It’s 25 years since the great man died but, in this excerpt from Far Foreign Land, I try to give a sense of his appeal
Without Shankly, would we be in Istanbul? That question does not refer to the club he rebuilt after taking over as manager on December 1,1959. Nor is it meant to assess the teams he created. It is about the metaphysical effect that he had on the supporters, the sense of involvement, belief and love he fostered. Ian St John, the man who scored the goal that brought the FA Cup back to Anfield for the first time in 1965,said:‘For Bill Shankly, football was a moral issue rather than mere sport.’ Shankly communicated this to the supporters and made them believe.
He was a socialist who had an unerring faith in people, a man with exceptional powers of motivation and he made us understand that this football club was more than just a business. More than anyone, he made it a cultural symbol.
It was a stunning synthesis. Shankly was a natural demagogue who had found a constituency whose tastes tramlined perfectly with his vision. That he built a successful team very quickly was almost secondary; his appeal transcended the mere kicking of a ball. The statue that stands outside the Kop shows him with his arms outstretched, taking the acclaim, fists clenched and has the legend ‘He made the people happy’ on its plinth. Shankly did. He also charged the supporters with a fervour that went sometimes beyond the bounds of rationality and fed a belief that this game could become a vehicle for a people’s hopes and dreams; that success in football could become a weapon in the guerrilla warfare that a downtrodden and alienated section of society was constantly conducting in a world that ignored their interests and aspirations. After the club got rid of him in an unseemly manner in 1974 – a compulsive resigner, he did it once too often and they jumped at the chance – he went to games at Anfield and Goodison for pleasure. One night, coming out of an Everton home match – in the days when it was cheap, most football-mad youngsters went to both grounds in the city – I saw Shankly appear from the players’ entrance. The crowd waiting for autographs milled around him and followed him down the road as he began the three-mile walk home. People asked questions and he answered them, his love of the game showing in his enthusiasm. Over the journey, some dropped off, so that the group of about 80 was down to 20 or so by the time he reached home. At his gate – outside a humble semi in West Derby – he said: ‘I’d love to invite you in, boys, but I’d be in trouble with the missus...’ He pulled a henpecked face. Magnificent. It was a very long walk home, but worth it.