12th July 1974: The date the Godfather of the Kop, Bill Shankly, announced his retirement.
Nobody knew what to expect when a sudden press conference was called by John Smith, the club’s chairman at the time.
As the press filtered in with their notepads, cameras, and Dictaphones at the ready, there wasn’t a buzz of excitement. Unlike a usual event of this kind there was instead a dullness in the air.
A pin drop could be heard when Smith stepped up to make his opening statement:
“It is with great regret that I as chairman of Liverpool Football Club have to inform you that Mr Shankly has intimated that he wishes to retire from active participation in league football. And the board has with extreme reluctance accepted his decision. I would like to at this stage to place on record the board’s great appreciation of Shankly’s magnificent achievements over the period of his managership.”
Shankly agreed to a three-year contract with Liverpool Football Club during the signing of his last contract in July 1971. He was then offered the option of having it extended to five years. When the three year mark was met, Smith asked if he would like to continue for two more years. Shankly declined.
It was widely speculated as to why he refused to stay those two more years. Even those closest to him like his wife and Bob Paisley had their own theories regarding the subject.
Conclusions were drawn that former England captain Emlyn Hughes once asked Bill why he chose to retire. Shanks said “I’m going to tell you the reason why I left” but his small grandchild came running in, and he got sidetracked. Emlyn never found out.
Without realising it or not, Hughes actually got the truthful answer to his question. Bill became anxious to spend more time with Nessie, his children, and his grandchildren.
In his autobiography, Shankly mentions his decision to retire. He says:
“After the FA Cup Final I went into the dressing room and I felt tired from all the years. I said to a bloke who was looking after the dressing room, ‘Get me a cup of tea and a couple of pies, for Christ’s sake.’ When I sat down with my tea and pies, my mind was made up. If we had lost the final I would have carried on, but I thought, ‘Well, we’ve won the Cup now and maybe it’s a good time to go.’ I knew I was going to finish.”
Rumour has it almost immediately after resigning, Bill thoroughly regretted his decision. By the time the new football season came around, Shanks was back at Melwood FC, training with the players, enjoying the camaraderie and the chance to put his boots on again. Some players were calling him ‘boss’ and treating him as equally as their real manager Bob Paisley, to his annoyance.
“I wasn’t feeling ill or anything like that, but I felt though that if I was away from the pressures of Anfield for a while, and rested, it would make me fitter and rejuvenate me. I felt I could contribute more later on. I would never leave the city of Liverpool, and still wanted to be involved in football. I still wanted to help Liverpool, because the club the club had become my life. But I wasn’t given the chance.”
The retirement was a clean break between LFC and Shankly, to both side’s disappointment. However living close to Everton’s training ground, Bill would often call in and join in the training sessions, proving that many of his cutting comments about Liverpool’s city opponents were no more than harmless shots to fabricate a sense of bitter rivalry.
Shanks spent his first Saturday afternoon in retirement watching Everton Vs Derby County as the club’s special guest, and was met by a rapturous applause by the Goodison crowd.
He would talk to anyone about football and go anywhere to put his boots on again. Simply because, he just loved the game.
To him, the beautiful game was just that.