July 13, 1974
“There are some people who think that football is a matter of life and death. They are fools. It is much more important than that.”
No prizes for guessing – or remembering – the source of that remark: Bill Shankly.
It captures so graphically what the world’s greatest game means to the man whose retirement was announced yesterday.
I can still hardly believe that announcement. I’ll miss him almost as much as Liverpool will.
Over the years I’ve made a hobby of collecting Shankly sayings, anecdotes and incidents – so it seems appropriate to tell you a few…
* When I asked him recently what he thought of Brian Clough, he said: “He’s worse than rain in Manchester. At least God stops the rain occasionally.”
* On Sunday afternoon in the playing season, he parks himself in an armchair and says to his wife: “Nessie, switch on the Third Division.” The first time he did it, Nessie wanted to know what he meant. He said: “ITV – Allison and Clough.”
* Liverpool F.C. frequently receive requests from widows asking whether the ashes of their late husbands can be scattered on the Anfield pitch – usually in the penalty area at the Kop end. Shankly allows it to happen from time to time, but hates to advertise the fact: “Kevin Keegan is great on grass,” he explains, “but he wouldn’t move to well knee-deep in ashes.”
* At a dinner in Shankly’s honour, Jan van Praag, President of Ajax, turned up to make a presentation to him of some £200-worth of beautiful blue and white Delft china. Shanks looked at it, thanked him, but then grinned: “I wish you’d made it in red and white.”
* Shankly ordered his training staff to see that one young midfield player, blessed with skill but with a pitifully meagre frame, went on a special diet. Three months later, in mid-season, the boy appeared in his office to announce that he wished to get married in a hurry.
Incensed, Shankly called his training staff together, jerked a thumb at the player, and said: “See what you’ve done with all that meat and milk and Guiness and suet puddings. You’ve created a sex monster.”
* He has always been sold on the physical attributes of a player. “Two good feet, good in the air, and big with it,” is one of Shankly’s ideals. Physically, the Liverpool player he admired the most was centre half Ron Yeats.
“You should see this man stripped,” he enthused to me once. “He’s a colossus. He’s in the dressingroom now, having a shower. Go and take a walk round him.”
* Some of his overseas indiscretions have been memorable. Like the time Ajax scored five goals against Liverpool in Amsterdam, and Shankly afterwards accused the Dutch champions of playing defensive football. “They had five breakways,” he said.
* For him, Tom Finney was the greatest player of all. That is why it was a surprise to see him remain calm when someone recently remarked that Tony Currie of Sheffield United was as good a player as the great Tom. “Sure he is,” said Shanks, “But then Tom Finney is 52.”
* His attitude towards directors could be intolerant. He was sounding off about one of them to me, when I noticed that the man in question was standing within earshot.
I gestured frantically. Shanks turned to see the man glaring at him and, without lowering his voice, said: “Aye, you’re right. That’s the bloody idiot.”
* Shankly was personally responsible for the plaque that is the last thing players see when they enter the tunnel leading to the pitch at Liverpool. It reads: “This is Anfield.”
He says: “It reminds our players where they are, and it warns the others.”
(Source: Daily Mirror, Frank McGhee: July 13, 1974)