Thursday 3 September 2009

Icon #24 Bill Shankly

Bill Shankly didn't just manage Liverpool Football Club he managed a City. Well half of it anyway. He was on a one man mission to turn Liverpool into a bastion of English football and his legacy is a club that still holds its head up even after twenty years without the League. It was he that installed that in the make up of the club. That second wasn't good enough and that it never ever is.

Shankly joined Liverpool as manager in 1959. The club was in a bit of a mess, but men like Joe Fagan and Bob Paisley were already there and Shankly slowly but surely improved a poor squad that was languishing in the second division. By 1962 Liverpool were back in the first division and won the title two years later. Here's the the thing about Shankly, the trophy haul isn't spectacular. Three titles, two FA Cups and the UEFA Cup. What he did was something else entirely.

He recognised that the fans were important. Really important. He totally embraced the culture of the Kop and thrived on the love they bestowed upon him. Without Shankly the Kop wouldn't be what it is. He just seemed to become the same as them. There's a famous clip of him, sat on the bench of the 1974 Cup Final moving his hands in time with the play, like a puppet pulling the strings and like a fan willing the team on.

Obviously I'm a Liverpool fan. Weirdly that makes writing this harder because I know I'll get accused of being over the top about Shankly. He loved his club and his club loved him back. Well the fans and players did anyway. When he quit in 1974 he couldn't give it up and was a regular to training sessions but the board never gave him the the position as a director that he coveted. He never moved away from Liverpool though, he loved the place.

I missed his years in charge (yeah yeah not quite that old) but as a supporter I understand what he did for the club. He took us from mediocrity and laid the foundations for thirty years of success. We dominated English football because of Bill Shankly.

The Kop still sing about him because he was Liverpool and still is. Sure we've come second a fair bit recently (sometimes a lot worse than second...) but every fan wants the title. Not because we think we have a divine right to it, not because we think we're better than the rest but because Bill Shankly told us it was what mattered. I loved that night when we won the Champions League in 2005. It was one of the best nights of my life. But twenty years without the title hurts more than anything. That win didn't take that pain away.

Bill Shankly is my iconic football manager because he moulded a club into his own image and despite the lack of recent success that mould remains unbroken fifty years later. We don't always get it right as a club, but I think most of the time there's still a desire to act with dignity. If we lose that then we'll toss away what makes us special.

(Of course Shankly also had an acidic tongue. His Everton jibes were legendary, back when that rivalry was at one of it's peaks. But it was always done with humour, a humour that the Liverpool fans loved anyway...)

Even if you hate football or have never watched a match, sit down one Tuesday or Wednesday evening this season and tune into a Champions League game at Anfield. You don't even have to watch the match. Make sure you turn on about ten minutes before the game kicks off and listen to Anfield sing 'You'll Never Walk Alone'. They sing it like that because of Shanks.

'I'm just one of the fans that stands on the Kop. They think the same as I do, and I think the same as they do. It's kind of a marriage...'

Tonight's post is dedicated to Anakin, @RickHarwood, @butterflygrrrl and @twosoups.


  1. It never surprises me that you write about Luverpool, the same way as I write about my daughter: with heart.

    And I'll always be grateful to you for the fact that I can say I stood on The Kop! (even if my feet hardly touched the ground, and I'm sure I fainted at some point!)

  2. I think the modern game owes Shankly a lot. He really set the benchmark as to how a manager could engage with the fans. The likes of Ferguson and (my hero) Wenger have followed his example and built their clubs in their own image, something that Shankly was a pioneer of. Even now you think of the Kop and you think of him, not Rafa or any other manager.

    Man U had Busby before the Kop had Shankly, but even then there was a slight detachment, as though he was some ethereal being somehow removed from the club, but Shankly is for Liverpool fans the God who fell to earth, to walk among them. Even as a gooner I have to respect the achievements he made.