Thursday, May 6 – 1971
Round about Saturday teatime the sharpest wit in football will be called upon to deliver a terse assessment of the Cup Final.
Win or lose, Bill Shankly will have something to say. It might be brutal as acudgel, as swift as cyanide or just plain farce.
But Shankly aged 57, the man whose words of wit and wisdom whistle around the country’s tap rooms, will have something to offer.
“A sense of humour?” he repeats. “Ay, I’ve got a sense of humour all right. And you ought to get a bloody Victoria Cross for having one in my job.”
His job? Manager of Liverpool, who meet Arsenal at Wembley on Saturday. His drive, faith and passion have punched Liverpool into big-time football and kept them there for eleven years.
And, in a city which reveres only two gods, wit and football, he is doubly worshipped.
“Losing?” he says, aghast.
“I don’t even like to lose to the wife at cards.”
That’s only half a joke, really. Shankly, with his bristled bullet of a head and his face like a badly packed satchel, means it.
“I’ve got faith all right. It’s a big word, it can move mountains. Without faith you’re nothing, nothing at all.”
It is this drive that earns him the name of a hard man and he expects the same degree of dedication from those around him.
“I set high standards. We’ve got a lot of history behind us here. We are a great team by Christ. We’ve got to have high standards.”
Shankly calls himself a man of the people. Certainly he enjoys the sort of adulation that only star players usually get.
“I have lived amongst them. I know what they are like. They worship the team and I want to give them a team they can be proud of.
“We have done well but even now I still think we can do better. They talk about these young lads breaking a few windows and so on, and say it’s football causes it. But it isn’t.
“Football is a safety valve for these people. There would be far more violence without football, I’m sure of that.”
Of the famous Shankly stories that fans love to tell, he says, modesty, that most of them are true, although they tend to get modified as they are passed around.
Even his non-footballing tastes reflect the puritanical power of his personality. He like’s television’s “University Challenge.”
He likes Westerns. “A tough country, tough people.”
And if hadn’t succeeded in football he would have liked to have been a boxing champion.
“To look around like John. L. Sullivan and say I can lick anyone in the world.
“That’s what I want for Liverpool. To conquer everybody.”
# On a hotel registration form Shankly entered his occupation as football and his address as Anfield. A friend pointed out they wanted to know where he lived. “That’s where I live,” he said.
# Shanklyism: “Ay, that’s right, there are two major teams on Merseyside – Liverpool, and Liverpool Reserves.”
# Of one player who didn’t try to hard, Shankly said: “He has a heart as big as a caraway seed.”
# Shankly once denied the story that he took his wife to see Accrington Reserves on a foul February night for her wedding anniversary treat. “You seriously think I’d get married in football season?” he said.
“Anyway it was her birthday.”
(Daily Mirror, Colin Dunne, 06-05-1971)