Thursday, May 19 – 1977
This time he is leading a red army into battle
Bob Paisley, manager of League champions Liverpool rode into Rome more than thirty years ago on board a tank, a member of a liberating army. In a way it is a similar rumbling, unstoppable, menacing vehicle which has carried him there again for the European Cup Final on May 25 – Liverpool’s football team. But that analogy won’t appeal to Paisley.
One thing calculated to upset this placid, homespun Geordie is any suggestion that there is something machine-like and manufactured about the way his team plays the game for the club that has been his life.
Anyone who says so to him will see the grin disappear from a face which is kindly described as craggy. Eyes that flash and twinkle with mischief become narrowed and cold. He bitterly and rightly resents criticism that Liverpool are not entertaining, that they are predictable.
“If our tactics are all that predictable why can’t other teams stop us beating them so often?” he asks – and it is unanswerable.
“And those who say we aren’t entertaining are usually those who don’t enjoy being beaten by us. Our own fans find us entertaining enough. They keep turning up to watch us win.”
He enjoys his image as a plain simple man who enjoys his pint at the local and a flutter on the horses, but those two comments also indicate a blunt shrewdness.
Basically his philosophy is one bred into him by hard time in the North East – “Just when you think everything is going perfectly, there is Someone Up There waiting to give you a clip round the ear.”
Paisley has had his share of those slaps in the face from life – but has developed a knack of turning them to some advantage when he can.
The often-told story of how he scored a goal in the FA Cup semi-final for Liverpool then was left out of the Wembley side in 1950 is an example.
“It means,” he says, “that those Liverpool players who are left out at Wembley on Saturday will know I’m telling the truth when I say I know how they feel.”
Basically, life at Liverpool F.C. – he has been there for 38 of his 57 years – has taught him that no-one is indispensable. Not even Kevin Keegan. Not even Bill Shankly, his legendary predecessor, a man he still insists he never wanted to replace. “I only took the job because I didn’t want a newcomer arriving to tear down everything that had been built up over the years.
“It was the mistakes I made in my first year which caused us to finish second instead of champions,” he said.
“I was the apprentice, on a Derby winner taking it too wide around the bends.”
The day we had our longest talk together was while Liverpool were still poised to achieve the championship first leg of the impossible dream of League title, FA Cup and European Cup. The realisation was still dawning.
He said: “If you had told me we would be in the running for three trophies after losing three key players this season – Phil Thompson, Ian Callaghan and John Toshack – I’d have laughed at you.I would have settled for half-way.
“But when one door closes another opens – even if it sometimes smacks you in the face first.
“Other players have come through tremendously.”
These most notably are Terry McDermott in midfield, David Johnson in attack and David Fairclough in attack – and again it is a tribute to Paisley’s management and Liverpool tradition.
McDermott and Johnson cost big money, but both had to be content with the knowledge that they were brought to get used to the feel of the substitute’s bench. “The biggest mistake any manager can make is to feel that he has to justify a transfer fee by immediately plunging a new player into the first team.”
He uses Fairclough to smash another myth about Liverpool – that all their teams are schooled to play precisely by the same system so that if a top man drops out the replacement is ready. “You don’t produce Faircloughs on a production line.”
The only uniformity conformity Bob Paisley looks for in Liverpool is one of attitude – “The team comes first.”
That’s why they won so much last year, the championship and the UEFA Cup. That is why they have won so much over the years. That is why they can still win so much this year – and the next and the next and so on.
(Copyrigh, Daily Mirror, 19-05-1977)