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
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
News
people
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
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

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape