Posted on 18.03.2019
The Shankly Hotel, and the endeavours that bear the Shankly name exude an aroma of grandeur. However, this aura was serviced via his formative experience in the RAF and the backing of his beloved wife, Nessie. So, just how did Shankly’s RAF tenure shape Liverpool.
Agnes Wren Shankly; or ‘Nessie’ as she was affectionately know to those who encountered the woman who Bill Shankly lovingly regarded as his “greatest ever signing,” was amid the 180,000 homemakers who enrolled in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in 1939. Nessie, alongside her husband, was amongst a plethora of civilians who wanted to “do their bit,” as the patriotic posters exclaimed.
The RAF Corporal – who would go onto manage Carlisle United, Huddersfield Town and, eminently, Liverpool – met, and subsequently married Agnes in Glasgow in 1944; a choice he never regretted. It is undeniable that Shankly’s stoic self-confidence and Agnes’ patience blossomed during their stretch at Bishopbriggs. Indeed, despite a famous anecdote in which her husband of barely 24hours accompanied her to a Preston North End reserve match, Nessie rarely ventured into what she considered her husband’s domain. She was, undoubtedly, the sincerity behind the legend.
Shankly’s RAF stint – which disrupted somewhat of a promising playing career – absolutely influenced his time at the helm of Liverpool Football Club. In his fifteen years as manager, the quotable Scot transformed a sleeping juggernaut into an immovable force: “a bastion of invincibility.”
This “bastion” which Shankly quotably described, shared a myriad of characteristics with the regiment in which he served, be it confidence, selfishness or the preparedness to “run through a brick wall and come out fighting on the other side,” a maxim he often repeated.
These combative tropes were on view for the entire nation to appreciate as Shanks’ squad, which included future icons such as Tommy Lawrence – who, due to his nourished physique was nicknamed the “flying pig” – and Ian St. John, lifted aloft the 1965 FA Cup in an era when the final was the only game to be televised completely live.
Liverpool had displayed Nessie’s distinctive patience and her spouses unwavering strength to overcome Don Revie’s Leeds United, a team that would become a recurring adversary, and win their first of many trophies under the Glaswegian. Revie’s Leeds were synonymous with the Yorkshire mindset: tough, abrasive and hardworking – words usually reserved for Liverpudlians and, more specifically, Shankly’s squad.
Between his conscription as an RAF Corporal in 1939 and his retirement thirty-five years later, the Liverpool manager would exude an aura of invincibility. Even when close to death in 1981, Shankly personified the warmhearted arrogance that made his teams so revered: “when I go,” he uttered as poetically as ever, “I’m going to be the fittest man ever to die.”
Shanks’ smugness was indicative of a man who neither drank nor smoked, exercised regularly and, remarkably, survived The Second World War as part of what is perhaps the toughest regiment in history with the ever-present, ever-patient Nessie in tandem.
Blazoned across numerous RAF insignia is the motto: “Through Adversity to the Stars.” This maxim, although devised one year before his birth in 1912, could have been written for Bill Shankly himself.
Because of his previous endeavours, be it Shankly’s RAF conscription or his relationship with Nessie, he was able to haul an abject Liverpool squad out of the second division and into the stars.
We’ve hope you’ve enjoyed our look into Bill Shankly’s personal life and how it shaped his time as Liverpool manager.
If you wish to delve deeper into the personal and professional life of the grandiose gaffer, look no further than the memorabilia covered walls of the unique Bastion Bar & Restaurant located within The Shankly Hotel.
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