Single word yields best result

Football News: Former Liverpool Managers - Part 9 - The Great Orator

Former Liverpool Managers - Part 9 - The Great Orator
Image from:

Former Liverpool Managers - Part 9 - The Great Orator


Bill Shankly 1st December 1959 - 12th July 1974


William Shankly was born in the tiny mining village of Glenbuck in Ayrshire in 1913. His maternal uncles, Robert and William Blyth, were both professional footballers and it clearly ran in the family as all five boys born to his parents, John and Barbara, went on to be pros too. In fact Shanks was often heard to boast that, at their peak he and his four brothers could have beaten any 5 brothers in the world.

Wullie, as he was known to the family, was the youngest boy and the 9th youngest of 10 children, which left the family with little money. Shankly remembered always being hungry as a child and admitted he would steal from nearby farms, suppliers and the pits with friends, due to their desperation. Leaving school in 1928, he went to work down the local mine with his brother Bob (who would also go on to be a football manager later after his playing days were over).

Football was always his obsession though, at school he would play constantly, despite there being no school team. He had a trial with the village team Glenbuck Cherrypickers, but never made the grade. Despite that he believed he was only killing time down the pit until his football career began. The self-belief that characterised his later career was already there.

At 18 he began playing with Cronberry Eglinton, 12 miles away, cycling to the ground to play. It was only for a few months before a scout called Peter Carruthers recommended him to Carlisle United and he was invited for a month-long trial. It was the first time he had left Scotland. He only played one match for Carlisle's reserves, and it was a 6-0 defeat at the hands of Middlesbrough's reserves, but it was enough to convince the Cumbrians to sign him immediately.

Shankly quickly became a key player but then Preston North End stepped in with an offer of £500, a move the young Shankly almost rejected because the wages of £5 a week was just 10 shillings more than he already earned. He was not sure it was worth uprooting himself and the deal was on the verge of falling through before brother Alec pointed out that the opportunity was more important than the money.

Preston were then a Second Division side (in the days when second division meant the second tier), but soon won promotion to the top flight with Shankly an integral part of the team and a fan favourite. They won the FA Cup in 1938 but World War 2 came along and robbed him off his peak years as a player, he was 26 when it started and, by the time league football resumed for the 1946-47 season, he was 33.

During the war he served in the RAF, boxed as a middleweight, met his wife Nessie and married her, and played for clubs as diverse as Norwich City, Arsenal, Luton Town, Partick Thistle and Liverpool. Shanks' returned to football and took over captaincy at PNE, but had lost his place by 1949. He told his successor, Tommy Docherty, that he should just put on his number 4 shirt and let it run round by itself because it knew where to go.

Shankly had qualified as a masseur, but he had decided he wanted to be a coach, so he had no second thoughts when Carlisle offered him their manager's job in 1949 and he retired from playing to take the job. His leaving was resented by some at Preston and he was refused the traditional benefit match players were usually given on retirement and he later described the club's attitude as the biggest let-down of his football life.

As a player, and what helped him become a success as a manager, was his dedication to his craft. Shankly would continue training throughout the summer, for instance in 1933 he decided to work on his throw ins. Shankly was an early exponent of the long throw, he was always looking for something new to improve his game, and he spent the summer practising by throwing balls over a row of houses and the small boys in the village would fetch the balls for him.

When Shankly became manager, he was obsessive over the game and would hate the summer months and absence of football. He wanted players to have ability and courage plus they had to be physically fit and willing to work. There was no room for shirkers in a Shankly team. The Carlisle team he inherited were struggling in the bottom half of Division 3 North and were having difficulties attracting southern-based players so far north.

Despite the difficulties, Shankly transformed the team, finishing the first season, 1948/49, in 15th. Improving to 9th the following season and 3rd the year after, just missing out on promotion with a team which featured legendary future Liverpool chief scout Geoff Twentyman. Shankly had already begun using psychology to boost his players, pointing out how tired the opposition players would be after a very tiring journey north and would not be fit to play.

He would use the PA system at matches, explaining to the crowd the team changes he had made for the game. Money at the club was in extremely short supply, their Brunton Park stadium was falling to pieces and the kit was a mess. In fact one of his first changes was to burn all the kit and, on the way to face Lincoln City, he stopped the team coach in Doncaster and popped into a sportswear shop to buy the team a full kit, which they played in.

In 1951 Shankly quit, accusing the board of reneging on a bonus which had been promised to the players. At this point he had an interview with Liverpool, who decided against him, so he took over at Grimsby Town instead in June 1951. Shankly believed the potential at Grimsby was much higher than at Carlisle. Grimsby had only recently fallen into the Third Division from the First Division and Shanks believed there were still some good players there.

He added a few cheap signings and they finished the 1951-52 season in 2nd, just 3 points behind the winners Lincoln, but only one club was promoted in those days. Shanks said of the team: "In the league they were in, they played football nobody else could play. Everything was measured, planned and perfected and you could not wish to see more entertaining football." The beginnings of the Shankly ideology was being built in training there, with the basis being highly competitive hour-long matches of 5-a-side football. He also worked on set-pieces, particularly looking for ways to counter-attack from opposition corners.

His team was ageing and only managed a 5th place finish the following season and spent the next season battling with the board over players he wanted to sign. In January 1954, Shankly's annoyance with the board got the better of him and he quit, citing the board's lack of ambition. Shankly later said that both Nessie and himself were homesick in Grimsby as well and that is why he took the Workington Town job next. Workington was closer to Scotland.

Once more Shankly inherited a team near the bottom of the 3rd Division North and he relished the challenge, saving them from relegation by finishing 18th, avoiding the need for re-election to the league. The following season, 1954-55, attendances rose and he led the team to 8th, but the club was operating on a shoestring budget, with Shankly doing most of the administrative work. He would answer the phone and dealt with the mail, typing replies to letter on an old typewriter. Shankly even had to collect the payroll from the bank each week.

Unfortunately, the club was sharing the ground with a rugby league club, with mainly rugby men on the board and there were numerous arguments over the amount of damage done to the pitch by the men with funny shaped balls. Realising nothing was going to change, Shankly quit on 15th November 1955, and joined his old friend Andy Beattie as his assistant manager at Huddersfield Town. Shankly also managed the reserve team there with some promising youngsters.

Unfortunately Huddersfield were relegated to Division 2 at the end of the season and Beattie quit during the following season, Shankly inheriting the job on 5th November 1956. On Christmas Eve he gave a first team debut to one of his young reserve starlets, a 16 year old Denis Law. The first season they finished 12th, then 9th, but dropped to 14th in the 1958-59 season, with Shankly once again at loggerheads with the board, who wanted to sell the best players but refused to give him money to sign replacements.

Shankly was happy to get an offer from Liverpool in November 1959 though, when Liverpool director TV Williams asked if he would like to manage the best club in the country, Shanks quipped: "Why is Matt Busby packing up?" Despite his Huddersfield team beating Liverpool 1-0 on 28th November, Shankly resigned and took Liverpool's offer on 1st December 1959, after taking some time to think it over. Finally the great man had arrived, but this was not the LFC of today. This was a mediocre second tier team that had stagnated through lack of investment in recent years.

The Anfield stadium was in complete disrepair with no way to water the pitch and Shankly made the club spend £3000 to fix it. Melwood Shankly described as a "shambles", it was overgrown, only had an old wooden cricket pavilion for facilities, just one mains water tap and Shanks asked if the Germans had been over in the war as one of the pitches looked like bombs had been dropped on it!

Shankly immediately set about having the facilities modernised and the pitches cultivated and revolutionising the training. The players would all meet up and get changed at Anfield before being taken to and from Melwood on a bus. The training system was very much based on the system he had introduced previously at Grimsby Town, built around highly competitive 5-a-side matches.

"In pre-season you got in at Anfield and you then put a pair of trainers on. They weren't like trainers like you have today for running on the roads. They were pumps. You need to run from Anfield to Melwood. Around Melwood three or four times and then run all the way back. Roger Hunt and I used to travel with the train from Warrington and after about three days, we couldn't even go down the steps, the backs of our calves were just gone. As soon as Shanks came he just changed it. 'You play on grass and you will train on grass.' And that was it. Then we actually saw a bag of balls. We had never seen a bag of balls." - Tommy Lawrence

Shankly hated long distance road running and the training was all done on grass with balls, except for warm ups and injury recuperation. He developed the famous 'sweat box' based on an idea Shankly had got from a training routine Tom Finney had used at Preston. It was used to develop stamina, reflexes and ball skills. After experimenting with it for a while, Shankly set a 2-minute time limit per session as the optimum.

There was a very simple philosophy Shankly wanted the game to be played by, something that became legendary - 'Pass and Move'. However he was also always looking at the best new training methods, and he instigated cool-down periods after training before the players could go for a bath and then a meal together. It is little wonder Ronnie Moran later said of that time: "I learned more in the first three months than I'd done in the seven years that I'd been a pro. I wish I'd been five years younger."

The one thing Shankly was happy with was the coaching staff of Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Reuben Bennett, who all had similar coaching beliefs to him. Shanks was the motivator, Paisley the tactician and an old storage room was converted into the fabled "Boot Room" so the quartet could discuss tactics while cleaning and repairing boots.

The playing staff were a different matter, Shanks later said: "After only one match I knew that the team as a whole was not good enough. I made up my mind that we needed strengthening through the middle, a goalkeeper and a centre half who between them could stop goals, and somebody up front to create goals and score them." 24 players were placed on the transfer list and all of them were gone within a year. He already had 3 players in mind to strengthen the spine of the team, but he struggled to get the Liverpool board to spend money on players until Eric Sawyers of Littlewoods Pools joined the board and became an ally.

After finishing 3rd and then 3rd again, missing out on promotion to the top flight, Shankly asked once again for two of the players he had in mind, players he called the best two players in Scotland. The board told him that the club could not afford to buy them, but Sawyer said: "We can't afford not to buy them". Liverpool signed them both, Ian St John from Motherwell and Ron Yeats from Dundee United in the spring of 1961. Shankly told the board they could sack him if they did not work out. At a press conference to announce the signing of Yeats, Shankly told journalists to "go and walk round him, he's a colossus!"

The board's fears about being able to afford them were due to the way crowds had dropped after promotion was not achieved. When Shanks arrived, average gates were 40,000, but they had dropped to below 30,000 by now. Worse was the reaction of the chair of the Shareholders' Association, Solly Isenwater, who had asked Shankly if he had been allowing his players to take it easy and then tried to hold a vote of no confidence in the board.

The spine was completed through the youth ranks by goalkeeper Tommy Lawrence and Roger Hunt, of whom Shankly said when he first saw him, "Christ this one can play." They won Division 2, in part due to Hunt's 41 goals and returned to the top flight. 1962-63 saw the team consolidate in the old First Division, finishing 8th, before a final day 5-0 win over Arsenal at Anfield was the finale to Shankly's first league title with the Reds the following season.

Liverpool made their first foray into European football in the 1964-65 season, which led to the now legendary all-red kits being birthed. It was Ian St John's idea, and Shanks agreed with it, thinking it would make the players look bigger. He asked Ron Yeats to model it for him and, when Yeats strode out onto the Anfield pitch, Shanks was sold and the all-red became the European kit initially. Later it became the kit for all games and the Reds as we know them now were truly born.

Shankly's dream was to win the FA Cup, it was the only domestic trophy Liverpool had yet to collect and he had told the board on signing Yeats and St John that he would win it with them in the team. In May 1965, Ian St John scored the winning goal in the FA Cup final to see off Leeds United at Wembley. Three days later they faced reigning European champions Inter Milan in the European Cup semi-final first leg at Anfield.

Liverpool taught Inter a lesson in a stellar performance as they ran out 3-1 winners, but Shanks was warned by visiting Italian journalists that LFC would never be allowed to go through. Sure enough, Inter picked up a 3-0 second leg win, which Shanks always maintained was down to a dodgy referee. Whether or not he was right, LFC were out and only finished 7th in the English league, with 13 points less than they had managed the season before.

That was turned around quickly as LFC once more won the league title and reached the Cup Winners' Cup final where they faced Borussia Dortmund. Dortmund won 2-1 after extra time and Shankly was extremely unhappy that the team had given away "two silly goals" to lose it. That is when he began to evolve Liverpool's style in Europe, initially to playing a containing game in away matches and attacking at home.

The 1966-67 season was not as successful, though Liverpool did start off on a high note beating Everton in the Charity Shield, but only managed a 5th place in the league. However 1967 saw more evolution, starting with the signing of a teenage Emlyn Hughes in February, a player Shanks' had wanted to sign after seeing him make his debut but was knocked back. The scouting system was revamped and Geoff Twentyman took over the scouting set up.

The biggest change was a further evolution of the playing style to a more possession-based and patient way of playing after a thrashing at the hands of an Ajax side inspired by a 19 year old Johan Cruyff. The evolution did not reap immediate dividends, as the core of Liverpool's team were ageing and the next couple of seasons saw LFC finish 3rd and then 2nd in the league.

The 1969-70 season was another watershed after a poor performance in the FA Cup quarter-final against 2nd Division side Watford made Shankly rip the side apart and phase out the older players and bring in Ray Clemence, Larry Lloyd, John Toshack, Steve Heighway, Brian Hall and Kevin Keegan over the next few seasons.

Again there was no instant impact from the changes, LFC finishing 5th in the league in both 1969-70 and 1970-71, though they did reach the semi-finals of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, where they lost to Leeds and the FA Cup final, where they lost to Arsenal after extra time. With Keegan now on board, Liverpool challenged for the 1st Division title, but were pipped to the trophy by Brian Clough's Derby County, by just 1 point.

It was during that season that one of Shankly's famous pep talks came into play as Keegan was set to face the great Bobby Moore for the first time. Shanks told Keegan that he saw Moore get off the team bus barely able to walk and that Moore was still drunk from a night out last night. Keegan was exceptional, but Moore was also brilliant in that game and Shankly told him that he would never face a better player in his career.

The 1972-73 season saw the changes bear fruit as Liverpool won the 1st Division again and also reached the UEFA Cup final, a two-legged afair in those days, where they were set to face Borussia Moenchengladbach. The first leg at Anfield had to be abandoned partway through as heavy rain flooded the pitch. Enough football was played for Shanks and his coaching team to spot a weakness in their defence. Toshack had initially been left out, but Shankly put him in the team for the replayed game the following night.

Toshack created two goals for Keegan in a 3-0 win, which was enough to win the club's first ever European competition, despite the Germans snatching two early goals in the second leg. It also made Liverpool the first team to win the league and a European competition in the same season.

This was also the year that the iconic photograph of Bill Shankly holding a scarf above his head in front of the Kop was taken. It was April 1973 and he and the team were showing off the league trophy to the Kop when Shankly saw a police officer throw an LFC scarf aside. Shankly retrieved the scarf and then told the policeman: "Don't you do that. That's precious!"

The next season LFC were once again runners-up in the 1st Division but went on to win the FA Cup, beating Newcastle United 3-0 in the final. Shockingly though, it was Shankly's last game in charge of Liverpool, with 3 league titles, 2 FA Cups, 4 Charity Shields and the UEFA Cup in the trophy cabinet, Shankly resigned.

The public, particularly Liverpool fans, were shocked when, on 12th July 1974, a press conference was held to announce his retirement. Liverpool's then-chairman John Smith announcing: "It is with great regret that I as chairman of Liverpool Football Club have to inform you that Mr. Shankly has intimated that he wishes to retire from active participation in league football. And the board has with extreme reluctance accepted his decision. I would like to at this stage place on record the board's great appreciation of Mr. Shankly's magnificent achievement over the period of his managership."

Club secretary Peter Robinson had tried in vain to convince him to stay, initially believing it was just the usual summer blues from Shankly, who would regularly talk of 'finishing' while the game shut down for the summer. Shankly hated being away from the day-to-day involvement in football and would always return to business as usual as soon as the players were back in training.

It was not even the first time that Shankly had resigned. Robinson still had a resignation letter from him, which he never retracted, dated 1967, which Shankly handed in after the board had refused to back him with the signing of Howard Kendall. Worse they had allowed bitter rivals Everton to step in and snatch Kendall from under their noses.

Robinson had initially believe 1974 would be the same thing, but Shankly was 60 and he felt tired. His wife Ness was worried for his health and wanted him to quit before he worked himself into an early grave, so this time the resignation was the end of his time as manager. However Shankly quickly came to regret the decision, he had lived a life around football and it was all he knew. He later admitted the club had become his life.

To begin with, he tried to enjoy his retirement and, when asked what Shanks was doing on his first Saturday in retirement Bob Paisley replied: "He's trying to get right away from football. I believe he went to Everton." Shankly was a guest of Everton FC at their game. However being away from the game did not suit him and he soon began to turn up at Melwood for Liverpool's training sessions.

At first Paisley was delighted to see him, but that soon turned to an uncomfortable embarrassment as Shankly undermined his replacement by turning up to training and giving out instructions. Eventually he even began taking training sessions. Something he had never done when he was the manager, as he would instruct Paisley, Joe Fagan and Reuben Bennett on what he wanted done and then oversee it. Eventually Paisley was forced to ask Shankly to stay away because he, Paisley, had work he wanted to do with the team.

Shankly did continue to attend matches, but he sat in the stand with the fans, not with the directors and staff of the club. He was annoyed that the club never invited him to away matches as a club guest and was hoping to be awarded a place on the board like Matt Busby had been given at Manchester United. However LFC directors were fearful of Shankly, they had a difficult relationship with him while he was manager and they did not believe he would be able to sit back and not interfere in everything. Added to that they saw how Busby's presence had so bad an effect on his successors that United had even ended up relegated the year Shankly resigned.

Everyone around the club felt there was a need to move on and that would not happen if Shankly was there, though they did invite him eventually to an away game, the away leg of the 1976 UEFA Cup final in Bruges, almost two years after he had quit. To make matters worse from Shankly's point of view, the club put him in a separate hotel from the team, something he found insulting. It was something that upset him for the rest of his days that he was treated better and received more warmly by bitter rivals Everton and Man Utd than LFC.

Shankly did attempt to stay involved in the game in other capacities. He had short-lived advisory roles with Wrexham and Tranmere Rovers and he would often be asked to look at players or give advice by various managers all over the country. Often his Sunday mornings were spent down the local park encouraging kids playing there and the park was later renamed "The Bill Shankly Playing Fields". He also presented a chat show on local radio station Radio City and worked as a football pundit for the station too.

In 1977 he even got so desperate to be involved in the game that he admitted an interest in taking the Everton job, after all the years of jokes at their expense! Just 4 years later Shankly was rushed into Broadgreen Hospital after a heart attack, though he appeared to be in recovering well his condition suddenly deteriorated and he was transferred to intensive care, passing away on the 29th September 1981. Training was cancelled at both Melwood and Everton's training ground Bellefield and Matt Busby was so upset he refused to take calls asking for a reaction.

Liverpool erected the Shankly Gates in front of the Anfield Road stand, bearing the inscription "You'll Never Walk Alone" and later, in 1997, a statue of him was erected bearing the legend (and Shankly is a legend) "He made the people happy". His former club Preston re-modelled their Deepdale Stadium in the 1990s and their Spion Kop end was replaced by the Bill Shankly Kop, which has an image of his head and shoulders made out of different coloured seats.

Shankly had won 3 league titles, Division Two, 2 FA Cups and the UEFA Cup during his spell in charge. He was not as successful as the man who followed him, but Shankly can take most of the credit for creating the modern Liverpool FC and building it into the "bastion of invicibility" he had aimed to create. More than that, he created a legend around managers that still exists for Liverpool fans. In most clubs star players are everything, at Liverpool, because of Shankly, the manager is everything and the players have to accept that. It is the foundation of the club's success.


To read Part 8 - Captain Turned Manager please click HERE


Ed001 reads this article in the below video


Written by Tris Burke February 22 2020 11:55:07


Discuss rumours and transfers on our Arsenal rumours web page


Discuss rumours and transfers on our Manchester United rumours web page


Discuss rumours and transfers on our Liverpool rumours web page


Discuss rumours and transfers on our Everton rumours web page


Discuss rumours and transfers on our Leeds United rumours web page