Bill Shankly: The 3-3-4 plan was born and worked


May 26, 1962
I ended last week’s article by saying that in spite of our having put in a storming finish to the season, I knew that we fell a long way short of being a championship team and that there were several positions which needed strengthening before we could have any real hope of shaking the dust of Division 2 from our feet.

One of the positions which needed immediate attention was that of right wing, in spite of Ian Callaghan’s great promise at that time, which he has since fulfilled. We had been interested in a number of players, but it had not been possible to do business with their clubs. In the interim period I had had no alternative but to use the playing strength available.

Out of a number of players I had seen during the season (and do not read into this that they were all wingers because I have just mentioned a right wing weakness), Kevin Lewis had attracted my attention as a player who had shown a great goal-scoring potential with Sheffield United and we obtained his signature during the close season.

Unfortunately, this was the only signing we were able to make in the transfer market with a view to the immediate strengthening of our weaknesses.

I must, however, have covered several thousand miles in my search for talent, not only for our immediate needs, but also for Liverpool teams of the future.

A first class nursery is an essential for any club and I brought to Anfield a number of boys who attracted my attention as youngsters out of the ordinary.

These included Jimmy McKenzie, a full back from Stirlingshire; Bobby Graham, outside right (Motherwell); George Scott, an inside forward, from Aberdeen; another inside forward, Gordon Wallace, from Glasgow; an outside left from Dundee, Phil Tinney; and a Liverpool schoolboy wing half, Tommy Smith.

Plenty of talent
All these boys have been kept and I regard them as youngsters of the highest promise.

Five out of the six are from Scotland and from this you must not infer that I did not have a look at the English lads, nor must you think that there was a dearth of talent in England. Neither of these statements would be true.

There is plenty of talent in England and I see it, but the reason that nothing was done in the matter was the fierce competition which existed for these English lads. Probably one of the factors was that we were a Second Division club at the time competing against top class clubs from Division 1.

This may be an opportune moment to make a few remarks on this question of transfers. It is impossible not to know that our supporters have had (and have) strong feelings on the question of where our weaknesses lay (or lie)

If one were to accept all the points of view expressed in public, then one would be faced with the absurd position of providing almost a completely new team. When all is said and done, only those on the inside of a club know the full facts.

How often has it been said: “Other clubs can buy these players, why can’t Liverpool?” The true answer to a question of this sort may be any one of a number.

The player might not fill a position which we considered to be weak; he might not, in our opinion, fit in with the style of play we were attempting; the figure asked might be far in excess of our value of his worth; he might be a good enough footballer but not the type of man whom he cared to employ; or we might agree terms with a club for a player we wanted, only to find that his wife would be prepared to live anywhere in the British Isles except Merseyside!

Marred by injury
It will be seen that a transfer is governed by a number of factors. If a cheque for £25,000 or more is to be signed, all the factors must be most carefully considered, so that the player will, in return, pay dividends in one way or another.

We put in a very strong pre-season training programme. This was started a little earlier than usual, because the club had entered for a competition knows as the Friendship Cup, which was competed for by both English and French teams.

We had been drawn against Nantes and we flew there. I had made two changes from the side which concluded the previous season in such a successful manner.

Naturally, I played Kevin Lewis as a new signing, instead of Callaghan and in addition, brought in Gerry Byrne at right back in place of John Molyneux. The team played exceedingly well against really strong opposition and we won 2-0.

This victory was marred by one unfortunate accident. Roger Hunt received an ankle injury and although he opened with the team for our initial League fixture, it was soon obvious that the injury which he had sustained was more than the bruising which was the first diagnosis.

As it turned out, his ankle troubled him throughout the rest of the season, and in consequence he was forced to miss a lot of matches.

In the later stages of the season he had a long spell out of the game. It will thus be seen that we paid a high price for our win against Nantes.

For a team with promotion aspirations, we opened the season in deplorable fashion. The first match was at home, against Leeds, and this marked the League debut for Lewis for Liverpool.

He celebrated it with a solid display and scored a clever goal for which he paved the way himself. That was two points in the bag, but I could not help feeling that the win should have been more clear-cut and convincing against a team which was not very strong.

On the following Wednesday, we played Southampton (away) and found them a side which served up some really first-class football, which emphasised what I had thought about our performance in the Leeds game.

We were thrashed 4-1 and that is an expression I use with the greatest reluctance.

Possibly the margin of their win was affected by a groin injury to Gerry Byrne in the course of the game, but I do not want to detract from their performance, which was of the highest order.

This injury kept Gerry out of the game against Middlesbrough and John Molyneux was brought back as his deputy. The best we could manage was a 1-1 draw.

A few days later we met Southampton in the return at Anfield and they confirmed their superiority. Thus out of the first eight possible points we had scraped a miserable three.

After the finish which we had put in at the end of the previous season this was a disappointing and discouraging start; something had to be done and done quickly.

If it were not possible to sign players we wanted, then a new plan had to be devised to adapt those which we had.

The scheme we brought into operation was based on the fact that Jimmy Harrower was essentially a good footballer but for a forward was not the best of attacking players.

We therefore brought him into a position which was show as inside left in the programme, alongside Alan A’Court (or occasionally Johnny Morrissey because we sometimes interchanged the positions of the two wings).

I have purposely said that the programme showed Harrower as inside left, but I felt that his lack of thrust made him more suitable for a position which could best be described as a semi half-back.

He would have the function of lying much further back than is usual for an inside forward, thus drawing his opposing half back out of place and from this position playing either Tommy Leishman or Johnny Wheeler with the ball as they moved forward.

Many critics
He would then temporarily replace either of them as a defensive player and they would supply the drive and support which the forward line so badly needed.

This plan forced the wing halves to attack far more than I normally like, but personal preferences of this kind had to go by the board if the idea was to be successfully operated.

Thus was born at Anfield the plan which we referred to as 3-3-4. At that time I know that many people were offering the criticism that the wing halves were attacking too much; now they know the reason.

They will also know that I am in agreement with them – in theory. There is one great argument both against their criticism and my dislike of overdoing the attacking functions of wing halves, and that is that the plan worked!

When Harrower played his part competently, the scheme was so effective that we moved from the dismal groove in which we had started into one in which we had a run of 14 games without defeat.

We had, by Christmas, run into a challenging position in spite of our dreadfully poor start to the season.

For all this time, Jimmy Melia was languishing in the background and feeling most unsettled about his position, which was very understandable in the case of such a talented player.

However, he knew the position in which we had been and from which we were emerging and I was able to assure him that he would get his place in the side again when we were in a position to play an orthodox game.

Hopes ended
We had, during this run of success, moved into second position in the table, only four points behind Sheffield United with a couple of games in hand.

However, our period of prosperity came to an end by Rotherham beating us 1-0, and from that point to the end of the season we played indifferently, losing a number of games which we might have been expected to win.

By mid-April we were lying third to Ipswich and Sheffield United, but our visit to Norwich, to whom we lost 1-2, virtually put an end to any real hopes of moving up at the end of that season. We were in the position of waiting for those above us to make a mistake.

As history shows, this they did not do and so once again we were bridesmaids: our splendid supporters must have wondered if the time would ever arrive when we would be the bride.
(Liverpool Echo: May 26, 1962)

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