Profile: Legends among the boots: The Boot Room

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The Independent Online
WHEN it became known that modernisation plans at Anfield would do away with the sanctum under the main stand known since Bill Shankly's time as the Boot Room, the most popular story doing the rounds was that it had become too small for Graeme Souness's ego. In fact he thought the whole Boot Room thing smelled more of nostalgia than sweaty feet; Merseyside football's version of the Cavern.

The accepted view at Anfield is that Souness's first mistake was to underestimate the importance of the Boot Room which, since Shankly first started using it in 1959, had come to represent the bond between successive managers and their staff, and to generations of fans as the mysterious symbol of continuity that was the spirit and strength of Liverpool Football Club.

The romance of the room itself far exceeded its reality. For years, staff members would show visitors the door and murmur, 'and that's the famous Boot Room'. Lawrie McMenemy remembers his first visit, being taken through the corridors of this huge, plush stand and finding a small store room that could have been at any ground in the country. It was the place where the boots were cleaned and hung on pegs. There was no seating as such, except for some old crates and barrels. The garage-style metal-framed shelves were strewn with polish boxes, soft drinks and forgotten kit.

Here amid the clutter, Shankly's original Boot Room boys met. Reuben Bennett, Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan were joined in 1972 by Ronnie Moran. Then came the scouts, Geoff Twentyman and old Tom Saunders, a schoolmaster by profession but a football talent spotter second to none. When in 1974, it became Paisley's turn to be manager he brought in Roy Evans as a coach. When Fagan briefly followed Paisley in 1983, he also had Chris Lawler to help. Phil Thompson (coach) and Ron Yeats (chief scout) returned to Anfield after Kenny Dalglish became manager in 1985 and, from 1991, Souness called Phil Boersma into the club within a club.

Yet if Souness became too big for his own Boot Room, then perhaps his predecessor, Dalglish, was the original impostor, albeit a highly successful one. He was the first post-Shankly manager not to have served an apprenticeship within the Boot Room system. The appointment of Roy Evans as Souness's successor is a return to the club's managerial lineage.

Evans is a masterly, if unqualified, coach, but he is also a healer of bruised morale and the Boot Room was his surgery. Constancy was largely his and Moran's responsibility. Peter Beardsley recalls: 'The partnership between Ronnie (Moran) and Roy was like a great double act. Ronnie was the hard man, all shouting and moaning at training, but Roy would come along afterwards and pick you up and tell you not to worry because Ronnie was only doing his job. Roy was brilliant at that.'

Even if the Boot Room has gone, Evans wants to restore the sense of togetherness and importance of passing on information. Shankly, although obstinate, accepted the importance of pooled knowledge. Kevin Keegan remembers that everything that happened every day in matches and training was recorded in Shankly's diary, which become known as 'the Bible'. If anything went wrong, Shankly would refer to it and would always come up with a similar experience. Evans and Moran continued to keep records which became detailed dossiers. Souness was not deeply into dossiers.

Ian St John points out that the Boot Room was not always an inner sanctum, especially on match days when opponents would sometimes be invited in for a drink and a chat. But there was method in this small show of hospitality. Visiting managers had to be careful what they said because Evans and Moran would later note down any references to promising players and make sure their own scouts were sent to watch.

Shankly always made it clear that while the Boot Room was a useful bunker for the chiefs of staff, there was never the slightest doubt who was the commander and inspiration. St John remembers that an invitation to meet him there meant you were in for some 'brainwashing'. On Sunday mornings all of the senior players gathered there for Shankly's communal indoctrination.

His fierce loyalty to Liverpool created the atmosphere in which a Boot Room mentality could flourish. He once said: 'To bring in an outsider would be like throwing a cat among the hens.' So when for reasons still not fully explained, he suddenly decided to retire and gave the impression of wanting a complete break, Sir John Smith (the then chairman) and Bob Paisley ('I didn't want the job, anyway') tried to change his mind. The first suggestion that everything at Liverpool was not as convivial as everyone said came when Shankly accused the club of failing to allow him to preserve continuity by giving advice to Paisley.

Paisley insisted that if there had been personal animosity, the Boot Room would not have survived. It thrived. He assured those around him that continuity had to be maintained even if playing-staff changes needed to be made. Evans became a full member of the Boot Room society in 1974, the year Shankly decided to step aside.

Evans had been with the club for nine years but, having played only 11 first-team matches, was easily persuaded by Paisley that at 25 he should coach. He repaid the offer by giving Liverpool nine Central League titles and ensuring that the manager received a stream of potential senior players who could slip into the side without any dramatic change. As Jimmy Case said: 'Nothing ever changed, only the faces.' Yet that very strength may have concealed a weakness. When Gary Lineker was approached about a move to Anfield he rejected the idea because 'they had this reputation for keeping newcomers in the reserves for a year'. It was Boot Room policy.

Paisley brought Liverpool their most successful years and when he retired in 1983 the Boot Room again provided the successor in Fagan, but he was far too sensitive and unassuming to be happy in management. The Heysel disaster ended his love of football. When the team arrived back at Speke airport he was a broken man, crying on Evans's shoulder. The end of Liverpool's love affair with the Boot Room quickly followed. Neither Moran nor Evans were offered the succession. Instead Sir John backed Dalglish, a hugely popular choice with everyone except the media. Although Dalglish's relationship with Evans and Moran always seemed good, Tommy Smith points out that he was not given to spreading the load. When it became clear that Liverpool were in decline and his panic buying was not working, he resigned.

Dalglish and his family knew that had he not left Anfield his health would have been damaged. The irony of Souness's arrival was that he talked about the club needing major surgery and ended up having it himself. His sacking of the long-time servant Phil Thompson severed another link. When the fans lost all confidence in Souness, most of the board, under the new chairman, his close friend David Moores, still backed him. The bond between the club and its supporters was at breaking point.

Clearly, the decision last week to promote Evans was a belated attempt to see if someone had left the door of the old cupboard full of boots and memories slightly ajar.