It took a woman to get the hard man of football out of the game


July 13, 1974
Between you and me, love,” says Nessie Shankly, “It’s just for me that Bill has announced his retirement. He knew the tension and strain of being married to Liverpool’s team manager was getting me down.

Agnes Shankly, married 30 years to one of football’s most formidable giants, is talking in her neat living room – looking out on the spotless little garden in which Bill Shankly will be spending a lot of time now. “I’d had it up to here,” Nessie indicates her cotton blouse neck.

“When he stayed away from the World Cup it was because I was unwell. I know people wondered about Bill’s health – oh no,” she explains.

“Bill is fit as a fiddle! He trains even in the close season. He goes off regularly to do his little bit of training and has a sauna. Of course he’s tired – you can be fit as a fiddle, love, and still be tired.

“You reach a pitch when you say, That’s it! I’ve had enough!”

“And that’s what I’ve said, you see. When Liverpool were playing in the Cup, I was as you see…” Nessie Shankly holds out a hand with a tiny tremble.
“I was highly strung and full of tension.

“Saturday’s when they were playing, whether Bill was here or away, were terrible. Bill given so much of himself. Anyone with him has to feel for him, and with him.”

This morning Nessie will as usual come downstairs to eat the breakfast he husband has already cooked: “Tea, toast, marmalade, maybe a boiled egg. But it will probably be later than usual.

“He will go to the ground to keep things going a bit,’ she says, ‘but there’ll be no need to be there every day at the same time any more. He is usually there by 8.30 – but perhaps now we can have a bit of a lie-in in the mornings.”

Nessie again looks out at the garden, where early every morning four green parrots with orange beaks swoop down on the nuts Bill leaves out for them.
“We don’t know where they come from,” she says.

“One thing is certain,” she stresses. “We’ll not leave Liverpool. We love the place. And it has given us all its love. The people here are warm.

“Besides, all our family is here. Our daughter Barbara is married to a Liverpool policeman.”

At the family conference at which Shankly’s resignation was decided, his three grand-children were taken into consideration. They are his daughter Barbara’s three little girls.

They hardly ever see him except for family dinner on Sunday’s. But Karen, nine, Pauline, eight, and Emma Jane, all of 22 months, love the stories their famous grandfather tells them about when he was a boy and didn’t have what they have now.

“I can’t imagine him as a miner,” says Nessie. “But he was born in an Ayrshire mining village, so there was nothing else for it. Now the grandchildren will see more of him.”

So will the roses. There are plenty to prune. The Shankly’s says they’re home birds and they’ll watch television.
“Not these stupid things with no story,” says Nessie, “but we’ve been enjoying Sam. (That’s about miners.).”
But Nessie Shankly still won’t dare ask him to take her out to a show.

“I’d realty love it!
Her face lights up.

“There’s the corny old story of how a friend met us both coming out of a little Fourth Division match. Everyone knows I don’t like or understand football, so he was surprised.
Bill said: “Well, it’s her birthday! I took her out for a treat!”

Nessie loved him when they first met during the war at the Bishopbriggs RAF station outside Glasgow. Nessie, a Glaswegian, was a Waaf, Bill an airman.
“He never did beat about the bush,” she says ardently.

“Everything comes straight from the shoulder with him. Once it’s off his chest, and it’s said, he doesn’t bear a grudge.”

Nessie pauses, her pretty blue eyes quite sad. She says again: “Bill has resigned for my sake. Football has been his life. I still don’t even know the rules. I always felt there was no point in going. I always felt if I went to a match I’d be keeping someone else out of a seat.

“My daughters (Barbara , 29, Jeanette, 23) are not interested either. I’ve brought them up right!” Nessie jokes.

She doesn’t know if he’ll have the patience for retirement. She says she’s a Scrabble addict – but when she tried it out with him once, he soon gave up.

“I’ve never really pushed him,” says Bill Shankly’s wife, “I’ve always been behind any decision he made.

“But last year this was something I asked him. I wanted him to think about retirement. And this month he really did think about it, didn’t he, love?
(Source: Daily Mail: July 13, 1974)

Shankly and Nessie

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