The Gunner who fired a century at Lord’s and dazzled at Wembley

  • June 28, 2019 12:54
  • Jon Henderson

Long gone are the heady days when many professional footballers, too skint to take the summer off given their tightly controlled wages, made their livings in the summer playing cricket...


When the break between the football and cricket seasons really was a break and players needed to find a nice little summer earner, all-round sportsmen such as the Compton brothers, Denis and Leslie, would commit themselves to playing both games at a professional level.

In the case of the Comptons, it was county championship cricket for Middlesex throughout the summer before reporting back to Arsenal for the football season.

Denis Compton was probably the most accomplished of the many cricket-football all-rounders. A brilliant, attacking batsman for his country as well as his county, he and his brother were FA Cup winners with Arsenal.

After he played his first full season of Test cricket in the English summer of 1938, Denis Compton turned down the chance to tour South Africa that winter to concentrate on playing football. At this stage, though, he was not good enough to secure a regular place in the Arsenal first team.

But skipping the South Africa trip did no harm to his cricketing career. He was back in England’s Test side for the 1939 home series against West Indies. He marked his return with an innings of 120 at Lord’s, during which he and Len Hutton added 248 for the fourth wicket in 140 minutes.

The Comptons are among a fairly extensive group of professional footballers who played first-class cricket. They gained their FA Cup winners’ medals in Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Liverpool in the 1950 final.

Denis’s performance in that final was a game of two very distinct halves. He played ‘a stinker’, his own assessment, in the first half; but, fortified by a hefty slug of whisky at halftime, dazzled in the second.

Since 1964, though, when Jim Standen and Geoff Hurst, he of the 1966 World Cup final hat-trick, played in the Cup Final for West Ham, no one else has achieved this distinction.

Standen, a goalkeeper who appeared 178 times for the Hammers, played as a dependable medium-pace bowler for Worcestershire from 1959-70, while the details of Hurst’s first-class cricket career are beloved of pub-quiz compilers. It consisted of one match for Essex in 1962 in which he batted twice and did not score a run, nor did he bowl a ball. He is described as having been an outstanding fielder and an occasional wicketkeeper.

In the 1980s, Ian Botham was one of the last people to play for a Football League club and be a professional cricketer at the same time. But Botham’s 11 appearances as a defender for Scunthorpe hardly qualified the cricketing giant to be regarded also as a colossus of football.

While still a Bolton player, Terry Allcock turned out for Blackpool in Lancashire League cricket matches for five years. ‘I played against some great Test players,’ he says, ‘Australia’s fast bowler Ray Lindwall and the West Indians Ramadhin, Valentine, Walcott, Weekes and Worrell. I played against them all. I made 67 not out against Lindwall.’

Allcock says the best way to make money playing cricket for Blackpool was to do well in front of a big holiday crowd. ‘I wasn’t paid very much and we didn’t receive bonuses,’ he says, ‘but if you scored 50 or took five wickets for less than 35 runs they took a bucket round the crowd making a collection. You could make quite a bit this way.’

When Allcock moved south to join Norwich, he played cricket for Norfolk in addition to coaching at Gresham’s Scool. Between 1959-75 he made 45 appearances in the minor counties competition as one of the team’s most consistent batsmen. He often batted with Bill Edrich when the veteran opening batsman returned to his native East Anglia after an outstanding first-class career with Middlesex and England.

Allcock made one appearance against a first-class county when in 1965 Norfolk played Hampshire in the Gillette Cup, the first major one-day competition for counties. The match was on Saturday 1 May, the day of the FA Cup final, but with Norwich having failed to repeat recent Cup heroics Allcock found himself clad in white flannels and cast among cricketers. These included Henry Blofeld, aka Blowers, the Old Etonian who would become an eminent commentator on the game.

Allcock has fond memories of Blofeld. He recalls the day when they were both dismissed cheaply playing for Norfolk in a match at Lakenham. To while away the time they walked together round the boundary, Blofeld wearing the newly awarded blazer that distinguished him as a Cambridge University cricket Blue.

Telling the story now, Allcock is amused that at the time he was the one, being a Norwich City footballer, who was recognised. ‘Every 15 yards or so we were stopped so I could sign autographs,’ he says. ‘When we got back to the pavilion Henry, pretending to be upset at being ignored, took off his blazer and hurled it into a corner.’

In more recet times, the talented all-round sportsman Keith Barker has played in the Football League and has represented Warwickshire and Hampshire in the county cricket championship, but not as overlapping careers.

Initially he chose professional football over cricket, joining Premier League side Blackburn Rovers and playing for Rochdale in the Football League while on loan from Rovers. In 2009 he switched to playing county cricket.


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing and now out in paperback 


Daily Mail | Cleaning Up the Mess by Ian Kennedy

  • June 11, 2019 10:36
  • Tony Rennell, Daily Mail

by Tony Rennell


THE MUTTERED abuse was coming thick and fast – choruses of ‘b***ocks’ and ‘f***ing liar’, all directed at Professor Sir Ian Kennedy, one of Britain’s most distinguished and experienced public servants. And the rabble handing out these crudities? A coterie of MPs, venting their venom in the most un-parliamentary of language – their bullying behaviour unrestrained, it should be said, by the Speaker, John Bercow, who was chairing the meeting.

Kennedy’s dignified response was typical of the man. ‘I did what any person who is rather deaf would do,’ he recalls. ‘I took out my hearing aid.’

I warmed to him instantly when I read this. How many of the rest of us wish we could, with the flick of a switch, tune out the unedifying rantings of our elected representatives over the past couple of years in the increasingly rancid Brexit debates in the House of Commons?

But what had drawn down the curses on Kennedy’s head was a different matter – his attempt, as chairman of IPSA, the Independent Standard’s Authority, to set up and implement a system of control on the high-octane matter of MPs’ expenses.

This was desperately needed after newspaper revelations of parliamentary snouts firmly in the trough provoked explosions of public outrage in 2008-9.

Cover ggggggggggggScandalous stories filled the front pages - of duck houses and chandeliers, moat-cleaning, hedges around helipads, flipped second homes and the like, all claimed by some of our elected representative as legitimate expenses in pursuit of their duties and paid, seemingly without question, out of taxpayers’ money.

MPs were popularly seen as on the make and on the take, crooks the lot of them.

Their reputations on the ropes, MPs voted to set up IPSA as an independent body to regulate their expenses and their pay, and Kennedy, approaching his seventies and a highly respected academic lawyer of impeccable credentials who had chaired inquiries and been head of the Healthcare Commission which regulated the NHS, was an obvious choice to run it.

His job, and that of the team he gathered around him, was to bring some order, rationality and accountability to MPs’ expenses.

Given the contempt they were held in by large swathes of public opinion, with all trust gone, he expected them to welcome his brief to clean up the mess by putting their personal finances on a firm and fair footing.

And most did.

But a small number resented the very idea of regulation and were determined to oppose it and him. He was shocked by the reception he got. ‘As someone who'd spent decades in public life, I'd worked with some quite challenging groups, but they'd retained a basic courteousness.

‘MPs were different,’ he says revealingly in a new book describing his experiences. ‘They clearly felt they didn't have to observe any of the normal standards of behaviour. I copped almost ceaseless flak.

‘In an orgy of self-flagellation, they'd agreed that things couldn't go on as before. But afterwards many sensed they'd been unwitting midwives at the birth of a monster. They saw IPSA as the enemy.’

In what he calls the daily uphill grind of dealing with some MPs, the attacks he came under were personal and vicious.

‘Playground bullies, smart-alecks always ready with a clever put-down honed from their days in university debating societies, the eternal plotters and the just plain nasty were routinely in my face.’

Only rarely was he given the protection he deserved by senior politicians, who too often seemed happy to see him hung out to dry. As for the very many decent MPs who deplored the silly railing against IPSA, to his dismay they chose to keep a low a profile.

Reading his account is to realise, with disgust, how loathsome, self-serving, arrogant and downright offensive far too many of our MPs had clearly become and how much they resented being made to do their job according to normal standards of business and behaviour.

Under the previous culture – the one Kennedy was brought in to end - they felt entitled to ‘allowances’ (as they preferred to call them, rather than ‘business expenses’) and claimed for such things as mortgage costs and rent as a matter of right. Hence those mysterious bills for a duck house and moat cleaning which so appalled the nation.

Now IPSA came along and insisted on accountability and transparency.

New rules were laid down. First-class travel was curtailed. Public transport was preferred to unlimited taxis – and the MP who insisted on taxis because he couldn’t take his two dogs on the Tube was reminded how bad this would make him look to a public now insisting on getting value for money.

The practice of putting family members on the payroll as ‘staff’ was policed.

Crucially, all expenses now had to be justified. Kennedy’s mantra was simple: ‘No ticket, no laundry.’ Moreover, proper receipts were expected, and not just a scribbled note saying the word ‘Taxi’ and the sum, as one MP thought he could get away with.

In May 2010, after the general election (which ousted Gordon Brown’s Labour Party and installed a Tory-LibDem coalition government under David Cameron), IPSA opened its operations, initiating the new system and offering MPs guidance with how to use it.

There was immediate resentment from a minority – perhaps 75 or so out of the House’s  650 members - who felt that ‘jobsworths’ were telling them what to do and undermining their parliamentary privileges.

‘I don’t do administration,’ one pompous MP declared. He and others like him wanted to be given what they saw as ‘their’ money to spend as they saw fit and be left to do their job unsupervised.

Kennedy would point out to the peeved that their job included accounting to the public for the £160million MPs received from the taxpayer. He argued that it was in their interests to support IPSA because it was the bulwark against accusations of corruption.

‘We could demonstrate month after month that MPs were complying with the scheme and managing taxpayers’ money with proper care.’

But this was apparently too much for them to stomach. IPSA was not only a ‘bad thing’ but some MPs continued to believe that the expenses scandal had been blown out of all proportion and that the public had been brainwashed by the media.

Their head-in-the-sand attitude reminded Kennedy ‘of the Japanese soldiers found in the jungles of the Philippines in the 1950s - unaware that the war was over’.

Meanwhile, he and his team of regulators found themselves under siege in what was developing into an unseemly private war. IPSA staff were routinely bullied, shouted and sworn at by MPs, leaving some in tears.

He logs a shocking series of shameful incidents in which the F-word was hurled with abandon.  ‘You’re all effing idiots,’ one member told his IPSA contact. ‘This [new] system is an effing abortion,’ another declared.

Courteously (but irritatingly for the reader), Kennedy edits out the names of the culprits, clearly being more of a gentleman than the people he was having to deal with.

 His unit was handling 250 queries a day – often demanding to know if this or that was allowed under the new rules rather than decide for themselves - yet MPs wanted an instant response and complained at being put on hold for as little as 20 seconds if there was a queue or no simple answer to their question.

Their pomposity knew no bounds. One e-mailed, in capital letters no less, ‘Don’t you know that I have the most important job in the western world.’ (He didn’t.)

There was much whinging that IPSA was bureaucratic, slow, ineffective and not customer friendly. The irony was that incensed MPs would routinely condemn it as a bloated and incompetent bureaucracy while at the same time urging that more staff be hired to deal with their own telephone calls.

Many failed to grasp the essential point that IPSA was not there to serve MPs but to serve the public interest.

No wonder that Kennedy describes his job as ‘part mud-wrestling, part pioneer frontiersman and part voyager through Dante’s Inferno’. He felt like a Christian thrown to the lions to be savaged to death.

Among those ‘lions’ who roared, clawed and mauled him, he names Labour MP Phil Woolas, who told a senior IPSA staff member, ‘I hate you.’ Even more vehement was the Liberal Democrat, Bob Russell, for whom, says Kennedy, ‘a cheap point was never too cheap’.

At one meeting he declared he had a mandate from the people who elected him and asked how IPSA, by regulating ‘his’ money, could presume to dictate how he ran his affairs. Kennedy riposted that IPSA had a mandate from Parliament, which it was fulfilling.

Tom Brake was another LibDem who ‘was never slow to show his antipathy’.

Conservative Chris Grayling, then Leader of the House, tried to browbeat Kennedy over the demand that MPs’ receipts should be open to public scrutiny, a development he opposed.

‘I’m not trying to threaten you,’ he told Kennedy, before adding that it was, of course, open to the government to close down IPSA.

Commendably Kennedy stood his ground. ‘Mr Grayling was of the old school: a magnet for hostile tea-room gossip and unsympathetic to the expenses system we'd introduced.

‘I realised that I was in the presence of a bully. But I am used to bullies and so I said  I didn't give in to threats easily.’

He found Graham Brady, chairman of the Tory 1922 committee of backbenchers ‘enigmatic’. ‘It was clear he would have preferred the old ways and always put in a pitch for greater freedom of action for MPs over the money they received.’

Adam Afriyie, Conservative MP for Windsor, ‘did not hide his contempt for IPSA and his desire to return to the good old days when MPs got “their” money and spent it, with little or no accountability.’

As for Speaker Bercow, who chaired the body responsible for allocating IPSA’s annual budget, Kennedy thought him ‘riddled with ambivalence’. He was in favour of an independent regulator, yet ‘as a self-styled champion of backbenchers, his was a ready ear for the many complaints and horror stories about IPSA and he indulged members in their feeding frenzy.

‘If he supported IPSA in principle, why did he throw us under a bus?’

When Kennedy complained that Bercow had unfairly criticised a member of the IPSA board by saying rather snootily that the man didn’t understand parliament and was biased against MPs, a meeting was held in the Speaker’s ‘grand office’.

‘I was seriously unimpressed. He did not so much talk as declaim rather loudly and in orotund phrases. It was clear to the Speaker that we needed to be taught a lesson and reminded that we were lesser mortals.’

Offended, Kennedy left after telling Bercow his comments were unwarranted and out of place.

At another meeting in an attempt to clear the air, Kennedy ‘found the Speaker in declamatory mode again. I was particularly struck by his remarking that I was “too clever” on occasions. Not knowing what he meant, I ignored it. I reflected later that it was better to be thought too clever than not clever enough.

‘I was sometimes taken aback, indeed shocked, by his aggressive dealings on occasion with his staff. He was always an inch away from dropping into performance mode.’

Kennedy himself proved a canny observer of Westminster life. He notes that the LibDems ‘didn't appear to have a consistent view on anything, and argued as much among themselves as with me’.

As for his first meeting en masse with members of the Parliamentary Labour Party, ‘their behaviour, I regret to say, was acrimonious and nasty. The Scottish contingent was the most vociferous and bitter.

‘Most were veterans who'd been elected time and again - and seemed to take their membership of the House, and the perks that went with it, as an entitlement.

‘One particularly aggressive Scottish MP told me that if he were a trade union leader presented with the package of pay and conditions I'd been talking about, he'd bring the workforce out on strike.

‘It wasn't surprising when they were all swept aside in the 2015 general election.’

Hilary Benn, on the other hand, was ‘one of the few MPs who understood that the rules of the game had changed and that, rather than wishing IPSA away, it would be more productive to try to make things work.’

Kennedy’s perseverance and his determination not to be thrown off course by insults and aggression proved successful. He is confident that the system he introduced works and that MPs, for all their carping, are toeing the line.

Nonetheless, it peeves him that the media hasn’t got the message and persists with the narrative that MPs are all fiddling the books.  Newspapers still react, he says, with faux outrage when MPs are seen to claim for paper clips and the like. Yet surely paper clips count as a necessary business expense?

But generally he counts it a success to have taken the issue of MPs’ expenses out of the headlines. The boil of 2008-9 was pretty well lanced, the mess cleaned up. He also sorted out the thorny issues of MPs’ pay and pensions.

Not that he got any thanks for any of this. On the contrary, what he faced as his time at IPSA came to an end in 2017 was a deliberate act of revenge.

He applied to fill a vacancy on the Electoral Commission, which oversees the democratic process. With widespread fears about cyber interference, vote rigging and the funding of parties, he believed he could make a valuable contribution.

He went through the selection process and his appointment was approved by the Speaker and the leaders of all political parties. Then, as a matter of routine, it was put to the House of Commons to be nodded through.

Unusually, voices from the backbenches objected.

Outside the chamber, one senior MP was reported as saying that ‘he threw bucket-loads of s*** over us after the expenses affair. And what does he know about elections anyway? He’s just a quangocrat.’

The objections meant that a full debate had to take place, during which, says Kennedy, ‘pettiness plumbed new depths’. When it came to a vote, his appointment was vetoed by 77 votes to 46.

Kennedy comments: ‘This was just a display of power. The MPs were getting their own back because they could.’

Daily Mail columnist Peter Oborne took up his cause, denouncing this ‘revenge attack’ on Kennedy. Vindictive backbenchers, he wrote, ‘cannot forgive the way he stopped them feathering their own nests’. He described their behaviour as contemptible, cynical and sordid.

Kennedy was understandably bitter. As he saw it, he had saved MPs from themselves and come up with a system that went a long way to rescuing their tarnished reputations. Yet he remains philosophical.

He ends his account of those seven turbulent years of trying to get MPs to toe the line by quoting George Bernard Shaw: ‘I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and, besides, the pig likes it.’

It’s a sorry and embarrassing commentary on how low some of these we elect to Parliament have clearly sunk.


George Eastham gave up playing, became a cork salesman – and changed the lot of professional footballers forever

  • June 04, 2019 12:25
  • Jon Henderson

The retain-and-transfer rule was more accurately described by its alternative name, the slavery act. It lasted until the 1960s when Eastham and the Professional Footballers’ Association took legal action...


‘When you think about it,’ George Eastham says, ‘it was a silly sort of situation. All I was looking for was a job in the afternoons because footballers did nothing in those days. You finished at lunchtime and then the rest of the day you became a good snooker player or whatever, a good golfer – but you didn’t have anything to do.’

From his home in South Africa, he is talking about his time as a Newcastle United player from 1956-60.

An England under-23 international, who would be a member of England’s World Cup winning squad in 1966, Eastham was approaching his twenty-fourth birthday. His wedding was coming up. It struck him that rather than potting snooker balls all afternoon it would make more sense to find a second job and save some money.

‘In those days, when you married they gave you a club house to reside in, you paid your rent and that was how it worked. There was no buying your own house because you couldn’t afford it.’

The house he had been given was on the shabby side. If he could earn a little more he might be able to do something about it.

‘But I couldn’t get a job and I couldn’t come to any agreement with Newcastle,’ he says. ‘They told me, “Oh, we’ll get you a job, no problem, no problem.” But nobody ever did anything.’

So one day he told them: ‘I’m off to London to find a work.’

In London he went to see Ernie Clay, an army friend of his father’s, who had a firm in Reigate, Surrey. Thanks to Clay, later the chairman of Fulham football club, Eastham started work as a cork salesman. His career as a footballer was placed on hold because Newcastle had withheld his registration.

The club were entitled to do this under football’s retain-and-transfer rule – aka the slavery rule – despite Eastham’s contract with them having come to an end. What is more, in accordance with the rule, Newcastle stopped paying him and refused to release him to play for anyone else.

The upside for Eastham was that everyone wanted to buy cork off the man whose photograph and story were all over the front pages. ‘Everywhere I went was an open door,’ Eastham says, ‘nobody said they didn’t want to see me because I was in the newspapers. So I sold a bit of cork and I was getting more money selling it than I was playing football.’

Eastham hung on for seven months before Newcastle relented in October 1960 and allowed his transfer to Arsenal.

But Eastham wasn’t finished yet.

It was around this time that the players, threatening a strike, forced their employers to scrap the maximum wage, which by 1960 had reached £20 a week. This successful show of player power emboldened the Professional Footballers Association. With Eastham’s help, the association now resolved to carry on and remove the scourge of the slavery rule.

‘Newcastle were probably hoping that after I eventually signed for Arsenal the dispute over the retain-and-transfer system would fall away,’ Eastham says. ‘But the PFA were looking to me to be the man to take the fight forward, to bring an end to the system.

‘They were coming to the end of their resources – they weren’t a big PFA in those days, they were a small PFA, the money wasn’t coming in like it does now – but they offered to pay my expenses if I carried on.

‘I said, “Yes, let’s do it. Let’s go the whole hog.” I wasn’t happy with the way things had gone with my transfer. So the case went to High Court and that broke the retain-and-transfer system.’

It was an historic triumph that could hardly have been concluded by a more appropriate figure. The judge appointed to try the case in 1963 was Mr Justice Wilberforce, whose great-great-grandfather, William Wilberforce, led the movement that resulted in the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act of 1807.

It seems almost too neat to be a mere coincidence that 156 years on Richard Wilberforce would be the one to abolish football’s so-called slavery rule.

Little could Richard Wilberforce or anyone else have known that his landmark decision, even though loudly hailed at the time, would eventually transform the game by quite such a multiple.


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing and now out in paperback.


For the outstanding Danny Blachflower it was ‘the greatest emotional experience of my life’

  • June 03, 2019 10:41
  • Jon Henderson

Saturday’s defeat by Liverpool must rank as Tottenham’s harshest European disappointment since 1962. That year, after a memorable win over Polish side Gornik Zabrze, Spurs suffered a bitter loss in the semi-finals of the continent's premier competition...


If there were an English team who might have won European football’s premier club prize in its earliest days it was the Tottenham side operating under the enlightened on-field leadership of their greatest captain Danny Blanchflower.

Spurs qualified for the 1961-2 European Cup and it all began so well with a thrilling second-leg victory in their preliminary round tie against Polish side Gornik Zabrze.

Cliff Jones was a member of that side and has vivid memories of the match at White Hart Lane.

The Welshman had played with distinction for his country at the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden, where visiting teams received limited support. But a home tie against foreign opposition in a club competition was of a completely different order. He describes the second leg against Gornik at White Hart Lane as the ‘one match that stood out for me during my time at Spurs’.

The away leg, Tottenham’s debut in Europe, was dramatic enough. Spurs came back from 4-0 down soon after the break to narrow the deficit to 4-2 with Jones’s goal the first by a Tottenham player in Europe.

‘We were in with a shout, but Bill Nicholson wasn’t impressed with us, he wasn’t pleased,’ Jones says. ‘The press, they weren’t pleased with us either, they gave us quite a bit of stick. It was because of this, I think, that for the second leg we were really buzzing, we just couldn’t wait to get out there.

‘As we came out onto the White Hart Lane pitch with the Gornik side the noise from the 62,000 crowd was just incredible. They were amazing, they lifted us.

‘We were looking at the Gornik players and straightaway they were on the back foot. In Gornik the atmosphere hadn’t been great. There was the ground, then there was the running track, and then there was something else – so the crowd was well away from the playing area. But at White Hart Lane the crowd was on top of them and you could see they were in trouble.

‘Right from the off we just got at ’em. Bobby Smith had a shot, the goalkeeper tipped it over the bar and from then on the noise was just one complete roar.

‘I was fortunate to get a hat-trick and I would say I have never experienced an atmosphere like it. The final score was 8-1, 10-5 on aggregate.

‘It was the start of the glory nights as they were called, and that night we played… I don’t think there’s any team who’s been or will ever be – and I’m including Barcelona, Real Madrid, Man United – who could have lived with us. That night we would have beaten anybody, I don’t care who they were. We just slaughtered them. And Gornik, they were a top side. The majority of them were Polish internationals. But they just never stood a chance. We overran them.’

Tottenham also swept through the next two rounds, against Feyenoord and Dukla Prague, victories that put them into a semi-final against Benfica, the defending champions.

Two towering contests followed. Benfica won the first leg in Lisbon 3-1 in front of 86,000. Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Smith had goals ruled out for offside. Unconfirmable reports have it that Smith’s was disallowed despite two defenders being posted on the line.

Benfica went 4-1 up on aggregate in the second leg at White Hart Lane, where 64,448 spectators jammed the stands. Spurs then hit back with two goals, the second a Blanchflower penalty, but in a desperate finish in which the post twice saved Benfica and Dave Mackay’s header landed on the crossbar the visitors held out.

Blanchflower observed later of the European Cup that it was hard to imagine ‘a more potent or popular soccer competition’ and described playing in it as ‘the greatest emotional experience of my career’.


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing and now out in paperback.


‘They’re frightened to death. Their faces are blank, Bob. Blank. They’re frightened to death’

  • May 31, 2019 10:24
  • Jon Henderson

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.’


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing and now out in paperback.