Jonnowhite's article on Shankly. #Shankly100

Posted by Hinesy on August 8, 2013, 05:33:57 PM

Bill Shankly

How do you measure the worth of a man - any man?
Should an evaluation be based on his personal contributions to his society?
On the other hand can it ever be justifiably estimated by a vulgar examination of his material achievements? (Not for me anyway.)

If such an important judgement is never to be made on transient, ethereal or subjective things, then upon what must it rest? What aspects of a man’s life can be considered worthy of genuine admiration, total respect or even grudging envy?

Where does the journey of any man begin towards whatever destiny is written for him in the Book of Life? Well fortunately that’s an easy start point for me to make as one William Shankly’s arrival into this life was just like anyone else’s.

The boy to be called Wullie by his family was born on September 2nd 1913 to John and Barbara Shankly, John being the village postman and Barbara the matriarch of a then brood of 9 bairns, 5 boys (of which our Wullie was boy number 5 and 4 sisters.) Not too long after Wullie had arrived, things would be evened up neatly by the arrival of sister number 5 and the family's offspring complement numbered a final 10.

He was - as were so many in his mining village and community of Glenbuck in Ayrshire - pre-destined either for a struggling existence via the village pit OR migration to other bigger towns or cities in Scotland to search for work. In Wullie’s case however, he was blessed with having a 3rd option as were his 4 elder brothers. All were possessed of the ability to play futba’.

Allied to that ability was a solid belief set and a deep conviction that he had the capacity to make things happen in order to lift people’s spirits and make things better. It’s important to remember that his infancy was spent during those horrific 5 years of the first – and worst – World War. The grief and the tragedies unfolding on the killing fields of Flanders impacted peoples’ lives throughout the kingdom – including tiny Glenbuck.

Such childhoods, formed through times of great national trauma, often produce unflinching beliefs in and deep commitment to the innate goodness of honest working people. The irony here is that these people, who in peacetime were far too often oppressed by their society’s leaders, incredibly flocked to the recruitment stations in their tens of thousands and went to fight and to die for it.

Wullie’s life values were shaped by what he saw, what he heard of from his family and what experiences he grew through during his formative years. They were to stay with him throughout his life. He spent 2 years down the pit alongside brother Bob and he hated it. He hated the sheer indifference shown by the pit owners to the lads whose hard graft and sacrifice afforded them their lives of luxury. The incongruity of it marked Wullie for ever. He said he was 15 before ever he’d had a bath and he could not abide the filth and the exposure to vermin imposed by a life down the pit for him and his fellow miners. His escape was only a matter of time and in 1931, his journey into his footballing future began at Cronberry Eglinton.

Oor Wullie would cycle to games there – 15 miles up the road – and back again after the match. So he must have been one fit and hardy wee bugger,no?
The experience of doing what he passionately loved set him on the road to his next port of call which was across the border of the Auld Enemy in Carlisle and he had a successful season with United, making his debut on that most auspicious of ALL dates 31 December (my birthday! ) in the year 1932.
Wullie was happy at Carlisle – happy that it was close to home, happy that his money was decent enough for a young fella to start to dream a bit and happiest that he was assured of first team football – earned by his wing half performances in the engine room. He was surprised therefore in the close season following the 1932-33 season to get a telegram requesting him to attend Carlisle as “another club were after him”.

The other club turned out to be Preston North End who’d offered £500 for him. His share would be £50 lump sum plus a signing fee of £10 and a fiver a week. He wasnae happy!! He felt it wasn’t anywhere near enough for his liking plus Preston was a long way from Glenbuck.
His brother Alec advised him that they were a bigger club than Carlisle United and that they had the potential to make it into the First Division and then their ability to pay more in the future would be better. Wullie or Bill as he was soon to be known at Deepdale, listened and fortunately accepted the brotherly advice offered and signed. He made his debut in the white shirt of North End in a winning start against Hull City reserves in that old wonderful baptismal ground - the Central League. They battered Hull’s reserves 5-0 that December day in 1933 and Bill particularly was singled out by the PNE cognoscenti as the architect of that thumping victory via his clever passing skills. 
A local Preston football correspondent, Walter Pilkington, wrote somewhat prophetically: "One of this season's discoveries, Bill Shankly, played with rare tenacity and uncommonly good ideas for a lad of twenty. He is full of good football and possessed with unlimited energy; he should go far".

Bill stayed with PNE and as predicted by brother Alec, along came promotion to the First Division. This was followed not too long after by something which very much was NOT predicted – the outbreak of war with Nazi Germany in 1939.But 1 year before that awful event, Bill enjoyed success in the 1938 FA Cup final with PNE when they defeated Huddersfield Town 1-0 with literally the last kick of the match. To round off what was Bill’s finest footballing moments as a player anyway, the Cup-winners finished 3rd in the League.

Bill joined the RAF and for 6 long years in uniform and then for some months after the cessation of conflict and the surrender of Japan, his football career like everyone’s was placed on hold. Apart from the occasional exhibition match mainly to boost the civilian morale, the careers of most players in their late 20’s had been prematurely ended.  The one good and happy event during this period in uniform and conflict was meeting and marrying his beloved Nessie in 1944.
Then the boys and girls came home from the forces to a country on the edge of the abyss. Skint, and with food on rationing still, the nation faced very severe hardships as the price of victory over the fascists. For how long no-one knew back then.

He was to play only 3 more seasons for North End and although he was club captain, he could no longer command a place in the side. At 33 and a qualified masseur, Bill was already looking to a coaching life after his playing career was over when in 1949, Carlisle United asked him to accept the manager’s job at his old club. He retired as a player and accepted the job.
His departure from Preston in March 1949 was marred by the resentment of some at the club and Bill was refused a benefit match to which he felt he was entitled. He described Preston's attitude as "the biggest let-down of my life in football". The single abiding memory he took away with him from North End was of his former team-mate Tom Finney. Bill had enormous admiration for Tom. During an interview in the 1970s, Bill was asked how a current football star compared to Tom and in typical Bill fashion replied bitingly: "Aye, he's as good as Tommy – but then Tommy's nearly 60 now"!

Carlisle were struggling in the bottom half of the Third Division North and finding it difficult to get decent players to come there. Bill’s work ethic transformed them and they finished 15th in 1948–49 after he had been in charge for only the last few matches. They improved to ninth in 1949–50 and then to third in 1950–51, almost winning promotion.
Ever the practitioner of self-improvement psychology, Bill encouraged all sorts in his quest to deliver the kind of team he dreamed of.

One example was him telling his players that the opposition had had a very tiring journey up to Brunton Park and they were hardly in a fit state of mind to play the match.
At home matches, he would announce his team changes via the PA system and tell the fans why he’d made them. A fantastic before it’s time moment when I read up about that. Talk about how better to interact with the fans!!
He even decided that the team’s kit was in such a poor state his side could never lift themselves to perform while wearing it – so he burned it!! During the journey down to play Lincoln, he had the coach stopped in Doncaster and bought the side a full new kit.

His strategies for improving them overall combined well as his side were challenging for promotion in 1950-51 as well as getting a Cup draw away at Arsenal. It ended in tears though as they finished 3rd with Bill then accusing the board of reneging on a player’s bonus promise he said they had made to him should the team finish in the top 3.As expected the man of principle resigned immediately. I could go on and tell you so much more about the man’s long journey to what would became his spiritual (and actual!) home but you’ll know it all anyway so there’s little point.

I will say this about the man who became the legend that he most assuredly was – and who became that in spite of his personal credo. Bill was NEVER a self-seeker and whatever he did was NEVER because he wished to be noticed or craved any kind of “special one” status. What he did want was to make a difference to people’s everyday lives. He wanted to please them because he KNEW from his own life experience how hard it really was to make ends meet.
You need to remember that back then, Saturday was a Sky-free zone. Football matches were played on a Saturday; they kicked off at 3.00pm and the crowds were 99% male. Working men often had to work until 12.00 noon on the morning of the match in order to be able to afford to put food on the table and have a little spare to sometimes go and support their favourites. As a working man himself, Bill knew this in his bones. He wanted to make that experience the best he could.

In November 1959 he received an approach by Liverpool. He recalled how Liverpool chairman Tom (T.V.) Williams asked him if he would like to manage the "best club in the country", to which Bill cheekily replied: "Why, is Matt Busby packing up?"

He came and he began his task of re-building the sleeping giant that was Liverpool FC. You know the rest and so does the world of football.
Bill was a simple man who loved the game, loved what he did and who gave freely of himself to those who also loved the game. He wanted as he said many times “to make the people happy” – and he did just that simply because he loved the people. In return, the people loved him. In my opinion there could be no better or more fitting obituary to mark the centenary of the birth of the genius that was Bill Shankly.

The world was the poorer by one in its quota of honest men after September 29th 1981 when Bill as the Scots are wont to say “sneaked awa’”.

Another great son of Ayrshire would have warmed to your simple wisdom had he not been long before your time Bill.

As Robbie Burns so powerfully said it
“Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
That man to man, the world o'er,
Shall brithers be for a' that.” Te for a' that.
Whit I wouldnae gie to sit doon wi’ yersel’, Matt and Big Jock for a wee while and talk futba’.

God rest you well Bill and thank you for all you gave to the great game that once upon a time was ours.

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