“You’re having us on” – Bill Shankly’s resignation sends shockwaves through Liverpool

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Few expected what would unfold as Liverpool called an impromptu press conference, but by the day was out few would forget where they were when Bill Shankly was no longer the Reds boss.

Living in an age where news instantaneously travels across various platforms to reach millions around the world is something many have grown accustomed to and for some it is all they have ever known.

It was not the case when Bill Shankly shocked the city – and the wider footballing world – by resigning as Liverpool manager on July 12, 1974.

When a news reporter by the name of Tony Wilson took to the streets with the announcement, no Red could believe the words he was uttering.

“You’re having us on” was the widely accepted response and by the time reality sunk in a state of mourning had begun. No one would forget where and what they were doing when the news broke.

Liverpool's legendary Bill Shankly. Turning towards the Kop end of Anfield, Shankly gets an ovation from the fans who idolised him when Liverpool became League champions.

When a press conference was called at Anfield on that Friday in 1974, few, if anybody, expected the words which would tumble out from Liverpool chairman John Smith:

“It is with great regret that I as chairman of Liverpool Football Club have to inform you that Mr Shankly has intimated that he wishes to retire from active participation in league football.

“And the board has with extreme reluctance accepted his decision. I would like to at this stage place on record the board’s great appreciation of Mr Shankly’s magnificent achievements over the period of his managership.”

The room was crammed full of reporters and photographers, most given late notice of the events which were to transpire, with Shankly sat to the right of Smith as his decision became public.

It was always in Shankly’s plans that his “career as a manager must have an abrupt end” once he had decided enough was enough.

And after 15 years of overseeing Liverpool’s remarkable rise from the Second Division to English champions, with six major honours to his name and countless changes on and off the field which transformed the club into one of the most formidable sides on the continent, he pulled the plug.

Shankly was on the cusp of turning 61 and after having “conquered Everest”, in his own words, it was time for a new chapter.

The season just gone might have seen the league title passed on to Leeds, but it had seen the Reds clinch the FA Cup for the second time as a club and under Shankly, with a 3-0 win over Newcastle ensuring the Scot would end his tenure on a high, even if the masses did not know it at the time.

“After the FA Cup Final I went into the dressing room and I felt tired from all the years,” Shankly would later reveal.

Liverpool manager Bill Shankly holds aloft the League Championship trophy at Anfield today, and the joy on the face of the young supporter says it all. Liverpool just clinched the title by drawing 0-0 with Leicester. 1973 (PA Images)

And while the reasoning behind his decision was made clear, it did not stop the outpouring of shock and tributes to the man who forever altered the course of Liverpool Football Club.

When he arrived in 1959 the Reds were in a state of disrepair, stuck in a perpetual cycle in the Second Division. He got straight to work, transforming the ethos of the club and the meaning of what it takes to be successful and to stay at the top.

Melwood would be transformed, a winning mentality engrained in the side and a fanbase unequivocally intertwined with the success on the field. He had proven successful in building a ‘bastion of invincibility’ and making the people happy.

Ian St John, who Shankly had signed in 1961 and had served the Scot for 10 years, later revealed his shock at both the news and what his former boss would do to fill the time:

“The news came out, and I couldn’t believe it, I thought I don’t believe this is happening.

“And I suppose that at that time retirement maybe looked very nice but, you know, he didn’t have any other hobbies.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Boxing Day, Wednesday, December 26, 2018: A bronze statue of Bill Shankly, pictured before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Newcastle United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

And with football having occupied Shankly’s mind for over 43 years, when he started his youth career with Cronberry Eglinton, he didn’t go cold turkey as he would remain ever-present in the footballing scene on Merseyside.

And while Shankly would no longer be a regular fixture in the dugout at Anfield or on the fields at Melwood, his 15 years at the helm laid the foundations for the unparalleled success which would follow both domestically and in Europe.

He had set the club up for decades of success, with Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan carrying on his legacy and values before they too saw Kenny Daglish take the reins and play ‘The Liverpool Way.’

For all Shankly had done for the club it was no surprise that his abrupt departure left many reeling and once the dust settled no one could question that “he made the people happy.”

Bill Shankly’s Liverpool Career

  • Signed as manager: December 1, 1959
  • Departed Liverpool: July 12, 1974
  • Games in charge (all comps): 783
  • Games won: 407
  • Games drawn: 198
  • Games lost: 178
  • Honours: League Titles: 1963/64, 1965/66, 1972/73; Second Division 1961/62; FA Cups: 1965, 1974; UEFA Cup 1973
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