Football: Tribute at last to Paisley the quiet genius

Anfield honours the winner of three European Cups. By Guy Hodgson
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AS IN LIFE, so in death. If you had not known Bob Paisley OBE was the most successful British manager of all time you would not have been arrested by the small, quiet middle-aged man who clung to the walls rather than the spotlight. The same could be said of the gates that were opened in his honour at Anfield yesterday.

Many supporters will walk past the Paisley Gateway and not notice its significance, because it is only when you look up and see the three European Cups on top that the truth dawns. The man himself would have liked it that way: unobtrusive, let your achievements do your talking.

"He was an unassuming man," Tommy Smith, the former Liverpool captain, said yesterday, "and shy, to tell the truth. It was only when he got to the training pitch that his football knowledge became apparent and there was no one better."

The honours bear Smith out. Paisley won more European Cups (three) than any other British manager, took the championship six times between 1976 and 1983, the League Cup three times in succession and the Uefa Cup in 1976. How the FA Cup slipped his and Liverpool's grasp in his time is one of football's big mysteries.

So was the lack of a tribute to the man at the club he served as player, coach and manager for 37 years, but Anfield put that right yesterday, Paisley's widow, Jessie, officially unlocked the gates, paid for by Liverpool's shareholders, for the first time. They stand as a pair with the Bill Shankly Gates on the opposite side of the ground, overlooked by the Kop and by the bronze statue of the man he succeeded as Liverpool manager.

"He was the opposite of Shanks, chalk and cheese," Smith continued. "Bill was an extrovert and loud while Joe always said if you spoke softly people listen; if you shout they're liable to walk away. He didn't lose his rag very often."

Surprisingly, given his success, Paisley was reluctant to become manager after Shankly retired in July 1974 and had to be persuaded by the club and his family to take the post at the age of 55. "It's like being given the Queen Elizabeth to steer in a Force 10 gale," he said, but there has not been a finer helmsman. "He was never boastful but he had great football knowledge. I owe Bob more than anyone else in the game. There will never be another like him," Kenny Dalglish, bought by Paisley in 1977, said.

Jessie Paisley, 83, said the European Cups were the jewels in her husband's crown and believed that the current Champions' League is devalued. "I may be putting my foot in it," she said, "but I believe it was harder to win than it is now. To get in you had to win the league, there was no question of the runners-up, and there were no second chances. If you lost you were out, there were no little leagues to give you a second chance."

They will love that at Old Trafford. But then the Paisley family were usually good at getting the better of Manchester United.