Comment: Remembering the remarkable Liverpool manager Bob Paisley, nice guy and winner

The myth that he merely reaped what Shankly sowed does Paisley a great disservice

It goes without saying that Bob Paisley would not have settled too well into the Harvard Business School role which Sir Alex Ferguson began enjoying in the months before retiring to such a fanfare.

Paisley managed Liverpool to 19 trophies in nine years – a ratio of 2.1 per year, against Ferguson’s 1.3 in four times that period – but he also found communication with the world outside Anfield difficult. So excruciatingly difficult, in fact, that when he was finally persuaded – against his will – to take the job Bill Shankly vacated, he gathered together the four or five newspaper journalists he trusted and told them: “I’m not good at this. I can’t finish my sentences. You’ll have to finish them for me…” So, in a compact which provides a beautiful twist on the way Ferguson used the press, they did just that – agreeing between themselves on what Paisley meant when he spoke in that high-strained dialect of Hetton-le-Hole, Co Durham, which those who knew him still spontaneously break into when they remember him.

There were no authorised autobiographies for Paisley, either. It was a full 16 years after his departure from the Anfield dugout before the definitive biography Bob Paisley: Manager of the Millennium was written by John Keith, one of that group of journalists who interpreted his utterances. You won’t find the book propelling Paisley into a posthumous Christmas ratings battle with Ferguson because it is out of print.

And that is why, at the end of a year in which we have celebrated Ferguson and Shankly so richly, the telling insights into Paisley’s qualities and methods provided by two new books on Liverpool are so welcome. His abilities are delivered with excellent understatement in Simon Hughes’ Red Machine (Mainstream, £15.99). Paisley’s capacity, for example, to intuit which players were susceptible to injury while watching a match is related to Hughes by Bruce Grobbelaar, one of 10 players from that era whose stories the book tells. “It meant that during games he’d tell our wingers to take on their marker in a certain way. ‘The right back has a sore left leg. Take him on the outside and come in on the inside – you’ll kill him,’” Grobbelaar relates. “Nine times out of 10 he was right. He was a genius. I loved the man so much.”

The eccentricities and sheer incomprehensibility of the man – Craig Johnston remembers Paisley calling him to say, “Eeer. eerp, it’s Bob Paisley, ere like y’naw… We’d like to sign ye, like” – have contributed to history’s characterisation of him as merely fortunate enough to reap what Shankly sowed. But that myth does Paisley a great disservice. Shankly’s capacity to claim silverware for Liverpool dried up entirely between 1966 and 1973 and Paisley’s promotion in 1974 brought something different, to have the trophy cabinet overflowing again. That extraordinary ratio of over two trophies a season is his alone.

Keith tells me the 1970 FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Second Division Watford helped shape Paisley’s conviction that Shankly, who never fined a player, was too loyal at times. Graeme Souness tells Jonathan Wilson in the journalist’s own new book The Anatomy of Liverpool (Orion, £18.99) that Paisley’s avuncular image obscured an individual “who ruled Anfield with a rod of iron. He was a commanding man and few dared mess with him”.

Perhaps that was shaped by his wartime experience which, compared with Ferguson’s Govan legend, remains virtually unknown. Yesterday was as good a time as any to pause for thought at Paisley’s four war years overseas, including service with the Eighth Army at El Alamein, taking cover on the day a plane sprayed bullets over his hideout. “When the plane had gone, Bob had his hands over his eyes saying, ‘I can’t see. I’m blind,” a comrade-in-arms related. He soon brushed off the terror of his temporary affliction when he made it home. Wilson observes that, as Shankly’s assistant, Paisley played a key part in determining Liverpool’s style. His eye for a player was also manifest in signings like Alan Hansen, Phil Neal, Kenny Dalglish and Souness.

In these post-Ferguson days, when every football conversation turns to the enormity of David Moyes’ inheritance, it is worth pausing to consider what Paisley faced, early in the 1974-75 season, with Kevin Keegan suspended for two months and Neal and Terry McDermott acclimatising. Many clubs have suffered after successions like that: Leeds after Revie, Nottingham Forest after Clough, Manchester United after Busby. Paisley didn’t flinch.

Though it is hard to argue against Brian Clough as the foremost club manager of all time, turning water into wine not once but twice, at Derby County and Nottingham Forest, Paisley stands right behind him on the grounds of trophies delivered with a team of his own creation. And though it has no relevance to the question of relative greatness, he did it without unpleasantness, too. “He had a smile as wide as Stockton High Street,” said Clough, alluding upon Paisley’s death in 1996 to the Teesside town they both knew well. “He has exorcised the silly myth that nice guys don’t win anything.” How shrewd was that judgement. Paisley said in 1982: “Ranting and raving gets you nowhere in football. If you want to be heard, speak quietly”. A message for these frenetic times.

Cork keeps it compelling when the action stops

The biggest test comes on a slow news day in this media business, so hopefully Sky Sports’ MD Barney Francis observed the efforts last week of Dominic Cork. The former all-rounder was asked to deliver his opinions through not one, or two, but three midnight rain delays as England’s Ashes warm-up game in Hobart delivered no action for fully two and a half days.

Cork still looks like a man who could cause a row in an empty room – always did – but the talk that swept from topics as diverse as fast bowlers’ wrist positions to Chris Tremlett’s likely inclusion for Perth was almost as compelling as the mystery of what Cork’s problem with studio host Charles Colville actually is. He doesn’t seem to like him.

“They’ll be greased up and shirtless by 2am at this rate,” someone observed on Twitter. We won’t be saying that about Botham and Gower when the  cavalry arrives.

Frost: That was the career that wasn’t...

Football’s maximum wage had a lot to answer for but we can give thanks to it, at least, for the road not taken by David Frost. It was in his last broadcast, for the BBC Radio 4 Museum of Curiosities episode repeated on Sunday morning, that Frost discussed how the cap on spending dissuaded him from accepting Nottingham Forest’s offer of a playing contract in the late 1950s.

The alternative pathway took him to Cambridge, the Footlights, Varsity, Granta, Anglia Television, That was the Week that Was… and the rest is incredibly fine history. Frost was four years younger than Brian Clough and the prospect of those two crossing managerial swords in the East Midlands would have been something, though. Mind games, they’d probably call it today.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker