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Bill Shankly’s heartrending admission of “long sacrifice” in 1974 fan letter

Bill Shankly is revered for the legacy he imparted to Liverpool FC, but his life was one full of peaks and troughs, with an old letter to a fan laying it bare.

The legendary William ‘Bill’ Shankly served Liverpool with distinction for 15 years, revolutionising the club on the field and off it, carving out a legacy that will be felt for generations to come.

Prior to transforming Liverpool from a club languishing in the Second Division to a side dining at the top table of European football, Shankly himself was a player and had served in the Second World War.

The Scot had just celebrated his 26th birthday when the war began in 1939, he enlisted in the war effort nine months later, joining the Royal Air Force.

Shankly’s career was largely put on hold as he served for seven years, with various postings throughout the country, including Bowlee – bombed in 1941 – which was used as a headquarters and depot for barrage balloon squadrons.

Bill Shankly, 14-Apr-1964 (Picture by PA PA Archive/PA Images)

Football was never too far away, though, and the chance to play was readily made available throughout the war as a valuable form of recreation for soldiers.

Shankly still played for Preston when not with the RAF, helping them win the War Cup, awarded in the absence of the established league system, and a War League title.

He even, incredibly, made an appearance for Liverpool in a 4-1 win over Everton in 1942, invited to feature as a wartime guest player.

There was also an opportunity to win an armed forces middleweight boxing title such was his sporting prowess.

When the war was over, he would return to Preston but retired in 1949 and swiftly moved into a career in coaching, where a new legacy would be etched out.

He served Carlisle, Grimsby, Workington and Huddersfield before arriving at Anfield in 1959, where his idea to “build Liverpool into a bastion of invincibility” got underway.

In 15 years, he oversaw 783 games and led his club to ten honours before announcing his shock retirement in 1974.

It is in this year, only months after his departure, that Shankly penned a letter to a Liverpool fan named Jack, one that offers an insight into his emotions and the sacrifices he made throughout his life.

The letter, sent to This Is Anfield by John Morton, reads:

Dear Jack,

Received your letter regarding my being at Bowlee during the War, thanks for same.

Yes, I was at Bowlee, which was next to the Jolly Butcher and not far from their [sic] was a little cafe which was used at supper time. The camp team played their matches on a ground in Victoria Road. I think it belong to the Co-op.

I was very sorry when I left Bowlee, as I didn’t need to leave, it was great.

My life has been one long sacrifice. I have had little real enjoyment out of it. Happy moments, yes, but real enjoyment, no. However, it is not over yet. I have plenty to live for, and many things I can do to help people, and I have three little granddaughters, they are my real future.

Sincerely,

W. Shankly.

It makes for sad and honest reading, with Shankly wearing his emotions on his sleeve at a moment in his life where there had been a regret for his decision to retire.

The letter was penned in October 1974, Shankly had already been back at Melwood and was training with the players, as he still wanted to be involved in the club before he was then banned.

“I still wanted to help Liverpool, because the club had become my life. But I wasn’t given the chance,” he would say in his autobiography.

One of ten children, Shankly admitted that his upbringing was tough and hunger was prevalent.

When he left school at just 14, he went to work at the local colliery and spent more than two years down the pit – you may recall this famous quote of his:

“Pressure is working down the pit. Pressure is having no work at all. Pressure is trying to escape relegation on 50 shillings a week. Pressure is not the European Cup or the Championship or the Cup Final. That’s the reward.”

It puts it into perspective that Shankly had to make plenty of sacrifices throughout his life, with his letter clearly showing the love and adoration he had for his family.

A man obsessed with football, who couldn’t get enough of it, left countless moments to savour and left an indelible legacy, it is only right we remember him how he wanted us to.

“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’.”

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