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William "Bill" Shankly, OBE (2 September 1913 – 29 September 1981) was one of Britainmarker's most successful and respected football managers. Shankly was also a fine player, whose career was interrupted by the Second World War. He played nearly 300 times in The Football League for Preston North End and represented Scotland seven times.

He is most remembered, however, for his achievements as a manager, particularly with Liverpool. Shankly established Liverpool, which had been a Second Division club when he arrived, as one of the major forces in the English game. During his 15 years at the club they won three league championships, two FA Cups and the UEFA Cup, before his surprise retirement after the 1974 FA Cup Final.


Shankly was born in the Ayrshire mining village of Glenbuck, He was one of 5 brothers who went on to play professional football. His brother Bob (1910 - 1982) was also a successful manager, guiding Dundee to victory in the Scottish championship in 1962. His tough upbringing was the basis for his own brand of humanitarian based socialism, and he would joke in later life that he never had a bath until aged 15, and that the poverty brought about a good sense of humour.

Football was a way of getting away from the mine shafts - either on a Saturday afternoon and during weekly training, or as a professional option. All five Shankly brothers were members of the Glenbuck Cherrypickers - a team famous at the time for producing 49 footballers from the village, straddling the latter part of the 19th and the early years of the 20th century - although Bill, the youngest brother, never played for their first eleven.

His other brothers were Alec, who played for Ayr United and Clyde, Jimmy (1902-1972), who played for various clubs, including Sheffield United and Southend United, and John (1903-1960), who played for Luton Town and Blackpool. His maternal uncle, Bob Blyth, played for Preston North End and Portsmouth, before becoming Portsmouth's manager.

Player career

Bill Shankly's playing career began in Scottish Junior Football, where he played for the now defunct Cronberry Eglinton and Glenbuck Cherrypickers. In July 1932 he caught the eye of scouts and was signed to play for Carlisle United making his debut on 31 December 1932 against Rochdale. In July 1933, after only 16 appearances for Carlisle, he signed for Preston North End for a fee of £500.00

He was a key member of the Preston side promoted to the First Division in 1934 and played in two FA Cup finals, Preston losing to Sunderland in 1937, but beating Huddersfield Town in 1938.

Shankly made his debut for Scotland in a 1-0 win against England in April 1938. He made four further appearances for his country, plus another seven in wartime internationals, but his distinguished playing career was interrupted by war in 1939.

He played for a number of teams during the war, including Northampton Town, Liverpool, Arsenal, Cardiff City, Bolton Wanderers, Luton Town, Partick Thistle and King's Park and helped Preston to victory in the 1941 Wartime Cup Final at Wembley. When the 1946-1947 season kick-started organised professional football again in England, Shankly resumed playing for Preston, but was 33 and coming to the end of his playing days. World War II had taken away the best years of Shankly's career.

Later, in a 1964 tour of the United Statesmarker Shankly couldn't believe American people had never heard of Tom Finney.

Managerial career

Carlisle United

Shankly retired from playing in March 1949 and the same month was appointed the manager of Carlisle United, starting his managerial career where his professional playing career had also started. He was undistinguished at Carlisle, and walked out citing a lack of financial commitment on the part of the directors - a pattern which would repeat itself for the next ten years across a succession of northern English football clubs.

One Carlisle player cited Shankly's influence upon him in distinguishing himself even though he had left the club's playing staff. Ivor Broadis had been player manager (at 23 he is the still youngest player manager in football league history) before joining Sunderland. However Broadis continued to live and train at Carlisle. And from Broadis' comments it is clear that even then the attributes that would lead to Shankly taking deity status were already in the man.

One day Broadis, arriving late for training, Shankly said that he told the player, "What do you think you're doing? Who do you think you are? If you do the training we do you can train with us and we'll play five-a-side and you'll run your guts out as an example to everybody else"

Shankly never said that he made Broadis as a footballer - "but I made him realise what was needed to be a player, and Ivor Broadis was one of the strongest and most dangerous inside forwards that ever played."

Broadis' description of events with Shankly: "Bill always regarded himself as the man who saved me, really - the man who gave me to England (Broadis went to collect 14 England caps among his many distinctions). I would maybe be lapping round and I admit I could have put a lot more into it."

"You sort of take the routine from the club you are with and that was not good enough for Bill. I was doing what I thought Sunderland would be doing, the way they were doing it. And that wasn't Bill's way. You had to come off jiggered. So Bill regarded himself as putting me right and I think there's a lot of truth in that. His strength was not Liverpool. It was the strength he could give to anybody."

However grim life became, there was always a ball.

Are you doing anything this afternoon?" he would say to Ivor Broadis. "Aye, right then, if you're not, come down to the ground." They would upturn two chimney pots on ashes in front of the club buildings and play, one-a-side. If a chimney pot was topped, it was a goal. Shankly did not like to lose at that either.

When Broadis turned writer and arrived in the Liverpool Press box, Shankly marched in, shook him by the hand, wished him well, and departed. If hardness was typical of him, memory and softness were also typical.

"It's human nature," says Broadis "If you have someone like Shankly who'll give the players all they are entitled to, they are prepared to die for him. There are few like that. There are more confidence men in this game... Integrity? I think that is it. My idea of a manager is one who never stops being a player. Shankly puts his gear on and goes out every day and it must have been the worst day of his life when he realised he wasn't going to be able to play for a club any more. It's like death when they have to pack in.

"Players take something from a manager. If you get an indifferent sort of manager you get lackadaisical players. If you get a manager who is a bit of a gangster then the players he signs will tend to be part gangsters and sharks. Shanks is an honest, grafting, football-loving bloke. He's a man's man. I don't think for a minute that he feels the way he talks. It is just Bill: People tend to think he is not emotional, but, he fights hard not to show emotion; If you can't feel emotional about football, you've no business being in it.

Grimsby Town

After a failed interview at Liverpool, Shankly moved to manage Grimsby Town in 1951.

When Shankly arrived at Grimsby, the club was in free fall having dropped from Division 1 to regional football in Division 3 in quick time, the morale of the players and supporters was low. However, the players who had been at the club when Grimsby were in the top flight were still there, there being little point in players swapping and changing clubs in those days due to the maximum wage. Shankly was quickly able to use the raw material at his disposal to weld the players into a good side.

He quickly became a cult figure at Blundell Parkmarker, the team regularly drawing crowds in excess of 20,000. When Shankly turned out for the reserve team, it too would draw huge crowds, 5,000 not being unusual for Shanks who was still more than a decent player himself. In 1951-52, Grimsby just missed promotion, despite picking up an incredible 36 points out a possible 40 in the last 20 matches.

The 1952-53 season started with much optimism around the club but the players still felt the disappointment of the previous season. The team too, was an ageing one, and struggled after a bright start and the season fizzled out. Shankly was given no money to buy new players and was reluctant to blood some promising reserves because of the loyalty he felt to these older stalwarts (a fault that was to surface at Liverpool years later). Disillusioned by events, he quit in January 1954, citing a lack of ambition by the board as his main reason.

Remarkably, in his autobiography he was to claim: "That Grimsby team was pound for pound, and class for class, the best football team I have seen in England since the war. In the league they were in they played football nobody else could play. Everything was measured, planned and perfected and you could not wish to see more entertaining football."


After Shankly left Grimsby he went on to manage Workington in 1954.

Huddersfield Town

At Huddersfield, Shankly signed a talented 15 year-old called Denis Law. After Law broke into the first team at 16, Shankly recommended on business grounds improving Law’s terms and tenure, but the board saw no reason to increase the wages of a player they already had under contract. In 1956, the board wanted to accept an offer of £45,000 for Law, from Everton. Shankly went ballistic: “Get out your diary and write this down. One day, Denis Law will be transferred for £100,000.” After four years at Huddersfield, Manchester City signed Law for a transfer fee of £55,000, setting a new British record. Shankly's prediction was eventually met and exceeded in 1962 when Law was signed by Manchester United for £115,000.

Shankly appeared prone to falling foul of the boardroom at each club, as he never felt they gave the same commitment to team affairs as he did. It was Shankly's own commitment and enthusiasm that had initially intrigued Liverpool chairman T.V. Williams when Shankly had been interviewed for the vacant Liverpool job in 1951.


Shankly became the manager of Liverpool in December 1959.

In 1959, Liverpool was a club in the bottom half of the old Second Division, with a crumbling stadium, poor training facilities and a large and poor quality playing staff. The only quality was in the backroom staff, with Joe Fagan and Reuben Bennett, added to by the recently retired footballer Bob Paisley, whom Shankly admired.

The training ground at Melwoodmarker was in a terrible state, overgrown and with only one mains water tap. Shankly turned this into a strength, by getting the players to arrive instead at Anfield, and then bus them over to Melwood - this created team camaraderie. At Melwood Shankly introduced fitness training including diet assessment, and skills training including using an artificial goal painted on a convenient wall, split into eight sections which he would demand the players hit each time. For playing practice, Shankly introduced five-a-side games that so defined his football thinking - pass and move, keep it simple, a creed taken from the daily matches played by the miners of Glenbuck. After training, the team would all bus back to Anfield together to shower, change and eat a communal meal. This way Shankly ensured all his players had warmed down correctly and he would keep his players free from injury. As a result, in the 1965-1966 season Liverpool finished as champions using just 14 players and two of those only played a handful of games.

1960s team

Slowly at first, and then with a gathering pace, Shankly and his backroom team turned Liverpool around. The Anfield crowd sensed change, with gates regularly topping 40,000 and with new signings Ron Yeats, Ian St. John and Gordon Milne, promotion was gained back to the first division in 1961-1962. The addition of Peter Thompson (along with a failed swoop for Jack Charlton) added to his ever-improving team. The supremacy of Everton in the city of Liverpool was the first target for Shankly now that he had got the club back into the top flight, and in 1963-1964, Liverpool clinched their 6th title, from former champions Everton.

The first F.A. Cup win in 1965 was followed by Europe where Liverpool were stopped by Inter Milan, managed by Helenio Herrera, winning the first leg at Anfield only to lose the follow up. The following year it was defeat by Ajax led by then 19-year old Johan Cruyff (7-3 on aggregate; including a 5-1 hammering in Amsterdam). Whilst Shankly, orchestrating events at Anfield was at one with the fans, perfectly in tune with the Kopites, knowing and understanding how they felt about football and the pride a successful team gave them - remaining in touch with his working class roots. He would tell anyone who cared to listen that his lads played to a socialist ethic. If a player was having a poor game Shankly would expect a team mate to cover for him and bail him out like you would do for a neighbour or a colleague down the mine.

1970s team

The decline of the 1960s team saw the birth of Shankly's second great Liverpool side. Out went Hunt, St.John, Yeats and Lawrence, and in came Kevin Keegan, Steve Heighway, Larry Lloyd and Ray Clemence - he missed out on signing Lou Macari, and sent a note round to the players after Macari had signed for Manchester United that Shankly had only wanted him for the Reserve team. The UEFA Cup, the first European trophy, arrived in 1973, won in tandem with the club's 8th league title. In 1974, the F.A. Cup came back to Anfield after a Wembley performance against Malcolm Macdonald's Newcastle United. The result was 3-0.

Shankly told Kevin Keegan in 1971 as Liverpool were playing West Ham United "Christ son, I've just seen that Bobby Moore. What a wreck. He's got bags under his eyes, he's limping. He's got dandruff and it looks as if he has been to a nightclub again". Moore played a blinder during the match but Keegan still scored. After the game Shankly said to Keegan "Aye he's some player that Bobby Moore isn't he? You'll never play against anyone better than him".

Relationship with fans

Due to his working class background, Shankly had a strong feeling for how the fans followed the team and wanted them to perform. He felt he was letting the fans down when the team didn't do well.

When he wasn't managing a football club, Shankly was usually at his typewriter, personally replying to the letters which arrived at Melwood. Shankly even called some supporters at home to discuss the previous day's game, while the accounts of him providing tickets for fans are endless.

One of the most iconic images of all was caught on television, when a Liverpool scarf which had been thrown at Shankly during a lap of honour was flung to one side by a policeman, in April 1973, when he and the team were showing off the League Championship trophy to the Kop. Shankly pounced on the scarf and reprimanded the copper, uttering the immortal words "Don't do that. This might be someone's life".

After his retirement he said: "I was only in the game for the love of football - and I wanted to bring back happiness to the people of Liverpool."

The journalist John Keith, who wrote the play "The Bill Shankly Tribute Story", commented that Shankly knew how important the fans were to a successful team, and that even after his retirement, at the 1976 second leg of the UEFA Cup final in Brugge: "A fan came over and said he didn't have a ticket - so Shanks went and bought him one."


Shankly was by now 60 years old, and on 12 July 1974 decided to retire - he said that going to tell the chairman of his decision was like facing the electric chair. He wanted to spend time with his wife Ness and their family. When news of Shankly's resignation first emerged, distraught fans jammed the club's switchboard and at least one local factory's workers threatened to go on strike unless their hero returned .

The club was left in capable hands, with the bootroom staff supplemented by ex-players Ronnie Moran and Roy Evans and they got behind new manager Bob Paisley. Later it was revealed that Shankly wanted Jack Charlton to succeed him at Liverpool, and not Bob Paisley.

Shankly regretted resigning from Liverpool and began watching training sessions at Melwood. The board were unhappy that Shankly was not allowing new manager Bob Paisley to settle into the management role. Phil Thompson even claims that at Melwood Shankly was still called "boss" while Paisley was known as "Bob". Ronnie Moran claimed things "began to get a bit awkward".Liverpool striker Kevin Keegan states that Liverpool "didn't get it wrong very often but they did that time" and believed that Shankly should have been placed on the board of directors.

Shankly was awarded the OBE in November 1974. He continued to live in the house that he and his wife had bought when they moved to Liverpool, and he was a regular sight around the city, happy and willing to talk to anyone about football.


On the morning of 26 September 1981, Bill Shankly was admitted to Broadgreen Hospitalmarker following a heart attack. While in hospital he insisted on being nursed in an ordinary ward not a private one. "That is where he wanted to be," a hospital spokesman told the Liverpool Echo newspaper.. His condition was stable and it appeared that he was going to make a full recovery. There was no suggestion that his life was in danger. The switchboard was jammed with concerned fans and prayers were said for him at the Sunday morning and evening services at both of the Anglican and Catholic Cathedrals. However, late on 28 September, Shankly's condition unexpectedly took a turn for the worse and died, aged 68, at 1.20am on 29 September 1981. He was cremated, and his ashes buried at the Anfield Crematoriummarker on 2 October..

The Labour Party conference stood in a minute's silence when his death was announced, for a man who had always been a socialist. Sir Matt Busby was so upset when he heard the news of Shankly's death that he refused to take any telephone calls from people asking him for a reaction. Some years before his death, Shankly had paid tribute to Busby, saying that he was "greatest football manager ever".

The statue of Bill Shankly outside Anfield

On the evening following his death Liverpool defeated Oulun Palloseura 7-0 in the European Champions' Cup; prior to the kick off a banner was unfurled on the Kop which read "Shankly Lives Forever".

Four days after his death Liverpool played Swansea City in a first division match. Swansea manager John Toshack, a player Shankly had signed for Liverpool, wore a Liverpool shirt for the minute silence prior to the match.

His widow, Nessie Shankly, outlived her husband by almost 21 years. She died, aged 82, after suffering a heart attack on 2 August 2002. At the time of her death, she was still living in the house on Bellefield Avenue, West Derbymarker, where she had moved on her husband's appointment as Liverpool manager in 1959.

From the mid-1990s Preston North End commenced a complete rebuilding of their groundmarker to convert it into a modern all seater stadium. When the former Spion Kop end was replaced by a new stand in 1998 it was named the Bill Shankly Kop, and was designed with different coloured seats providing an image of the great man's head and shoulders.

Bill Shankly was made an inaugural inductee of the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002, in recognition of his impact on the English game as a manager.

The Mersey Poet Adrian Henri, a die-hard Liverpoolmarker supporter dedicated a poem "The Thoughts of Chairman Shankly" to Bill Shankly.



  • 1934 Second Division runner-up (with Preston North End)
  • 1937 FA Cup finalist. (with Preston North End)
  • 1938 FA Cup winner. (with Preston North End)
  • 1941 Wartime Cup winner (with Preston North End)


1962 Second Division champions

1964 First Division champions

1965 FA Cup Winners, European Champions' Cup semi-finalists.

1966 First Division champions, European Cup Winners Cup beaten finalists.

1969 First Division runners-up.

1971 FA Cup beaten finalists, Inter-Cities Fairs Cup semi-finalists.

1973 First Division champions, UEFA Cup winners.

1974 FA Cup winners, First Division runners-up.

Managerial statistics

Team From To Games Won Lost Drawn Win %
Carlisle 1949 1951 108 48 27 33 44.44
Grimsby 1951 1953 80 47 17 16 58.75
Huddersfield 1956 1959 134 49 50 35 36.57
Liverpool 1959 1974 753 393 175 185 52.19
TOTAL 1075 537 269 269 49.95


  • An interview on a Granada Television chat-show hosted by Shelley Rohde in 1981 produced arguably Shankly's most famous (and most often misquoted) quote - "Someone said to me 'To you football is a matter of life or death!' and I said 'Listen, it's more important than that'." But on the official website, it states that the official quote is "Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that." Bill Shankly. Shankly paraphrased a quote attributed in the 1950s to Henry Russell Sanders, an American football college coach, although his was referring to a rival - "Beating 'SC is not a matter.."

  • Another often misquoted Shankly quote was what did he think about the team on the other side of Stanley Parkmarker. Mainly coined as "There are only two teams in Liverpool; Liverpool and Liverpool Reserves." The true quote was less a jibe at his city rivals and more of an understanding into Shankly's belief that winning was everything. "A lot of football success is in the mind. You must believe you are the best and then make sure that you are. In my time at Anfield we always said we had the best two teams on Merseyside, Liverpool and Liverpool reserves."
  • Also said, "If Everton were playing at the bottom of the garden, I'd pull the curtains." Ironically, his home in West Derby was opposite Everton's former training ground in Bellefield, where he was always a welcome visitor after his retirement.
  • Shankly famously said about the offside law, "If a player is not interfering with play or seeking to gain an advantage, then he should be." * Also attributed to Brian Clough
  • When Liverpool player Tommy Smith once consulted Shankly to tell him he couldn't play next week, due to his injured knee, Shankly replied: "Take that poof bandage off, and what do you mean Your knee, it's Liverpool's knee!"
  • For many years, legend had it that Shankly had taken his wife to a Rochdale game as a Wedding Anniversary treat. Eventually someone plucked up the courage to ask Bill if it were true. Naturally, the great man denied it venomously: "Of course I didn't take my wife to see Rochdale as an anniversary present, it was her birthday. Would I have got married in the football season? Anyway, it was Rochdale reserves."
  • Shankly was famously competitive in 5 a side matches. Matches in which his talented full-back, Chris Lawler was equally famous for his taciturnity. Bob Paisley was refereeing one day and decreed a goal offside. Shankly argued long and hard, so much so that in the end Bob Paisley asked Lawler: "Chris - you were the last man, was Bill offside?" To which Chris replied "Yes Bob, he was." Shankly exploded with rage. "All these years he keeps his mouth shut, and when he does speak, it's to tell a lie"
  • Shankly was once asked how a top star of the 1970s compared to his former Preston North End teammate Tom Finney: "Aye, he's as good as Tommy – but then Tommy's nearly 60 now."
  • The socialism I believe in is not really politics. It is a way of living. It is humanity. I believe the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other, everyone helping each other, and everyone having a share of the rewards at the end of the day. That might be asking a lot, but it's the way I see football and the way I see life.
  • On playing for the Scotland national team, Shankly remarked "It's fantastic. You look down at your dark blue shirt, and the wee lion looks up at you and says 'Get out after those English bastards!'"

See also


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