An ordinary man of extraordinary greatness. That was how Canon John Roberts described Bob Paisley at his funeral in 1996. There are some who say football is a sport ridden with arrogant, spoilt, overpaid brats ‘“ not worthy of the hero-worship they receive. It is hard to argue with such sentiments. Unless of course you refer back to the games’ glorious past. Believe it or not, soccer used to produce good guys, those blessed with immeasurable genius and admirable humility to match. Bob Paisley was one of those guys. A legend in every sense of the word, his donning of the famous cap and slippers was both intimidating and heart-warming. Despite going on to become Britain’s most successful boss, the softly-spoken Geordie shun the limelight in favour of an introverted lifestyle. If only Messers Mourinho and Wenger followed suite. For Paisley is an example to all and whatever your position on the marriage of the British honours system and sport, whatever your club allegiance, it is impossible to deny his right to knighthood.
There is definitely something about the city of Liverpool which bugs authority. Perhaps it dates back to a childhood visit on a gloomy day. Perhaps it is the connotations of a false stigma often utilized to discredit the area. Perhaps it is annoyance at the overriding sense of independence Scousers wear with pride. Perhaps, and in fact most probably, it is jealousy. It is the same reason Jamie Carragher never makes the England starting XI. A disservice to the country’s best defender is testament to the politics of this nation. Make no mistake; had Bob Paisley managed Manchester United or Tottenham for nine years instead of Liverpool, Her Majesty would have made him a ‘˜Sir’. One look at the man’s record makes a mockery of the entire system. How can three European Cups, six League Championships, three League Cups, one UEFA Cup, one Super Cup and five Charity Shields not warrant the coveted honour? Heck, even Alex Ferguson, who, incidentally, received a knighthood in 1999 after recording his one and only Champions League triumph, concedes that our Bob is superior.
Of course, aside from the numerous accolades, Paisley displayed true character. It takes a brave, brave individual to step into a hotseat still warm with the legacy of your predecessor. It takes a braver man still if that predecessor was the almighty Bill Shankly. If Shanks was Anfield’s God, Paisley would prove his finest disciple. He first served with great distinction as player, trainer, physio and then assistant manager. Upon taking the reigns, he declared: ‘˜Well boys, I got the job didn’t I ‘¦ not that I wanted the bloody thing.’ A trademark of someone so shy and retiring. What transpired from that moment on will forever live in folklore. Liverpudlians enjoyed trips to Rome, Gay Paris and Wembley. Drooled over the skills of Dalglish, Souness, Hansen and Rush. Swayed in an almost blasÃ© fashion as their team strolled to yet another trophy. It was THE time to be a Red. Much of the side’s worldwide fan base today is in direct response to what Bob achieved between 1974 and 1983. Who will ever forget his emotional walk up the Wembley steps to lift that final piece of silverware?
Aside from the knighthood, only the FA Cup eluded the great man. Sadly, nothing can be done to rectify the latter. Yet a campaign has begun in a bid to avert the grave injustice of the former. Around 23,000 people have already signed the online petition to earn Paisley a rightful posthumous knighthood. The document will eventually be printed-off and delivered to 10 Downing Street in the hope of breakthrough. Regardless of team loyalties, surely all supporters of football in general should participate. Let us not forget his service to the war effort either. In the aftermath of Rome ’77, he famously announced: ‘˜This is the second time I’ve conquered this city, the first time I was in a tank’. Truthfully, an OBE, a gateway and the occasional mention on television is a snub to one of the world’s nice guys. A genius he was and a legend he will remain. Paisley is quite simply the best of all time. He is deserving of a posthumous knighthood, and we must do all in our power to ensure that already glittering list of honours is added to.