February 2, 1993
Strain game takes it tall
It has been a tricky season in every sense for Graeme Souness and Liverpool, eased by Sunday’s crucial win at Arsenal. The expectation level has increased steadily since the days of the great Bill Shankly as one trophy after another has found its way to Anfield. But even before Shanks, the pressure to be the best was still intense. Phil Taylor resigned in 1959, despite finishing third, fourth and third in successive Second Division campaigns.
Liverpool have had their share of problems in the past, but history shows they have always managed to solve them, though without the enormous publicity that surrounds their every thought today.
Even when they were relegated to the Second Division in the summer of 1954 they did not sack their manager, Don Welsh, and it was not until two years later that he resigned on the eve of the Cup Final, to the surprise of most board members.
“Liverpool have always been a close-knit, family club who have kept their feet firmly on the ground,” says Phil Taylor, the man given the task of replacing Mr. Welsh, and who later made way for the legendary Bill Shankly.
“Everyone at the club was shocked when we went down, and we were all terribly disappointed, but there was no question of panic. I think we all knew the reason for our trouble.
“Our post-war team was full of players in their late twenties and even older, who all grew old together, and we had been a little slow to replace them. Mr. Welsh did sign three or four new players, but in those days Liverpool were reluctant to spend very much money, and they did not make a dramatic impact.”
A half-back who had the distinction of taking over from Matt Busby, Phil Taylor later became club captain and had the distinction of leading them out at Wembley in the 1950 Cup Final against Arsenal, by coincidence the side Liverpool played on Sunday.
“I was given my cards in the summer of 1954, along with several other players like Bob Paisley,” he recalls.
“Then the chairman, Mr. Thomas Valentine Williams, invited us both to join the coaching staff, and when Don Welsh resigned I was promoted to acting-manager, with Bob as my chief coach.
“We had a smashing backroom staff, with Albert Shelley as trainer, and people like Tom Bush, Jack Balmer and George Patterson all helping in various ways. Looking back, I think we did quite well, because in my time we finished third twice and fourth once, but of course it wasn’t good enough.
“In those days there was no European competition, and we didn’t have a history of winning titles nearly every year, but there was still a strong feeling that we ought to be in the First Division.”
Mr. Taylor managed Liverpool in very different conditions from today. “Money was not nearly such a big consideration as it is now,” he points out. “You read of players being paid several thousand pounds a week, but the most I earned in all my time was £20.
“The maximum wage was still in force, and there was not nearly so much incentive for players to move.
“You tended to stick with what you had, and with those you developed yourselves, just buying the odd reinforcement when the person seemed to be unsettled and you thought he might improve your team.
“It seems strange now, but I had very little to do with signing new players, and nothing at all to do with players’ wages and contracts, thank goodness. My job was to coach and prepare the team, and recommend things to the board, who then made their final decisions.
“For example I had virtually nothing to do with signing Roger Hunt, who went on to play in England’s World Cup winning team, and who cost us just £200. I suppose the biggest signings in my time were the Scottish international goalkeeper Tommy Younger, and the England B half-back Johnny Wheeler, both of whom cost the club about £9,000.
“Dave Hickson was signed from Everton for about £10,000 a few weeks before I resigned. By then I was starting to feel the pressure of knowing the fans wanted more success than the team were likely to provide.
“I felt I had done my best, but I had no magic formula and life was beginning to be a bit of a strain. I had a long chat with the board, thought it over and decided to resign.
“There was no bitterness at all, and I certainly have not resented all the success that has come since. My wife and I still go to most home games as guests of the club, and I see my old playing friends from time to time when we have team reunions.
“The pressure was probably responsible for starting to turn my hair grey, but that was all. I have kept my health, enjoyed my life, and still manage nine holes of golf from time to time. I have no regrets.”
Mr. Taylor’s departure was to herald the start of an entirely new era, bathed in constant publicity and leading to fame of a kind that people like Phil Taylor had never dreamed to be possible.
“Bill Shankly was allowed to manage the club in a way no other Liverpool manager had been able to.”
“He would not have come if he had not been given complete charge of the playing side, and been able to select his own teams.
“After some initial opposition, he was also given the financial backing he demanded to buy outstanding players, something we had not done for many years. That policy worked and so opposition soon vanished, but it would have been interesting to see what would have happened if it hadn’t.”
Many things have changed in 30 years or so since Phil Taylor stepped down.
“Generally speaking I think everyone was better behaved, on field and off it,” he muses.
“The players were closer to the fans because they were paid much the same, and lived quite near the ground.
“There was no regular television, no shirt sponsorship and far less public discussion of players’ private lives. But the team was still terribly important to its supporters.
“We didn’t have anything like such splendid facilities as the players enjoy today. I was taken on a tour of the training ground at Melwood a month or so ago and I could hardly believe my eyes at what is available, with things like a modern gymnasium and baths commonplace today.
“We didn’t spend nearly as much time discussing tactics or working on set pieces because I always believed it was wrong to tie the players’ hands too much. You wanted them to work things out for themselves if possible.
“It all looks a lot more sophisticated now and the game is certainly a lot faster, but I expect the basics remain much the same. After all, Liverpool is Liverpool, isn’t it?”
(Source: Liverpool Echo: February 2, 1993)