Bill Shankly was one of many professional footballers whose career was interrupted by the Second World War. He was one of five brothers who all played professional football, playing for Carlisle United and spending most of his career with Preston North End, with a dozen caps for Scotland for good measure. First steps into management were at Grimsby Town, Workington and Huddersfield, before moving to Liverpool in December 1959.
When in my early teens, Liverpool were then a second division side, with Everton the only side from Merseyside to visit my own club Blackpool in Division I.
Liverpool had even been beaten by Worcester City a non league team in the 1958-59 FA Cup. The club was run down in most aspects, the training ground at Melwood was in need of repair and Shankly made his players train at Anfield until it was modernised. His training regimes were typically no-nonsense, long-distance runs, and lots of work on the famous sweat box, wooden walls which the players played the ball against took back and then played against the next one, all of it timed. Ron Yeats and Ian St John came down from Dundee United and Motherwell respectively, helped with money from Eric Sawyer who was the Littlewoods Pools magnet. Many came through the club ranks, Jimmy Melia, Ronnie Moran, Alan A’Court, Tommy Smith, and Chris Lawler. Gordon Milne was brought in from Preston a talented natural footballer.
The new team was promoted in the 1961-1962 season after winning the second division. Roger Hunt managed to score 41 goals in that season. Finishing eighth in his first season in the First Division, Bill strengthened the team with Peter Thomson a talented winger coming from Preston and Willie Stevenson from Rangers. In May 1965, Ian St John scored the winning goal when Liverpool beat Leeds United 2-1 at Wembley, for their first-ever FA Cup win.
Shanks bought Emily Hughes a teenage full-back from Blackpool paying £65,000 for his signature in 1967. They were beaten by Ajax with Johann Cruyff the star of the Dutch team, and finished third in the league in the 1966-67 season and second in 1968/69.
More players were brought in the 1969-70 season, Ray Clemence the goalkeeper, Alec Lindsay, John Toshack, Steve Highway Larry Lloyd and Brian Hall, also signing a young boy called Kevin Keegan from Scunthorpe for £35,000, Liverpool finished second in the 1971-1972 season one point behind Brian Clough’s Derby County. Shankly took Liverpool to their eighth league title in the 1972-73 season; it was their third under Bill’s management, also winning the UEFA Cup which was their first European trophy. Liverpool won the cup that year defeating Newcastle United 3-0 at Wembley. Sadly that was Shankly’s last game in charge of Liverpool, a club and the set of fans he loved to his dying day. The relationship between Liverpool and Bill was quite sour at the end as he felt he was shown disrespect in some ways by the club. Even sadder when you think what he had done along with others to bring the club to the status it enjoys today.
Shanks was famous for his sayings, perhaps the best known of which was “Some people believe football is a matter of life or death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”. He was always fulsome in his praise for the man he considered the greatest to play the game, Tom Finney, and said this, “Finney would have been great in any team, in any match and in any age - even if he had been wearing an overcoat”.
A total legend, Bill died of a cardiac arrest on 29th September 1981 after a short illness and was cremated at Anfield cemetery. In terms of trophies, Bill was second-best to Bob Paisley, but for me, Bill built the foundations of Liverpool and was the catalyst of most that happened later.