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Bob Paisley, Liverpool, European Cup, 1977 (Image: Peter Robinson/EMPICS Sport)

Manager: Bob Paisley

Manager: 1974 – 1983
Div 1 Champions 1976, 77, 79, 80, 82, 83
League Cup 1981, 82, 83
European Cup 1977, 78, 81
UEFA Cup 1976
European Super Cup 1977

At 55 years of age Bob Paisley became the reluctant successor to the post vacated by Bill Shankly in the summer of 1974. Some thought that Bill had made a hasty decision he would later regret and even though new chairman John Smith offered him a new contract on an increased salary, it wasn’t about money. Shankly had been at Liverpool for nearly 15 years and it was a terrible wrench to leave. He recalls in his autobiography that he suggested to the directors that ‘œthe only way to make the changeover was to promote the rest of the staff’. He knew they were ‘œsensible and sound men’. He even added that he had ‘œelevated them earlier with a view to what I was going to do later on’. Having signed professional forms in May 1939, Paisley had already been at Anfield twice as long as Shankly, although he would have to wait until the end of the Second World War to make his first-team debut. Despite his reluctance to take the job, if the job was going to remain in-house, he was the only logical candidate.

Liverpool had been Bob Paisley’s only professional club (he had earlier played as an amateur for Bishop Auckland) and he played close on 300 first-team matches until deciding to retire at the end of the relegation season of 1953-54 when he was in his mid-30’s. At various times since then he had been assistant trainer, chief trainer then assistant manager before taking over the manager’s chair in 1974. He knew the club inside out. He also knew the game inside out and was a fine judge of a player. His time as a trainer had also given him an almost uncanny ability of being able to correctly diagnose an injury and treat it accordingly. But where personality was concerned Bob was totally opposite to Bill. He had been in the background for so long that the responsibility of dealing with the Press was something he always seemed to find uncomfortable. Yet it was something he had to learn how to handle because it would become a regular part of his new job. Shankly loved talking to the Press and he loved being the centre of attention, without it being in too much of an egotistical way. Paisley was the complete opposite. He just wanted to keep a low profile and let his teams do the talking for him. After his own retirement, he said that Shankly ‘œused to wear steel tips on his shoes so that people would hear him coming’; but using the same comparison Bob would much rather have worn slippers. If he found being articulate with the Press difficult and tiresome, he was certainly able to get his views across to his players because during his 9-year reign as manager Liverpool embarked on a run of success at home and on the continent that had never been achieved before by an English club and probably never will be again.

Bill Shankly‘s retirement overshadowed the signing from Arsenal of Ray Kennedy on the same day. Kennedy had been part of a very productive forward partnership with John Radford in Arsenal‘s ‘œDouble’ season of 1970-71. But at Anfield he seemed to be lethargic and cumbersome and scored only 5 times in the 25 League appearances he made during his first season on Merseyside which was of course also Bob’s first as a manager. Probably Paisley’s greatest masterstroke as a manager was to convert Kennedy into such a gifted midfield player that he became one of the key men in his team for the rest of the decade.

Bob Paisley’s first season in charge was not a success, not by the high standards set by his predecessor anyway. Apart from the problems new forward Ray Kennedy had settling in, Liverpool were without Kevin Keegan for the early weeks of the season following his long ban for being sent off with Billy Bremner in the Charity Shield at Wembley in August. The team fought hard to reclaim the championship but defeat at Middlesbrough on the penultimate weekend of the season meant their challenge was over. There was disappointment in the cups too with a late Ipswich goal at Portman Road putting the holders out of the F.A. cup and Middlesbrough winning a League cup tie at Anfield in November. Liverpool enjoyed their biggest-ever competitive victory with an 11-0 thrashing of the Norwegian part-timers from Drammen in the opening round of the Cup Winners’ cup but conceding a last-minute equaliser at home to Ferencvaros in the next round was a blow the team was unable to recover from and they eventually went out of the competition on the ‘˜away goals’ rule a fortnight later.

As things turned out, that 1974-75 season would be the only one during Paisley’s time in charge that no silverware was won. During the next 8 years before he stood down in 1983, Paisley’s teams won the English championship 6 times and also won 4 European trophies as well as taking the much-maligned League cup more seriously than before and achieving a hat-trick of victories in his last three seasons as manager, an achievement that would be added to in Joe Fagan‘s initial year in charge. The domestic success was remarkable on its own but to couple it with unparalleled success in Europe was almost beyond belief. After leading Liverpool to their 2nd success in the UEFA cup, Bob Paisley became the only man to coach teams to the European Champions’ cup on three different occasions.

There was continuity on the pitch. The sort of wholesale buying and selling that would be commonplace long after his retirement was not part of Paisley’s agenda. Changes were made gradually and the newcomers integrated carefully into an already successful side. Terry McDermott arrived from Newcastle in 1975, David Johnson from Ipswich in 1976, Kenny Dalglish came from Celtic to replace Kevin Keegan in 1977 and a year later Graeme Souness arrived from Middlesbrough, shortly to be followed by Alan Kennedy. Paisley seemed to be as reluctant to use his permitted substitute as Shankly had been but youngster David Fairclough came off the bench in sensational style in both 1975-76 & 1976-77. Winning can become a habit of course but Liverpool were winning in style, no more so than during the 1978-79 season when they scored 85 goals in their 42 League fixtures with Ray Clemence only conceding 16 at the other end.

By the time he retired in 1983, Bob Paisley had been associated with Liverpool Football club for 44 years. He would continue to offer advice as a director, especially to Kenny Dalglish when he took over in the aftermath of Heysel and led the club to the League & F.A. cup ‘œDouble’ in his first season in charge. There was some irony in that because the F.A. cup was the one domestic trophy that eluded Bob as a manager, just as it had as a player when after scoring in the 1950 semi-final against Everton he was replaced by Laurie Hughes for the final with Arsenal. That crushing disappointment taught him a valuable lesson because years later when it came to telling a player he had been dropped, the player could be sure that the manager really did know and understand what it felt like.

There were as many great games during Paisley’s time in charge as there were great players. This can only be a general summary of an astonishing period in the club’s history. Will there ever again be one man who serves a single club for so long and with such devotion and such success? The answer is almost certainly not. Knowing that the 1983 League Cup final would be the last time Paisley would lead his team out as manager at Wembley, the players graciously allowed their boss to climb the famous steps to collect the trophy on their behalf. A man who preferred to stay in the background had a special moment to remember and a few weeks later he walked out at Anfield for the last time as the man in charge to be presented with the championship trophy yet again. Bob Paisley, the man who had to follow a legend, had become one himself.

Profile by Chris Wood, January 2005