Les Shannon: Feisty footballer and coach

Leslie Shannon, footballer and manager: born Liverpool 12 March 1926; played for Liverpool 1943-49, Burnley 1949-59; managed Bury 1966-69, Blackpool 1969-70, PAOK 1971-74, Iraklis 1974-76, Olympiakos 1976-77, OFI 1977-79, 1982-84, Brann 1980-82; married (one son); died Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire 2 December 2007

There was something about Les Shannon which fired the emotions of football fans. As a feistily competitive, yet subtly creative, inside-forward cum wing-half with top-flight Burnley in the 1950s, he stirred his legion of admirers on the Turf Moor terraces to chant for his selection by England. It was a loud and passionate campaign which failed only narrowly. Then, two decades on, as a successful coach in the northern Greek port of Salonika, he inspired a rash of posters which proclaimed "Shannon is our god", and even moved two sets of local amateur players to name their teams after him.

The sandy-haired Merseysider was discovered as a teenager by his hometown club Everton. Although he was tough, skilful and endlessly industrious, soon he was rejected as too short at 5ft 7in, and he gravitated from Goodison Park to Anfield, joining Liverpool as an amateur in 1943.

A year later he turned professional and made an instant impact, scoring after two minutes of his Reds first-team dbut against Everton in the Liverpool Senior Cup of 1945. However, so brisk was the competition for places that Shannon was passed over when the Football League resumed business after the Second World War and he did not make his First Division entrance until April 1948, when he deputised for the crowd's idol Albert Stubbins at home to Manchester City.

His window of opportunity opened a little wider at the outset of the following term, when Stubbins was in dispute with the club, but a settled sequence of 10 games produced only one goal and Shannon returned to the reserves. At that level, he sparkled, attracting a 6,000 bid from Burnley, which was accepted in November 1949, but even then his career was slow to take off. The Clarets boss Frank Hill tried him first on the right wing and then on the left but he didn't shine, and it wasn't until the late autumn of 1951, when he was deployed as a foraging inside-forward, that he began to realise his immense potential.

Certainly, in 1952/53, Burnley saw the best of Les Shannon. Filling the deep-lying role recently vacated by the veteran Billy Morris, he proved an influential midfield partner for the more extravagantly gifted Irish youngster Jimmy McIlroy, and he contributed 15 League goals as an increasingly fluent side finished sixth in the First Division table.

Though never a clogger, Shannon was ready to battle for every loose ball, and when he had seized possession, he had the craft to make the most of it. Arguably he reached his zenith after switching to left-half, though two of his outings for England "B" (in 1952 and 1954) were as a forward and only one (in 1956) in the more defensive position.

So consistent did he become that headlines such as "Cap now for Shannon" appeared in the local press, and the Turf Moor faithful echoed the demand with unrestrained enthusiasm. That elusive recognition never arrived, however, and he slipped back into reserve football in 1958 as he entered his thirties and a new boss, Harry Potts, began to reshape the Burnley side.

In August 1959, having retired as a player, Shannon took up coaching with Everton, and soon he guided a team to the FA Youth Cup final. His talent for passing on his knowledge was duly noted, and in 1962 the new Arsenal boss Billy Wright took him to Highbury, where he rose quickly to become assistant manager.

A cursory glance at the Gunners' record during the four seasons of Wright and Shannon's stewardship indicates a lack of trophies, but fails to recognise the enormous progress in nurturing the next generation of Arsenal stars. Under the strict but benevolent eye of Shannon, the likes of George Armstrong, John Radford, Peter Storey and others developed superbly, and ultimately they became bastions of the side which won the League and FA Cup double under Bertie Mee in 1971.

The Liverpudlian was disappointed to be shown the Highbury door along with Wright in 1966, but he was not out of work for long, accepting the considerable challenge of reviving the fortunes of Bury, an ailing and impecunious Second Division club. Forced to operate on a shoestring, he failed to prevent relegation at the end of his first campaign and he was sacked, only to be reinstated two months later following boardroom changes.

Shannon's second season at Gigg Lane brought instant redemption as his mainly youthful side earned promotion as runners-up to Oxford United, but the necessity of selling key players to survive contributed heavily to another demotion in 1969. Still, his reputation as an enterprising coach remained intact and he was re-employed immediately, taking the reins of Second Division Blackpool and, after a slow start, guiding them into the top division at the first attempt.

However, Shannon's Seasiders proved out of their depth in the higher grade, and after a frantic but fruitless autumn reshuffle of players, he was dismissed with the campaign only 14 games old.

His next port of call was a distant one, Salonika in Greece, where he took over at the hitherto unsung club PAOK. He made a seismic impact, guiding his new charges to the giddiest heights in their history. They won the Greek Cup in 1972 and 1974, and in 1973 they were runners-up in the championship race and quarter-finalists in the European Cup-Winners' Cup, bowing out only to mighty AC Milan.

As a result Shannon was practically canonised by the supporters, who were outraged when he was ousted following boardroom upheaval in 1974. Undaunted, he moved on to a smaller club, Iraklis, which he inspired to lift their first and only major trophy to date, the Greek Cup, in 1976.

There followed a spell with Olympiakos in Athens, six months of coaching with Panachaiki, two stints with OFI in Crete, a fleeting interlude back in England as an adviser with Port Vale and a two-year stay with Brann in Norway before he returned permanently to Britain in 1984.

Shannon, whose son David played briefly for Stockport County in 1973/74 and is now coaching at Liverpool's academy, started work with Luton Town's youngsters in 1986. Later he moved up to become chief scout, not retiring until the age of 75 in 2001.

During that fulfilling sojourn at Kenilworth Road, he acted as consultant to the Channel 4 television series The Manageress, starring Cherie Lunghie and screened in 1989 and 1990. The programme-makers were desperate for an authentic footballing voice; they could scarcely have made a wiser choice than Les Shannon.

Ivan Ponting

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