‘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.


Hazard must hope for a better experience than the great Jimmy Greaves who was soon back in London after leaving Chelsea

  • May 30, 2019 12:09
  • Jon Henderson

Assuming he does leave Stamford Bridge, Eden Hazard will look forward to a happier time with his new European club than another outstanding Chelsea goalscorer experienced 58 years ago. Jimmy Greaves made only a handful of appearances for AC Milan in 1961 before returning to London...


Jimmy Greaves, I would say, is the footballer who most closely resembles our image of how we would want our brilliant player who made measly money in the era when players’ wages were capped: a chirpy chappy who revelled in going to matches on public transport with the fans, who ungrudgingly accepted being unable to buy his own house even after his transfer to Tottenham in 1961 for £99,999 – and who appeared far less impressed than just about everybody else by his dazzlingly intuitive skills as a goalscorer.

He was still only 19 and playing for his first club, Chelsea, when he dazzled Gordon Milne in a match at Preston in December 1959.

Milne remembers it well. The Preston manager, Cliff Britton took him aside before kick-off: ‘Milne, your job today is to be within one foot of Jimmy Greaves. Where he goes you go. Don’t worry about anything else. If he drops off, you drop off; if he goes wide, you go wide. He’s clever but generally he’s in or around the box. Stay close to him.’

‘As you get more experienced,’ Milne says, ‘you realise to do this is not that easy. Especially if you’ve got a bit of imagination yourself you tend to wander off.’

The result: Preston North End four Chelsea five with all the visitors’ goals scored by Greaves.

‘I don’t think I was ever further from him than I am from you now [a couple of feet]. But remember Jimmy with his side-footers? He’d come across you in the six-yard box, just get a touch and it was in.

‘None of his goals were scored from outside the box, none of the goals was a rocket. One was a little glancing header. He was just in front of me and glanced it in.

‘I can remember the dressing room afterwards and I’m looking round and I can see Tom Finney there and Tommy Thompson – Tommy scored three that day… Christ! I can’t remember what Cliff Britton said to me, I don’t think he needed to say anything.

‘I played against Greavsie later in life. I played with him for England. He was just something else. He was great, quite compassionate. He laughed and joked about it afterwards. That was what Jimmy was like, “They were all flukes…”.’

Greaves, 17 years old when he made his Chelsea debut in 1957 – when players could earn no more than £17 a week – scored 124 First Division goals for the club in just four seasons before, in 1961, departing for a brief, unhappy spell with AC Milan. He had tried unsuccessfully to pull out of the move, after becoming unhappy at the thought of leaving London, and his time in Italy ended soon after an incident in which he kicked a Sampdoria player who had spat in his face.

Despite this ill-starred experience his flow of goals never really slackened and his record of being top scorer in the First Division six times is still unsurpassed.

Also still unsurpassed is his six hat-tricks for England, the first of which he scored 58 years ago in a World Cup qualifier in Luxembourg. He added a fourth goal on two of these six occasions and in all he scored 44 goals in just 57 international appearances.

But the match he would have most liked to score a goal in, the 1966 World Cup final, he didn’t. He wasn’t picked having been injured earlier in the tournament.

Greaves’s missing out on the big one at Wembley has tended to overshadow his phenomenal record as a goalscorer.


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


‘As we clashed, the side of my head hit Ray here on the cheek’

  • May 28, 2019 10:23
  • Jon Henderson

Aston Villa’s win over Derby County yesterday was their greatest Wembley triumph since the 1957 FA Cup final in which they beat Manchester United 2-1 in a controversial match. The man at the centre of the controversy recalls what happened...


In the Aston Villa dressing room before the 1957 FA Cup final, centre-half Jimmy Dugdale, sick with nerves, threw up just before kick-off. Outside the sun shone on a packed Wembley. As the clock ticked towards 3pm, the referee Frank Coultas waited for a signal from the Royal Box, where the 31-year-old Queen Elizabeth had just taken her seat, before blowing his whistle.

Although Villa were the underdogs, they had two or three players of outstanding quality. Peter McParland was one of these, combative but creative and clever, the sort of player any manager would crave. He had scored twice against Wales on his debut for Northern Ireland and would be their best player at the 1958 World Cup finals.

McParland starts his own story of the 1957 Cup Final in the build-up to the match. He had made a mental note of something that his teammate Jackie Sewell mentioned to him. ‘Jackie said to me two or three weeks before the final that he had met Tommy Lawton at a wedding in Nottingham and Tommy said, “Remember to shake the goalkeeper up.” That was something you did then.

‘And Jackie told Tommy, “Yeah, we’ve got a fella who might go and give him a bit of a shake”.’

McParland says he was already aware Ray Wood reacted badly to physical contact – ‘He went for people, Ray did’ – and recalls an example of his petulance.

Not long before the final he was with the Villa team when they stopped at a pub on the way home from a midweek League game at Burnley. Highlights of a European Cup semi-final between Manchester United and Real Madrid were on TV. ‘And I remember Gento came flying through the middle and Woody ran out, picked the ball up and whacked Gento. Put him on the deck. So he was prepared to hit people at the time.’

Like Gento, McParland played on the left wing and did so with gusto.

At Wembley, six minutes had passed when he clattered into Wood. ‘Jackie Sewell had the ball on the edge of the box in the inside-right position,’ McParland says, ‘and I’m out here on the left and I’m coming in.

‘Jackie played a nice ball in and when it was in flight I said to myself, “This is going back into the far post. It’s in the back of the net”.’

McParland’s version of what happened next goes like this: ‘So I came in and I banged it with my head but I banged it straight into Ray Wood’s arms as he was coming off his line.

‘He’d come running towards me and I was running in just in case there was a drop and I turned my shoulder then to shoulder-charge him. He turned to me to shoulder-charge and then turned away at the last minute, last seconds. As we clashed, the side of my head hit Ray here on the cheek. It was through not getting the shoulder to shoulder [that the injuries occurred].

‘I was lying on the deck and 100,000 people were spinning round me. I thought, “Oh, I’m finished. This is me out.”

‘I got myself together again, though, and when the trainer came on he made me feel better. But Ray had a problem and went off by stretcher before coming back on just before halftime.’

Wood was posted at outside right with the time-honoured instruction to the walking wounded: if nothing else cause problems. Wood did this to such effect that McParland felt he was sufficiently recovered to go back in goal, which was what in fact he did for the last few minutes. But McParland’s irrepressible performance – not only did he clash with Wood but scored two excellent goals – would prove enough for Villa to win 2-1.

The BBC TV commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme said immediately that what happened between McParland and Wood, which left Wood with concussion and a broken cheekbone, was a pure accident. He called it a fair challenge, ‘but unfortunately their heads collided’. Although this was not the universal view there was a far greater acceptance then of the fairness of such collisions.

McParland apologised to Wood after the match and says he has no argument with his not being happy. ‘He wouldn’t have been happy, I wouldn’t have been happy if I had been taken off. He reacted in a sporting way to my apology but you always had the feeling that he felt he was hard done by.’

The press criticism McParland received did not really bother him, he says. ‘I was glad because we had won the Cup. It was part and parcel [of being in an incident like that] that they were going to slam me and some of them did. I just had to take the flak.’

Despite this criticism and Wood’s obvious resentment, McParland remembers suffering no backlash from other opposition players. The United defender Bill Foulkes even told him that ‘Woody should have got out of my way – and he didn’t because he liked having a bash at people’.

‘The next season,’ McParland says, ‘before all the games I played early on the goalkeepers said, “You wouldn’t have done that to me in the final because I’d have sidestepped and let you run into the back of the net.” All of them said that.’


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


Tales of a Birkenhead boy who learnt things the hard way

  • May 24, 2019 12:19
  • Jon Henderson

Warwick Rimmer’s Football League career began in 1960 at a time when players’ wages were pegged at 20 quid a week. He found the lessons he learnt then had lost none of their resonance many years later when he passed them on to fresh-faced recruits in his role as youth development manager at Tranmere Rovers...


Warwick Rimmer has said he will pick me up from outside Hamilton Square underground station. Travelling from Liverpool Lime Street, Hamilton Square is first stop on the Wirral Line on the Birkenhead side of the Mersey. From in front of the station there is a commanding view across the great expanse of river in the direction of Albert Dock. It is a waterway that has shaped British history. It makes a riveting spectacle.

Right on time, Rimmer pulls up. He has a full head of white hair and hobbles a bit, the legacy of 20 years of professional football, but is trim enough to be playing still. Although he played for Football League clubs Bolton and Crewe – he signed for Bolton as a 15-year-old in 1956 – he is a Birkenhead man born and bred and when we meet is working for Tranmere Rovers.

When his playing career ended he became commercial manager at Tranmere before spending 26 years as their youth development manager. Latterly he has worked part time as their child protection officer and recruitment officer.

As we drive through Birkenhead he slows down to point out where his father and uncle, Syd and Ellis Rimmer, once had what would have been grandly known as a turf accountants office (betting shops were not legalised until 1961). We are heading for Tranmere’s ground, Prenton Park, which is more than 100 years old and, despite several rebuilds, still has plenty of room for improvement.

We make our way along a warren of narrow passages under the stands before finding a room we can talk in without being disturbed. It is about ten feet square and probably has not changed much over several years, apart from the fridge filled with beers in the corner. It is where the opposing managers, assuming they are still talking to each other, have their post-match chat.

If this sounds a sombre setting to introduce a chapter about matches to remember, there is a reason. Rimmer has continued a surprising trend: the regularity with which my veterans have identified as their memorable matches those that they might be expected to want to forget.

In fact, it has been striking how many of them have only fleeting recall of the great games in which they featured, such as World Cup matches and FA Cup finals. They choose to hark back to some of the less obvious ones because of their salutary lessons.

When players shared with so many the daily grind of making a modest living maybe it is hardly surprising that these matches had a deeper, more durable meaning.

A game that has clearly stayed with Rimmer in a more meaningful way than perhaps any other took place right at the start of his professional career.

Rimmer had appeared at youth level for England, including a big win over Spain in the Bernabeu when he played alongside Bobby Moore. He was impatient to make his first-team debut for Bolton, which he did eventually at the start of 1960-1, ‘but not before I’d got a bit of a lesson’.

He says it is a lesson he now passes on to the apprentice players at Tranmere so they don’t repeat his mistakes.

‘I’d been in the reserves for quite a while and then somehow, I don’t know what had happened, I found I’d slipped back into the A team playing a match at Stockport on a Saturday morning. And my first reaction was to think, “Oh bugger this, nobody’ll be watching.” I contemplated acting top dog and not bothering.

‘But in the end I decided, “Well it’s a game like any other and I’m going to try my hardest.” I put my mind to it properly and we won and I did well. And it was because of this, and the fact that two senior players were injured, that a week and a half later I found myself playing my first game for the first team against Hull City in the League Cup.’

‘So I tell the young boys [at Tranmere] these days not to cut off their noses to spite their faces. You never know who’s watching you in training, friendly matches or whatever.’


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


A Wolves side fuelled by monkey glands were going ‘to run Portsmouth off the field’ – but Pompey won 4-1

  • May 23, 2019 14:39
  • Jon Henderson

The drugs ban imposed this week on a Salford City player is just the latest example of a footballer – just as athletes do in a range of other sports, and have done down the years – trying to improve performance in any way he can. Here’s one of the stranger episodses from back in the day...


Briefly, in the 1930s, the Monkey Glands Affair was the talk of football and gave great prominence to the man most closely associated with it, Major Frank Buckley.

Buckley is someone whose name may largely have disappeared into the mists of long ago but he was a substantial figure in football’s postwar development.

Player after player mentioned his name to me when I was writing When Footballers Were Skint. Not all liked him, quite the reverse in some cases, but the impression that emerged was of a character who would have stamped his personality and ideas on whatever profession he had chosen in whatever era.

Buckley was born in Urmston, Lancashire, in1882. Photographs of him in middle age show a strong face with a slightly wry expression. A physiognomist would almost certainly have concentrated on the well-set chin. Had he been a Hollywood actor in the 1940s and ’50s he would have been much in demand as a gunslinger. Gary Cooper might not have got the High Noon part.

As a player he represented a number of clubs and was almost as ubiquitous as a manager. His seven clubs included Norwich City, Notts County and Leeds United, but it was during 17 years at Wolverhampton Wanderers, 1927-44, that he made his name as the most innovative manager of his time. Some of his ideas and methods survive to this day.

It was Buckley who came up with numbering on shirts, the first structured scouting system and developed a youth policy complete with a nursery club in Yorkshire, Wath Wanderers.

His attention to preparing players for matches was also revolutionary.

Coaching hardly existed before the Second World War and sports psychology was a distant whisper. Buckley engaged with both. In particular, he was at the forefront of introducing routines with a wider purpose than simply keeping players fit.

For a start he challenged the quaint notion that practising with a ball was unnecessary because players saw quite enough of it on Saturday afternoons. Buckley put practice matches at the centre of his coaching and demanded a direct style of play rather than excessive elaboration.

He developed a contraption that shot out balls in no particular pattern to sharpen players’ close control and stressed the importance of being able to kick with either foot. He even encouraged players to do ballroom dancing to improve their poise and balance.

He also introduced rowing machines so that fitness sessions were not simply a case of running up and down the stadium terracing.

But the thing about him that really caught the public imagination was whether he did or didn’t experiment with the use of monkey glands.

The story went that Buckley was persuaded that monkey-gland implantations – a technique pioneered by Serge Voronoff, a French surgeon of Russian extraction – helped with stamina levels, recovery and improved mental performance. It was said that Buckley had them tried on himself and the Wolves players.

For a while the football world was abuzz with the possible advantages conferred by these glands. The fact that celebrities such as the playwright Noel Coward and the author Somerset Maugham were entertaining this treatment as a possible life enhancer gives some credence to the likelihood that Buckley was experimenting with it, too.

Nothing was conclusively proved, though, and after Wolves lost by three goals to Portsmouth in the 1939 FA Cup final – sometimes referred to as the Monkey Glands Final because Portsmouth were also said to be sampling the treatment – the whole episode was consigned to being one of Buckley’s more bonkers ideas.

The Scottish footballer Johnny Paton, who as a youngster was offered a trial by Buckey at Wolves, remembered all the talk about monkey glands. Paton, whose clubs included Celtic, Chelsea and Brentford, said: ‘The idea was that these young players of Major Buckley’s would run Portsmouth off the field. But Pompey had a lot of older players and Wolves got beat 4-1. That burst the bubble of thinking you could win anything with young players.’

Roy Wood, a goalkeeper who played for Buckley at Leeds, was also familiar with the rumours about Buckley’s plans ‘to plant monkey glands into footballers to give them a boost’ but he was never offered anything remotely exotic.


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