Harvey Elliott, the 16-year-old whose move from Fulham to Liverpool is being widely predicted, is just the latest in a long line of players who have found it impossible to resist the lure of Anfield – even when the club was in the Football League’s old Second Divison...
In the summer of 1960, Gordon Milne found the appeal of a move to Liverpool FC irresistible even though it meant leaving Preston North End who were in the old First Division and going down to the Second.
Milne, who had just come out of the army after doing his national service, says: ‘I’d played 80-odd games for Preston in the late Fifties and I’d also played for the army team, which in those days was a good strong side.’
First Arsenal made an approach for the newly demobbed Milne, before Bill Shankly, the recently appointed Liverpool manager who had played for Preston, expressed an interest. ‘You don’t want to go to London, son,’ Shankly, a Scot who specialised in succinct advice, told Milne after making a special trip to see him.
He also told Milne, ‘We’re a sleeping giant’, a reference to the fact that Liverpool, who had won their fifth League title in 1947, were now in the second tier and still looking to win the FA Cup for the first time.
‘I’d read about Shanks,’ Milne says. ‘He was just an enthusiast. His passion was for football and he believed in Liverpool. He knew what he wanted and he knew how the game should be played – simple and straightforward. He always emphasised the team, players complementing one another.
‘But at the time it worried me whether I’d made the right decision by turning down Arsenal, who were in the First Division. It was only in the long term it turned out to be the best move I ever made.’
Liverpool paid £16,000 for Milne with the player receiving the statutory tenner as a signing-on fee.
‘Shanks had started building at that time and I was the first one of that team he signed,’ Milne says. ‘Afterwards he signed Willie Stevenson, big Ron [Yeats], Ian St John and Peter Thompson. This group joined what they’d already got there: Tommy Lawrence, Chris Lawler, Gerry Byrne, Ian Callaghan and Roger Hunt.’
Milne did not start well. His first-team debut was against Southampton in a Second Division match at Anfield a few weeks after joining the club. It ended in a 1-0 defeat.
‘I always remember Joe Fagan, who was number three behind Shanks and Bob Paisley, coming to me. Joe had a different nature from the other two, a softer nature. Joe said, “The manager thinks it’d probably be better if you had a little spell in the reserves. Moving clubs is a big thing.”
‘In those days you didn’t challenge things. There wasn’t the arrogance among players there is now.’
After that faltering start against Southampton, Milne would become a key member of one of the great teams of English football in the twentieth century. He made more than 200 appearances for the club, helping them win League titles in 1964 and 1966.
In 1966, as an international player, he narrowly missed out on selection for England’s World Cup-winning squad.
Milne has mixed memories of the loss to Southampton on his debut.
These include being driven to Anfield by his dad with his mum and Edith, his wife-to-be, coming along, too.
‘There was no meeting at a hotel or anything like that. You just turned up at the ground. It was a wet night, we parked in a side street and walked to the ground.’
When they went back to the car after the game, they found it jammed in by other parked vehicles.
‘Now I’d just signed for Liverpool and we’re standing there wondering what to do. Some fans came by who recognised me. “Oh, there’s Gordon Milne. Let’s go and help.” And they bounced the car out. They bounced it so my dad could get the front of the car out. “Don’t worry about the game,” they said. “It’s only your first game.” All this sort of stuff. Typical Scousers.’