100 Years of Bill Shankly…

On his 100th Birthday ‘GOT, NOT GOT’ celebrates the football-crazy, eminently quotable Scot from Glenbuck who turned Liverpool FC into the most successful ever English club….

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Bill Shankly walked down the Wembley tunnel, into the dressing rooms and sat down for a cup of tea. He felt very tired.
Outside, his Liverpool team, having just outplayed Newcastle, were parading the FA Cup around the stadium in front of their adoring fans, but Shanks had left them to it. At the age of sixty, after 40 years in the professional game, he had every right to feel exhausted and he made a decision that was to shake the game’s foundations.
Kevin Keegan revealed in his Shoot! column that summer: “I stepped off the plane at Manchester after a holiday in Spain and an agitated stranger dashed over to grab me by the arm. ‘Kev, have you heard?” Bill Shankly has resigned!’ I stopped in my tracks, my hand luggage containing family presents falling to the tarmac. I was stunned. When I arrived in Liverpool it was like visiting a city in mourning, I even saw people crying.”

The red half of Merseyside was in shock, what would they do without the man who had rebuilt Liverpool FC and turned them into the best side in the country? He had long since passed legend status, moved beyond sainthood and was becoming a religious icon. There were those who believed that Shanks could, if he wanted to, walk across the Mersey…

We’d played at Brighton and come back on the train to Euston to get the train to Liverpool. It was about 7 o’clock at night, there were a lot of Liverpool fans around and they’d found a deserted bit of platform to get an eight-a-side game going. Shanks joined in and there he was, tearing up and down with them for twenty minutes. You know, he didn’t drink, so he couldn’t just sit and have a beer, he couldn’t stand still for long so there he was playing football, and that sort of thing created a very strong bond between him and the fans.”
Gordon Milne, inside right for Liverpool in the 60s, reveals a glimpse of the boyish enthusiasm that Bill Shankly never lost for the game and his love of the Reds’ followers.

Shankly was born in the small mining village of Glenbuck, Ayrshire in 1913. It was a primitive outpost (compared by Shankly to Outer Mongolia in terms of its remoteness) and as far career choices went you could either go down the pit, or starve. But there was a third way… Football.
The village never had a population above 1,000, but appeared to be a natural spring of football talent. In its half century of existence the Glenbuck Cherrypickers club turned out 49 players who went on to become professional footballers, including Bill and all his four older brothers.
Then the pit closed, the club was disbanded and the village was abandoned…

But see that patch of moorland fern,
down there where sheep graze by the burn,
beneath that wilderness concealed,
you’ll find a football field.

Go down and walk upon that land
for that was once a hallowed stand,
out here they shaped the people’s game,
a field of dreams, a place of fame. 

They crawled in darkness underground
until they heard the whistle sound,
then left the danger and the dark
to run in sunlight on that park.

They played with style, they beat the rest,
those Cherrypickers were the best,
wealthy clubs came for the men
who had the magic of the Glen.

Extract from ‘Remember Glenbuck’ by Don Gillespie

Shankly was swallowed by the black hole, working in the mine for two years, but he remained confident that he would make his living as a footballer and bided his time.
Just after the pit closure in 1932 Shankly left Scotland and the dole for Carlisle United. He swiftly established himself in the first team and after 16 games he was snapped up by Preston North End for £500.
A right-half with endless reserves of energy, Shankly played a vital role in the Preston side that gained promotion to Division One in 1934, and lifted the FA Cup in 1938. He also pulled on the navy blue shirt of Scotland for the first time in 1938, but was then robbed of seven years of his playing career, and who knows how many caps, by World War II.
Shanks played for a couple of seasons when the League reconvened in 1946, but at 35 he realised his time was over and started the process of becoming a manager. He cut his teeth at various lower league Northern clubs for a decade: Carlisle, Grimsby, Workington, Huddersfield… but was constantly frustrated by blinkered chairmen and sparse budgets.

shanks c

Then, in December 1959, he went to Anfield for a job interview and neither the club nor the man would ever look back.
Liverpool, having won the first post-war League title in 1947, had gone into decline and were a struggling second division outfit when Shankly arrived. This was mirrored in the facilities at Anfield, which was in poor shape and the Melwood training ground which was even worse. Shankly and his backroom staff spent the first day of the new job picking the stones and broken glass off the training pitches. For someone who proudly boasted he could shovel twenty tons of coal in a day it can’t have been a strain.
Slowly and surely things began to happen. Gradually the iron grip on the budget was loosened, and the shareholders were won over by Shankly’s spirit.
24 players were released from an overstocked squad; five-a-side games encouraging swift passing became the training ground staple; Ron Yeats and Ian St John were bought and Liverpool twice finished third, one place away from promotion. Then, in April 1962, Liverpool won the Division Two title at a canter and after seven years absence the red half of the city rejoiced at returning to the top flight.
And if they were happy then, two years later they were ecstatic as the Reds beat Arsenal 5-0 at Anfield to seal the League Championship.
Lawrence, Lawler, Byrne, Milne, Yeats, Stevenson, Callaghan, Hunt, St John, Smith and Thompson, the team that Shanks built had conquered the summit of English football.
The following season Liverpool won the FA Cup for the first time ever, beating Leeds 2-1 at Wembley, but were robbed of a place in the European Cup final by some outrageous refereeing decisions in the semi-final away leg at Inter Milan.
A year on Liverpool won the league title again, confirming Shankly’s status as a truly great manager.
Through these heady days Shanks’ feet never left the ground.
Although the village was no longer there the man was still firmly rooted in Glenbuck.

Shankly’s philosophy was of a grass-roots socialism, away from politics, learned in a close-knit and deprived community:
“The socialism I believe in isn’t really politics. It’s a way of living. It is humanity. I believe the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other, everyone helping each other, and everyone having a share of the rewards at the end of the day.”

It was the same mantra he used to explain his success in the game:
“We devised a system of play which minimized the risk of injuries. The team played in sections of the field, like a relay. We didn’t want players running the length of the field, stretching themselves unnecessarily, so our back men played in one area, and then passed on to the midfield men in their area, and so on to the front men.
Whilst there was always room for individuals within our system, the work was shared out.”

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Shankly’s press interviews underlined his legend. His quick witted quotes, delivered in staccato tommy-gun style delighted journalists and have filled books. This image of neat suits, hands in pockets pose and wisecracks also goes back to his Ayrshire days when young Bill and his father would walk the four miles to the nearest cinema in Muirkirk to see gangster movies starring Jimmy Cagney and Edward G Robinson.
Shankly also owed his clean living lifestyle to his father who was an athlete and fitness enthusiast who never smoked or drinked.
‘When I go son, I’m going to be the fittest man ever to die.’ he told Emlyn Hughes.
And if Shankly ever made a miscalculation then it floundered on his belief that his players were as fit and determined as he was. He thought his players could maintain their peak into their early 30s as he had, but his great side were getting tired.

There was no decline, Liverpool never finished outside the top five, but there was no silverware either, for six years.
A 1-0 defeat to Watford in the FA Cup in 1970 jolted Shanks into action and he began the painful task of weeding out some legends and seeking men to take their place. Lawrence, St John, Hunt and Yeats made way for Clemence, Lloyd, Toshack, Keegan and Heighway.
In 1972-73 this wonderful side regained the League Championship and also claimed the UEFA Cup. Then, in 1974, they beat Newcastle at Wembley and lifted the FA Cup.
Shanks had done it again and a new golden age had begun, but it would unfold without its architect…
His faithful assistant Bob Paisley took the reins and soon eclipsed the old master as silverware rained down on Anfield for decades.

Unbelievably it was decided that Shanks was casting too long a shadow over the training ground on his frequent visits and he was told not to turn up at Melwood again. He spent the remaining eight years of his life, before a fatal heart attack in 1981, with his family, visiting Everton’s training ground where he was made welcome, and joining in kids’ games on the park.

 This piece, by Gary Silke, originally appeared in Talksport’s 100 Greatest British Sporting Legends, available here… 

100 legends

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About thefoxfanzine

Editor of The FOX Fanzine - covering Leicester City for 23 years... it seems longer.
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