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Born: Thursday 23 January 1919, Hetton-le-Hole, England
Died: Wednesday 14 February 1996, Liverpool, England (aged 77)
Spending more than half a century with Liverpool as a player, physio, coach, manager and director, few people have a closer association with a single club than Bob Paisley. After a solid playing career which was delayed by the outbreak of the Second World War, he went on to become the most sucessful manager in the club's history. As of summer 2011, he is still the only manager to win three European Cups.
Paisley was born in the small town of Hetton-le-Hole near Sunderland on 23 January 1919. A left half-back in his playing days, he was initially rejected by Sunderland, Wolves and Tottenham Hotspur on the grounds that he was too small. Ignored by professional clubs, he joined amateur side Bishop Auckland and was part of the team that won the Northern League and FA Amateur Cup double in 1939. On the back of his performances in that season, Liverpool made an offer for Paisley and he signed his first professional contract in May 1939.
Just three games into his first season, league football was cancelled due to the war and Paisley would have to wait nearly seven years for his official Liverpool debut, in an FA Cup tie in January 1946. During the war he served in North Africa, but did play in some unofficial matches for Liverpool as well as guesting for Bristol City. His long awaited league debut came in September 1946, at the beginning of a season which would end with a league championship success as Liverpool beat Wolves in their final match to claim the title.
That proved to be Paisley's only major honour as a player. In 1950 he scored in Liverpool's 2-0 FA Cup semi-final win over Everton, but was dropped for the final against Arsenal which Liverpool lost. That would be an experience he drew on as a manager when having to give similar bad news to players. Paisley's playing career lasted until 1954, when he retired at the age of 35 following a disappointing season for Liverpool which saw the club relegated to the Second Division.
After he retired, Paisley managed Liverpool's reserves and also served as the club's physiotherapist. In 1957 he began working with the first team, a role which he retained after the arrival of Bill Shankly as manager two years later. With Paisley as his chief coach, Shankly turned a mid-table Second Division side into league champions within the space of five years. Shankly and Paisley worked together for some fifteen years, winning three league titles and two FA Cups, as well as the UEFA Cup.
In 1974, Shankly surprisingly retired and the Liverpool board turned to a reluctant Paisley to take over. He was a much quieter character, ill at ease with the media, but was arguably the chief tactician behind many of the club's successes. Initially he struggled to break free of his predecessor's shadow as Shankly continued to turn up for training sessions and eventually Paisley was forced to remind Shankly that he was no longer in charge. Although Liverpool won no trophies in Paisley's first season in charge, that would be the only season during his time as manager for which that would be the case.
An excellent man-manager who knew how to get the best out of his players, Paisley had his team chasing domestic and European success in 1975-76 with effective pass-and-move football. They beat Wolves 3-1 in their final match of the league season to pinch the title by one point from Queens Park Rangers and came from behind in both legs of the UEFA Cup final to edge out Club Brugge 4-3 on aggregate. The trophy the club really wanted however was the European Cup and they would not have much longer to wait.
Chasing a treble in 1976-77, Liverpool retained the league title with a match to spare but were disappointingly beaten 2-1 by Manchester United in the FA Cup final to miss out on a domestic double. Paisley had however led them to the European Cup final for the first time and just four days after the FA Cup defeat his team took on Borussia Mönchengladbach in Rome. A 3-1 win made Liverpool the second English club to become European champions, an achievement which Paisley later referred to as his 'perfect day'.
1977 also brought another of the most significant moments of Paisley's career at Liverpool. He was always a good judge of what kind of player he needed to fill a gap in his team and having lost Kevin Keegan to Hamburg, he paid a club record fee to sign Scottish international Kenny Dalglish from Celtic. It was Dalglish whose goal in the 1978 European Cup final against Club Brugge brought Paisley his second European success, easing the disappointment of losing the league title to Nottingham Forest.
With Dalglish at the heart of the team, Paisley's side went 85 games unbeaten at home in all competitions and won two more league titles in 1979 and 1980. The 1978-79 team earned 68 points, an English top flight record under two points for a win, as well as conceding just 16 goals in their 42 matches. Despite a disappointing league season, in which the finished only 5th, 1980-81 brought Paisley's historic third European Cup. Liverpool went into the final against Real Madrid on the back of their first ever League Cup win and a late Alan Kennedy goal clinched a 1-0 win and an achievement which still stands unmatched.
Liverpool struggled in the first half of 1981-82 and were in the bottom half of the table at the turn of the year, but then won 20 of their last 25 games to overhaul Ipswich Town and give Paisley his fifth title as manager, added to a successful defence of the League Cup. By now well into his 60s, Paisley decided that 1982-83 would be his last season as manager. When his team reached their third consecutive League Cup final and edged out Manchester United after extra-time, the players allowed Paisley to lead them up to Wembley's Royal Box to collect the cup, the first manager ever to do so.
Finishing 11 points clear of surprise runners-up Watford, Liverpool ensured that Paisley's time as manager would end with his sixth league title, a record at the time and one which would stand until Alex Ferguson won his seventh title with Manchester United in 2001. He left Liverpool after 44 years of service, but when his successor Joe Fagan retired in 1985 he returned as an advisor to new player-manager Kenny Dalglish.
In 1987 Paisley was made a director at Liverpool, a post he held until 1992 when poor health forced him to retire. After suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, he died on 14 February 1996 at the age of 77. Following his death, Paisley was honoured by the building of the Paisley Gateway outside Anfield, just as Bill Shankly had also had gates constructed in his honour. The Paisley Gates feature images of the three European Cups which Liverpool's most successful manager brought to the club.
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- Published on Sunday, 26 February 2012 23:07