No Liverpool boss has done it his way quite so emphatically as Bill Shankly, a Scotsman who had a moderately successful playing career but was a towering figure as a manager...
Bill Shankly, Liverpool’s manager from 1959-74, took idiosyncrasy to the extreme as he built hugely successful teams by cleverly husbanding his resources and refining a highly effective, homespun form of player psychology.
The Liverpool teams he assembled over 15 years surpassed all their predecessors. His legacy is such that the club’s stature has endured despite the efforts of lesser managers.
As a Liverpool player for seven years, Gordon Milne observed Shankly from a front row seat. He signed for Shankly in 1960 when Liverpool were in the Second Division. He took a chance in doing so. The move to Anfield entailed leaving Preston North End of the First Division and also turning down an enticing offer from Arsenal, also of the First Division.
This was partly because Milne was a northern lad who didn’t fancy moving to a London club but mostly, he says, because there was ‘something about Shanks, his enthusiasm and all the other things’.
‘Shanks was never particularly approachable,’ Milne says. ‘He kind of spoke to everybody the same. He’d talk collectively to you as against picking someone out.
‘I never remember him saying to someone in the dressing room, “You did that today” or “That was your fault” or “Come to the office I want to see you.” He talked generally, “Why did we do that?”
‘He’d talk third party; he’d talk to us through Bob [Paisley] sometimes. He’d talk to Bob after a game and say things like, “Well, Bob, that’s the worst effing team I’ve seen in my life. They will not win another game, Bob. They’ll not win another game.” And we’re all sitting there in the dressing room listening to it. He’d walk past everybody. That’s how he did it.
‘Then after we’d won five-nothing, he’d say, “Bob, that’s not a bad team you know. That’s not a bad team They won’t go down, Bob. They will not go down. They’ve just beaten a great team”.’
Milne describes another of Shankly’s ruses: ‘The old Anfield dressing rooms were terrible. We used to come in the side way, which they still do, go through a little door and then down this narrow corridor, turn right and then walk towards the dressing rooms.
‘To get to their dressing room the visitors had to pass Liverpool’s on the left and on this particular day West Ham were the visitors. Shanks, as he did quite regularly, was standing just inside our dressing room, with the door open a bit.
‘As he looked out he’d say things like “Och, Bob, here’s Martin Peters coming. Martin Peters. He’s pasty faced. He’s pasty faced, Bob. His face is white.” Or he’d say, “They’re frightened to death. Their faces are blank, Bob. Blank. They’re frightened to death.”
‘This was Shanks’s way of motivating us as we sat there rubbing our legs – we didn’t go on the pitch to warm up in those days, we just went straight out – or combing our hair or whatever. But he always did it through somebody else.’
Milne has no idea why but points out it was a mark of Shankly’s teams that they suffered very few injuries. He says he was reminded recently that in the 1961-62 season, when Liverpool won the Second Division by eight points with a goal difference of 56, and in the season that followed he did not miss a game.
‘And a lot of that team – and there were 42 League games, never mind the cups – had played 40 games, 41 games, 38 games. Nobody seemed to get injured. I don’t know how the hell this happened, but they didn’t get hurt.’
It became a ritual that journalists would ask Shankly: ‘What’s the team at the weekend, Bill?’ And he would say: ‘The same as last year, son.’
Also, Shankly would express/feign surprise when rival teams asked for tickets for the directors’ box at Anfield. Milne recalls him saying to Paisley things like: ‘Bob, they’re getting tickets for the directors’ box, they’re sending three people to watch us play. What a waste of money. They know the team and everybody knows how we play.’
Milne returns to the theme of Shankly’s gift for choosing players who complemented one another: ‘There were no egos, there was nobody characterwise who dominated the group. Big Ron [Yeats], the captain, might have dominated physically but he was a softie, great guy. It was a mixture.
‘You had your lads with plenty of confidence – Ian St John had his aggression, Ian would fight the world, and his personality was something that maybe none of the other ones had – and then there were others that were quiet. The two fullbacks, Chris Lawler and Gerry Byrne, never said boo to a goose.’
In Milne’s view, because of the care with which Shankly chose players his teams almost managed themselves. ‘Though I say it myself, we were an easy group to handle. As players we were all capable in different ways of winning a game or saving a game. There were strengths that were complemented and we protected one another.’