Bill Shankly’s quotability is one of the reasons that he is so beloved in Liverpool. The fact that he was a genuine working-class hero who built a team that dominated football – not merely English football, but European, and worldwide – for 30 years, on a scale scarcely comprehensible to today’s supporters, is another. From his ascension to manager of Liverpool in December 1959 and the success that followed, he was regarded by the football-loving people of the city almost as the Messiah.
Shankly was loved because he was so similar to the public – a man who went hungry as a child, a man who was instilled with a set of values and pride that made him fight for everything he got. Today’s public has no such relationship with today’s game. Managers who give bland, inaccessible quotes, and the pampered players who can afford a new mansion every month don’t have the same relationship with fans as ‘Shanks’ and his players. The image of Shankly in April 1973, his arms aloft, a scarf thrown to him by a fan around his neck, shows just how much he cared for his people.
In his autobiography, Shankly wrote that ‘Right from the start as a manager, I tried to show that the fans are the people that matter,” and that ‘the people that matter most are the ones who come through the turnstiles’. This would be a revelation to some of the corporate fatcats in charge of Premier League clubs today, who see fans only as free sources of cash. Shanly’s footballing ideal was that the team would play for the club, for the fans, and for everything that it could give. Some of today’s players are only concerned with their appearance bonus.
This may be the most vivid change in football since Shankly’s departure from the game, but there is another change. The fans that Shankly worked for will no doubt bemoan the price of a ticket, but the change since Shankly that bothers them the most is that Everton are mounting a challenge to their previous dominance of Merseyside. Shankly’s famous quote that “we had the best two teams on Merseyside, Liverpool and Liverpool Reserves” no longer rings true.
David Moyes, in the writer’s opinion one of the finest managers in world football, has taken Everton to within touching distance of supremacy. He, more than anybody else, should be given the Manchester United job with the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson (and if Liverpool fans don’t like him now, they would really take to him then!). On limited funds, with a small squad and long odds, Moyes has taken Everton to, if not Everest’s heights, then certainly somewhere in the Himalayas.
And besides, if the players such as Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing are in the first team, the Liverpool reserves would struggle on Hackney Marshes. Gifted they may be, but they have hardly given fans of Liverpool any reason to applaud the £36 million spent on them. Maroune Fellaini and Leighton Baines cost around £10 million less, and have made Everton the team to beat on Merseyside. Liverpool, meanwhile, are looking distinctly beatable.
Although, in fairness, I said that a few weeks ago. To redress the balance, I must truthfully say that Luis Suarez, a player I’ve had a pop at, is a dazzling talent, easily somebody who could take Liverpool on the march to trophies (try not to fall over as you march!). Raheem Sterling is looking like something akin to a ‘wonderkid’, impressive in the start to the season. And Steven Gerrard, for all his injuries, still has class and talent in abundance. Brendan Rogers’ team has a few players to work with.
But he is no David Moyes. Moyes’ record with Everton, over his decade with the club, is enviable for any manager. He has finished in the top half of the table for 5 seasons straight, and has reached the positions needed for automatic qualification to European competitions three times. This is hardly the stuff of noisy neighbours, more a serious threat to Liverpool, who are looking distinctly mid-table. Whilst Bill Shankly wouldn’t be turning in his grave at Liverpool’s situation on the pitch, he would be disheartened with how the game has changed for the fans.
He said that “Above all, I would like to be remembered as a man who was selfless, who strove and worried so that others could share the glory, and who built up a family of people who could hold their heads up high and say we’re Liverpool”.
These qualities, of grit, determination, and selflessness are still in the game. They’re used by the supporters, who selflessly and without a second thought delve deeper and deeper into their pockets every season to support their team. But they want to support them by cheering them on, not by physically supporting them by propping them up financially.
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