Released on Kindle just a few weeks ago, I have finished reading this new book on Heysel and would like to offer up a few thoughts.
Firstly, McCallam is an Everton fan. This is important to note because, despite some great work, there is a blue tinge to this work which thankfully does not appear too frequently, but adds an undertone and at times leaves a disappointing feeling to the content.
This could have been an amazing work. The opening section talking about the mentality of crowds and how otherwise harmless people can be drawn into awful actions is very academic and very well researched. It is well put together and helps to explain why some people get dragged into the bad behaviour of a small but violent minority. This part was very powerful, elegantly written and carefully constructed - bringing the academic elements into the Heysel setting really well.
The author also does a very good job of discussing the long build-up to the disaster and works hard at setting the scene both in football and in relation to the issues that football was having at the time - particularly the problems encountered in 1985. It is clear that the author sees Heysel as the culmination of an endemic problem within society rather than an isolated issue. Also mentioned at length is the issues in Rome in 1984 and how that contributed to the mood among Liverpool fans. In this the author is very balanced and highlights the fact that Liverpool fans were badly let down that night. The state of the stadium and the poor organisation is also discussed at length.
Obviously the events of the night itself make very grim reading, and they always will. Our collective shame will last forever. It's a tough thing to read through, very upsetting and very human. At times the author needs to be careful - citing certain events as facts when they are clearly still disputed to this day. But let's not gloss over anything here - some of our fans acted like animals that night and there's no excusing that. It's now part of our history and our shame.
Also covered at length is the aftermath leading right up to the ban and even beyond. The author highlights the impact to the families and the city and talks about the lead up to the imposition of the ban. Surprisingly there is not an awful lot about the arrests and trials of the fans who were extradited, but I understand that may well be in book 2 (yes, a second book).
It's strong work, very extensive and carefully researched and with some outstanding elements of academic learning.
Part of the reason for this book is the author's own desire to ensure that Liverpool fans stop denying responsibility and face up to the truth. This is fine, but coming from an Everton fan that can only lead to preaching. This is where I struggled with the book which is otherwise powerful and hard hitting.
At times the author leaves behind his academic and research approach and slips back into "pub mode" where he throws in personal anecdotes, opinions and frankly a number of assumptions and claims that are very much out of place. At times it feels as though the author is angry and wants to prove that Everton are a nicer club than Liverpool, and this deviates from the main thrust of the book which is powerful and clever enough on its own. He doesn't need to do this.
There are a number of pieces within the work that jarred and came across as weird or merely pompous point scoring. For example; the author saw a person sitting on a Eurostar train in Brussels during Covid. The person was wearing a mask that had a Liverpool logo on it. The author wrote about how inappropriate this was. This is 35-36 years after the disaster and somehow having one item with a Liverpool logo on within the city is unacceptable? This appears to be taking offence for offence sake. Does the author not know that Belgium even has its own Liverpool supporters clubs?
Another element was around the portrayal of Everton as being holier than thou - somehow forgetting their own issues. Andy Nicholls not only wrote a boastful book about being an Everton hooligan, he also stated that he loved every second of it. His words; "We were there when you could get hurt - hurt very badly, sometimes even killed. Yes, it happened; on occasions, wee killed each other." Also; "I will tell you another thing: when I was bang at it, I loved every f-ing minute of it."
The author also lets himself down badly at the very end of the book with two pieces. The first is a claim that Liverpool FC's response to Heysel was very poor because of its protestant, sectarian background. This is argued with a long introduction talking about the history of the club and its connection with the Orange order in 120-130 years. Ago. Suddenly it fast forwards many decades and says "and that is why..." yet there is absolutely no evidence offered, no connecting story to link the 1890s to the 1980s. It's not just a leap, it's a monumental chasm crossing. Then there is a short piece about Suarez and Evra which is totally out of keeping with the rest of the book. These two appear to come together to act as a way of the author giving a nod and a wink and saying "Liverpool FC - all racists, bigots and thugs you know."
It's a shoddy and poorly thought out ending to what could have been an outstanding work. The author sadly allowed the blue tint to creep in at times, and particularly at the end with the incomprehensible sectarian/Suarez end piece.
Proceed with caution.