A tap on the shoulder from Bill Shankly was the moment David Kershaw’s life changed forever.
He had made it into the Huddersfield Town youth team as centre half when the legendary manager was the boss and had a special role on the pitch as minder for Scottish ace Denis Law.
But David’s career came to a quick and sorry end the day Shankly told him he simply wasn’t good enough to make the grade and had to go.
But how did one of the best managers the world has ever seen - a man who set up a dynasty which led to Liverpool FC achieving unbelievable success - break the bad news.
David, now a 75-year-old grandfather, tells all in a new book simply called Thanks Shanks.
It all ended for David in April 1959 at the end of the final game of the season and contracts were up for renewal. He was just 16.
David recalls: “I can’t remember who we were playing but the ref was already looking at his watch when I missed a vital tackle. Their centre-forward went through and scored. Two-one to them. End of the game. End of my dreams.
“Law came over and kicked me in the shins. ‘You’ve cost me five quid,’ he snapped. That was his win bonus, much higher than anyone else in the team, needless to say. He was a professional already, fiercely competitive and committed to winning every match, even at this level.”
But worse was to come.
David said: “I was heading back to my part of the dressing room when I was stopped dead by what seemed like a very cold hand on my still warm shoulder.”
“‘David’, growled an all-too-familiar Scottish voice. ‘Just come away here.’ Mr Shankly led the way to a bench well away from the still raucous wallowers in the communal bath. The Boss came straight to the point. ‘Look David,’ he said. ‘I’ve made up my mind. You’re a great lad but you’re not quite quick enough. I need to talk to you properly. Come and see me in my office on Monday morning and I’ll get you a job.’”
It was a thoroughly miserable weekend for David who had given up everything to concentrate on hopefully being a professional footballer.
He admits: “I threw myself on the bed, buried my head in the pillow and cried. Just sobbed. Heaven knows what my former team-mates and opposing centre forwards would have made of that. Big, teak-tough David, defender of Denis Law, fearless tackler, respected intervener in many a confrontation and here he was, crying like a girl.”
David went to see Shankly on the Monday who told him: “It’s a hard world out there. You won’t believe this but I’ve made the best decision for you. You’ve got a certain talent but not enough to make you into a successful professional footballer. You’re not going to like me for what I’ve done but it’s the right thing. This club is an extended family and I’m going to look after you. What do you want to do.?”
David was hesitant as he’d never thought beyond football. But Shankly told him: “I think you’d be a great teacher.”
David had no GCEs and had been told by school that he wasn’t very bright but Shankly had definitely seen something in him.
He found David a job stacking shelves at Marks and Spencer to earn money and Town paid for him to go back to college to get the teaching qualifications he needed.
David said of Shankly: “This man, who liked to portray himself as a fully-focussed football obsessive, took an interest in an apparent no-hoper in whom he saw something different. That says everything about him. It certainly had a great impact on me. I suddenly felt as though a great burden had been lifted. What he’d done was to resurrect my spirit and make me think, yes, I could make something of my life. If Bill Shankly thought I had something to offer then who was I to argue.”
And Shankly was true to his word and the club paid to get David on the road to a new career in teaching.
He recalls: “When I told Mr Shankly about the cost he didn’t flinch. Nor did he renege on his promise. The money was forthcoming in a bulging white wedge of an envelope.”
And that continued until he’d done the course.
David did go into teaching and was a phenomenal success.
He became a celebrated headteacher in Coventry in the 1980s and 90s with a reputation for turning round problem schools and as a Labour councillor became chairman of Coventry Council’s Education Committee. He is still employed by the department for Education to sort out failing schools - currently one in Birmingham
He is married to Viv. They have three grown-up children, Olwen, Matthew and Richard, and seven grandchildren.
Thanks Shanks: How Bill Shankly bought me an education and Denis Law kicked me in the shins is written by Chris Arnot and published by Takahe Publishing Ltd. The book’s available on Amazon for £10.95 or directly from Takahe Publishing at 77, Earlsdon Street, Coventry, West Midlands, CV5 6EL. Its ISBN number is 978-1-908837-09-7.