Common man who was touched by genius

BOB PAISLEY, born 23 January 1919, died 14 February 1996; Ken Jones, Chief Sports Writer, pays tribute to the manager who guided Liverpool to their era of greatest achievement
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T o one who knew him pleasantly, but not intimately, Bob Paisley was a real football man who brought the values of a bygone era to bear so successfully on Liverpool's fortunes that his achievements are probably beyond emulation.

Today's sportswriters who rate as old-timers if they can remember back to when transfer fees had not yet touched seven figures knew Paisley first as Bill Shankly's assistant who had, in some vague yesterday, experienced the disappointment of not being selected by Liverpool for the 1950 Cup final.

At Shankly's side he never struck you as a particularly humorous man. Sometimes he conveyed the impression of being amused by little things that might not have seemed funny to others. Quick to spot flaws in footballers, especially of intelligence and temperament, he could be entertainingly caustic too. "There's none more lost as them that don't know where they are going," he once said about about a recruit who had fallen short of expectations.

It is unlikely that Paisley ever saw himself as Liverpool's manager, and was so reluctant to take over when Shankly resigned unexpectedly in the summer of 1974 that he urged the great man to change his mind.

A lot is made today about the importance of grooming for command in football, but promotion to authority carries a problem. Where Paisley had implemented some tough decisions, he would now have to make them and distance himself from the players. It is why Paisley felt that none of the successes that brought him six Bell's Manager of the Year trophies were more worthy of recognition than his first season in charge at Anfield. "Things would never again be as difficult," he confided.

Liverpool, runners-up by just two points to Derby County in the First Division, did not win anything but Paisley was over the hump, confounding all who had thought him inadequate as Shankly's successor. From then on the common man would prove uncommonly successful.

Having gained the absolute respect of his squad, Paisley's eye for a player soon showed itself in shrewd signings from the lower divisions, and the conversion of Ray Kennedy from inconsistent striker to a force on the left side of midfield.

As for conforming wisely to the tenets Shankly had laid down, they formed the bedrock of Paisley's upbringing. The priorities of touch and accurate delivery. Don't let attackers turn and if they do - a pure Shanklyism, this - track them down quickly. Never run the ball out of your own penalty area. Support the man in possession. "Yes, but what is the secret?" an aspiring manager once asked Shankly. "Jesus Christ, what more do you want?" he growled.

Adding his own thoughts, tinkering here and there, Paisley brought Liverpool to the forefront of European football, setting standards that were the envy of his contemporaries while establishing a case for the old-fashioned virtues that emanated from the club's boot-room faculty.

With confidence came ease, the realisation of wry humour delivered in a thick North-eastern accent. "So flash that he's liable to go out one day and toss for ends with an American Express card,' Paisley said of his then captain, Graeme Souness.

When Liverpool reached the 1977 European Cup final in Rome, nobody could have looked less the part than the man in an ill- fitting suit who sat before a battery of Italian sportswriters. Sartorial style never entered Paisley's head. He was most comfortable in a baggy cardigan. "When were you last in Rome?" he was asked. "Not since I helped capture it," he smiled.

A short while earlier, just before Liverpool lost 2-1 to Manchester United in the FA Cup final, Paisley attended the dinner that saw Emlyn Hughes of Liverpool honoured as Footballer of the Year. Sitting between them, as chairman, I listened while Paisley complained bitterly about the Football Association, which had refused Liverpool's request to postpone the date set for a replay until after the European Cup final. "It means an alteration to the way we would have played at Wembley because we can't afford a second match," he confided.

Rome made up for it. With Kevin Keegan playing his last match for them, Liverpool overcame Borussia Monchengladbach 3-1, Paisley taking the prize that had eluded his famed predecessor. Throughout the celebrations he did not take one drink. "I felt drained," he would recall. "People kept coming over to congratulate me, but half the time I didn't hear what they were saying. Finally, I got up and went to bed."

Now would come a masterstroke. Keegan had gone but Paisley did not see it as a crisis. "Kevin had done great things for us," he said, "but I felt that he'd grown away a bit from the club and I'd seen the player to replace him." One of the things that impressed Paisley about Kenny Dalglish was his resilience. "In checking up on him we discovered that he seldom missed a match through injury. Not only was he an outstanding player, but extremely reliable."

The best description of Paisley is canny. He was of the old school and yet, in many ways, impressively modern, quick to take on developments in strategy.

When Paisley retired in 1983, returning two years later to advise Dalglish and then becoming a director, he had completed more than 40 years at Anfield. His record was a triumph for continuity: six championships, three European Cups, one Uefa Cup and three League Cups. It cannot be imagined that anyone will ever equal it. That he achieved all this without fuss in an era of great change made Paisley all the more exceptional.


23 January 1919 Born in Hetton-le-Hole, Co Durham.

1939 Won FA Amateur Cup with Bishop Auckland. Joined Liverpool FC.

1939-45 Served in the Army.

1947 Won League Championship with Liverpool.

1954 Retired from playing. Appointed reserve-team trainer.

1959 Appointed first-team trainer.

1970 Appointed assistant manager.

1974 Succeeded Bill Shankly as manager.

Football League titles: 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983.

European Cup 1977, 1978, 1981.

Uefa Cup 1976.

League Cup 1981, 1982, 1983.

FA Charity Shield 1974 (shared), 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982.

Manager of the Year 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983.

1977 Awarded OBE.

1983 Retired as Liverpool manager. Joined the board.

1985-87 Team consultant.

1992 Left Liverpool board. Became Life Vice-President.

14 February 1996 Died in a Merseyside nursing home.