Bob Paisley: On the lowest rung

May 30, 1977
The world of football rolls along with the help of cliches. They ease the way and one I like as well as any, do describe a long-term serving type, is “he’s built-in with the bricks.” Well, Bob Paisley is exactly that at Anfield … a particularly appropriate comment because he was learning to be a bricklayer in Co. Durham before the war when he decided to become a professional footballer with Liverpool.

He is now the second-longest serving employee at Liverpool – only head groundsman Arthur Riley, due to retire this year, has been there longer. Since he came to Anfield as a 20-year-old in the summer of 1939, Paisley has been in turn a first team regular, second team coach, first team coach, assistant to manager Bill Shankly, and now manager since 1974.

He is something more, which really qualifies him for the “built-in” description – he is a shareholder of the club, and not many know that. Tell him he has vested interest as a shareholder in the club he manages and he just smiles. He smiles a lot and his humour, I believe, is the most valuable asset he has to cope with the cares and problems of management of the best and most famous club in the history of English football.

Without humour, life at the top level of management would be unbearable, but Bob Paisley, so expert in all football matters, also has the priceless gift of humour to cushion those problems when they bear down, as they do, with frightening intensity. He was given his shares by a man who played a vital part in his career, whose advice and persuasive, tongue kept him in professional football when he was thinking of going back to bricklaying as his playing career ended.

That ma was the late Thomas Valentine Williams, one of the greatest of Liverpudlians, director, chairman and president in his day and a great character who loved the club and lived for it. It was T.V. Williams who saw, in Paisley, the qualities he knew would help Liverpool, then only a Second Division club to return to the top class. T.V. did not want Liverpool to lose those qualities.

It was 1954 and Paisley had decided to quit playing, to “hang up his boots” as they say with another of those delightful cliches. Mr. Williams told him that if he would study physiotherapy, qualify in that field, he would guarantee him a job on the coaching staff – on the lowest rung of second team trainer in those days. Tom Williams saw that Paisley had the ability to be a success on the coaching side, but more important, had the characteristics of honesty, unswerving loyalty to the club, dedication as well as the obvious pre-requisite of football knowledge, which he wanted in the men he chose to run the playing side at Anfield.

Tom Williams lived to see his protégé reach the Anfield peak as manager of a team which has gone from glory under his control. The faith he had in that one-time bricklayer has been justified to the hilt. And, because Bob Paisley had shown such loyalty and devotion in everything he did and was doing for Liverpool, the club president gave him a few shares. That, indeed, was the tangible “well done.”

When Bill Shankly made his annual report to the shareholders his assistant Bob Paisley was one of the audience by right – and the ebullient Shanks was always good for a racy comment when he saw him! Now, Paisley is on the top table once a year telling his fellow shareholders about the club’s season, just another of those fascinating switches of fortune which have marked his career.

Of course, the biggest switch of all was his promotion from assistant to manager … and it was the greatest shock of his life. In the summer of 1974, when Anfield was buzzing with rumour, Bob Paisley was climbing out of his car in the club park when he was told that Shanks had quit. His comment: “I knew something was in the air but not that.”

And this surprised man was soon to be offered the Shankly hot seat, to succeed one of the most famous managers in football, the man who had led Liverpool from Second Division obscurity to the First Division, to Championships and FA Cup Finals, to European Competition.

Two words are used frequently by club chairman John Smith when he is asked for the secret of Liverpool’s success. They are “continuity” and “stability”.

The appointment of Bob Paisley was a master stroke by the Liverpool directors, but the men behind it – with all due respect to others on the Board were Messrs. Williams, as president and Smith, as chairman. They wanted to continue the Shankly era by the promotion of No. 2 in the hierarchy; they wanted the stability of the club to be maintained by the man with the most stable outlook I’ve ever known in any football personality – Paisley.

So they achieved their continuity and stability. Men moved up the Anfield ladder quietly, without fuss or uproar, but with dignity and common sense, which were an object lesson to all professional clubs in how to handle their off-field affairs.

But no one, from the president down to the newest apprentice, could have imagined in their wildest dreams what Paisley was going to achieve.

And that story will be told tomorrow.
(Source: Liverpool Echo: May 30, 1977, by Michael Charters; via © 2018 Findmypast Newspaper Archive Limited


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