April 26, 1975
He’s unique, says Paisley, and that sums it up for everyone.
Everybody calls Bill Shankly a great manager. But I’m the only one who knows how great, because I worked more closely with him than anyone else for 15 years. In all that time at Liverpool we never missed a headlines League game together. So that makes 630 consecutive League matches we worked together and tried together. In fact, in those 15 years, we were only “separated” for a total of two games, both cup ties.
When we played Stockport in the F.A. Cup, Bill was on his way back from Germany after watching our European opponents. In another F.A. Cup tie against Chelsea the year after we had won at Wembley, I was missing through tonsillitis. In nearly a thousand Liverpool matches we missed only two together.
So I think I’m qualified to talk about this unique man. I don’t want to talk about the honours and success he NM that brought to the club because everybody knows about that. I want to talk about the man I knew so closely behind the scenes, what made him the manager he was.
Basically, he managed by example. He lived a simple life life, his whole life was on a simple level and he approached football in exactly the same way. He never tried to complicate things: he was down to earth.
He was completely dedicated to fitness. He didn’t drink or smoke; he lived like an athlete. So when he demanded these qualities from his players, they could see in front of them the living example of what he was preaching – a fitness fanatic who could play in five-a-side football at 60 as well as he could when he was a younger man.
In fact, fact. he is so fit that I think he believes that when he goes up there (pointing to the skies) be will step right Into the five-a-side team – on merit.
Fitness was everything in his football creed. He looked on the game as simple, based on movement and possession, with players fit enough to move around fluently. He would not have complicated ideas in training or playing.
He scorned fancy phrases. Tactics have not changed, but new names have been put to them.
His personality was overwhelming. Even now, as I walk around Anfield and Melwood, I can feel his presence in the air. It is everywhere. You open a drawer, sit in a chair, work at a desk, walk down a corridor … and he’s there around us still.
It was this terrific personality, his passion for the game, which enabled him to lift players. He did it by personality, not by tactical talks. He didn’t have tactical talks at Anfield as most people understand them.
We had a tactical board which we used – in the oddest way. It was my job to lay out 22 counters which represented the two teams. I used to do this before we had a team talk. Notice, not a tactical talk.
The players would be sitting around the board when he walked in. The first thing he did, every time, before match, was to sweep up the five opposing forwards and put them in his pocket. “They can’t play,” he said – always.
So our 11 men were faced with just six opponents and that was before he really started. And some of the “forwards” he swept into his pocket included people like Johan Cruyff, Charlton and company, some of the best in the world!
But that was his method – your opponents couldn’t play. His favourite word was “rubbish.” He would tell the Liverpool players that their opponents were rubbish and they were the greatest. It may seem silly, but it worked with Bill Shankly because of his personality. He made his players believe.
After Liverpool had won, their beaten opponents would become a fine team – even though he had said they were rubbish 90 minutes earlier. After Liverpool had lost, their successful opponents still remained rubbish.
If Liverpool lost, it was never because their opponents had been a better team. Bill would blame the pitch, the weather, the referee, the players’ boots, even the strip they were wearing – never that they had lost to a better team on the day.
That was his reaction immediately the game was over. But about Tuesday of the following week, he would be telling his men what they had done wrong and how bad they had been the previous Saturday. It was his psychology never to criticise his players immediately after they had lost. He reserved that for days later.
He knew that our opponents had deserved to win but he’d never say so. Not for days, anyway.
A couple of stories illustrate his unique technique. When he was manager at Carlisle, his team came off at half-time, two goals down, having been played out of sight. Bill’s first words to the captain: “Why did you play towards that goal in the first half?”
Captain: “Because I lost the toss and had to play that way.”
Bill: “What did you call at the toss?”
Bill: “My God! You should never call heads!”
Liverpool’s first real test in Europe was against Anderlecht in the European Cup. We had beaten Reykjavik out of sight in the first round but the Belgian champions were another matter altogether.
Anderlecht had ten internationals in the Belgian squad so Bill went to see Belgium play England at Wembley a week before our match at Anfield. Eight Anderlecht players were in the Belgian side.
He came back to Melwood the next day, pulled me to one side and said, quietly: “These fellers can’t half play, Bob. They know what the game’s all about.”
But he never said that to the players; it was strictly between the two of us.
We had a practice game at Melwood. He realised we would have to pressurise these Belgians, to crowd them or else they would destroy us. It was in that practice game that Tommy Smith, then only 19, wore the No. 10 shirt and played at the back for the first time, specially for that game. How it worked is history.
Before the game, in the dressing-room, Bill talked to the lads. He said: “You’ve read about Anderlecht having all these internationals and how good they are. Forget it. They can’t play They’re rubbish. I’ve seen them and I’m telling you. You’ll murder them so get out there and do it.”
The boys went out there and murdered them. They won 3-0. And after the game, Bill burst into the dressing room and said: “Boys, you’ve just beaten the greatest team in Europe.”
That was his psychology. It was remarkable that grown men, intelligent men, would take it week after week. He would tell them one thing and, 90 minutes later, tell them the exact opposite. Yet they accepted it without question because of his personality. That was what made him a great manager; it was the secret of his success.
He was the best motivator I ever knew: he cold lift a player better than anyone else. But he could also knock them down if he thought they were getting a bit too big for their boots. He usually did it by telling them that Tom Finney could play better than them – with his overcoat on!
When he came to Liverpool from Huddersfield, a friend at Huddersfield told e I’d never be able to work with Bill for more than two years. I wouldn’t be able to stand the strain, he said.
Well, I stuck it for 15 years and I think, probably, that I became the best foil for him. Together, we struck a balance off the field which we liked to achieve on the field with the team.
Playing in the five-a-side games was his great outlet, the one activity he had to release the tensions and the pressures. His track suit was like his second skin; he loved kicking the ball.
After a particularly tough Saturday game, perhaps we had lost a vital match, the atmosphere would be electric at Anfield all over the week-end. The pressure and the tensions were there so much you could feel them. You kept away from Bill at those times, if you could.
But on Monday morning, he would bounce out at Melwood in his track suit, the pressure over, his eyes shining like a schoolboy because he was going to have a five-a-side game.
He loved buying players from a lower division and grooming the into Liverpool players. He had total belief that he would be able to do that because he passionately felt the Liverpool training system was the best in the world – simple but the best.
So it was no surprise to him that players like Kevin Keegan, Ray Clemence, Larry Lloyd and others succeeded. It was only a surprise when others didn’t. He didn’t always go to see these players before he signed them. He was happy to take the judgment of myself, Joe Fagan or Geoff Twentyman, the chief coach. It was Joe and I who recommended the club to sign Kevin Keegan and Ray Clemence.
He always wanted to be totally involved in all things Liverpool. His passion and honesty for the game were there for all to see. He gave this club the finest successes of its history.
It has not been easy for me to follow him. People have told me I should have copied him, do as he did. How can you copy a man who is unique? The players wouldn’t accept from me the sort of an management he used.
No, I must go about things my way, be my own man.
It is up to me to follow him as the Liverpool manager. But what a job that is – to follow the greatest manager Liverpool have ever had, one of the greatest in the long history of the game.
(Source: Liverpool Echo: April 26, 1975; via http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) © 2018 Findmypast Newspaper Archive Limited