Bob Paisley was born in 1919 in the mining village of Hetton-Le-Hole in Co.Durham. It was described as a close-knit community where “coal was king & football was religion”. Schooled in the local area along with his 3 siblings, Bob knew that football was for him from the off. During the mining strike in 1926 things weren’t easy, and even though Bob admitted there was never any money left at the end of the week, they were never left short of life’s essentials.
Collecting coal dust to use as fuel at the age of 7 wasn’t unusual for kids of the era. Leaving school at 14, football was never far from his mind and he already knew it was to be his path in life. His brother said that if they were ever asked to go to the shop, Bob always turned it into a sprinting race and always wanted to win, already showing his competitive nature.
Similar to his father, he started mining at 14 and also worked as a brick layer to earn extra money for the family. This contributed to Bob turning into a fighter that would stand to him in his already mapped out future.
Paisley started his football career at school level playing as a half back and even then he was described as an outstanding player, contributing to his team winning 17 trophies in just 4 years. As a youth he joined Hetton football club were he continued to attract attention with his impressive footballing ability, but he always dreamed of playing for Sunderland. After having a trial with the club his dreams were crushed as they deemed him ‘too small’; he also suffered rejection from Wolves & Spurs for the same reason.
Bishop Auckland came to Paisley’s rescue and signed him at the start of the 1937/38 season. In the incredible treble winning season of 1938/39 Sunderland’s interest reignited, but Liverpool were now on the scene and manager George Kay promised Bob he would sign him at the end of the season.
Kay kept his promise and Paisley signed for Liverpool FC in 1939 at the age of 20. Unknown to him at the time, this was to be his home until his retirement.
Paisley paid homage to Bishop Auckland describing the club as one of the top non-league teams, calling them “The kings of amateur football”. While he played for them they achieved many honours, including Northern League Championship, FA Amateur Cup, & The Challenge Cup of Durham.
Arriving at Liveprool
Two days later Bob arrived in the city of Liverpool, his home for the next half a decade. Managing to play just two reserve games at the start of the 1939/40 season, he had become friendly with Sir Matt Busby who was the club captain at the time.
Bob described him as ‘a man you could look up to & respect“ but then the Second World War broke out, changing everything and everyone. Bob’s career was put on hold for 6 years during what was supposed to be its peak.
Before being posted abroad he made 34 appearances & scored 10 goals, the majority of them coming in the North Regional League playing with Matt Busby & Billy Liddell as he was stationed with them at the time.
Joining the Montgomery Eight Army he served as a tank gunner & was stationed in many camps across Britain. In 1941 he was sent to North Africa and then Italy, and he didn’t return home until 1945. In June 1944 he proudly rode aboard a tank as the Allies liberated Rome.
They were welcomed as heroes by the Italians.
Paisley resumed his Liverpool career in 1945/46 season as the Football League set up a temporary North and South division, as well as featuring in the FA Cup.
In August 1946, with a team that boasted the great Billy Liddell, Liverpool finally kicked off the new post-war era and went on to win their 1st league title in over 24 years.
Paisley missed the opening two matches but made his full league debut in the third game of the season against Chelsea at Anfield. He went on to play in 33 of Liverpool’s 42 league matches that season & quickly established himself as a tough left half. He was well-known for his throw-in ability.
He gained the admiration of others in the squad through his hard work, tenacity, and his ability to correctly analyse the game tactically in the dressing room afterwards. Bob‘s intelligence was really coming forward and he was beginning to show there was more to him than people had actually realised at the time.
The following season (1947/48) he remained a fixture in the side playing 30+ games, while 1948/49 and 1949/50 were seasons of highs and lows. George Kay stood down as manager due to ill health to be succeeded by Don Welsh, but Liverpool were on a downward spiral.
In the following three seasons Liverpool finished 9th, 11th,& 17th. Relegation to the second division was avoided only on the last day of 1952/53 season with the Reds winning 2-0 over Chelsea at Anfield, but it wasn’t to be avoided at the end of 1953/54.
Bob was already planning the end of his football career as a player. Having previously trained as a physiotherapist, he had also completed his badges to become a qualified coach.
Paisley was now 35 years of age and on the 4th of May 1954, it was made public he was retiring from playing football.
Paisley was basically an introvert. He hated giving speeches and his chief characteristics were ruthless determination to succeed, a shrewd judge of players, a fierce will to win, a genius tactician paying particularly close attention to detail. He showed a refreshing lack of ego and didn’t need to raise his voice to be heard or gain respect. He got it in abundance from the players, directors and the fans, who adored him at the club.
Even though Paisley was good-natured and had a friendly manner, he also could be ruthless with the players if need be, particularly when dropping players. Once you were dropped, it was near impossible to get back into the team.
At the end of the day he may have been a calm, kind man but he had a job to do and he had a brutal desire to win.
His charisma and knowledge of all sides of football allowed him to have such an impact on and off the pitch. Known as a tactical genius along with his more reserved manner as a manager, it was the absolute perfect combination for his managerial style. It absolutely worked and nobody can argue with that.
He had the fans eating out of his hands due to his likability and success, as he made Liverpool Football Club a super-force in Europe and at home.
Unlike Shankly, Paisley exuded calm, class, & spoke softly & actually made the effort to listen. He had a keen interest in psychology and you could see this from his style of management.
He understood the value of quietness and gave the players and coaches a voice at Anfield, and he was able to decipher which views were relevant and which were not; only somebody extremely clever would have the know-how to do this.
Sometimes he even went along with others and their opinions despite having reservations.
Paisley once asked Roy Evans, who was the reserve coach manager at the time, which of the young midfielders he should call up, Sammy Lee or Kevin Kewley. Evans’ reply was Kewley, so Paisey went along with his recommendation even with his reservations.
Kewley played one match for Liverpool and Sammy Lee went on to have a super career, playing over 300 games.
Evans later said that Bob said to him afterwards:
”You may not get everything right but you might get one little thing that I’m missing”.
After retiring in 1954 he joined the Liverpool’s backroom staff as a self-taught physiotherapist, and he was said to have had the knack of being able to diagnose players’ injuries by looking at them.
He then moved on to manage the reserve team, and then in 1959 when Albert Shelly retired, Bill Shankly arrived.
Paisley later said:
“From the day he arrived we got on like a house on fire”.
Shankly called him up as his assistant manager, along with Fagan and Bennett as part of the backroom staff, and assured them that he would not be replacing them.
He kept a desk diary & recorded every detail of the team; for example, if players were arriving late for training, or who had been out drinking all night, etc…
He managed his team by a group ethos, and that was – he was the boss.
Shankly began to rebuild Liverpool as the club in general was not in a good stead. Bill was known as the motivator and Paisley as the tactical genius behind the scenes.
Paisley, being the club physio, also emphasized that his belief that the players needed a cooling down period after matches before having baths, as this would leave pores open and the players may be more susceptible to infection and strains, and this theory went on prove correct with players staying fit for most of the season.
Shankly went on to rejuvenate the whole club, improving Melwood & Anfield, aand bringing in super signings. He achieved promotion to the 1st division, going on to win three 1st division leagues, one 2nd league title, 2 FA Cups, & one UEFA cup.
Shankly was a fantastic manager and motivator and he too had the mind of a genius, with another genius working behind the scenes.
Bill was absolutely adored by everyone at the club and the fans alike. He had made Liverpool a force in the English League and in Europe.
Shortly after winning the FA Cup in 1974, he announced his retirement and shocked everyone, but he advised that he was still available to Liverpool for his services for as long as they needed him. It was a decision that he later went to regret.
Shankly went on to praise Bob saying:
”He was the perfect number, never a threat to me but always offering wise counsel”
The Revolution Begins
Reluctant to take the reigns at first, Paisley finally decided to accept the position as the new manager of Liverpool FC, with some believing he didn’t think he had what it took to do it, especially with the type of introvert personality he had; which was very unassuming. However, he accepted his post and started to hash out a plan.
Unlike other managers he didn’t plan on changing everything Bill had built, but he would add his own ideas gradually, and over time he began to lay down the foundations of Liverpool’s future greatness.
He said: “Anybody imitating somebody else can’t be great. You have got to be yourself and at the end of the day if you’re not good enough, you have to accept that. I can’t replicate what Shankly did or how he did things but I can do them in a more cunning way”
Daily meetings were held with the backroom staff to discuss tactics, training, and players. The training strategy was key at Liverpool, and this is what brought them their success in the 1960s and afterwards as well.
To create his team he plucked players from obscurity, bought Ronnie Whelan from Shelbourne, Ian Rush from Chester, & Bruce Grobbelaar from Vancouver Whitecaps. He sold Keegan to Germany, brought Dalglish from Celtic, and still made £60,000 on the deal. He reassigned Ray Kennedy from a struggling striker to become a world-class midfielder.
Boasting players such players as Keegan, Heighway, Hughes, Toshack, Smith, Whelan, Hansen, and later Dalghish and Rush, to name but a few, Liverpool had a formidable squad.
Paisley wanted the team to attack and defend together, an approach known as “The Liverpool Way” of playing football. Their versatility was key & he needed players to be able to switch from possession to ruthless attacking play, ripping defenses apart. His strikers needed to time the runs to perfection. Paisley’s way was ‘4 passes & then a shot at goal.’
He told the players: “If you are in the penalty box and you don’t know what to do with the ball, put it in the net and we’ll discuss everything else afterwards“
Paisleys first season at Liverpool was not a success, not by the high standards set by his predecessor, missing out on the league title & cups. But the following season of 1975/76, Liverpool won the League and the UEFA Cup. This team went on to become champions on six occasions, finishing second twice, as well as winning three League Cups, one UEFA Cup, one UEFA Super Cup, six Charity Shields, and most significantly – three European Cups.
What an achievement for a manager in such a short space of time. Liverpool’s main challengers at the time were Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Manchester United, but the Reds were the dominant team in England and Europe at the time.
Paisley will go down as one of the most successful managers of all time. Only Carlo Ancelotti, and Zinedine Zidane have matched his European Cup record.
Ronnie Whelan, described Bob as “the best manager that ever lived”.
“He brought me to Liverpool at the age of 17 in 1979 and gave me an insight about what it was like to play at the heart of one of the great Liverpool sides, and I absolutely love it. He was like your Grandad in a way but you did what you were told nonetheless.”
After retiring as the manager of Liverpool having spent 44 years at the club in various capacities, he was replaced by Joe Fagan.
He continued to work informally as an advisor to Kenny Dalglish before becoming the club director in 1986 at the age of 66, and he was nearly posted as the Ireland manager.
The Hillsborough Disaster
A few years prior to Paisley finally departing Liverpool, a horrific event happened in 1989 whilst Liverpool were playing Nottingham Forest in the semi final of the FA Cup at Hillsborough – 96 Liverpool fans got crushed to death.
This was due to overcrowding outside the stadium and an order given to open the gates to let the fans in causing a human crush as fences segregated fans from the pitches in stadiums at the time. Ninety-six innocent men, women and children lost their lives and 766 were seriously injured. From what is now known as the Hillsborough Disaster, those 96 fans will never be forgotten.
Paisley continued to serve as a director until he finally retired in 1992 due to ill health, having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which had become apparent to many at the time when he was unable to remember his way home when driving from Anfield one evening.
Bob paisley passed away at the age of 77 in 1996, & he was honoured by the club with the ‘Paisley gates’ in Anfield in 2012 complementing the ‘Shankly Gates’. Bob was buried in his beloved city of Liverpool.
Awarded OBE in 1983
Inductee into The English football Hall of Fame 2002
Inductee into the European hall of fame 2008
World soccer mag, the 6th greatest manager of all time 2013
European coach of the year 1981
European coach of the season 1977/81
PFA Merit award 1983
FWA Tribute Award 1984
Football Manager of the Year: 6 times in 9 years.
Bob Paisley was a charismatic, extremely likeable character who exuded class and calmness. He was a kind and gentle man who spoke very softly and was known as the “Quiet Genius” – which couldn’t be anymore fitting to Bob in my opinion.
He had a keen interest in psychology and the legacy of Paisley was to show that there was a different style of management that would work.
He believed that you didn’t have to speak loud to be heard, because it in fact made people listen even more.
He was a complex character, extremely intelligent with an unbelievable passion to win and fight til the end, and I believe that it was the perfect combination between his management style, his profound tactical knowledge of the game, his fierce desire to win that made him so successful.
Unlike Shankly, Bob didn’t regret retiring as he wanted to spend more time with his family, and he also had a very keen interest in horses which would have kept him occupied, and even though he had spent 50 years dedicating his life in various capacities to Liverpool FC he was content with his decision.
He had an unbelievable likeability factor about him which captured the attention of everyone associated with the club & everyone adored him. He had nothing but respect for everyone he worked with, and especially the fans of Liverpool FC. He got it back in abundance. He made our club a super-force in Europe and England.
Paisley is regarded as one of the greatest English managers ever, he won 20 trophies in a third of the time Alex Ferguson took to win his 38. That’s an average of 2.2 trophies per season. He managed Liverpool over nine seasons in total, and he is one of only three managers ever to win three European cups.
Liverpool FC will Never see another manager like him and this true Legend will live on forever in our beloved club.