Bill Shankly: Joining Anfield was calculated risk

May 12, 1962
When I was approached by the “Liverpool Echo” to write a series of articles on events at Anfield since my arrival here about two and a half years ago, I finally decided to undertake the commission solely to endeavour to maintain interest in football in Liverpool and district during the close season.

I do not always agree with football reports in this paper and in the normal course of events have no way of replying to such articles, but as I am now contributing, I feel very strongly that I must take this opportunity of emphasising its sternest critic – but I feel that criticism can sometime be too strong. A case in point is the report of the recent match against Everton where the comments make me wonder if the reporter and I were watching the same game.

Bill Shankly.

I know only too well that Merseyside harbours one of the keenest sets of sporting fans in the country, and also know that out of this wonderful crowd there are countless thousands whose first love in sport is football, and a passionate love at that.

For these people the summer months are long ones so it is to them that I am primarily addressing these articles, although I sincerely hope that others who read them will find the same interest in reading them that I find in writing them.

In the course of the series, I shall touch on major and minor events inside the club, the problems of team selection, the little dramas which have been played prior to matches in relation to injured players and how decisions were made regarding a player’s fitness.

I shall also deal with my views on a number of matches and incidents in them. Decisions have been taken and announced for which it has not, at the time, been possible to give reasons.

If there are readers who would like my comments on these decision, or on any controversial points, I shall be only too happy to answer them if they will drop me a line, provided that the answer will not embarrass individuals.

My idea in this matter is not only to enlighten supporters of Liverpool football but also to help to bring those supporters closer together – if that is possible?

After my playing days were over, I served my apprenticeship on the managerial side of football with struggling clubs, but although to call them such may seem ungracious, it is a statement of fact and it does not detract from my gratitude to them for the opportunity to learn the business.

Then came the chance to come to Liverpool and this is the problem with which I was confronted.

Here was a club which although it had had a long spell in Division 2, really belonged to the First Division (in my opinion), and it seemed to me that this was my chance of reaching the top and, in doing so, helping to build Liverpool once more into one of the leading clubs in the game.

At the same time I realised that although this was a challenge which everything within me urged me to take up, nevertheless it was a gamble as Liverpool supporters would accept only one thing – success.

I was, at that time, leading as peaceful a life as any football manager can lead in the comparatively sheltered calm of Huddersfield.

Risk doubled
Was I to step out of this into the cauldron-like atmosphere of Anfield to undertake a task which, however, much I put into it, could end in failure?

Nobody can guarantee success and certainly not quick success, yet it seemed to me that the latter was being demanded and therefore the risk was doubled.

With these thoughts in my mind I visited Anfield, I talked with the Board and I talked with the staff and had a look around the place.

I liked what I heard in these conversations and I liked what I saw on my tour of inspection.

From what I had heard, and seen, I decided that even if the risk I was taking was great, it was nevertheless a calculated risk and one which I had to take because I am an ambitious man and I knew that the Liverpool club and its supporters were ambitious too – we were therefore sharing a mutual feeling.

And so I decided to come to Anfield and arrived here nearly half way through the season – mid-December, 1959.

My first task was to assess the possibilities of the club and by this I mean not only the playing strength but also the staff, equipment and all facilities.

Part of the latter was the training ground at Melwood, which I had not seen prior to accepting my new post and I want to put it on record that my first view of it really staggered me with its potential and elated me when I considered its possibilities.

My second task was to talk to the playing and training staffs and explain to them what I would demand from them.

Thirdly, I had to see the directors after I had carried out the foregoing and explain to them the support which I would need from them.

I must now acknowledge the ready way in which this support was given in the same way as I must acknowledge the support given me by both the playing and training staffs.

As far as assessing the playing strength of the club was concerned, a little consideration will show what a difficult problem confronted me.

Maximum wanted
I had to decide as quickly as possible the needs of the club (if any) before it could be classed as a promotion possibility, and at the same time I had to try individuals and groups of individuals in permutations of positions in order to be certain that I had not overlooked anything and was not doing an injustice to anybody.

However, it has always been my policy to get to know my players and so from the start I have trained with them, dined with them, spoken to them daily and all-in-all done everything in my power to be in a position to weigh up accurately their strengths and weaknesses and thus make sure that my assessment of them both as players and as club-men is correct.

This is something which I have always done because in this way not only can I get to know them thoroughly, but I can also impress on them that what I want from them is a maximum effort from them both in training and on the field of play.

In return, I have always made it clear that they were entitled to expect, and would get from me a fair deal in every way.

It will be seen, then, that my problem of weighing-up the material available was made easier to solve and the same time required to solve it shortened by the method which I have described.

As far as the training staff was concerned, I was most fortunate in having a really first class team in Reuben Bennett, Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan, and no praise can be too high for their efforts.

Between us we set about preparing a plan for improving the training routine and the facilities which at that time existed at Melwood.

We re-organised the whole training system. Every day we conferred and discussed training and before we left for the training ground every phase and detail was planned so that we could move swiftly from one function to another.

In groups
We have found it beneficial to train in groups for several reasons. Firstly, in this way we can more easily assess the requirements of individuals and secondly we can group together those who require heavier or lighter work.

It may be a new thought to some people that different players require different exercises and quantity of training, but such is the case. One of the most difficult problems in training a team is to size up the requirements of individuals to reach and retain peak fitness.

Does, for instance, a comparatively slightly built man like Jimmy Melia require less training than a heavily-muscled chap like Ronnie Moran or does he require more?

We have found that Moran does not need the amount of work which Melia does, in spite of his size.

This is the sort of problem we have to meet and I mention it only to show that we do everything we can to assess players, not as a whole, but as individuals and work them accordingly.

Nevertheless, you can accept it as a fact that every one of them train hard, but get a rest from the grind when we think that a rest is required for their benefit.

You must realise that it is very easy to go “over the top” in training with staleness resulting. The whole art is to reach fitness and maintain it.

In order to remove any misapprehension which you may have about this subject, I want to make it perfectly clear that this does not imply that it is my function to stand in front of a blackboard and harangue the lads. A tactical session is more like a good discussion group in the Forces with me as the officer leading it.

Just as a good officer realised that he was not the only one present who knew anything about the subject under discussion, so I try to be at a tactical talk.

I start the ball rolling, but anybody who has anything to say knows that he is expected to say it.

My aim
When necessary I become chairman and call the meeting to order, but I have found that this method gets results because everyone has his chance of voicing his opinion on any suggestion or move.

If I have emphasised my ideas and the problems with which I had to deal it is only because I want to make it clear that my whole aim from the start has been to have pre-arranged plans both for training and match play.

Next week I shall deal with the end of my first week at Anfield and the first matches played there under my management.
(Source: Liverpool Echo: May 12, 1962)

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