately led to the publication of A Banquet Without Wine.
Most Liverpool fans are constantly fighting their own demons. No matter how grounded we try to be, there is a constant swell of tidal emotion bubbling under the surface. A volcano ready to spew, a geyser on the verge of emission. Sometimes this is discharged inwardly and is like an all-enveloping ash, covering the surface of your passion, refusing to let the sun of empathy and caring from piercing the miasma; a nuclear winter of apathy.
That might sound completely over the top, dramatic to the point of lunacy, but I felt so crushed in the autumn of 2015, so tired of the fighting amongst fans, of the fractures spreading throughout supporters throughout the planet. The football was turgid and it seemed the team was devoid of passion and belief, was going through the motions as the stark reality that Brendan Rodgers had completely lost his mojo became obvious even to a confirmed believer like myself. Troubling seeds had been lain at the tail end of the previous campaign – depressing results such as 6-1 to Stoke and 3-1 to Palace in Steven Gerrard’s last home game meant that Brendan had essentially lost the entirely of the fanbase.
But some stayed loyal to the Ulsterman and what we thought he was capable of. Wrongly? I don’t really care. I’ve been wrong plenty of times, and will be wrong on innumerable occasions in the future. In football, I’m rarely right. But when I believe in something, I’m in it for the long haul. Like I said, that’s how I’m hardwired. However, when that belief starts to falter, when it’s impossible to log onto social media or have a pint with Liverpool fans in a pub without it degenerating into mud slinging, that’s when I thought to myself: fuck this.
I was writing for part of the official club’s website LFCXtra, doing weekly articles on what we had learned from a particular game, Andrew Beasley having kindly recommended me to take up his baton. But I’d begun to feel like the poor souls who have to try to inject some heart into a Theresa May speech or the deluded scribes working on a Trump exercise in head-scratching: I couldn’t escape the notion that it was practical propaganda I was writing as I desperately tried to dive beneath the surface of the raging and bubbling seas of depression and glean any type of positivity.
When Norwich City came to Anfield and left with a deserved point and I was asked to describe Alberto Moreno’s performance as a positive, well, that was my Rubicon moment. Good fucking luck to that, I said to myself. Football can do one. Let them all duke it out, I thought, I can’t take this constant ebbing and flowing of emotions anymore. Nearly thirty years of the cycle, of a good year followed by a horror story of in-fighting and tension.
“Anthony is talented enough to describe the glory and pain of being a Liverpool fan in his own words. The work itself will, at times, exhaust you emotionally”. – The Anfield Index.
I’d had enough and so in a fit of pique which I can now recognise as possessing more than a degree of the hubristic, decided to metaphorically walk away from footie and concentrate on the novel I’d long threatened to write. One, incidentally, that was a love story. Between a commandant and a prisoner. In Auschwitz. Sound, that. Good for the soul, that carry on. I got to about 30,000 words, having been writing on and off for a while, and then something happened that transformed my sombre state of mind. The fanbase became united with the arrival of a certain German.
I’m all or nothing, I need to believe, I absolutely have to have something that my soul can cling to. And in those dark wintery months of November, weeks that are shining in my memory, I got a figurative anchor for my footballing passion. The mojo came back as we dismantled sides and even if there was still disappointments, the constant spectre of civil war on the terraces had at least been exorcised.
It was in this spirit of relative optimism, one that felt like one of those quasi-redemptive moments that litter our recent history, that I approached Chris about the prospect of writing a series of articles. The envisioned novel had, somewhere in the bleak, frigid and tragic snows of the war-torn Poland that resided in my mind, died a death and I was craving a project that I thought could reaffirm some more optimism while also reminding us of the realities of Liverpool’s journey in the Premier League. I wanted to explore my long-held and cherished ideal that though we may have been practical also-rans in the past twenty-five years, Liverpool Football Club is dripping with mythos and magic.
“For those who want to refresh their memory of Liverpool’s successes and failures in the last 25 years should pick up a copy of Anthony Stanley’s “A Banquet Without Wine”; a lucid account of the Reds’ struggles to keep up with ever-changing modern face of football as their title glories seem a thing of the past”. – LFCHistory.net.
Chris was very keen to go ahead with these articles with the caveat that, for continuity in the narrative, the wise men in the dungeon receive one article a week and I eagerly agreed. The first few pieces, I wrote pretty much from memory; the pathos-dripping early years of the Premier League having been long since scorched onto my mind. I wanted to be fair to Graeme Souness and not go down the road that painted him as some kind of ogre who had single-handedly been responsible for us falling from our cherished perch. But at the same time, the I had to use the canvas of our modern history in a realistic way: the Scot may have taken charge at possibly the most challenging juncture of our past, but his abrasive reign was littered with mistakes. The important thing to me was to try to highlight the massive, far-reaching metamorphosis that English football was going through. Moreover, from a Liverpool point of view, (in the memorable phrase coined by Paul) the impact of the tragic twin H-bombs of Heysel and Hillsborough had to be added to the mix. Probably the biggest help in fashioning the early chapters were two marvellously erudite books written by John Williams: Red Men and Into the Red, two books I urge any Liverpool fan to read.
By Christmas of 2015, I had sent in the first five articles and was on a roll. I can honestly say I enjoyed crafting these though the research started to become more substantial. This is, however, something I have always loved and the nerd in me rejoiced at the prospect of trawling through various biographies, newspaper articles and LiverpoolHistory.net. But by the turn of the year, my role in work had changed and this – together with my family and trying to sustain an aggressive fitness regime – meant that free time was at a premium and I’m sorry to say that I let the editors of TTT down on many occasions. Chris and Daniel were always understanding but the reality is that the book could have been finished possibly a year before it actually was, if I’d kept to the original agreed schedule (but then, a depressing denouement of the Reds capitulating in the second half against Sevilla in Basel would have been a distinctly underwhelming ending for any book).
“The challenge for Anthony Stanley with this particular project was to compile a book, from which the overriding narrative for fans is negative (due to Liverpool’s lack of success, relative to the days preceding the Premier League). Not only this, but Stanley would have to grapple with discussing the changing footballing world which took shape as Liverpool FC evolved, and how this affected Liverpool FC, without breaking from discussing those at the heart of the club, such as the fans, managers and players.
Despite these challenges, Stanley has produced a piece of literature that is grounded, detailed, intriguing, and beyond anything else, refreshing” – Hamzah Khalique-Loonat, The Anfield Index.
I’d always hoped that the wise men would be interested in turning the articles into a book but at times the prospect of actually finishing looked a daunting challenge. By the time I submitted the seventh piece – ‘Here we go gathering cups in May (and February) – I was nearly twenty thousand words in and still had sixteen campaigns to discuss. Moreover, I’d always planned to do separate chapters for the real icons of our recent past such as Fowler, Torres and Stevie. How to work all of this into a cohesive whole that might be made into book form was a constant torment. I ended up doing what many of the Amercian pulp shows of the fifties (which borrowed – narratively speaking – from Charles Dickens’ serialisations) practiced and tried to end each article with a bit of a cliffhanger.
I think it was about the time that Jurgen’s Reds had failed in the aforementioned Europa League Final, when Chris first tentatively broached the subject of the articles becoming a book. I was delighted, obviously, but also possessed of a healthy dose of phlegmatic, guarded optimism: little me getting a book published by Paul Tomkins?!? It seemed way too good to be true; only a few short years ago I’d only ever bothered to log in to the official site when one of Paul’s new articles was published and now there was a genuine discussion about me writing a book on my beloved Liverpool with my favourite Reds writer? And it was going to be edited by two guys I’d grown to have huge respect and admiration for (Chris and Daniel, and, by the way, Chris’ book on Heysel should be a must read for any fan of any club). But you know the way if you’ve been working out and really disciplined with your diet and you’re just starting to flag, when your inner chimp is whispering about Big Macs and pints of lager and then you step on the scales and are suddenly rejuvenated and jolted with positive energy? That’s how I felt at the prospect of getting the book published; still with an awful long way to go, I metaphorically jumped on the treadmill and shrugged off the sweats, the self-doubt and the temptation to jack it all in.
A year later, Paul sent me the image of the cover. Now that was moment I’ll never forget. This is real, this is happening. Paul had requested a summation to tie the whole narrative together and to also add some things he thought important; I knew this would be fairly substantial and had spent maybe a fortnight procrastinating on how to tackle this fairly formidable task. I got the email with the fantastic image on a Friday and by Saturday afternoon, I’d written a six thousand word summation. Talk about being inspired.
As Chris and Daniel will no doubt attest, my favourite chapter in the book is ‘Her Sad Captain’ – quite possibly the best football writing I’ve ever done. The original article was risky but I was confident that the lads would not be averse to taking a punt and I was delighted with the reception it got on TTT. I have no problem in admitting that I still sometimes glance through it when the vagaries of the footie world have me a bit down and I sincerely hope that the piece may have struck a chord of empathy with somebody out there.
There’s not much more to say apart from stating the fact that the whole process was an absolute pleasure and that some of my most cherished memories over the past few years was sitting at a computer on a warm May evening and editing the whole piece, putting proper accents on a name, checking spellings etc. In this, I was ably assisted by Chris and Daniel and they were honestly a constant source of warm encouragement and advice, with no little jocular repartee thrown in for good measure. But there’s always something else to say when I write (which tends to be how I diet) and I could go on but the most important thing is to thank everyone involved for such a wonderful opportunity, one in which I scarcely qualified to partake in. Paul Tomkins, Chris Rowland, Daniel Rhodes, I will be raising a glass to your health this Christmas and the chance that was given to me.. And all of you guys on TTT, who contribute to such a vibrant community that we’re all a little bit blessed to be a part of, thank you. If you bought the book, cheers, and if you’re reading this now, huge thanks.
Now, back to Nazis and their love interests in a Polish death camp…
“Any writer could have added to the mountain of literature describing Liverpool over the past twenty-five years, what sets this piece apart is its purpose. It informs, and engages with the reader, challenging preconceptions and holds a new light to controversial periods or events.
A stimulating, reflective and detailed piece of work, A Banquet Without Wine is a thoroughly enjoyable, but essential read for Liverpool fans” – The Anfield Index.
A Banquet Without Wine is available in paperback and Kindle via all Amazon sites. The UK site can be accessed below: