Bill Shankly was born in 1913 in the small mining village of Glenbuck, Ayreshire, in Scotland. Born with a natural football ability he knew from an early age that this was his career path. It was almost inbred into him coming from a family with 4 professional footballing brothers, & 2 professional footballing uncles aswel on his mothers side, who he adored & said she was kindest person he’d ever met!
Showing fierce intelligence at a young age schooling was still not for him, & at 14 he left primarily to earn money for his family of 9 other siblings, consisting of 5 boys & 5 girls.
Known as”Willie” north of the border especially to his family & friends. He began mining at the age of 14, but Bill knew football was his only passion & no matter what, he was going to succeed. He began studying psychology by himself at home & began observing how people worked as a team in the mining pits.
The Glenbuck Cherrpickers were the local football team & Bill played their last ever game before the closure of the club in 1930, a club who incidentally produced more than 50 professional players, 7 of whom were capped for Scotland, which was an incredible achievement for a local team in a village with a population of around 600!
In 1931/32 Bill joined a Youth team Cromberry Eglinton, & the following year he made his senior debut by signing for Carlisle United, before transferring to Preston North End in 1933. As a gritty right-half, this was were he made a name for himself. After his 1st season with Preston a correspondent wrote:
“One of the seasons discoveries, Bill Shankly played with rare tenacity & uncommonly good ideas for a lad of 20 years of age.He is full of good football, possessed with unlimited energy, he shall go far”
His dedication to his football was unquestionable as he continued his own training back in Glenbuck during the summer of 1933 to develop his throw in skills, honing them by throwing balls over houses then getting the ‘wee’ boys to fetch them for him.
Specializing in the ‘art of tackling’ emphasizing that it was an actual art. He was never sent off & his sole purpose was to win the ball. His philosophy therefore “was to play hard but fair & no cheating”he didn’t argue with refs either saying “they always win in the end anyway”
Everything Bill said made sense & his understanding of how to play the game was incredible!
He went on to make 337 appearances, but at the peak of his career & only 26 years old his tally was cut short by the 2nd World War were Bill joined the RAF. He continued his football whilst there & also became very interested in boxing. He also met his wife to be Nessie who was a in the RAF concurrently & they later married.
Nearly at the end of his playing career on his return to Preston in ‘46/47 season, the now 33 year old lost his spot in the first team & in 1949 he decided to hang up his boots.
Already qualified as a coach, he was offered the managerial role at Carlisle Untied & he jumped at the chance. His departure was resented by many at Preston and he was refused a benefit match, he described Preston’s attitude “as one of the biggest let downs of his life in football”
Preston legend, Sir Tom Finney said, “He was was a very enthusiastic & good player. He talked an awful lot about the game off the field. He was always a larger than life character & was always prepared to talk about his career. He made a big impression on everyone especially the young players & was a football fanatic. You could tell from the moment he retired from playing that he would become a very successful manager”
During his international career he earned 12 caps.. In ‘42, Scotland beat England 4-5 at Wembley. Shankly scored his only ever international goal & it was described as the strangest goal ever! Shooting the ball from 50 yards, the ball bounced over the goalkeepers head & into the goal. When later asked about the goal he replied”well they all count & we won” in true Shankly humour style…
Shankly had long prepared for a career as a manager starting way back in the pits observing people working together whilst studying psychology himself, then experiencing teams playing together, & finally observing how to manage people, particularly on an individual basis a ”man manager” as every player had different needs. Confidence was an issue with some, whilst others needed a more ruthless approach.
Under all of this was a very kind, generous man with the mind of a genius who was always willing to help anyone. He had full confidence in his ability as a leader & he was simply waiting for a managerial opportunity to arise.
Shankly summed up the essential criteria for success in football management when he claimed he could speak common sense about the game & could spot a good player, his basic formula was such, first & foremost, the player must have both ability & courage. Other attributes were physical fitness & willingness to work, especially to struggle against the odds.
Bill signed for Carlisle United in ‘49/50 season, then Grimsby Town, followed by, Workington, Huddersfield Town & finally nestling in at his new home at Liverpool FC in Dec’ 1959.
Shankly felt at home straight away as he felt an immediate connection with the fans. They were his kind of people, describing them as passionate, arrogant, & cocky & he loved it. They reminded him off himself. Shankly had arrived but nobody knew what was to come next!!
On Shankly’s arrival, Liverpool were in the 2nd division & going nowhere. Melwood was a shambles, Anfield was not a pretty sight either , & the team was overburdened with average players, & players with any quality were playing in the reserves.
Having the backing of Sir Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Reuben Bennett, & the enthusiasm of the fans behind him he set about rebuilding the club. Not only improving the clubs training conditions, he also did a massive clear out of the squad.
Strengthening the team was his main agenda & he finally convinced the board to spare no expense on signings, & 18 months later he signed, St. John & Yeats believing these players would prove to be key signings. He told the board, “You can sack me if they can’t play, I’ll stake my life on it”
Now believing he had the key players in attack & defense Shankly finally felt that LFC were ready to fight for promotion & in the ‘61/62 season. Liverpool won the league & got promoted to the 1st division which was arguably the most vital point of his managerial career.
He had instilled such belief into the team that they believed every word he said because it was him saying it. Shankly’s ‘quotes’ will go down in history, but they not only convinced the players, but everyone associated with the club & most of all, the fans who absolutely adored him. His passionate, feisty, ambitious charismatic character won everyone over.
FORMER PLAYERS VIEWS
Phil Thompson: “he was the greatest motivator I’ve ever met & you believed every word he uttered even blindly because Bill said it & you never questioned it”
Kevin Keegan:”Bill used to stand & watch the away team arriving, & in one particular game, he came back into the dressing room & said to me “I’ve just seen Bobby Moore.”Jesus Christ” He looks like he’s been out all night, with big bags under his eyes. He’s a total mess”Keegan went on to say that there was nothing wrong with Moore that day but Bill had done this to boost his confidence & calm his nerves & Keegan said it worked, & that he just had an amazing way to man manage each player in whatever way he saw fit.
Looking after his body vigorously, Bill never drank or smoked. Even though he believed that players had to train hard to succeed & without hard work they’d never win anything, he was also extremely cautious that players could be over trained & made sure he protected his players from this ever happening.
Believing that this killed his brother at the age of 53 after suffering a heart attack, he was certain that this would never happen to any his players.
LFC, ONWARDS & UPWARDS
The League title was secured again in the ‘63/64 season after beating Arsenal 5-0 at Anfield even with 3 games remaining & also winning the FA Charity Shield.
The following season of ‘64/65 they won the FA cup & the FA Charity Shield again. Shankly described it as ”One of the proudest, most fantastic, & wonderful moments in his career. It was the greatest day” In the ‘65/66 season they won the League again & the FA Charity Shield, but then didn’t win the league for a decade.
The players were getting on in age too so Shankly started to recruit new players, by signing the likes of Clemence, Toshack, Heighway, Keegan, Smith, Hughes to name but a few & phased out the older players.
Liverpool went on win the UEFA cup & the League again in the season of’, ‘72/’73, with Bill winning ‘Manager of the Year’ Shankly had built the club into a major force in England & Europe.
The FA cup final in ’74 against Newcastle, turned out to be Shankly’s last game ever in charge. After beating them 3-0 & winning the cup he announced his surprise retirement as manager of Liverpool FC. Bill told the fans “this is one of my proudest moments as we have won this cup for you”
The news of Bill’s retirement shocked the whole club. The fans were absolutely distraught, as the man who had rebuilt their club & was so loved & respected was parting ways.
The directors tried everything to keep him but he was adamant. He said that he would still be available for his services to the club for as long as they needed him, but he said he was retiring as a manager, but not retiring from football & life.
Shankly admitted that it was the hardest decision he had ever made but he left Liverpool with pride in a job well done & his only regret was not winning the European cup.
However, he did go on to regret his decision as football was his life, & he tried to continue his involvement in the club, by turning up at Melwood for training, but the club had moved on & the manager Sir Bob Paisley felt he was been undermined & had his own plans, & Shankly was eventually pushed out of the club much to his distaste.
Bill Shankly received an OBE in 1974.
Inaugural Inductee in the English Hall of Fame in 2002
Inaugural Inductee into the Scottish Hall of Fame in 2004
This letter was written by Bill Shankly to a fan called Pauline who had sent him a letter asking about his life & career. Bill wrote this letter to Pauline the year after he retired. What a true gentleman he was!
Bill suffered a heart attack in the Autum of 1981, & then suffered a second heart attack 3 days later & passed away at the age of 68. For someone who looked after his health so vigorously that made his passing even more shocking to all. Bill was such a big part of every Liverpool supporter & players lives that the news was hard to hear. Liverpool mourned a legend & a hero & were devastated at the news.
Bill Shankly was cremated & his ashes were scattered in Anfield at the Kop end. His final resting place.
Bill Shankly dedicated his whole life to football from any early age, studying Psychology at the age of just 14, which was surreal for such a young boy. This thought him the whole concept of how being part of a team worked, & especially how to manage people not only as individuls, but collectively too.
At Liverpool, Shankly rejuvenated the whole club, rebuilding it from scratch & laying down the foundations for further generations to come. His famous quotes had a poetic ring about them & they will go down in history forever!
In my opinion, Bill Shankly was not only a true ‘Legend” but he was also a genius who was way ahead of his time, one who could be compared to a modern day motivational speaker, & possibly a football version of Muhammad Ali. This along with his incredible football knowledge is what made him so successful & unbelievably popular. He led Liverpool like a revolutionary leader, & he became a hero to the fans.
He was a kind, generous man, who had an infectious personality & had a knack of developing outstanding young players. He gave his time so generously to anyone who needed help. He showed nothing but respect to the players, fans, & everyone at the club, & they absolutely adored him.
He also had a special presence about him that made people listen & believe in him, thus making his players believe they could beat anybody. He instilled pride, discipline, loyalty, & a relentless work ethic. His winning mentality was always instilled in him & he made sure that his players thought the same.
Liverpool FC were one lucky club to be blessed with such an amazing manager & human being. He truly loved Liverpool, his beloved club, & he was an absolute football fanatic. He made LFC a major force not only in the English League but in Europe aswel, & most importantly brought home the silverware.
Everyone felt his retirement was premature & he did go on to regret it afterwards as football was his life, but he left with his head held high & feeling mighty proud at what he had achieved. The ‘Legacy’ of Bill Shankly will live on forever at Liverpool FC. YNWA!
A special thank you to Bill’s niece Barbara, (my great uncle Willie) as she called him, who so generously gave me the time to speak with her. It was an absolute honour!
A special thank you to Michelle from The Glenbuck society who couldn’t have been anymore helpful.