Derby County are currently stuck in the Skybet Championship, and have not been in footballs top flight for six years. They have a relatively new manager, Steve Mclaren, who joined the club after spells at places like Middlesborough, a forgetful spell at England, Dutch side FC Twente and more recently; Nottingham Forest. Despite having success in the past like winning league titles in the 1970’s, a generation of Derby County supporters now can only dream of even reaching the Premier League, and then hopefully fighting to stay there. Winning a major trophy isn’t even a dream, it’s a fantasy.
I dare you to pick up your phone right now, call the league sponsors Skybet, and ask for odds on this:- Derby County winning the Premier League title in 2019, then the FA Cup in 2020, then the League again the year after, while reaching the Europa League final in the same season. Yes, ask for Derby County. Dont ask for odds on Premiership big boys Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool or Everton. Ask for Derby County.
I wouldn’t recommend it, as by the time the person on the other end of the phone had stopped laughing, your phone bill would cost more than Wayne Rooney’s hairpiece. Whether it was Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Joachim Low or anyone else that had just taken over Derby County, the response would be the same. I should point out; no offence intended to Derby County who are a great club with great fans; they are merely the vehicle by which I aim to make my point, which is thus.
In December 1959, Liverpool FC were 8th in Division 2 (now the “Skybet Championship”), and had not been in Division 1 for over five years. LFC’s new manager had previously managed unfashionable clubs like Grimsby, Carlisle, Workington and Huddersfield Town. Dreams of winning any trophy were almost non-existent, after only 5 league titles in their previous 67 year history, and had almost no chance of promotion since being relegated in 1954.
You probably already know this, but I wont get bored of repeating it. While clubs like Derby County are in the Skybet Championship now, Liverpool FC are still widely regarded as Englands most succesful club ever. Here we go…..
We have won 18 League titles. We are one of only 4 teams on the continent to have won 5 European Cups. When not winning the European Cup, we have won 3 UEFA Cups. Before 1959 Liverpool had not won the FA Cup, and since then we have won 7. Add to this 8 League Cups, and it is no suprise that Wembley was once nicknamed Anfield South.
Liverpool’s new manager in 1959 was Bill Shankly. I was born in 1979, so was too young to know who he really was without watching old videos and, when pretending to do homework, reading my dad’s Liverpool FC books.
In the 1980’s, Liverpool had hardly been out of the top two in the top league since I had been born. I was reading books that said it took this manager nearly three years just to get promoted to the top league. At the time, as a young lad, to be honest, I thought so what? It was only Division 2. I was 11 years old, and I had just sat in the Kemlyn Road stand to see Liverpool lift another League title at Anfield, in 1990, against ironically; Derby County. My team was the best in the country. When growing up, in the 80’s, LFC won everything. As a kid, I thought it just happened, all of the time. Liverpool won trophies most of the time, another team won something occasionally, but we normally won it back soon after. It was almost routine.
Now, 24 years and no league titles later, I realise how that Division 2 league title win was the biggest day in Liverpool Football Club’s history.
We rightly so talk about Rome, Wembley, Paris, erm Rome again or Istanbul.
We rightly so talk about captains like Yeats, Smith, Hughes, Thompson Souness and Hansen lifting the league title.
We rightly so talk about Inter Milan and Leeds in 65, Moenchengladbach in 73, Supersub & Joeys Frogs legs in 77, Kennys chip in 78.
We rightly so talk about Barney Rubble in 81, Brucie’s Jelly legs in 84, Rushie breaking the camera in 86, or Rushie back at Wembley in 1989.
They wouldn’t have happened without Liverpool being dragged out of Division 2 after eight long years. This amazing, unsurpassed period of glory, to make Liverpool the most succesful club in England, all began from Bill Shankly leading Liverpool out of little Division 2 in 1962. Ron Yeats, Ian St John, Gerry Byrne, Ronnie Moran, Ian Callaghan and Roger Hunt were all in Bill Shankly’s team in this Division 2 winning season.
Two years later, they were all League champions. QPR, Leicester and Burnley have all been promoted this year. How many of their players will lift the Premier League trophy in 2016? I’ll bet you right now that none of their managers will even be in a job in two years time.
Amazingly, the FA cup arrived for the first time a year later, and the League title the year after that. Liverpool FC, relegated in 1954, not promoted until 1962, had now won the League title twice by 1966, won the FA Cup, got to a European Cup semi final, and got to European Cup Winners Cup final. Add to that, a young man called Roger Hunt, who flourished under Bill Shankly to become Liverpool’s second greatest ever goal scorer, won the World Cup in the same year.
Cast your mind back to last seasons title race. It was brilliant, it was mental, it was torture at times. Even though we missed out, it was great. Well, imagine how that would have felt in 1964, going one step better, just two years after being promoted, after eight barren years in the wilderness of the Skybet Championship.
Do you reckon any Derby County fans are dreaming of that right now?
With a new team, in a new decade, and two previous years of going close to more honours, our first European trophy was won in 1973, the UEFA Cup, which was much more coveted than it is now. It came along with another League title. A second FA Cup soon followed in 1974.
After over 14 years as Liverpool manager, by 1974 Liverpool FC had gone from Division 2 to a team consistently recognised and feared across England & Europe. When watching those Liverpool video’s as a kid, I laughed at the footage of the ITV reporter telling fans in the street that Shankly had retired. A young kid nearly cried. Grown men were speechless, some even said he was lying. There were no Smartphones, Sky Sports News, or even teletext then, so hardly anyone believed him.
No other manager had ever led their team to such heights and success, so I dont think they wanted to believe him. It might have been different if they realised how strong the foundations were that he had left. His backroom staff, Paisley, Fagan, Moran and Bennett stayed at Liverpool after Bill Shankly retired. It meant that even though LFC and the fans had lost Bill Shankly’s personality, passion, inspiration and memorable quotes, these men gave Liverpool continuity. They had learnt from the best, a unique man, a one off.
Stars like Hunt Yeats Byrne and St John had been replaced by other players like Hughes, Thompson, Toshack and Keegan before Bill Shankly had retired. In 1977, after two more league titles, Liverpool brought big ears home for the first time, and three more European Cups soon followed in the next seven years. The manager and coaches had all learned the Bill Shankly way, and the supporters reaped the rewards. Local lads like Ian Callaghan and Tommy Smith were still around for that day in Rome 1977, even though they had helped us win the league in 1964. Even though Bill Shankly was no longer at the club, his influence was everywhere as the trophies rolled in.
This is probably very familiar to all Liverpool fans by now, but it shouldn’t just be taken for granted. Just as Derby County can give us a comparison to how amazing it would be in the modern day, look at what happened last year at Old Trafford.
Fergie had amazing success for over 20 years, lets be honest. Now look what happened after he left. How were the foundations? History had repeated itself, as the same thing happened when Matt Busby left Utd in the 1970’s. They sunk.
It didn’t happen when Bill Shankly left Liverpool. It is only in the last few recent years, when I see how only a few teams in modern football actually get the chance to win trophies or even challenge for the league title, that I realise how amazing Bill Shankly’s contribution to Liverpool FC was, and how lucky we have been.
So many teams have had success and then slipped away(including Liverpool in later years), some have been lower down the leagues and settled for it year in year out, and some have slipped down even further. Even though another manager may have won more trophies here, there are Shankly Gates and a statue in place at Anfield. It is because he is second to absolutely nobody else.
Apart from Tom Watson in 1896, he is Liverpool’s longest serving manager. Other managers have won some great things at the club, and given us some incredible memories, like Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Kenny, Houllier and Rafa. We have been lucky enough to have our own Knight of the Kop, Roger Hunt, Royalty like King Kenny, and even God to worship over the last 50 years.
None of them even comes close to the effect Bill Shankly had on Liverpool FC, as none of that success would have happened without him. Everyone of them would agree with me on that, too.
His statue outside his beloved Kop reads “He made the people happy.” He still does, and always will. We are Liverpool, because of Bill Shankly
By Simon Ward
Follow Simon on Twitter on @SiWard2505