TODAY is the 50th anniversary of the day Bill Shankly took over as manager of Liverpool – propelling the Merseyside club to decades of success.
But the Anfield side’s gain was Huddersfield Town’s loss, as the Scottish boss quit his job at Leeds Road – and left generations of Terriers fans to reflect on what might have been.
To mark the milestone, his autobiography Bill Shankly: My Story has been republished.
In Chapter 6, he looks back on his time at Town.
Back in 1955, Shankly was an up-and-coming manager, with spells at Carlisle, Grimsby and Workington under his belt. It was then that he got a call from Town manager Andy Beattie.
“When I was at Workington, Andy was having a bit of a struggle as manager of Huddersfield Town. He’s an independent chap, so when he admitted he was struggling, then that was authentic.
“One day, right out of the blue, Andy telephoned me and said, ‘Would you come down and be assistant to me? Eddie Boot is here. I think we can manage it.’
“I jumped at the chance, because I had known Andy for years, from the days when we both played for Preston and Scotland.
“When I arrived at Huddersfield I was put in charge of the reserve team, though I mixed in with the first team during the week as well to try to boost morale. The unfortunate thing, I feel, is that Andy and I didn’t work together with the first team all the time.
“Andy thought the team was going to stay in the First Division and he wanted me to prepare boys like Denis Law and Ramon Wilson, who were to become great players later on.”
But – despite Shankly’s best efforts – Town were relegated at the end of the 1995-56 season.
“Huddersfield won their last match of the season at Tottenham with ten men, and if Preston had drawn at home against Aston Villa that day, Huddersfield would have stayed in the First Division. But Villa beat Preston – and Tommy Finney missed a penalty. So our fantastic result at Tottenham was eclipsed by a hell of a result at Preston.”
A few months into the new season, the Town board lost patience with Beattie.
“The following season I was still looking after the reserves and had pushed one or two players through to the first team. The reserves were doing well. They had played sixteen matches and were undefeated.
“One Saturday night after a reserve-team match I got a telephone call asking me to go back to the ground. The chairman, Bernard Newman, met me and said, ‘Would you like to be manager? Andy’s finished. We’re offering the job to you.’
“When I left the ground I went round to Andy’s house and I thought we would discuss what had happened. I was surprised that Andy had packed it in and I was waiting for him to say something. We sat in the house together and talked about this and that, but the manager’s job was never mentioned. I was waiting for Andy to say, ‘Oh you’ve done it. You’ve got the job. Good luck’, or something like that. Then I would have said, ‘I’m sorry about this, Andy. I should have come to see you before I accepted it.’
“Nothing was said. I knew I was the new manager, he knew I was the new manager, but we never mentioned it. It was a kind of mutual embarrassment. It could have been my fault or it could have been his fault.
“How I got that job is one of my biggest regrets. In some way I felt as if I might have let Andy down. I was embarrassed by the way it was done. I’m not suggesting that it was done dirtily, they had told Andy all about it and he was agreeable.
“My first game as manager of Huddersfield was at Barnsley and I think we beat them 5-0. I remember the papers saying ‘miracle-worker’ and that kind of stuff. That was just the beginning, and we didn’t need very much to make us a team because we had an array of talent on our books.
“Bill McGarry was the first-team captain, and we had Law, Wilson, Mick O’Grady, Clive Clark, Les Massie, Kevin McHale and Kenny Taylor. Young Wilson had number six on his back and I put him back to number three in the reserves. And I brought Law into the reserve team at fifteen and played him with number eleven on his back so that I wouldn’t take too much out of him.
“Law and McHale were both sixteen years old when I brought them into the first team.”
Shankly was particularly keen on Denis Law, the pint-sized Scot who would go on to European Cup glory with Manchester United in 1968.
“Right from the start Denis stood out with his enthusiasm and will to win – nastiness, if you like. He would have died to have won. He would have kicked you to have won. He had a temper, and he was a terror – a bloody terror, with ability.
“It was obviously going to be a difficult job to keep him. His father and brother-in-law came down to see the cup tie, which was against Peterborough, who were then non-League. I went to meet the pair of them at Leeds Station on the Friday and all the newspaper men were there, photographers and reporters pushing and asking, ‘Who is he going to sign for?’ There was one who started on about it in the toilet and I pushed him into the urinal. His bottom was wet, I can tell you.
“I told them that I had been in touch with the football authorities and that they would be watching events. I talked about how Huddersfield had done all they could for Denis and that they were not the wealthiest club in the world, so if he went somewhere else it would not look too good. I told Denis not to start off on the wrong foot. ‘I didn’t make you, son, and Andy Beattie didn’t make you. But I will tell you something, we helped,’ I said.
“He signed the forms that night, and they were completed the next day. But the big clubs were always after him and the offers kept rolling in.”
With Law in the team, Shankly’s Huddersfield Town were the great entertainers of the Second Division.
“At this time I was still waiting for my opportunity in the big time, but one of the most amazing games I have ever seen was at Charlton when I was manager of Huddersfield. The kick-off was at two o’clock and Charlton lost their centre-half with a dislocated shoulder.
“We were winning 5-1 with twenty-five minutes to go, and the last part of the game was played in semi-darkness. Wilson, McGarry and Kenny Taylor started to go upfield looking for more goals – and in no time we were losing 6-5. We made it 6-6 and I thought, ‘At least that’s something,’ but they kicked off again, won a throw-in and boof! – they had beaten us 7-6 with the last kick of the ball.
“We beat Liverpool 5-0 with 10 men one day. Taylor damaged ligaments in the first five minutes, but that didn’t stop us. I remember the Liverpool directors leaving the ground in single file, with their shoulders slumped, like a funeral procession.”
The Liverpool directors were clearly impressed by Shankly.
“One day in 1959, when Huddersfield were playing Cardiff City, Tom (TV) Williams, who was the chairman of Liverpool, and Harry Latham, a director, came down the slope at Leeds Road to see me.
“Mr Williams said, ‘How would you like to manage the best club in the country?’
‘Why, is Matt Busby packing up?’ I asked.
“At the time Liverpool were scratching around the top of the Second Division and there was obviously more potential and ambition there than there was at Huddersfield.”
Shankly joined Liverpool on December 1, 1959. In the next 15 years he built a formidable team which won three First Division titles, two FA Cups and a UEFA Cup.
He retired in 1974, leaving behind a squad of players who went on to win four European Cups from 1977 to 1984.
Shankly died in September 1981.
The life and times of Bill Shankly
1913:@ Born in the Scottish mining village of Glenbuck
1931: Makes his debut for Ayrshire side Cronberry Eglinton
1932: Joins Carlisle United
1933: Signs for Preston North
April 9, 1938: Makes his Scotland debut against England at Wembley
April 30, 1938: Shankly’s Preston beat Town in the FA Cup Final.
1949: Takes on his first managerial job at Carlisle United.
1951: Moves to Grimsby
1954: Takes over at lowly Workington and saves the club from extinction
1955: Appointed reserve team coach at Town
1956: Takes over as manager at Leeds Road
1959: Appointed boss of Liverpool
1962: The Reds win the Second Division
1964: Liverpool take the First Division title
1965: Guides the Reds to their first ever FA Cup final victory
1966: Liverpool win the league again
1973: Shankly wins his third and final First Division title. Liverpool go on to win the UEFA Cup
1974: Liverpool thrash Newcastle 3-0 to win the FA Cup. Shankly retires two months later
1981: Shankly passes away, aged 68
Bill Shankly – In his own words: "Denis Law could dance on eggshells."
"If Everton were playing down the bottom of my garden, I'd draw the curtains."
"This city has two great teams – Liverpool and Liverpool reserves."
"If you’re not sure what to do with the ball, just pop it in the net and we'll discuss your options afterwards."
"They say football’s a matter of life and death – but it’s more important than that."
Bill Shankly: My Story is available again for the first time since 1976. Priced £16.99, it can be ordered by calling 0845 143 0001 or by visiting www.merseyshop.com.