Bill Shankly OBE

01 Mar 2012


Legend has it that in 1951, when Bill Shankly was in charge of Carlisle United, he was interviewed for the managerial vacancy at Liverpool but turned them down before they even had a chance to offer him the job. Once the directors let it be known that they would want the right to veto his team selection, there was never going to be any future for that relationship.

Eight years later, he was finally installed at Anfield. From Liverpool’s point of view, they were another eight years of mediocrity while for Shankly, it was time well spent on honing his skills at Grimsby Town, Workington and Huddersfield Town.

No one will ever know whether Liverpool would have enjoyed another eight years of winning trophies and dominating the domestic and European scene had he been appointed first time around. After all, he did walk out on Carlisle and Grimsby after Boardroom disputes and who is to say that he wouldn’t have done the same at Anfield when he was still young and impetuous?

That’s all speculation. But it’s a fact that Liverpool FC and Bill Shankly shared the perfect football marriage from December 1959 until he shocked the football world by announcing his retirement in July 1974. Three years after his arrival they stormed to promotion from Division Two and by the time he departed, they had won  the League Championship three times, the FA Cup twice and had conquered Europe for the first time by winning the UEFA Cup in 1973.

Every bit as significant as that success was the fact that the charismatic Scot turned Liverpool into a club that exuded football passion. The Kop became recognised across the world as a place where fanatical fans come together every other Saturday afternoon to sing the team to victory. And Shankly never missed an opportunity to express his admiration for the players they worshipped.

He had an uncanny knack of getting something extra out of players, injecting them with confidence. For example, when giant centre half Ron Yeats moved from Dundee as one of Shankly’s first major signings, the story goes that the manager walked around him several times in awe when they first met. “That man’s a colossus,” was all Shankly could say and from that moment on, Yates had the belief to take on the world.

Kevin Keegan was another who ‘got the treatment’ when he arrived at Anfield in 1971 as part of the second wave at a time when Liverpool were in the process of rebuilding because the likes of Yeats, Roger Hunt, Ian St John and Tommy Lawrence needed to be replaced.

He recalled: “The first time I ever met Bill Shankly I just thought: ‘Wow. This guy is so impressive. When he talks you have to listen.’ He didn’t just talk for the sake of it, he talked because there was a reason - a need to say those words. Everything he said was common sense. For me, he was unbelievably inspiring.

“I trained with the first-team, having come from nowhere in Scunthorpe, and he turned to me and said: ‘Son you will play for England’. I thought, I will. He thinks I will... I will. He was amazingly inspiring to be around.”

Keegan’s feats with Liverpool Newcastle United and England made him a legend in his own right but he will never forget the influence Shankly had on him, both as a player and person.

He added: “To motivate people for football matches... it all came from him. He would say to us: ‘Do you realise how lucky you are boys? There are 60,000 people out there and they’ve worked hard all week and spent their money to come and watch you. Now you show them why they should come here for the next home match as well’. It didn’t matter what size you were, you were 10ft tall if you played for Liverpool when you went out.

“I’d been there about a year and I’d got a newspaper column. I’d got people paying me to wear their boots, I was doing local adverts and someone paid me to wear their shin pads... and Bill Shankly said: ‘Remember son, there’s only one contract that matters and that’s your football. You look after that and all these things will look after themselves’.

“He was more or less trying to tell me ‘it’s alright doing those things, I’m not going to stop you, but don’t forget why you’re being asked to do them’.

“He was calm around the place and he would go and talk individually to each player before a game. He’d come into our dressing room and say: ‘I’ve just seen their team arrive and it looks like they’ve been for a night out’. I used lots of things like that as a manager but Shankly’s way was to wait and watch the opposition all come in and he’d say: ’You’re a bit blurry-eyed son...’ I never quite took it that far.”

Born into a family of 10 in the Ayrshire mining village of Glenbuck, Shankly was denied the best years of his playing career by the war. After starting out with Carlisle, he moved to Preston North End and won seven caps for Scotland. But by the time League football resumed in 1946, he was already 33.

However, he more than made up for those ‘lost’ years with a glittering career in management and the effect he had on the people of Liverpool is impossible to quantify. In the first game at Anfield following his funeral, a huge banner was unfurled on the Kop that read: ‘Shankly Lives Forever’. And as a constant reminder of his remarkable achievements, a statue of the great man stands by his beloved Kop and the Shankly Gates bear the immortal words: “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.