Bill Shankly came from a humble background with dreams of a career in football. He went on to become one of the best-loved figures in the Beautiful Game, leaving a lasting legacy behind.
This week, the 29th September will mark 37 years since his passing, so to pay tribute to his life and commemorate his death, we’re taking a look back at the fascinating story of a true football legend.
Bill Shankly – Growing Up in Glenbuck
William Shankly was born in the small coal mining village of Glenbuck, Scotland on 2nd September 1913. Nestled in the scenic Scottish hills, Glenbuck was once the centre of pig iron and coal blast furnaces.
The youngest child to John and Barbara Shankly, it was here that he was raised alongside four brothers and five sisters. His father earned a living as a tailor, a profession which undoubtedly shaped Bill’s impeccable taste in suits!
A Natural Flair for Football
Bill Shankly played football whenever he could, showcasing a flair for football from an early age. Prior to his football career, Bill and his brother Bob took work at the local coal mine.
Sadly for the village, the mine closed two years later, leaving Bill and many others unemployed. He later reflected on life as a miner in his autobiography, outlining the hardships of the job, from overall cleanliness to the strenuous nature of the industry:
“Pressure is working down the pit. Pressure is having no work at all. Pressure is trying to escape relegation on 50 shillings a week. Pressure is not the European Cup or the Championship or the Cup Final. That’s the reward.”
Bill emphasised that his time as a miner always felt like “killing time”. The aspiring footballer went on to represent a junior team, Cronberry, located 12 miles from Glenbuck.
It was here that scout Peter Carrauthers spotted him in action…and the rest is history. Bill was signed to Carlisle United in 1932 and spent the rest of his football playing career at Preston North End.
Shankly’s Early Football Career
Bill was signed to Preston North End for just £500 with a £10 signing fee in the summer of 1933. He made his debut for the team in December and quickly became a crowd favourite.
One of his proudest moments, Bill scored his first league goal for Preston on 2nd February 1938. But the best was yet to come…
Finalists the previous year, Preston reached the FA Cup Final again in 1938. This time, Preston came out on top, winning 1-0. During the 29 minutes of extra time, commentator Thomas Woodrooffe said “if there’s a goal scored now, I’ll eat my hat”.
Only moments later, the team were awarded a penalty. George Mutch scored the winning goal, defeating Huddersfield Town. Shankly fondly reflected on the game:
“Tommy Smith, the captain, was carried shoulder high and we all had our hands on the Cup. The sweat poured off us, even though we had short-sleeved jerseys, having learned from the year before. I’ve still got that silk jersey, made in Preston.”
Sadly, World War II meant many of Shankly’s peak years were lost. He was just 26 when war broke out. Despite serving in the RAF, Bill remained dedicated to football and took to the pitch in several wartime league, cup and exhibition matches. But by the time the war was over, Shankly’s playing years were coming to an end.
Becoming a Football Manager
Shankly expressed that he’d long prepared and desired to become a football manager in his lifetime. And by 1949, Shankly had progressed from player to captain at Preston North End. He went on to manage Carlisle United, Grimsby Town, Workington, Huddersfield Town and finally, Liverpool.
Bill felt at home with Liverpool Football Club and formed a natural bond with fans and coaching staff. Working hard to reshape and improve the team over the years, one of his biggest ambitions was for the club to win the FA Cup. When he signed St John and Yeats, he emphasised that these players would bring this dream to life.
The Greatest Day in Football
Of course, the football icon’s predictions were correct. St John scored Liverpool’s wining goal in May 1965, earning Liverpool the title of winner of the FA Cup for the first time in history. Shankly expressed that this was his greatest day in football.
He later wrote that upon returning to the dressing room, he felt tired from all the years. After a long and accomplished career, the time had come to retire.
The Final Chapter of His Life
Bill Shankly’s retirement was announced at a press conference on 12th July 1974. Four months after his retirement, he was presented with an OBE. Bill and his wife Nessie, were invited to Buckingham Palace. It was a grand day out for the modest couple.
Nessie had been devoted to her husband and showed unwavering support for his passion for the game. She welcoming his retirement with open arms, and despite a longing for football, Bill was ready to dedicate quality time to his wife and family. He said:
“There’s nobody closer to you than your own kith and kin; your own blood. I’ve got my wife, my daughters, grandchildren, and my sons in law. They’re the closest to me and I would die for them.”
Showcasing his enduring work ethic, Bill kept busy throughout his retirement, taking on work for Radio City 96.7 and advisory roles at Wrexham and Tranmere Rovers.
Sadly, on 29th September 1981, Bill suffered a heart attack, passing away at age 68.
Tributes flooded in as friends and fans honoured his legacy. A true socialist and family man, Bill Shankly left far more behind than his timeless contribution to football. Bill Shankly was first and foremost a man of the people.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our celebration of a football legend. To keep up with the latest news and developments surrounding The Shankly Hotel – Preston, make sure you check back soon or head over to our Facebook page.