The Life of Bill Shankly

Bill Shankly is an inspiration. Not only to football, but to anyone who has ever faced struggles in their life. He was born in the coalmining village of Glenbuck, Ayshire, in 1913, with very humble beginnings; however, through hard work and perseverance, he went onto become one of the greatest football managers of all time.

Bill Shankly was undoubtedly a very intelligent man, despite the fact he left education at just 14 years old to begin work at a local colliery. Not shy of hard work, Bill spent two years down the pit; however, he seen football as his way out of it.

Professional Football

Shankly was one of 50 Glenbuck son’s who escaped the coalmining village to make it in professional football in the first half of the 20th Century; however, none of them would leave a legacy behind quite like William. The Shankly family all shared a passion for the big game, with four of Bill’s brothers all making it as professional footballers.

Shankly finally made it as a professional footballer when he signed for Carlisle United in 1932, but it was at Preston North End where he really shone on the pitch, when he joined the club just one year later in 1933.

Shankly was a brave right half who made a total of 337 appearances for the club, helping the team to win the FA Cup in 1938; however, his time at Preston North End was interrupted by his service in the RAF in World War II. Like all aspiring footballers dream of, Bill Shankly played for his national team, Scotland, between 1938 to 1943, and often spoke of his “unbelievable pride” when they played against England, winning the match 1-0.

Shankly leading out Preston FC

What made Shankly different from many of the players on the pitch was that he believed the game should be played fairly, and was proud to say he was “never sent off the field or had (his) name in a referee’s book”. To him, tackling was an art that was all about timing and the sole objective of winning the ball – and he stood by this philosophy through his management career.

Shankly was, by no stretch of the imagination, in love with football. During the summer of 1933, he event spent his spare time training, and it is claimed he developed a unique long throw-in by throwing balls over a row of houses, asking the boys of the village to retrieve them for him.

Management Career

Carlisle United

Whilst Shankly was a successful footballer, it was his management career that would define his legacy. Shankly started his managerial career the same way he started as a professional footballer: at Carlisle United. He joined as manager during the 1948-49 season, when the club was in the bottom half of the Third Division North. With sheer hard work and unrivalled skills, Shankly ensured Carlisle United finished 15th in the table, after only being in charge for just a few matches. It was here that Shankly’s management potential was born.

Shankly used the power of psychology to motivate his players, falsely informing the team that the opposition were not fit for the match or that the opposition had a tough journey to the ground. After a disagreement with the club over player bonuses, Shankly resigned from the club and took up an offer from Grimbsy Town, following a failed interview at Liverpool FC.

Grimsby Town

Shankly was to make or break Grimsby Town, as they had been relegated twice in two seasons, dropping from First Division to Third. Some of the club’s best players had also been transferred before he even arrived as manager. However, Bill strongly believed there was more potential at Grimsby Town than at Carlisle United, and was pleased with some of the remaining players he still had to work with.

Shankly Grimsby

Bill brought new players to the club for low fees, which helped to make a challenge for promotion in 1951-52, but the club finished second, just three points behind Lincoln City. Following a disagreement with the club for their lack of ambition, and due to him and his wife feeling homesick for their native Scotland, Bill Shankly made the decision to take up an offer as manager for Workington to be closer to home.

Workington

Bill enthusiastically joined the club in 1954, seeing Workington as a challenge he believed he could win. When he joined, Workington were at the bottom of the Third Division North, but by the end of the of the 1954-55 season the team finished at a credible 8th place.

During his time at Workington, Shankly was responsible for many of the administration duties, and would often answer calls and deal with mail. However, Shankly’s problem was that Workington shared the ground with a local rugby club, which he believed was ruining the playing surface. On 15th November 1955, Shankly resigned at manager and joined Huddersfield Town, but this time as assistant manager to Andy Beattie.

Huddersfield Town

Shankly initially joined Huddersfield Town as assistant manager, but took over the role of manager in 1956 when Andy Beattie resigned. Shankly was responsible for the signing of some of football’s most rising talents at the time, including 16-year-old Denis Law, and Huddersfield Town’s most capped player, Ray Wilson.

However, Shankly resigned from the club when they intended to sell the team’s best players with no money to buy replacements, and delightfully accepted an offer at Liverpool FC as manager in 1959.

Liverpool FC

Shankly believed Liverpool had great potential, as the club had been in Second Division for five years prior to his arrival. Bill Shankly knew that in order for the club to succeed, major changes were necessary. Liverpool Football Club was a shadow of the ground fans know and love today, and it is all thanks to the legendary manager who insisted that £3,000 was spent to repair Anfield and water the pitch.

He also immediately connected to the club’s supporters, who he believed were “his kind of people”. Few could argue that it was Shankly’s forceful personality that transformed Liverpool. He brought a sense of pride, loyalty and determination that no other Liverpool manager ever had, and his passion for the game was infectious.

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He also knew that in order to succeed new players would need to be brought in. Shankly separated the wheat from the chaff, bringing in new players that helped the club make history, including the likes of Ian St John, Tommy Lawrence and Ian Callaghan.

Despite a shaky start, the team improved season by season, and by the end of Bill Shankly’s management career at the club, Liverpool FC had become a First Division club that had won two FA Cups (1965 and 1974), the UEFA Cup (1973) and the FA Charity Shield in 1964, 1965 and 1966.

Retirement

With a heavy heart, Bill Shankly called a press conference on 12th July 1974 to announce his retirement from football. He reportedly felt tired from all the years of management, and finally decided the time was right at the age of 60 years old.

However, whilst Shankly said goodbye to football, football would not say goodbye to him. Shankly would regularly visit Melwood to watch the LFC players training, then managed by Bob Paisley. He would also often attend Manchester United and Everton games, and praised the clubs for the warm welcome.

In honour of his football career, Bill was awarded an OBE in November 1974, attending Buckingham Palace with his wife, Nessie. Bill fell in love with the city of Liverpool as much as the city fell in love with him, so he and Nessie continued to live in their semi-detached house in the West Derby area, which was closely located to Everton’s training ground at Bellefield.

Tragically, Bill Shankly died on 29th September 1981 at the age of 68 years old, but his legacy lives on in the hearts of football fans across the world and at Liverpool FC.

About lisking

Lis is a keen writer with a passion for travel. She enjoys blogging about life, food, and everything that is Liverpool.