People and their profiles: dukes, archbishops, actors, writers, monks, oddbods, the garish, the gregarious - here they are in single file, chosen by chance, by inclination, or by necessity ... and all reflecting, one hopes, the essential, but indefinable, spark that makes one human being interesting to many. Geoffrey Mather
Back to Page One
The unforgettable football manager
Bill Shankly, the great Liverpool FC manager, died in September, 1981, after a heart attack. Relationships between him and the club had become strained, but there was no such strain on the terraces. In the first game at Anfield after his funeral, a huge banner was unfurled on the Kop. It read 'Shankly Lives Forever'. A statue is there to underscore the belief. It makes him look as though he is about to do the last waltz.
He spoke so loudly that it hurt. I once talked with him in a small room and I wanted to get up and open the door. The little man was like rock in body and spirit. When the words emerged from him they seem to have been churned from some inner concrete mixer. They were invariably loud words and they were always confident. Who influenced him most? "God," he said.
Then, conceding that the Deity was not totally responsible, he added, "My father, my mother, all the family." And what was the ethic of that family? "Hardship, honesty. They weren't greedy and they tried. They had nothing very much but they tried to help other people."
Bill Shankiy, manager of Liverpool, was a forbidding man to face, His moods were never predictable. Sometimes he was all sunlight; then, quickly, if he thought himself affronted by a question or an observation, the thunders rolled out of him and someone got crushed.
To a radio interviewer; "Your questions are getting more and more amateurish, son."
To a footballer long ago; "Punish yourself. Kill yourself in training. You're not TRYING."
The interviewer was affronted. The player was possibly saved from a fate worse than Shankly. The one unthinkable thought at Anfield was that a player, any player, should, for one moment, doubt the authority, integrity or honest endeavour of his manager. A player wayward in his habits, undisciplined in his training, would be unlikely to survive however brilliant.
So there he stood, the most vitriolic manager in England; certainly. one of the best; possibly the best and most incredible - a demi-god to his .fans, a Victorian-type father figure to players, an awesome man, full of menace, to well-meaning amateurs who intruded on the game to which he dedicated his life and his strength.
Everyone knew who he was and no-one really knew. The supreme strategist? The front man? The joker in the managerial pack? The deep and solitary thinker masking his intent? Rather like Sam Goldwyn, the film' man, with whom he had some affinity, he spawned curious comments and was the centrepiece of curious anecdotes,
Everyone knew, and knows, a Shanklyism, true or false. Those that are true are incredible. Those that are false have a
ring of authenticity because they, reflect what is, essentially, the man:
It is said of him that he went to New York with the team and arrived in the evening. A member of the playing staff. knowing his liking for boxing, asked: "Would you like to go to Jack Dempsey's bar?"
"It's half past eleven at night," said Shankly. "No," said the staffer. "Half past six - there's a time difference here."
"I'm not having Yanks deciding what time it is for me," said Shankly "It's half past eleven in Liverpool and I'm going to bed."
When Liverpool fans occasionally felt that they would like to have their ashes scattered over Anfield, the unspoken thought in their minds was that Shankly might care to officiate over the ceremony like an Archbishop of Kop saying goodbye to a member of the fleck off to the great pitch in the sky.
He could be a Puritan in a big hat because his principles were basic in spite of his expletives: the decent living, the hard graft, the total dedication. His hell-fire preaching made players surpass themselves.
George Aitken, who later managed Workington, was a player when Shankly arrived there as manager. He says the effect was such that Aitken quickly believed he should have been playing for Scotland. Shankly would turn up in this unlovely area which, in parts, looked as though it had undergone carpet bombing, and say:
"Well boys, lovely morning isn't it? Great morning, eh? A great morning to get a good sweat on,"
(When I asked how he explained such elevation of spirit in a town like Workington, Shankly said, "That's a good question. I can't answer it, )
At Carlisle, where he was also a manager, he had a habit of addressing the crowd through a loudspeaker. He would discuss team changes and explain why he had made them.
Once, says a player, Shankly grabbed the Tannoy and said, "This is your manager speaking. There's a report in the paper that Peter Docherty won't be playing and he's injured.
"I've just been in the dressing room and he's getting stripped. That's the fellow (indicating whoever he assumed was responsible), sitting up there, and I'll tell you another thing - he hasn't paid to get in."
At Grimsby, another of his managerial outposts, he turned up in a cinema one night and someone there at the time said a group around him discussed football throughout the performance so that no-one eventually saw the film.
When a player's wife politely said to Shankly, "You must come up for a meal with us one night," he said, "Right. I will. Tomorrow night, then." And he did.
He is also said to have wished to be healthy when he died - not as illogical as it sounds.
Amid all these apparent idiosyncracies, then, it was difficult to find the constant threads in Shankly's life: the things that consistently created success. The outer image was so fascinating that it tended to dominate. Reason says solitariness and depth had to be there and, indeed, they were; so was continuity of ideal.
He fought for, and got, better equipment at his various clubs. His mania for five-a-side football as a training device was apparent wherever he went in his managerial career. He would say that marathon running was for marathon runners. Ball control was what counts. Agility.
One of the players who loomed large in his life was Ivor Broadis, an England international inside forward who became a football writer. He took over as player-manager of Carlisle after the last war and was succeeded as manager by Shankly when Broadis moved to Sunderland's a player in 1949. He continued to live and train at Carlisle.
One day he arrived late for training and Shankly said that he told the player, "What do you think you're doing? Who do you think you are? If you do the training we do you can train with us and we'll play five-a-side and you'll run your guts out as an example to everybody, else"
Shankly would not claim that he made Broadis a player - "but I made him realise what was needed to be a player, and Ivor Broadis was one of the strongest and most dangerous inside forwards that ever played."
Shankly would probably be most brutal to the player whose talents he most admired* It was a form of kindness because he hated to see talent wasted,
Broadis's own version of the Carlisle incident is milder: "Bill always regarded himself as the man who saved me, really - the man who gave me to England. I would maybe be lapping round and I admit I could have put
a lot more into it.
"You sort of take the routine from the club you are with and that was not good enough for Bill. I was doing what I thought Sunderland would be doing, the way they were doing it. And that wasn't Bill's way. You had to come off jiggered. So Bill regarded himself as putting me right and I think there's a lot of truth in that. His strength was not Liverpool. It was the strength he could give to anybody."
An echo of Broadis's experience with Shankly came in more recent times to Alec Lindsay, the Liverpool player who scored a superb goal in Liverpool's Wembley final with Newcastle and then had it declared offside
"Alec Lindsay," said Shankly "was another boy loaded with ability that was being thrown away. He was insulted, pushed, knocked about here, and he stuck it, kept his temper. Sometimes if he'd gone and shot me he'd have been justified. I concentrated on him and I tried to broak his spirit by making him angry, and maybe making him kick somebody. Then" - laughing - "when he did kick somebody it was a foul on the fringe of the box and the other side scored and it lost us the game."
The result, lie says. is that ''Alec Lindsay is one of the finest players there is - loaded, reeking with ability. People think he's a bit laborious. Is he beggery. It's a combination of brain and body that makes you so quick, so that you might be a better runner on the track than me, but if I'm a football player with a brain I can make you look like a slowcoach on the pitch. We had little Beattie at Preston North End and he read everybody. He was there first and they said, 'HE's quick.' He wasn't quick. His brain was quick. Knew when to go."
Shankly's habit of using a miniature football pitch with miniature football players in tactical talks goes back at least as far as
Workington (which he managed around 1954) and he had been known to remove, vigorously, players of the opposing team saying, "We needn't worry about THEM." He had been known to observe visiting players as they left their coach. He would then go back to his own team and say, ''They're tired. They look tired. All those bumpy roads. The long drive. Aye.''
Workington's George Aitken said, "Although he was playing among you. and he was a players' man, if you were up there niggling him and tackling him and fighting him for the ball (in practice) he knew just where to draw the line.
"I remember once when he got us all gee-d up, Bill's going through with the ball and he's got us all rattled, and a player comes and jumps on his back. Bill just saw the open goal and carried on. He had to put the ball into that net before he did anything else."
If Shankly was appalled by conditions he found at smaller clubs as a manager, it never seems to have affected the fire in him. At Workington, he had to share the field with a rugby team and the lines were always being moved backwards and forwards. "This is a FOOTBALL pitch," he once shouted in some anger when he arrived one morning to find that a vital line had mysteriously migrated.
At Carlisle, a player inspired by him, decided to do same brisk standstill running and put his foot straight through the floorboards.
However grim life became, there was always a ball.
Are you doing anything this afternoon?" he would say to Ivor Broadis. "Aye, right then, if you're not, come down to the ground." They would upturn two chimney pots on ashes in front of the club buildings and play, one-a-side. If a chimney pot was topped, it was a goal. Shankly did not like to lose at that either.
When Broadis turned writer and arrived in the Liverpool Press box, Shankly marched in, shook him by the hand, wished him well, and departed. If hardness was typical of him, memory and softness were also typical,
"It's human nature," says Broadis "If you have someone like Shankly who'll give the players all they are entitled to, they are prepared to die for him. There are few like that. There are more confidence men in this game... Integrity? I think that is it. My idea of a manager is one who never stops being a player. Shankly puts his gear on and goes out every day and it must have been the worst day of his life when he realised he wasn't going to be able to play for a club any more. It's like death when they have to pack in.
"Players take something from a manager. If you get an indifferent sort of manager you get lackadaisical players. If you get a manager who is a bit of a gangster then the players he signs will tend to be part gangsters and sharks. Shanks is an honest, grafting, football-loving bloke. He's a man's man. I don't think for a minute that he feels the way he talks. It is just Bill: People tend to think he is not emotional, but,he fights hard not to show emotion; If you can't feel emotional about football, you've no business being in it.
A touching affair took place at Carlisle ..., a mayoral. reception for the team that had fought its way into the first division for the first time. A crowd of 3,000 turned up, sounding like 50,000, and they were chanting, "Macdonald is a Womble" (a reference to a Newcastle player, who apparently said in a radio interview that Carlisle were a poor swop for relegated Manchester United). -
Manager, Alan Ashman paraded the players, one at a time on a balcony; then everyone inside the Civic Centre queued up for a sit-down buffet with a generous flow of wine.
There was a stir in a nearby hotel when someone thought he heard Shankly being paged. Shankly was not there, but his name still produced the kind of warmth and memory in people that Ashman's later did - although it was almost a quarter of a century since Shankly took Carlisle to third place in the old Third Division North.
They recognised, then, what it was that could take him to a club like Liverpool. He uplifted each team he touched. He saw the fag-end of football in dark places and lit them with some inner spirit, so that good players became a little better and great players became greater.
Geoffrey Mather © 2004
3 March, 2007