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Born: Tuesday 2 September 1913, Glenbuck, Scotland
Died: Tuesday 29 September 1981, Liverpool, England (aged 68)
Bill Shankly is remembered as the manager who transformed Liverpool from a Second Division side into one of England's leading clubs and laid the foundations for their domination of the European Cup in the late 1970s and early 1980s under his successor Bob Paisley. Shankly was also an accomplished half-back during the 1930s but like most players of his generation, lost the best years of his playing career to the Second World War.
Shankly was born in the mining village of Glenbuck, Scotland on 2 September 1913, the ninth of ten children. There were few opportunites for employment beside the mines, but football was one way to avoid that and all five Shankly brothers displayed a talent for the game. Bill did work briefly as a coal miner but later began a football career with non-league side Cronberry Eglinton and it was not long before his performances attracted scouts from Football League clubs in England.
Shankly signed for struggling Third Division North side Carlisle United in 1932 but after only 16 league appearances had the opportunity to step up to the Second Division with Preston North End in the summer of 1933. He initially turned them down, fearing that he might not be a regular first team player, but was persuaded to sign. Quickly a first team regular, in his first season Shankly helped Preston regain their First Division place when a final day victory over Southampton saw them edge out local rivals Bolton Wanderers for promotion.
Shankly would go on to play five seasons in the First Division with Preston, turning down several offers from arguably bigger clubs at the time and developing a reputation as one of the most consistent defenders in the league. The greatest successes of his playing career came in the FA Cup, appearing in back-to-back finals in 1937 and 1938. After defeat to Sunderland in the first, Shankly won his only major trophy as a a player when his team edged out Huddersfield Town 1-0 twelve months later.
He made his debut for Scotland in the spring of that same season and went on to win five caps for his country, but the day after his 26th birthday the Second World War began and Shankly missed out on the peak years of his career. During the war he served in the RAF and guested for many teams including Liverpool, as well as helping Preston to success in unofficial wartime tournament. Staying with Preston when official competitions resumed, Shankly played on until 1949 but now in his mid-30s, the club felt that his career as a first team player was over.
Preston held his playing registration but wanted him only as a reserve and Shankly took the opportunity to return to Carlisle as manager in March 1949. The club was still struggling in Division Three North but by 1951 Shankly had turned them in to contenders at the top end of the table. Feeling that the board lacked ambition to push forwards, he left that summer to join Grimsby Town. Grimsby had just dropped into Division Three North themselves and Shankly nearly took them straight back up, finishing second just three points behind champions Lincoln. However he again felt that an unambitious board was holding him back and left early in 1954.
His next stop was Workington, local rivals of Carlisle, but he stayed for just one season before getting his first experience of coaching in the First Division. That came with Huddersfield Town as assistant to Andy Beattie, but the club were relegated on goal average and in November 1956 Beattie left, leaving Shankly as manager. His time in charge was frustrating, his best players were often sold and the club languished in Division Two. When the opportunity to manage Liverpool arose in December 1959, Shankly jumped at the chance.
Liverpool were struggling at that time. Out of the top division since 1954, they were mid-table in Division Two when Shankly arrived but it didn't take him long to transform their fortunes. Finishing third in 1960, a position which they repeated the next year, Shankly convinced the board to match his ambitions and help him to assemble the squad that he wanted. 1962 finally brought a return to the top flight as Shankly's team finished eight points clear of closest rivals Leyton Orient.
Shankly was determined to make Liverpool the leading club in the country and it didn't take him long to bring that about. In just their second season back in the top flight they claimed their first league title since 1947 after edging out great rivals Everton and Manchester United. It was during the following season's European Cup run, when they lost in the semi-finals to Internazionale, that Shankly introduced the club's now legendary all red kit in an attempt to make his players look more intimidating.
One of the big gaps in Liverpool's history was the fact that they had never won the FA Cup and Shankly was determined to put that right. He took the club to the final against Leeds United in 1965, where after a goalless 90 minutes they led twice in extra-time and finally won the match 2-1. Shankly himself would admit that it was that triumph, rather than any of his league titles, which was his greatest day in management.
Shankly's team fell just short of European honours in 1966 when they lost the Cup Winners' Cup final against Borussia Dortmund after extra-time. They did however regain the league title which they had surrendered in 1965, this time finishing a comfortable six points ahead of Leeds and Burnley. The late 1960s though brought a dip and after an FA Cup defeat to Second Division Watford in 1970, Shankly realised that he needed to rebuild his team if he was to achieve all his goals at the club.
Building his new side around players like Kevin Keegan, Emlyn Hughes, Steve Heighway and Ray Clemence, the early 1970s saw the club often fall just short of honours, losing the FA Cup final to Arsenal in 1971 and finishing one point behind champions Derby twelve months later. Shankly finally led his team to more success in 1973, when they won their first European trophy with a 3-2 aggregate win over Borussia Mönchengladbach in the UEFA Cup final and also claimed their third league title of the Shankly era.
Despite losing the league title to Leeds in 1974, Shankly led his team to a second FA Cup win with a comfortable 3-0 win over Newcastle. However, he was starting to feel that he had been in charge for long enough. That summer, he shocked the club by resigning at the age of 60, saying that he wanted to spend more time with his family. Fans were worried about life after Shankly but he left the club in safe hands, with his successor Bob Paisley continuing his work and leading the club to three European Cups in five seasons.
Shankly hoped to be able to continue to help the club behind the scenes but they wanted a clean break and he moved into radio work. He was suddenly taken ill when he suffered a heart attack in September 1981. Although it seemed that he would recover, a second attack proved fatal and he died on 29 September. He is honoured at Liverpool's Anfield ground by both a statue and the Shankly Gates outside the stadium, and at Preston's Deepdale stadium where a stand is named after him, with an image of his face marked out in the plastic seats.
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- Published on Wednesday, 15 February 2012 15:32