William “Bill” Shankly, OBE (2 September 1913 – 29 September 1981) was one of Britain’s most successful and respected football managers. Shankly was also a fine player, whose career was interrupted by the Second World War. He played nearly 300 times in The Football League for Preston North End and represented Scotland seven times.
Bill Shankly: “Liverpool was made for me and I was made for Liverpool”
He is most remembered, however, for his achievements as a manager, particularly with Liverpool. Shankly established Liverpool, which had been a Second Division club when he arrived, as one of the major forces in the English game. During his 15 years at the club they won three league championships, two FA Cups and the UEFA Cup, before his surprise retirement after the 1974 FA Cup Final.
Shankly was born in the Ayrshire mining village of Glenbuck, He was one of 5 brothers who went on to play professional football. His brother Bob (1910 – 1982) was also a successful manager, guiding Dundee to victory in the Scottish championship in 1962. His tough upbringing was the basis for his own brand of humanitarian based socialism, and he would joke in later life that he never had a bath until aged 15, and that the poverty brought about a good sense of humour.
Football was a way of getting away from the mine shafts – either on a Saturday afternoon and during weekly training, or as a professional option. All five Shankly brothers were members of the Glenbuck Cherrypickers – a team famous at the time for producing 49 footballers from the village, straddling the latter part of the 19th and the early years of the 20th century – although Bill, the youngest brother, never played for their first eleven.
His other brothers were Alec, who played for Ayr United and Clyde, Jimmy (1902-1972), who played for various clubs, including Sheffield United and Southend United, and John (1903-1960), who played for Luton Town and Blackpool. His maternal uncle, Bob Blyth, played for Preston North End and Portsmouth, before becoming Portsmouth’s manager.
Bill Shankly’s playing career began in Scottish Junior Football, where he played for the now defunct Cronberry Eglinton and Glenbuck Cherrypickers. In July 1932 he caught the eye of scouts and was signed to play for Carlisle United making his debut on 31 December 1932 against Rochdale. In July 1933, after only 16 appearances for Carlisle, he signed for Preston North End for a fee of £500.00
He was a key member of the Preston side promoted to the First Division in 1934 and played in two FA Cup finals, Preston losing to Sunderland in 1937, but beating Huddersfield Town in 1938.
Shankly made his debut for Scotland in a 1-0 win against England in April 1938. He made four further appearances for his country, plus another seven in wartime internationals, but his distinguished playing career was interrupted by war in 1939.
He played for a number of teams during the war, including Northampton Town, Liverpool, Arsenal, Cardiff City, Bolton Wanderers, Luton Town, Partick Thistle and King’s Park and helped Preston to victory in the 1941 Wartime Cup Final at Wembley. When the 1946-1947 season kick-started organised professional football again in England, Shankly resumed playing for Preston, but was 33 and coming to the end of his playing days. World War II had taken away the best years of Shankly’s career.
Later, in a 1964 tour of the United States Shankly couldn’t believe American people had never heard of Tom Finney.
He was appointed the manager of Carlisle in 1949. Later he moved to Grimsby in 1951, Workington in 1953 and Huddersfield in 1956.
Shankly became the manager of Liverpool in December 1959.
1962 Second Division champions
1964 First Division champions
1965 FA Cup Winners, European Champions’ Cup semi-finalists.
1966 First Division champions, European Cup Winners Cup beaten finalists.
1969 First Division runners-up.
1971 FA Cup beaten finalists, Inter-Cities Fairs Cup semi-finalists.
1973 First Division champions, UEFA Cup winners.
1974 FA Cup winners, First Division runners-up.
Shankly retired in July 1974 season and was awarded the OBE in November that year.
Shankly was by now 60 years old, and on 12 July 1974 decided to retire – he said that going to tell the chairman of his decision was like facing the electric chair. He wanted to spend time with his wife Ness and their family. When news of Shankly’s resignation first emerged, distraught fans jammed the club’s switchboard and at least one local factory’s workers threatened to go on strike unless their hero returned .
The club was left in capable hands, with the bootroom staff supplemented by ex-players Ronnie Moran and Roy Evans and they got behind new manager Bob Paisley. Later it was revealed that Shankly wanted Jack Charlton to succeed him at Liverpool, and not Bob Paisley.
Shankly regretted resigning from Liverpool and began watching training sessions at Melwood. The board were unhappy that Shankly was not allowing new manager Bob Paisley to settle into the management role. Phil Thompson even claims that at Melwood Shankly was still called “boss” while Paisley was known as “Bob”. Ronnie Moran claimed things “began to get a bit awkward”. Liverpool striker Kevin Keegan states that Liverpool “didn’t get it wrong very often but they did that time” and believed that Shankly should have been placed on the board of directors.
Shankly was awarded the OBE in November 1974. He continued to live in the house that he and his wife had bought when they moved to Liverpool, and he was a regular sight around the city, happy and willing to talk to anyone about football.
When asked about how he would be rememberd ?
“That I’ve been basically honest in a game in which it is sometimes difficult to be honest. Sometimes you‘ve got to tell a little white lie to get over a little troublesome period of time. I’d like to think that I have put more into the game than I have taken out. And that I haven‘t cheated anybody, that I’ve been working for people honestly all along the line, for the people of Liverpool who go to Anfield. I’d like to be recognised for trying to give them entertainment.
I’d played at Anfield and I knew the crowd were fantastic. I knew there was a public just waiting. So I fought the battles inside and outside. I was interested in only one thing, success for the club. And that meant success for the people. I wanted results for the club, for the love of the game, to make the people happy.”
The Death of Bill Shankly
On the morning of 26 September, 1981, Shankly was admitted to Broadgreen Hospital after a heart attack. While in hospital he insisted on being nursed in an ordinary ward, not a private one. There was no suggestion that his life was in danger. The switchboard was jammed with concerned fans and prayers were said for him in the Sunday morning and evening services at both of the Anglican and Catholic Cathedrals. However, late on 28 September Shankly unexpectedly took a turn for the worst and died, aged 68, at 1.20am on 29 September 1981. He was cremated, and his ashes buried at the Anfield Crematorium on 2 October.
“If you are first, you are first. If you are second, you are nothing.” The winning philosophy.
“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I’m very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” The most famous of Shankly lines.
“Football is a simple game based on the giving and taking of passes, of controlling the ball and of making yourself available to receive a pass. It is terribly simple.” How Shankly’s teams played.
“I’m just one of the people who stands on the Kop. They think the same as I do, and I think the same as they do. It’s a kind of marriage of people who like each other.” Relationship with the fans.
“It’s there to remind our lads who they’re playing for, and to remind the opposition who they’re playing against.” On his famous ‘This is Anfield’ sign in the players’ tunnel.
“Of course I didn’t take my wife to see Rochdale as an anniversary present. It was her birthday. Would I have got married in the football season? Anyway, it was Rochdale reserves.” Shankly rejects suggestions he is not the romantic type.
“I only wanted him for the reserves anyway.” After failing to sign Lou Macari.
“The trouble with referees is that they know the rules, but they do not know the game.” An oft-repeated remark.
“It was the most difficult thing in the world, when I went to tell the chairman. It was like walking to the electric chair. That’s the way it felt.” On his resignation.