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Football News: Former Liverpool Managers - Part 10 - The Reluctant Hero

Former Liverpool Managers - Part 10 - The Reluctant Hero
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Former Liverpool Managers - Part 10 - The Reluctant Hero

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Bob Paisley 26th August 1974 - 1st July 1983


Robert Paisley was born in January 1919, the second of four brothers, in a small Durham mining community near to Sunderland.On the day of his birth, the 23rd, 150,000 miners, like his father Sam, across the country went on strike in an effort to get a shorter working week. In 1926 it was the General Strike crippling the nation and a 7 year old Bob would have to scramble over slag heaps collecting coal dust so his parents could mix it with water to make a crude fuel.

His uncle was a slaughterman for the Co-op and would give young Bob pig's bladders to use as footballs. It obviously helped as, despite relying on soup kitchens to supplement his diet, he was an outstanding footballer even at primary school level. Paisley's Eppleton Primary School team won 17 trophies in a 4 year period while he played for them. As his father had suffered an accident underground, which left him unable to work for 5 years, money was tight throughout his childhood.

Bob left school early and was working down the pit next to his father by the time he was 14, but continued to play football in his spare time for Hetton Football Club's junior team. After the mine closed down he trained as a bricklayer. Bob was spotted playing for Hetton and recommended to his boyhood club Sunderland, but he was quickly rejected as being "too small" to make it. Not everyone saw him as too small though and one of the top non-league sides, Bishop Auckland, stepped in to sign him ahead of the 1937-38 season, with a pay of 3 shillings and 6d per game.

During his second season with 'The Bishops', Liverpool manager George Kay approached him and Bob promised to sign for Liverpool at the end of the season. At the end of the season, the Northern League, FA Amateur Cup and Durham County Challenge Cup were in the bag and the youngster was suddenly no longer considered too small by Sunderland. Bob had made a promise and that meant something to him, so he rejected Sunderland and travelled to Liverpool on the train to sign forms in mid-May 1939. Bob later remembered: "I was full of beans that day, but it was very quiet really. I was met at the station and after that long trek up Scotland Road in a tramcar, I found there were only one or two youngsters at the ground - Billy Liddell, Eddie Spicer and Ray Lambert. The rest had been recruited for the territorials."

Paisley signed a contract which paid him a £25 signing on fee and a salary of £8 per week during the season and £6 per week during the summer. Unfortunately for him he got to play in just two reserve games before the Second World War led to the cancellation of football. Paisley served in the British Army during the war, as a gunner in the Royal Artillery and, for a time, was posted to a camp at Cheshire about 30 miles from Anfield. When he was given permission to play for LFC against Everton in the 1940 Liverpool Senior Cup final, he cycled to Birkenhead and then hitched a ride through the Mersey Tunnel. He did the same in reverse to get home afterwards.

"It's not about the long ball or the short ball, it's about the right ball." - Bob Paisley

His footballing ability saved him from spending the rest of the war in a Japanese POW camp as his commanding officer transferred him to another battery when his battery was to be sent to the Far East, so that he could stay in England and lead the regimental team. His battery was overrun by the Japanese and the entire unit was interred for the remainder of the war. Paisley was then posted to Egypt, where he arrived in August 1941, after a 10 week trip by troopship, but it was not until after Christmas that year that he received his first mail from England. That mail was a postcard from Liverpool manager George Kay asking if he would be available to play against Preston three months earlier!

Paisley later went with the 8th Army into Sicily and then mainland Italy, riding into Rome on the back of a tank when the Allies liberated it in 1944. It was during the war that he met his future wife Jessie while on a train to Maghull, though her father was not impressed by her meeting a soldier who was a footballer in civilian life. It was not until Jessie mentioned Bob was also a bricklayer that Bob got her father's approval, as "that's a proper job".

After the war was over Paisley returned to the Liverpool team and was part of the team that won the league in 1946/47 but his time as a player was short-lived and he had just a couple more seasons as a first choice before he began to play less in the 1949/50 season. After winning his place back, he was dropped for LFC's first ever FA Cup final in 1950, which they lost without him. His hurt feelings were somewhat salved when he was given the club captaincy for the following season. Paisley played on for three more seasons before hanging up his boots. He had been studying to be a physio during his career, when his playing career was over he took on dual roles as reserve team coach and physio.

Bob's skill as a physio was unmatched and it was said that he could diagnose a player's injury just by watching him walk a few steps. He also proved to be an excellent coach and, despite Liverpool then being in decline in Division 2, his reserve team came second in the Central League, in the days when it was a truly competitive league. From 1957 he was promoted to a coaching role with the first team.

"There was only one Bob Paisley and he was the greatest of them all. He went through the card in football. He played for Liverpool, he treated the players, he coached them, he managed them and then he became a director. He could tell if someone was injured and what the problem was just by watching them walk a few paces. He was never boastful but had great footballing knowledge. I owe Bob more than I owe anybody else in the game. There will never be another like him." - Kenny Dalglish

Two years later came the moment that changed everything for a struggling Liverpool as December 1959 saw the arrival of the inimitable Bill Shankly. Bob said: "From the moment he arrived, we got on like a house on fire." Shankly held a meeting with all the coaching staff to guarantee them their jobs but Shankly wanted changes to happen. Paisley was promoted to be his assistant and training was changed to be based on speed and using the ball. After Paisley explained the benefits of a cooldown period after training, one was introduced and Shankly claimed that it resulted in "an astonishing lack of injuries over many seasons". The staff would hold daily meetings in the boot room to discuss strategy, tactics, training and players.

Shankly was the motivator, Paisley was the tactician, constantly looking for ways to improve, the pair together were an almost perfect combination and the club entered an era of sustained success. It was Paisley that pushed for the club to move to a more possession-based continental style of play, in particular after the Reds faced Red Star Belgrade in a European Cup tie in 1973. Bob was so impressed by the way they played, with two ball-playing centre-backs that he recommended Liverpool do something similar using Emlyn Hughes and Phil Thompson, who was then playing midfield.

Then, for Liverpool fans at least, it seemed like the roof had fallen in on the team when Bill Shankly resigned in 1974. Who could possibly follow the great man? It seemed like mission impossible. Even the man asked to do the job was reluctant, Paisley saying: "It's like being given the Queen Elizabeth to steer in a force 10 gale." At first he turned down the job, Bob was an introvert, he was just Bob to the players and liked being in the background while Shankly soaked up the limelight. Jack Charlton, another man like Shankly who was forthright and liked to be the centre of attention, was the favourite in the media to take the job.

"I have always preferred to liken the championship to a marathon. You have to know how to start the race, how to take the strain when problems come along and to make sure you don't give any potentially dangerous rivals an advantage. My policy is to ideally have five or six men around the age of 26, a couple of youngster, a couple round the 28 mark and one or two in the 30s. But the nucleus of the team should be experienced and not too old." - Bob Paisley

When Paisley got the squad together to tell them Shanks had left and he had been offered the job, Kevin Keegan told him that he should take the job. Eventually, according to Peter Robinson, then club secretary, the chairman, directors and Robinson ganged up on Paisley and pressured him into taking the job! Before his first training session as Liverpool's manager, Paisley told the players: "I'm only minding the shop until a real manager comes along." He also told the players that nothing was going to change, they were going to continue to things the way Shankly did it, but they were just going to do it better.

It was a season that began with a big statement of intent, as he sold Larry Lloyd just before the first game, Paisley making it clear that he wanted to have two ball-playing centre-backs to build from. It was a difficult start to the season, Ray Kennedy had arrived on the day Shankly quit and he struggled, looking cumbersome and lethargic up front. Paisley brought in both Phil Neal and Terry McDermott, McDermott was not yet ready to force his way into the team, though Neal became a regular in place of Alec Lindsay over the course of the season. But the big issue was star man Keegan was banned for the early weeks after his sending off in the Charity Shield.

Paisley's first Friday team talk did not create the best impression, as the players gathered around a table with a baize cloth laid over it and blue figures marked out the tactical plan. Tommy Smith was instructed not to "wandering round like a miner without a lamp". Brian Hall was then given his orders, being told to keep an eye on 'what's-his-name'. Hall was desperate to impress the new boss, so he asked who that was. "Eeerrrm, eeeerm.... what's his name? Ah, bollox!" Then Paisley swept the figures onto the floor and told the players to just go out and beat their opponents.

One of Paisley's early actions as manager was to call the press into his office, according to former journalist John Keith: "When Bob took over he called some of the press into his office and explained he was not very good at saying what he meant, and gave permission for us to finish off his sentences for him." The press were sniffing blood in the water and hammered Paisley constantly. Once again they were convinced Jack Charlton was about to come in and take charge, and that he was a better choice for the job. So much so that Bob tried to resign in November, but he was once again talked round and convinced that he was the man to lead Liverpool. Despite that, there was no major trophy in his first season as Liverpool finished second, ahead of third by a 0.038 goal difference and Bob admitted his disappointment: "I'll admit right away, that I am disappointed that we did not have a major trophy to show for our efforts. We were in four and we had a good side, but when you count second place as failure, then standards are becoming fantastically high. We never celebrate second place here."

"This club has been my life. I'd go out and sweep the street and be proud to do it for Liverpool FC if they asked me to." - Bob Paisley

One of the big difficulties presented by his first season was the shadow cast over the club by Bill Shankly, who had come to regret his decision to retire. He would often turn up and take training, something he never did while manager, and the players were confused about who was in charge. It broke Paisley's heart to do it, as he and Shankly were extremely close friends, but eventually, during the first season, Shankly had to be asked to stay away so that Paisley could run the team his way. It was at this time that the famous "This Is Anfield" sign was placed above the player's tunnel, after Anfield's maintenance man Bert Johnson made it and Paisley gave him permission to place it there.

Going into his second season in charge, Bob had converted Ray Kennedy to a left-midfielder, replacing Peter Cormack and Jimmy Case had stepped up from the reserves, replacing Brian Hall. Continuity was the key, Paisley made his changes gradually, carefully integrating players into the group. It worked as Liverpool won the UEFA Cup and got to the end of the season with a game at Molinex to decide the title. A 1-1 draw or any win would give Liverpool their first league title under Bob and the area around Wolverhampton's ground was packed full of Liverpool fans, many without tickets.

Amongst those fans milling round outside were Phil Thompson's brothers, and Thompson was worried about being able to get them into the ground and kept disappearing out of the dressing room to try and find them. Eventually the nerves got to him and he appealed to Paisley for help: "Boss, you have to help. My brothers have been to every game this season and now they can't get in." Paisley went into the corridor outside and buttonholed an elderly steward outside for a key to the dressing room door, which opened onto the main road. He gave the key to Thompson and told him to get his brothers in. Emlyn Hughes piped up saying that his mates were there as well, so the doors were flung open for a second time and about 40 Liverpool fans trooped in, carrying flags, banners and horns singing Liverpool songs. Bob went into a flap, "What the fuck?" he shouted at no one in particular while trying to shut the door. "How many are in your family?" Despite the mayhem, Liverpool got the result they needed and won the league.

"The sort of lad I am looking for is a kid who will nutmeg Kevin Keegan in training, then step aside for him in the corridor." - Bob Paisley

The following season, 1976/77, Paisley began to make gradual changes to the team as Joey Jones took Tommy Smith's place in defence and new signing David Johnson worked his way into the team. Stalwarts Brian Hall and Peter Cormack were moved on as the team took a run at the European Cup. By this point Shankly was beginning to be welcomed back and was often found just inside the players' entrance shaking hands with the players as they came in. This was now Paisley's team and no one was confused by their former boss's presence.

The English league was retained, even with the distraction of Europe where progression saw a young David Fairclough make his mark. Along the way Liverpool faced Crusaders and Paisley remembered their visit to Anfield: "I remember the Ulstermen packing their penalty area at Anfield and making it extremely difficult for us to find the space to create chances. One of the players lost a contact lens during the game and I told him 'There's only one place it will be - in the penalty area!'"

The European Cup final saw the Reds face Borussia Moenchangladbach in Rome, a Moenchengladbach side that had won five Bundesliga titles and a UEFA Cup over the previous decade. Liverpool ran out 3-1 winners to make Paisley the first manager to win the UEFA Cup and European Cup in successive seasons: "This is the second time I have beaten the Germans here...the first time was in 1944. I drove into Rome on a tank when the city was liberated. If anyone had told me I would be back here to see us win the European Cup 33 years later I'd have told them they were mad! But I want to savour every minute of it...which is why I'm not having a drink tonight. I'm just drinking in the occasion."

Despite the European Cup win, the summer saw a huge loss as key man Kevin Keegan moved to Hamburg for £500,000, but somehow Paisley managed to find a replacement that would eclipse even the great Keegan. £440,000 secured the signature of a man that would go on to be, without question, the greatest player in the history of LFC, Kenny Dalglish, from Celtic. They were not the only great Scots to arrive that season as Alan Hansen had already arrived from Partick Thistle three months earlier for £100,000 and Graeme Souness arrived from Middlesbrough in January for £350,000. Paisley had brought in a new spine for the team in a show of ruthlessness that Shankly had never been able to exhibit. During the season, he even moved on Keegan's old strike partner, John Toshack, on a free to Swansea City.

"I just hoped that after the trials and tribulations of my early years in management someone up high would smile on me. My plea was answered when we got Kenny Dalglish." - Bob Paisley

In the league it did not quite work out as Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest beat the Reds into second, but the European Cup was retained, the first English club to manage that feat. On into the 1978/79 season and just two players arrived, Kevin Sheedy from Hereford United, who became better known as an Everton hero, and Alan Kennedy from Newcastle United. On the outs side Tommy Smith and Ian Callaghan headed off to join Toshack at Swansea, while Joey Jones also went to Wales but in his case it was Wrexham.

It was a good season in the league despite an inauspicious start from Alan Kennedy: "My first game was against Queens Park Rangers at Anfield early on and I miskicked with my right foot - the one I use for standing on - and knocked a policeman's helmet off. I also conceded a couple of corners and made a few errors. I just wanted half-time to come to get some reassurance from the manager but when I got back to the dressing room, Bob said to me, 'I think that they shot the wrong Kennedy!'" Liverpool conceded just 16 goals all season, scoring 85, as they once again won the league title.

It was not so good in the European Cup as a defeat in the first round to Nottingham Forest ended their time in it and the domestic cups also proved fruitless, despite reaching the semi-final of the FA Cup. The 1979/80 season saw the arrival of Ronnie Whelan coming in on a free transfer from Home Farm in September, while leaving was Emlyn Hughes, who headed off to join Wolverhampton Wanderers. Once again this season Liverpool lost in the first round of the European Cup, this time to Dinamo Tbilisi, while both domestic cups ended at the semi-final stage. The league title once again wended its way to Anfield though, Paisley's 4th league win.

Into 1980/81 season and it was a season of massive disappointment in the league, with Paisley's one and only finish outside of the top two, as Liverpool finished 5th. However, on the plus side Liverpool won their first-ever League Cup with a replay win over West Ham United at Villa Park and Paisley led them to his third European Cup with a 1-0 win over Real Madrid in Paris. He was the first manager to win it three times. It was also the season that saw three building blocks for the future put in place as Ian Rush, Bruce Grobbelaar and Craig Johnston all arrived during the course of the season.

The signing of Grobbelaar was one that very nearly never happened as Bob turned up to watch him while the eccentric keeper was playing for Crewe Alexandra and Grobbelaar ran out to warm up with an umbrella he had borrowed from the tea lady. Grobbelaar then walked on his hands and jumped on the crossbar. By that point Paisley had left the ground in disbelief! It was only the badgering of scouts that convinced Bob to sign Grobbelaar.

"Bob learned a lot from Shanks' reluctance to change an ageing Liverpool side in the late 1960s. Just after we won the European Cup against Real Madrid in 1981 he said the team needed freshening up and he went out and did it." - Alan Kennedy

Paisley certainly did make changes, as well as using the younger players more he brought in Mark Lawrenson from Brighton & Hove Albion, who was the most expensive signing Paisley ever made at £900,000, and Steve Nicol arrived from Ayr United in October. Stalwarts Ray Clemence, Steve Heighway, Jimmy Case and Ray Kennedy all left the club during the season. The season did not start well, as the new-look team took time to gel together and Liverpool were sat just 12th in the league table at Christmas and lost the Intercontinental Cup final to Brazilian side Flamengo, despite Paisley hiding news Grobbelaar's dad had died from his for 5 days before the game: "I still scratch my head as to why he kept it from me until after the game. Bob said, 'You can go to your father's funeral, but be back by Friday.' The funeral was on the Thursday. I flew business class from Tokyo to Paris to Johannesburg and back to Heathrow. When I got my next pay cheque there was nothing left. I paid for my own trip to the funeral. That's how ruthless they were. Not much compassion."

They also failed to hold onto the European Cup, losing to CSKA Sofia in the quarter final stage and were defeated by second tier Chelsea in the FA Cup 5th Round. However the main target, as always with Liverpool, was the league title and they managed to climb up from 12th to win it. They did manage to retain the League Cup, beating Spurs 3-1 at Wembley. The team may have undergone a shake up, but Paisley quickly got them back on track and added even more winner's medals to his collection.

The following summer, while the team were away on a money-spinning friendly, Paisley told the team that next season would be his last. Health problems were the main cause as he had suffered a severe infection which left him with balance problems: "I thought, well, you know, if you're going to be like that....If you are ruthless enough to change players, then you've got to look at yourself and say, 'Don't go beyond your limits'."

Despite the coming retirement, he was still ruthless enough to move a legend in the shape of Terry McDermott on. There was no success in either the European Cup or FA Cup, but the League Cup was retained, with the players making Bob go up the Wembley steps to lift the trophy first. The league was also won once more, despite losing 5 of the last 7 matches in the league, Liverpool won it by 11 points over Watford. Paisley's nine years in charge had resulted in six league titles, three European Cups, three League Cups, six Charity Shields, one European Super Cup and one UEFA Cup, though Bob never managed to win the FA Cup as either player or manager.

Paisley had managed to win 3 European Cups, which only Ancelotti and Zidane have done since, Zidane managing to surpass that feat even. He won trophies at a rate of 2.2 per season, which only Pep Guardiola has bettered. Bob is one of just 5 men to win the English top flight as player and manager of the same club, along with Bill Nicholson (Tottenham Hotspur), Howard Kendall (Everton), George Graham (Arsenal) and Kenny Dalglish (Liverpool). He was named manager of the year 6 times in his 9 years and is still the most successful English manager of all time.

"He was a great man, and has once and for all broken the myth that nice guys don't win anything." - Brian Clough

He did come out of retirement to a degree to advise Kenny Dalglish, when the Scot became player-manager in 1985, spending 2 years in that role. It was while acting in that capacity that the Republic of Ireland approached Liverpool in the hope of appointing him as their new national manager. Most of the FAI were keen to appoint him, but Liverpool rebuffed their initial approach, at which point Jack Charlton was pushed forward. When Liverpool later informed the Football Association of Ireland that Paisley would be available and was interested in the role, it was put to a vote. Perhaps it is ironic that Charlton beat Paisley to the job after it was the other way round when Paisley was appointed Liverpool manager.

After his time helping Dalglish build one of the most exciting sides English football has ever seen, Paisley stayed at the club as a director until, in 1992 after 53 years at the club, he retired due to ill health. Sadly, especially for such a clever man, Paisley suffered with Alzheimer's disease in his final years, which had become apparent when he was unable to remember his way home from Anfield. On 14th February 1996 Bob Paisley passed away at the age of 77, with a legacy that has never been equalled.

After his death, Liverpool erected the Paisley Gates outside Anfield in 1999 and in January 2020 a statue of him piggy-backing an injured Emlyn Hughes off the pitch in 1968 was unveiled outside Anfield. Neither of those honours can truly capture just how much the man Bob Paisley meant to Liverpool FC, or how much he had done for the club in his time.

"I find it extraordinary that Manchester United saw Matt Busby, Bobby Charlton and Alex Ferguson knighted but Shankly and Paisley were plain 'Bill' and 'Bob'. They deserved as much recognition, Paisley particularly." - Ron Atkinson

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To read Part 9 - The Great Orator please click HERE

Written by Tris Burke July 23 2021 17:58:38


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