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Bill Shankly

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Full name  William Shankly
Role  Footballer
Position  Wing half
Playing position  Right-half
Siblings  Bob Shankly
Name  Bill Shankly

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Date of birth  (1913-09-02)2 September 1913
Place of birth  Glenbuck, East Ayrshire, Scotland
Date of death  29 September 1981(1981-09-29) (aged 68)
Died  September 29, 1981, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Parents  Barbara Shankly, John Shankly
Similar People  Bob Paisley, Kenny Dalglish, Kevin Keegan, Joe Fagan, Ian St John

Place of death  Liverpool, England

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William "Bill" Shankly, OBE (2 September 1913 – 29 September 1981) was a Scottish football player and manager, who is best known for his time as manager of Liverpool.


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Shankly came from a small Scottish mining community as one of five brothers who played football professionally. He played as a ball-winning right-half and was capped twelve times for Scotland, including seven wartime internationals. He spent one season at Carlisle United before spending the rest of his career at Preston North End, with whom he won the FA Cup in 1938. His playing career was interrupted by his service in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. He became a manager after he retired from playing in 1949, returning to Carlisle United. He later managed Grimsby Town, Workington and Huddersfield Town before moving to become Liverpool manager in December 1959.

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Shankly took charge of Liverpool when they were in the Second Division and rebuilt the team into a major force in English and European football. He led Liverpool to the Second Division Championship to gain promotion to the top-flight First Division in 1962, before going on to win three First Division Championships, two FA Cups, four Charity Shields and one UEFA Cup. Shankly announced his surprise retirement from football a few weeks after Liverpool won the 1974 FA Cup Final, having managed the club for 15 years, and was succeeded by his long-time assistant Bob Paisley. He led the Liverpool team out for the last time at Wembley for the 1974 FA Charity Shield. He died seven years later at the age of 68.

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Early life

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Bill Shankly was born in a small Ayrshire coal mining village, called Glenbuck, whose population in 1913, the year of Shankly's birth, was around 700. People born there would often move to find work in larger coal mines. As a result, Glenbuck became largely derelict and by the time Shankly's ghost writer John Roberts visited it in 1976, there were only 12 houses left, including a cottage owned by Shankly's sister, Elizabeth, whom Roberts described as "the last of the children of Glenbuck".

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Shankly's parents, John and Barbara, lived in one of the Auchenstilloch Cottages with their 10 children; five boys and five girls. Shankly was the ninth child and the youngest boy. Although he was known as Bill throughout his football career, his name in the family was Willie, pronounced "Wullie". His father was a postman who became a tailor of handmade suits but, despite the football pedigree in his family, he did not play himself.

All five Shankly brothers played professional football and Shankly claimed that "once, when we were all at our peaks, we could have beaten any five brothers in the world". His brothers were Alec, known as "Sandy" by the family, who played for Ayr United and Clyde; Jimmy (1902–1972), who played for various clubs including Sheffield United and Southend United; John (1903–1960), who played for Portsmouth and Luton Town; and Bob (1910–1982), who played for Alloa Athletic and Falkirk. Bob became a successful manager, guiding Dundee to victory in the Scottish championship in 1962 and the semi-finals of the European Cup the following year. Their maternal uncles, Robert and William Blyth were also professional players and both became club directors at Portsmouth and Carlisle United respectively.

Shankly wrote in his autobiography that times were hard during his upbringing and that hunger was a prevailing condition, especially during the winter months. He admitted that he and his friends used to steal vegetables from nearby farms; bread, biscuits and fruit from suppliers' wagons, and bags of coal from the pits. Shankly admitted the act was wrong but claimed it was "devilment more than badness" and the root cause was their constant hunger, but he insists that he and his friends learned from their mistakes and became better people in later years. He was at school from age five until 14. Discipline at both home and school was strict but Shankly said it was character-building. His favourite subject was geography and he played football as often as possible, especially in the school playground, but there was no organised school team.

After Shankly left school in 1928, he worked at a local mine alongside his brother Bob. He did this for two years until the pit closed and he faced unemployment. In his autobiography, he described the life of a miner at some length and mentioned many of the problems such as the sheer hard work, rats, the difficulties of eating and drinking at the coal face, but above all the filth: "We were never really clean. It was unbelievable how we survived. Going home to wash in a tub was the biggest thing. The first time I was in a bath was when I was 15".

While Shankly was employed as a miner, he played football as often as possible and sometimes went to Glasgow to watch either Celtic or Rangers, sharing his allegiance between the two and ignoring the sectarianism that divides Glasgow. Shankly developed his skills to the point that he was unemployed for only a few months before Carlisle United signed him. He wrote that he had his football future worked out in his mind and that, even when working in the pit, he was only "killing time". He always believed that it was only a matter of time before he became a professional player. He explained that, in football terms, he had always been an optimist with a belief in his destiny and that was the basis of his undying enthusiasm for the sport.

Shankly's village team was called the Glenbuck Cherrypickers, a name probably derived from the 11th Hussars (the "Cherry Pickers"), but Shankly said: "the club was near extinction when I had a trial and I never actually played for them". Shankly, aged 18, then played part of the 1931–32 season for Cronberry Eglinton, about 12 miles from Glenbuck. He used to cycle to and from the ground. Cronberry were in the Cumnock & District League. Although Shankly had less than one full season at Cronberry, he acknowledged his debt to Scottish Junior Football as he "learnt a lot", mainly by listening to older players and especially his brothers.

Carlisle United

Shankly had a single season, 1932–33, at Carlisle United, then relatively new to The Football League and playing in the Third Division North, their reserve side playing in the North Eastern League. Shankly was recommended by a scout called Peter Carruthers who had seen him playing for Cronberry. He was invited for a month's trial and said it was the first time he had left Scotland. He was signed after just one trial match for Carlisle's reserves against Middlesbrough reserves, even though Carlisle reserves lost the match 6–0. A local newspaper report said that "Shankly played strenuously and might develop into a useful left back" but, in fact, he developed into a top-class right-half.

Shankly made his senior debut on 31 December 1932 in a 2–2 draw against Rochdale and made 16 appearances for the first team. At the end of the season, the reserves won the North Eastern League Cup, defeating Newcastle United reserves 1–0 in the final. In his 1976 autobiography, Shankly stated: "I've still got the medal".

At this stage of his career, Shankly was assessed as "a hard running, gritty right-half" whose displays brought him much praise and credit and he was "earmarked as a key young player capable of taking Carlisle on to greater things". He was paid four pounds ten shillings a week at Carlisle which he considered a good wage as the top rate at that time was eight pounds. Shankly was happy at Carlisle which was close to his home at Glenbuck and he had settled in well with almost a guarantee of first team football. When the opportunity came for him to move on, he was not convinced he wanted to leave.

Preston North End

Soon after the 1932–33 season, Shankly received a telegram from Carlisle United asking him to return as soon as possible because another club wanted to sign him. Arriving at Carlisle, he discovered that the interested club was Preston North End who had offered a transfer fee of £500. The terms for Shankly personally were a fee of £50 plus a £10 signing-on fee and wages of five pounds a week. Shankly's initial reaction was that it was not enough and the deal nearly fell through. Shankly's brother Alec pointed out to him that Preston were in the Second Division and a bigger club than Carlisle with the potential to regain First Division status. Alec convinced Bill that the opportunity was more important than what he would be paid immediately: "it's what you're going to get later that counts". Shankly took his brother's advice and signed the Preston contract in a railway carriage.

Shankly began his Preston career in the reserves, who played in the Central League which was a higher standard than the North Eastern League. He made his first team debut on 9 December 1933, three months after his 20th birthday, against Hull City. Shankly created an early goal to help Preston win 5–0, earning him praise in a national newspaper for his "clever passing". With his wholehearted attitude and commitment to the team, he quickly established himself as a first-team regular and became a crowd favourite. Preston fulfilled their potential and gained promotion to the First Division as runners-up to Grimsby Town. It was therefore a successful debut season for Shankly who stayed with Preston until he retired in 1949. His wage was increased to eight pounds a week with six pounds in the summer. In a summary of the 1933–34 season, a Preston correspondent, Walter Pilkington, wrote: "One of this season's discoveries, Bill Shankly, played with rare tenacity and uncommonly good ideas for a lad of 20. He is full of good football and possessed with unlimited energy; he should go far".

In his autobiography, Shankly wrote that Preston had more than held their own in the 1934–35 season and the club was not relegated again until the end of the 1948–49 season in which he left them. Shankly developed into "as tough a half back as any in the Football League". The outstanding Northern Ireland international Peter Doherty recalled how Shankly dogged his footsteps in one match and kept muttering: "Great wee team, North End, great wee team", subduing Doherty completely as Preston defeated Manchester City 3–1.

In 1936–37, Preston reached the FA Cup Final but were well beaten 3–1 by Sunderland at Wembley Stadium. Preston recovered to reach the 1938 FA Cup Final in which they defeated Huddersfield Town 1–0 with a penalty scored by George Mutch in the final minute of extra time. As well as winning the FA Cup, Preston finished third in the league. That season marked "the pinnacle of Shankly's playing career".

Shankly had just reached his 26th birthday when the Second World War began and the war claimed the peak years of his playing career. He joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) and managed to play in numerous wartime league, cup and exhibition matches for Norwich City, Arsenal, Luton Town and Partick Thistle, depending on where he was stationed. On 30 May 1942, he played a single game for Liverpool in a 4–1 win over Everton at Anfield. Shankly was keen on boxing and fought as a middleweight in the RAF, winning a trophy when he was stationed in Manchester. He confirmed in his autobiography that his weight as an RAF boxer was 159 pounds (72 kg) and he was only six pounds (2.7 kg) heavier than that in 1976. Shankly met his wife, Nessie, in the RAF (she was in the WAAF and stationed at the same camp) and they married in 1944.

With the resumption of full League football again in the 1946–47 season, Shankly returned to Preston who held his registration, but he was now 33 and coming to the end of his playing days. By 1949, he was Preston's club captain but had lost his place in the first team, which was struggling against relegation despite having Tom Finney in the side. Shankly was a qualified masseur and had decided he wanted to become a coach so, when Carlisle United asked him to become their manager in March of that year, he retired as a player and accepted the job. Shankly's departure from Preston was resented by some at the club and he was refused a benefit match, to which he felt entitled. He described Preston's attitude as "the biggest let-down of my life in football".

Shankly had enormous admiration for Tom Finney and devotes more than three pages of his autobiography to Finney's prowess as a footballer. In the 1970s, Shankly was asked how a current star compared to Finney and Shankly replied: "Aye, he's as good as Tommy – but then Tommy's nearly 60 now". Another Preston player admired by Shankly was his Scottish international teammate Andy Beattie, with whom he would later work in management. Shankly was succeeded in the Preston team by Tommy Docherty and Shankly told Docherty that he should "just put the number-four shirt on and let it run round, it knows where to go".


Shankly played for Scotland 12 times from 1938 to 1943 in five full and seven wartime internationals. He spoke of his "unbelievable pride" when playing for Scotland against England and how, when confronted by the "Auld Enemy", the Scottish players would become William Wallace or Robert the Bruce for 90 minutes after pulling on the blue jersey. Shankly himself certainly had that spirit when playing for Scotland as confirmed by Alex James: "He is a real Scotland player who will fight until he drops".

Shankly made his international debut on 9 April 1938 against England at Wembley; Scotland winning the match 1–0 with a late goal by Tommy Walker. Nine of his Scotland appearances were against England and the others were against Northern Ireland, Wales and Hungary. Shankly was Scotland's captain in the wartime match against England at Hampden Park, attended by 78,000 people on 3 May 1941, but Scotland lost that game 1–3. Perhaps his most memorable international was the wartime game at Wembley on 18 April 1942 when Scotland won 5–4 and Shankly scored his only Scotland goal. A post-match report said that Scotland's success was inspired by "the Busby-Shankly victory service" when Shankly and his future management rival Matt Busby combined to help Scotland's cause. According to the Liverpool website, Shankly's goal was "probably the strangest national goal ever". He took a speculative shot goalwards from 50 yards and the ball bounced over the England goalkeeper's head and into the net. In January 1973, when Shankly was the subject of This Is Your Life, the goal was shown and Shankly commented that "they all count and we won".

Style and technique

Shankly declared in his autobiography that he specialised in what he called "the art of tackling", emphasising that it is an art. He claimed that he was never sent off or booked by a referee. In his view, the art of tackling is in the timing and the sole object is to win the ball. He wrote that even if the opponent is injured in the tackle, "it's not a foul because you have timed everything right and you've won it". His philosophy, therefore, was to play "hard but fair" with no cheating.

During his playing career, Shankly said he would not argue with referees. He realised after taking the advice of his brothers that it is a waste of time. The referee, he wrote, "always wins in the end".

Shankly was always noted for his dedication to football and, in his playing days, would do his own training during the summer months. The Liverpool website records that, during the summer of 1933 when he returned to Glenbuck after completing his first season as a professional, he decided to develop his throw-in skills. He was an early exponent of the long throw-in and, according to the site, he practiced by throwing balls over a row of houses and the small boys of the village helped by fetching them back for him.

Management career

Shankly wrote in his autobiography that he had long prepared himself for a career as a football manager. He pointed out that he had absorbed all the coaching systems with any useful qualifications and had full confidence in his ability and in himself to be a leader. For him, he had done the hard work and it was simply a question of waiting for an opportunity to present itself. Shankly summed up the essential criteria for success in football management when he said: "I could speak common sense about the game and I could spot a player". In spotting a player, he always applied a basic formula which was that, first and foremost, the player must have both ability and courage. Other attributes were physical fitness and willingness to work, especially to struggle against the odds.

Carlisle United

Shankly began his managerial career at the club where his professional playing career had started. Carlisle in the 1948–49 season were struggling in the bottom half of the Third Division North and finding it difficult to attract southern-based players because of the town's geographic remoteness in the far north of England. Shankly's work ethic transformed the team who finished 15th in 1948–49 after he had been in charge for only the last few matches. They improved to ninth in 1949–50 and then to third in 1950–51, almost gaining promotion.

One of Shankly's players at Carlisle was Geoff Twentyman, then a promising young centre half, who was later transferred to Liverpool. After he retired from playing, Twentyman became chief scout at Liverpool, working with Shankly and finding several outstandingly talented players.

Shankly used psychology to motivate his players, for example telling them that the opposition had had a very tiring journey and were not fit to play the match. He urged the local population to support the team and would use the public address system at matches to tell the crowd about his team changes and how his strategy was improving the team. Shankly recalled that Brunton Park was dilapidated, writing that "the main stand (was) falling to pieces and the terraces derelict". He even burned all the kit. When the team was travelling to Lincoln City, he saw a sportswear shop in Doncaster and stopped the coach to buy a full set of kit in which the team played at Lincoln.

Season ticket sales in 1950–51 reached an all-time high and Carlisle challenged strongly for promotion as well as achieving a draw with Arsenal at Highbury in the FA Cup. But it ended badly because Shankly accused the club's board of reneging on a bonus promise for the players should the team finish in the top-three. Shankly resigned and took up an offer from Grimsby Town. Shankly's overall record in league football at Carlisle was 42 wins and 22 defeats from 95 matches.

Grimsby Town

After an unsuccessful interview at Liverpool, Shankly moved to manage Grimsby Town in June 1951. He said in his autobiography that there was greater potential at Grimsby than at Carlisle. His main problems were that Grimsby had been relegated twice in recent seasons, dropping from the First to the Third Division, and some good players had been transferred before he arrived. But Shankly believed he still had good players to work with and was able to buy some additional players on the transfer market for low fees.

Grimsby made a strong challenge for promotion in 1951–52 but finished second, three points behind Lincoln City (only one team was promoted from Division Three North, with one from Division Three South). Shankly insisted in his autobiography that his Grimsby team was: "Pound for pound, and class for class, the best football team I have seen in England since the war. In the league they were in, they played football nobody else could play. Everything was measured, planned and perfected and you could not wish to see more entertaining football". Stephen Kelly quotes the "pound for pound" analysis but qualifies it as "another slight exaggeration, but he meant well". Kelly went on: "that kind of talk could only boost morale at the club".

Shankly made great use of five-a-side football in training at Grimsby, playing these "as if our lives were at stake". The games would last an hour each time. Shankly also worked on set pieces such as throw-ins and tried to devise a method of counter-attacking from corners conceded.

Grimsby's ageing team made a bright start in 1952–53 with five straight wins but eventually slipped and finished in fifth place. In 1953–54, Shankly became disillusioned when the board could not give him money to buy new players. He was reluctant to promote some promising reserves because of loyalty to the older players (a fault that was to resurface at Liverpool years later) and he finally resigned in January 1954, citing the board's lack of ambition as his main reason. In his autobiography, he said that he and his wife were feeling homesick in Grimsby and, when an opportunity came to manage Workington, he was attracted to the challenge partly because they would be closer to Scotland.

Shankly's record in league football at Grimsby was 62 wins and 35 defeats from 118 matches.


Although the Workington team was close to the bottom of the Third Division North, Shankly saw it as a challenge and "he attacked the job with all the enthusiasm and relish he always showed at whatever he did". Workington rose to 18th by the end of the 1953–54 season and so did not have to apply for re-election. In 1954–55, the team finished a creditable eighth and saw a rise in attendances from 6,000 to 8,000.

Workington operated on a shoestring and Shankly had to do much of the administration work himself, including answering the telephone and dealing with the mail by using an old typewriter to answer letters. In addition, he had the risky job of going to the bank each week to collect the payroll. One of his main problems was sharing the ground with the local rugby league club and Shankly was very concerned about the damage done to the playing surface by the rugby players. The situation led to "numerous arguments" with the club's board which, as Kelly records, "was stacked with rugby league men whose interest in football took second place to rugby".

Shankly resigned on 15 November 1955 to take up the post of assistant manager at Huddersfield Town, working with his old friend Andy Beattie. His record in league football at Workington was 35 wins and 27 defeats from 85 matches.

Huddersfield Town

Shankly's initial role at Huddersfield was as reserve team coach. He found himself in charge of several promising youngsters who soon graduated to the first team after Town were relegated to the Second Division at the end of the 1955–56 season. Beattie resigned in the next season and, on 5 November 1956, Shankly succeeded him as manager. On Christmas Eve, he gave a first team debut to 16-year-old prospect Denis Law. Another prospect in his team was left back Ray Wilson who went on to become Huddersfield's most capped player before joining Everton. Shankly did not gain promotion at Huddersfield, the team finishing 12th in 1956–57, ninth in 1957–58 and 14th in 1958–59.

Other players in Shankly's Huddersfield team were Ken Taylor, who was also an England Test cricketer; striker Les Massie and captain Bill McGarry. On 21 December 1957, Huddersfield lost 7–6 to Charlton Athletic, who played most of the match with 10 men, after Huddersfield were leading 5–1 with just 27 minutes remaining. Shankly described it as "one of the most amazing games I have ever seen". But, on another occasion, Huddersfield beat Liverpool 5–0 with 10 men and Shankly recalled "the Liverpool directors leaving the ground in single file like a funeral procession".

Disillusioned by a board that wanted to sell his best players without offering money to buy replacements, Shankly felt stifled by Huddersfield's lack of ambition and was delighted in November 1959 to receive an approach for his services by Liverpool. He recalled how Liverpool chairman Tom (T.V.) Williams asked him if he would like to manage the "best club in the country", to which Shankly replied: "Why, is Matt Busby packing up?" Shankly decided to think about the offer as he realised the great potential at Liverpool, who were also in the Second Division at that time. Rumours began and were fuelled by Liverpool's visit to Leeds Road on 28 November. Although Huddersfield won the game 1–0, Shankly accepted the Liverpool offer and resigned his position as Huddersfield manager at a board meeting on 1 December 1959. His league record at Huddersfield was 49 wins and 47 defeats in 129 matches.

Early years (1959 – 1964)

When Shankly arrived at Anfield on Monday, 14 December 1959, Liverpool had been in the Second Division for five years, and had been defeated by non-league Worcester City in the 1958–59 FA Cup. Anfield itself was in disrepair with no means of watering the pitch and Shankly insisted the club spend £3,000 to rectify that. Shankly described the training ground at Melwood as "a shambles". The Liverpool squad he inherited consisted largely of average players and some promising reserves.

In spite of the difficulties, Shankly felt immediately at home in his new club and he believed that he shared an immediate bond with the supporters, the Liverpool history site saying they "were his kind of people". He quickly established working relationships with the coaching staff of Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Reuben Bennett who shared his views about loyalty to each other and to the club. Paisley's influence at Liverpool was "crucial" for, as Kelly puts it, Shankly was "the great motivating force behind Liverpool, but it was Paisley who was the tactician". One aspect of the quartet's legacy to football was the conversion of an old storage room into what became known as the "Boot Room", which was used for tactical discussion while cleaning and repairing boots. Although Shankly believed he had an excellent coaching staff, the playing staff were not so impressive – indeed, Shankly said of the latter: "After only one match I knew that the team as a whole was not good enough. I made up my mind that we needed strengthening through the middle, a goalkeeper and a centre half who between them could stop goals, and somebody up front to create goals and score them". To deal with what he saw as a below average playing squad, 24 players were placed on the transfer list and all had left the club within one year.

Melwood was overgrown and had only an old wooden cricket pavilion. One of the pitches "looked as if bombs had been dropped on it" and Shankly asked if the Germans had "been over" in the war. He instituted a development program to cultivate the site and modernise the facilities and, in the meantime, arranged for the players to meet and change at Anfield before going to and from Melwood by bus. According to biographer Stephen Kelly, Liverpool's eventual success was based on hard work done in the training system that Shankly, Paisley, Fagan and Bennett introduced at Melwood. Shankly deplored long distance running on roads and insisted that, apart from warm-up exercises or any special exercises needed to overcome injuries, the players trained on grass using a ball. Everything was done systematically with players rotating through exercise routines in groups with the purpose of achieving set targets. Five-a-side games, as at all Shankly's earlier clubs, were at the heart of the system and he insisted on these being as competitive as league matches. One particular routine designed to develop stamina, reflexes and ball skills was the "sweat box" which Shankly described as "using boards like the walls of a house with players playing the ball off one wall and on to the next; the ball was played against the boards, you controlled it, turned around and took it again". Shankly got the idea from a routine he had seen Tom Finney use at Preston to hone his skills. After experimenting with the routine, he set the players a limit of two minutes per session. The system was geared to Shankly's simple philosophy of "pass and move", which formed the basis of Liverpool's strategy. Shankly insisted on suitable cooling-off periods after training (now called "warming down") before the players took a bath and had a meal. The team changed the studs in their boots to suit all playing conditions. Shankly summarised the entire strategy as: "attention to detail; we never left anything to chance".

Liverpool's recovery depended on new players being acquired and, in his autobiography, Shankly recalled the struggles he had with the board to make them realise the club's potential and the need to spend money on good players. He said there were times when he felt like walking out. He found a valuable ally in Eric Sawyer, of the Littlewoods pools organisation, who joined the board not long after Shankly's appointment and shared Shankly's vision of Liverpool as the best club in England. At one board meeting in 1961 when Shankly insisted the club make offers for two players in Scotland, the board's initial response was that "we can't afford them" but Sawyer stepped in and said: "We can't afford not to buy them".

The two Scottish players were centre half Ron Yeats and centre forward Ian St John from Dundee United and Motherwell respectively. With Sawyer's help, Shankly signed them both in the spring of 1961 and challenged the Liverpool board to "sack me if they can't play". At a press conference when Yeats came to Liverpool, Shankly emphasised Yeats's huge size by inviting the journalists to "go and walk round him; he's a colossus!" Goalkeeper Tommy Lawrence came through the club's junior teams, so Shankly now had his "strength through the middle" and the team building continued with the transfer of wing half Gordon Milne from Preston. Other players developed at Anfield were Jimmy Melia, Ronnie Moran, Alan A'Court and future England internationals Gerry Byrne and Roger Hunt. Shankly said of goalscorer Hunt the first time he saw him: "Christ, this one can play!" Liverpool had finished third in both 1959–60 and 1960–61 (only the top two clubs were promoted); but the new team gained promotion in the 1961–62 season by winning the Second Division championship, Hunt scoring 41 goals.

Liverpool consolidated in 1962–63, finishing eighth in their first top flight season under Shankly's command. Significant signings were wing half Willie Stevenson from Rangers in 1962 and left winger Peter Thompson from Preston in 1963. Shankly described the Thompson deal as "daylight robbery". Liverpool's youth system produced future England internationals like Ian Callaghan, Tommy Smith and Chris Lawler. The hard work paid off in 1963–64 when Liverpool won their sixth League Championship title, ending the season with a 5–0 defeat of Arsenal at Anfield. According to Roger Hunt, the secret of Liverpool's success was that, under Shankly, "we were the fittest team in the country". In 1964, Jimmy Melia was transferred to Wolverhampton Wanderers; with Shankly buying Arsenal's utility player Geoff Strong for £40,000 but this was Liverpool's last significant transfer activity until 1967.

1964 to 1970

One of Shankly's greatest ambitions when he joined Liverpool was to win the FA Cup and, after he signed Yeats and St John, he told the club directors that "these players will win us the FA Cup". It was St John who scored the winning goal in May 1965 when Liverpool did win the FA Cup for the first time in the club's history with a 2–1 extra time victory over Leeds United at Wembley. In his autobiography, Shankly recounted that among his many achievements, winning the 1965 FA Cup was his "greatest day".

Liverpool made their European debut in 1964–65, competing in the European Cup reaching the semi-finals. In the second round the club was drawn against the formidable Anderlecht. Immediately before the match, Shankly decided to experiment with the Liverpool kit. Liverpool played in red shirts with white shorts and white sock with red top but Shankly and Ian St John had the idea of an all-red kit that would give the impression the players were taller. Liverpool played in all-red only for European matches but quickly adopted the colour permanently. Three days after winning the FA Cup, Liverpool defeated European champions Internazionale 3–1 at Anfield in the semi-final first leg with a performance that was saluted by Inter's coach Helenio Herrera. The second leg at the San Siro, however, was according to Shankly "a war", which Liverpool lost 3–0 and so were knocked out of the competition 4–3 on aggregate. Eleven years later, Shankly maintained that two of Inter's goals were illegal. Even today, the Liverpool website describes the match by saying that "(Liverpool were) only denied at the semi-final stage due to a dishonest referee in Milan". According to Kelly, however, video evidence shows that the two disputed goals were actually legitimate. Shankly said after the defeat in Milan that the Inter fans were going mad because they were "so pleased to have beaten Liverpool" and insisted that this proved the high standard "you (the team) have raised yourselves up to".

In the 1964–65 Football League Championship, Liverpool dropped from first to seventh with 13 fewer points than the previous season. According to the Liverpool site, this was due to the exertion of lengthy participation in the FA and European Cups.

In 1965–66, Liverpool regained the League Championship title and reached the final of the European Cup Winner's Cup at Hampden Park, however the team lost 2–1 in extra time to Borussia Dortmund. Shankly's summary of that final, played on a wet night, was: "We didn't play well and we gave away two silly goals". Shankly and Paisley had learned a great deal about European football which Liverpool would eventually turn into trophies. The strategy in the two-leg ties was "containment away, attack at home". Shankly applied the principle in a preliminary round tie against Juventus when Liverpool were away in the first leg. Despite Juventus taking the lead after 81 minutes, Shankly ordered his players to ensure the deficit was only one goal. Liverpool then switched to all-out attack in the second leg at Anfield and won 2–0.

Liverpool began the 1966–67 season by beating neighbours Everton in the FA Charity Shield match but the team were never really in contention for major honours that season, finishing fifth in the league. Shankly recognised the potential of Blackpool teenager Emlyn Hughes, a future England captain, and signed him for £65,000 in February 1967. Liverpool's performance in the 1966-67 European Cup was poor and, after struggling to overcome FC Petrolul Ploiesti in the first round, they were well beaten in the last 16 by Ajax, inspired by 19-year-old Johan Cruyff. Ajax won 7–3 on aggregate after defeating Liverpool 5–1 in Amsterdam. Several years later, in his autobiography, Shankly still complained that "the match in Amsterdam should never have started" due to fog and, although Liverpool lost 5–1, he "still thought we (would win the tie) at Anfield". Although Shankly claimed to have been unworried about the Ajax defeat, he acknowledged that "we were examining the team and planning ahead". However, the Liverpool site argues that Shankly was mistaken in his decision at this time to postpone team rebuilding.

Liverpool improved their League performances over the next two years, finishing third in 1967–68 and then second in 1968–69, although to Shankly himself it was "a mediocre time in the late 1960s as we prepared for the 1970s". Shankly made two controversial signings in this period which did not turn out as he had hoped. In 1967, he signed striker Tony Hateley from Chelsea for a club record £96,000 and then felt obliged to transfer him to Coventry City only a year later. He claimed bad luck and injuries disrupted the progress of two other prospects Alf Arrowsmith and Gordon Wallace; Shankly compared the latter to Tom Finney. In September 1968, Shankly paid £100,000 to Wolverhampton Wanderers for their teenage striker Alun Evans who thus became "football's first £100,000 teenager". Evans started well and produced some outstanding performances during his four years at the club but Shankly eventually had to sell him to Aston Villa. Shankly recalled that Evans was scarred by a glass in a nightclub incident which, in Shankly's opinion, had a detrimental impact on his career.

The only long-term success that Shankly had in the transfer market in the late 1960s was his signing of Emlyn Hughes, who went on to captain Liverpool to victory in the European Cup. Otherwise, he did not significantly change the team until the 1969–70 season when Liverpool finished fifth in the league championship, a long way behind the winners: their local rivals Everton. Shankly was characteristically defiant whenever Everton got the better of Liverpool and, although he liked and respected everyone connected with Everton, would always talk up Liverpool at Everton's expense. Typical of this was his view that: "This city has two great football teams – Liverpool and Liverpool reserves".

In the 1969–70 FA Cup quarter final, Liverpool played against struggling Second Division side Watford at Vicarage Road and lost 1–0 after a very poor performance. The Liverpool site records that the defeat signalled the end for St John, Hunt, Byrne, Yeats and Lawrence; the incomers included Ray Clemence, Alec Lindsay, Larry Lloyd, John Toshack, Brian Hall and Steve Heighway. Apart from Hall who graduated through the reserves, they were all signed from clubs in lower divisions or even, in the case of Heighway, from non-league football. Adding the new players to Tommy Smith, Ian Callaghan, Chris Lawler and Emlyn Hughes, Shankly formed the nucleus of a second great team which went on to dominate English and European football in the 1970s.

Many of the new players came to Liverpool because of a new scouting system created by Shankly in 1967 and placed under the control of new chief scout Geoff Twentyman, who had played for Shankly at Carlisle and had then spent several seasons at Liverpool, retiring shortly before Shankly's appointment. According to Stephen Kelly, hiring Twentyman as chief scout was "perhaps Shankly's finest signing ever". It was through Twentyman that Liverpool found the new players and, after Shankly retired, Twentyman gave sterling service to Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan by finding players like Phil Neal, Alan Hansen and Ian Rush. As always, Shankly kept things simple and Twentyman was told to look for a prospect's basic qualities which were the abilities to pass the ball and move into position to receive a pass. Shankly also wanted Twentyman to check the player's personality and ensure he had the right attitude for a professional footballer. Above all, said Twentyman, "he wanted to know if the lad had the heart to play for Liverpool". Although Shankly sometimes paid large transfer fees he was loath to do so and Twentyman's brief was "getting them young so he (Shankly) could mould them into what he wanted".

1970 to 1974

The new team began promisingly in 1970–71 by retaining fifth place in the league and reaching the semi-finals of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup where they lost 0–1 to a very experienced Leeds United side. The highlight of Liverpool's European campaign that season was a 4–1 aggregate victory in the quarter-final over Bayern Munich. For the first time since winning the competition in 1965, Liverpool reached the FA Cup Final but, as in the Fairs Cup, experience was the major factor and Shankly's young team were beaten 2–1 by league champions Arsenal despite having taken the lead in extra time through a Steve Heighway goal. Watching from the sidelines was another new player whom Shankly had recently signed from Scunthorpe United for £35,000 on Twentyman's recommendation. This was Kevin Keegan and he was such an important addition to the new Liverpool team that Shankly devoted an entire chapter of his autobiography to him entitled "A Boy Called Keegan". Shankly summarised Keegan as "the inspiration of the new team".

In Keegan's first season, 1971–72, Liverpool missed out on winning the League Championship by a single point, the title going to Brian Clough's Derby County. Shankly maintained that Liverpool were denied a definite penalty in their crucial away match against Derby and then had a good goal disallowed towards the end of their final match against Arsenal. Both decisions cost the team a vital point which would have been enough to claim first place. Shankly took encouragement from the team's overall form, especially as they made a strong finish to the season, and he was confident of success in 1972–73.

Shankly had always been noted for his use of psychology, both to encourage his own players and to raise doubt in the minds of opponents. One of his lasting innovations is the THIS IS ANFIELD plaque secured to the wall above the players' tunnel. Coupled with the roar of the crowd, it was designed to intimidate. In the first match after it was erected, Liverpool defeated Newcastle United 5–0, despite an attempt by Malcolm Macdonald to joke about the sign. Shankly would also try to boost the confidence of his own players by announcing that a key opponent was unfit. When Kevin Keegan was about to play against Bobby Moore for the first time, Shankly told him that Moore had been out at a night club and was hung over. Afterwards, Keegan having produced an outstanding performance against the equally outstanding Moore, Shankly told him that Moore had been brilliant that day and Keegan would "never play against anyone better than him".

In 1972–73, Liverpool won the club's eighth league title and their third under Shankly. A massive bonus for the club was winning the UEFA Cup, the club's first European success. In the two-legged final they faced Borussia Mönchengladbach, whom Shankly rated "the best team in Europe". The first leg at Anfield had to be played twice after an abandonment due to heavy rain which flooded the pitch. Shankly had left John Toshack out of the team but, having studied the Borussia defence, recalled him for the rematch the following night. Toshack used his height and heading ability to great effect and created two goals for Keegan as Liverpool won 3–0. The second leg in Mönchengladbach was a different story as Borussia took an early 2–0 lead and Shankly admitted he thought the final was lost, but Liverpool held on to win the final by an aggregate score of 3–2. It was the first time an English club had won both the league title and a European trophy in the same season.

Liverpool were well beaten by Red Star Belgrade in the second round of the 1973–74 European Cup and lost out to Leeds in the League Championship, finishing second. In the third round of the FA Cup, Liverpool had to score a late equaliser to draw 2–2 at home against lowly Doncaster Rovers but recovered to win the replay and then go all the way to the final. In what proved to be Shankly's last competitive game in charge, Liverpool produced a superb second half performance to defeat Newcastle 3–0 at Wembley.

Relationship with fans

In his autobiography, Shankly wrote: "Right from the start as a manager (i.e., when he was at Carlisle) I tried to show that the fans are the people that matter. You've got to know how to treat them (and) have them on your side". This was particularly true at Liverpool and Shankly said he was "made for Liverpool (where) the people that matter most are the ones who come through the turnstiles". He added that "a manager has got to identify himself with the people (because) football is their whole life". In return, he said, the support of the Liverpool fans for their team had been "incredible".

In April 1973, when Shankly and the team were showing off the League Championship trophy to the fans on the Kop, he saw a policeman fling aside a Liverpool scarf which had been thrown in Shankly's direction. Shankly retrieved the scarf and wore it. He said to the policeman: "Don't you do that. That's precious". Shankly saw the offer of the scarf as a mark of respect which deserved his respect in return.

Shankly emphasised the importance of communication with the supporters. At Carlisle he used to speak to them over the public address system before matches. Rather than just putting a few lines in the match programme, he preferred to speak and explain his team changes and his views about the previous match. At Workington, he would answer supporters' letters in person, using an old typewriter. But he said he preferred to phone business-people as he would put as little as possible in writing when dealing with them. He would readily obtain match tickets for fans whom he considered to be deserving cases and wrote in his autobiography that he "would give people anything within reason".

Shankly formed a special bond with the Liverpool supporters and, at the end of the 1961–62 season when Liverpool won the Second Division championship, he told the Liverpool Echo: "In all sincerity, I can say that they are the greatest crowd of supporters in the game". In Tommy Smith's view, Shankly was completely in tune with the city of Liverpool; he loved the supporters and they loved him, mainly "because they knew he understood them".

Retirement from Liverpool

Shankly was 60 when Liverpool won the 1974 FA Cup and said in his autobiography that, on returning to the dressing room at the end of the match, he "felt tired from all the years". His mind was made up and he knew he was going to retire. His wife, Nessie, had asked him to retire a year earlier but he decided that was not the right time. Tommy Smith said that Shankly's feelings for Nessie were undoubtedly a major reason for his decision. In 1974, he decided that he could leave Liverpool with pride in a job well done and only one regret, which was that he did not win the European Cup.

Shankly had proposed to resign in previous years. The Liverpool secretary Peter Robinson was initially blasé in 1974 but, when he realised Shankly was serious this time, he tried to make him change his mind. Shankly's granddaughter, Karen Gill, said to The Observer in 2009: "I think that perhaps it was tiredness, that football had taken its toll on him".

Shankly's retirement was officially and surprisingly announced at a press conference called by Liverpool on 12 July 1974. Chairman, John Smith, said in his opening address:

"It is with great regret that I as chairman of Liverpool Football Club have to inform you that Mr Shankly has intimated that he wishes to retire from active participation in league football. And the board has with extreme reluctance accepted his decision. I would like to at this stage place on record the board's great appreciation of Mr Shankly's magnificent achievements over the period of his managership".

But Shankly soon regretted his decision and tried to continue his involvement with the club, mainly by turning up for team training at Melwood. He said he still wanted the involvement as the club had become his life. He soon stopped going to Melwood because he felt there was some resentment and people were asking what he was doing there. He felt unwanted, but "I never resented the club after I left, as some stupid person wrote in the paper." He still attended matches, but sat in the stand away from the directors and staff. He was especially annoyed that Liverpool did not invite him to attend away matches as the club's guest. When, finally, he was invited to travel with them to the away leg of the 1976 UEFA Cup Final in Bruges, he was accommodated in a separate hotel and said he found that insulting. Shankly contrasted Liverpool's attitude with what he encountered at other clubs, including Liverpool's great rivals Everton and Manchester United, where he was received warmly. He recalled Manchester United manager Tommy Docherty's reply to a Liverpool director: "Aye, Bill's welcome here". About Everton, once his greatest rivals, he wrote: "I have been received more warmly by Everton than I have by Liverpool. It is a scandal that I must write these words about the club I helped to build".

From Liverpool's point of view, the situation was that Shankly had retired and the club had to move on. Shankly did not understand that by turning up for training at Melwood, he was effectively undermining Bob Paisley, who had succeeded him as manager, even to the point of actually taking over the training. Tommy Smith recalled that Shankly as manager never ran training and would only speak to Paisley, Fagan and Bennett about what needed to be done. But, as a visitor at Melwood he began to intervene and Paisley's initial pleasure on seeing him soon turned to polite embarrassment. Eventually, Paisley had to point out to Shankly that he didn't work there any more, that it was now Paisley's team and that he had things which he wanted to do with the team.

It is believed that Shankly wanted a seat on the Liverpool board, following the precedent of Matt Busby who joined the Manchester United board after he retired as manager in 1969. But, again, what Shankly did not understand was that his relations with the board had often been acrimonious with several resignation threats and a statement made by Shankly that: "At a football club, there's a holy trinity – the players, the manager and the supporters. Directors don't come into it. They are only there to sign the cheques". Although some club officials like secretary Peter Robinson wanted bygones to be bygones, Tommy Smith summarised the board's view as "Right, that's it, we've got rid of him at last". It should be remembered that Shankly was "an overpowering figure" who would certainly have used a position on the board to be a "back-seat driver" and the board were well aware that Matt Busby's time as a Manchester United director was disastrous, the team just having been relegated. Whilst Liverpool's treatment of Shankly may have seemed disrespectful, they were acting in the best interests of the club and its new manager by pursuing the same relentless winning ethic that Shankly himself had instilled. In any event, their perceived ruthlessness was vindicated by the unprecedented haul of League Championship titles and European Cups won over the next decade under Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan.

Later years

Shankly was awarded the OBE in November 1974, four months after he retired as Liverpool manager. He and Nessie went to Buckingham Palace and, according to Kelly, that was "a rare day out for them". They continued to live in the semi-detached house at West Derby, near the Everton training ground at Bellefield, which they bought when they moved to Liverpool in 1959. After Shankly's death in 1981, Nessie lived there alone until she died in August 2002.

Shankly tried to keep busy in retirement and stay in touch with football. He worked for Radio City 96.7, a Liverpool station on which he presented his own chat show, once interviewing prime minister Harold Wilson, and was a pundit on its football coverage. He briefly took up advisory roles at Wrexham and then at Tranmere Rovers, helping former Liverpool captain Ron Yeats at the latter. In November 1976, the press speculated that Shankly would make a return to management as the successor to Dave Mackay at Derby County, but the position went to Colin Murphy instead. John Toshack recalled that Shankly was a great help to him when he went into management with Swansea City in 1978. Despite being in his sixties, Shankly kept himself fit and often took part in five-a-side football. If nothing else was available he would join teams of youngsters in kickabouts.

Death and legacy

On the morning of 26 September 1981, Bill Shankly was admitted to Broadgreen Hospital following a heart attack. His condition appeared to be stable and there was no suggestion that his life was in danger. But, on the following Monday morning, his condition suddenly deteriorated and was transferred into intensive care. At 00:30 on 29 September, he suffered another cardiac arrest and was certified dead, aged 68, at 01:20. He was cremated at the Anfield Crematorium on 2 October and his ashes were scattered on the Anfield pitch at the Kop end.

On the day of Shankly's death, training was cancelled at both Melwood and Bellefield. The Labour Party conference stood in a minute's silence for a man who had always been a socialist. Sir Matt Busby, the former Manchester United manager, was so upset that he refused to take any telephone calls from people asking him for a reaction. Tributes poured in from the world of football, especially from the former players of all Shankly's clubs. Liverpool chairman John Smith summed them up with a simple but fitting: "In my opinion, he was the most outstanding and dynamic manager of the century".

Liverpool erected the 15-foot high cast-iron Shankly Gates in front of the Anfield Road stand. Inscribed You'll Never Walk Alone, they were opened by Nessie Shankly at a low-key ceremony in August 1982. In 1997, a seven-foot tall bronze statue of Shankly was unveiled outside the stadium.

A hotel and museum opened in Liverpool in August 2015 dedicated to the life and career of Bill Shankly.

From the mid-1990s Preston North End started a complete rebuilding of Deepdale to convert it into a modern all-seater stadium. When the former Spion Kop end was replaced by a new stand in 1998, it was named the Bill Shankly Kop and was designed with different coloured seats providing an image of Shankly's head and shoulders.

Shankly was made an inaugural inductee of the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002, in recognition of his impact on the English game as a manager.

David Peace's biographical novel Red or Dead, published in 2013, is a fictionalised account of Shankly's career as Liverpool manager.


Stephen Kelly, in his 1997 biography of Shankly, calls him "the ultimate obsessive". Shankly was fanatical about Liverpool and about football in general. From coaching his players and arguing with journalists to buttonholing fans in pubs, all Shankly "ever wanted to do was talk about football" and to be involved in football. As a result, he had few interests outside the game other than his family. His wife Nessie told Kelly that Shankly would spend time in the garden, mowing and weeding. She could also rely on him to "clean the cooker when Liverpool lost". Family holidays were limited to a week in Blackpool, where they always stayed at the Norbreck Hotel. One non-football activity that Shankly did enjoy was playing cards and Ian St John said he "loved" it, always taking part on long coach trips to away matches.

Shankly was noted for his personality and his wit; as a result, he is oft-quoted. His most famous quotation is probably one that is often misquoted:

Kelly points out that, although it was said half-jokingly, so far as Shankly was concerned there was a degree of truth in what he had said. Shankly had fully realised the importance of football to its die-hard fans, himself included. It had become "too important". Ian St John agreed that "much of Shankly's behaviour was bizarre", but everything was done with a purpose because "Shankly always knew what he was doing and what he was saying".

In his autobiography, Shankly gave insights into his character such as his world-view as a socialist, explaining that the socialism he believed in was not about politics but about collectivism, with everyone working for each other and enjoying a share of the rewards. That was the basis of his approach to football which is a team game in which everyone works together and shares the rewards. He admitted to idolising Robert Burns, whose birthplace was only 26 miles from Glenbuck and he was inspired by many of Burns' philosophical quotations, such as "A man's a man for a' that". Shankly had no time for bigotry or prejudice, especially arising from differences of religion. He compared the cities of Glasgow and Liverpool by saying that "fortunately there is nothing like the Rangers–Celtic situation in Liverpool because the supporters of Liverpool and Everton are a mixed bunch whose religion is football".

Shankly's public persona was that of a "tough guy" with the swagger of his favourite film star James Cagney but privately he was very different. Joe Mercer described his "heart of gold" and likened him to a Border Collie who drives his sheep but could never hurt them. Liverpool's perceived failings in the late 1960s have been attributed to Shankly's reluctance to drop his long-serving players even though they were past their best. Bob Paisley said it was Shankly's "one failing" and it was because he was "a softie at heart".

When asked by a TV interviewer how he would like to be remembered, Shankly replied: "Basically as an honest man in a game that is sometimes short on honesty. That I've been working honestly for the people of Liverpool to try and give them entertainment".

As a player

Preston North End
  • FA Cup (1): 1937–38
  • As a manager

  • Football League First Division (3): 1963–64, 1965–66, 1972–73
  • Football League Second Division (1): 1961–62
  • FA Cup (2): 1964–65, 1973–74
  • FA Charity Shield (4): 1964, 1965, 1966, 1974
  • UEFA Cup (1): 1972–73
  • As an individual

  • Manager of the Year Award (1): 1972–73
  • Officer of the Order of the British Empire (1): 1974
  • PFA Merit Award (1): 1978
  • Inaugural Inductee to the English Football Hall of Fame (1): 2002
  • Inaugural Inductee to the Scottish Football Hall of Fame (1): 2004
  • In April 2013, Shankly was honoured by Royal Mail in the United Kingdom, as one of six people selected as subjects for the "Great Britons" commemorative postage stamp issue.


    Bill Shankly Wikipedia