OBITUARY : Bob Paisley

Ivan Ponting
Thursday 15 February 1996 00:02 GMT

When Bill Shankly astonished the football world by stepping down as Liverpool manager in the summer of 1974, the job of guiding the fortunes of the great Anfield institution was offered to his distinctly diffident deputy, the quiet north-easterner Bob Paisley.

With characteristic modesty, Paisley was reluctant to assume the reins and urged Shankly - an almost Messiah-like figure on Merseyside and a seemingly impossible act to follow - to change his mind and carry on.

But though he regretted it later, Shankly was not for turning and Paisley announced, humbly, that he would do his best. Nine years later, he retired as the most successful boss in English football history, having led the Reds to six League Championships, three European Cups, one UEFA Cup and three League Cups.

Paisley didn't ooze charisma like Shankly or court controversy like Brian Clough; he wasn't revered like Matt Busby or loved like Joe Mercer; but when it came to the pragmatic business of filling trophy cabinets with silverware, he put the lot of them in the shade.

His football life began in his native County Durham where, while still in his teens in 1939, Paisley helped the crack local side Bishop Auckland lift the then-coveted FA Amateur Cup. He was a wing-half of considerable potential and it was inevitable that he would be snapped up by a leading professional club. Sure enough, later that year he headed west for Anfield and the start of a bountiful association that was to last for more than half a century.

After losing six years of his career to the Second World War, Paisley became established in the Liverpool side and played a doughty part in securing the League title in 1947. In keeping with his subsequent managerial style, there was nothing flashy about the north-easterner's play; he just did a good, solid job, seldom if ever hitting the headlines but never letting the side down.

His biggest disappointment was being dropped from the side which faced Arsenal in the 1950 FA Cup Final at Wembley, despite having played in all the previous rounds. However, typically, there were no histrionics and he saw out his playing career over four more steady seasons before joining the Anfield coaching staff in 1954.

There followed five doldrum years for Liverpool as they strove to rise from the Second Division, but a new era dawned in 1959 with the arrival of the inspirational Shankly. Paisley, by then a skilled physiotherapist and acknowledged expert in diagnosing injuries, became the Scot's first lieutenant.

Radical change swept Anfield and as promotion was followed by an avalanche of honours, Shankly was rightly lauded. But beavering away in the background all the while was Paisley, and the mammoth, if unobtrusive part he was playing in laying the foundations for future glory was not widely recognised at the time.

However, the Liverpool board knew their man well and when Shankly dropped his bombshell it was to Paisley they turned. Most pundits at the time feared Paisley was on a hiding to nothing: if the Reds continued on their triumphant way, people would say it was all down to the team Shankly had created; but if standards slipped, then the new man would get the flak. There followed an ominously barren season in 1974-75 and there were a few awkward moments when the irrepressible Shankly turned up at the training ground and was addressed as "Boss" by the players.

But Paisley was made of stern stuff and was not to be drawn into any competition for the affection of his men, nor was he going to ape his wisecracking predecessor in supplying a memorable quote for every occasion. He declared he would let his players do the talking for him on the pitch, and in the years that followed they could hardly have been more eloquent.

After making a few subtle changes to his side - none more effective than converting Ray Kennedy from struggling striker to midfield star - Paisley led Liverpool to the League and UEFA Cup double in his second season in charge. Thereafter there were major trophies - including European Cups, which even Shankly had never attained - every term for the rest of his career.

As the honours piled up, it was impossible to charge Paisley with making capital of another man's work. Paisley it was who signed the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Alan Hansen, creating one of the most powerful and entertaining club sides of all time.

A meticulous planner, canny tactician and shrewd judge of a player, he also became more outward-going as the years passed, his wry one-liners not as headline-worthy as Shankly's wicked barbs but revealing a keen sense of humour, nevertheless.

Two years after his retirement, he returned to Anfield in the wake of the Heysel tragedy as consultant to the newly- appointed manager Kenny Dalglish and went on to join the board. Come the early 1990s poor health curtailed his activities and he resigned his directorship, becoming a vice- president of the club he had served so royally.

Though undoubtedly hard when the occasion demanded - as several former Liverpool stars could testify - Paisley was essentially a kind, caring man who, as Brian Clough remarked, proved the fallacy of the myth that nice guys win nothing.

As he had promised so self-effacingly, Bob Paisley had done his best - and it turned out to be better than anyone else's.

Ivan Ponting

Robert Paisley, footballer and football club manager: born Hetton-le- Hole, County Durham 23 January 1919; player for Bishop Auckland Amateur Football Club, Liverpool 1937-39; player for Liverpool Football Club 1939- 54; Second Team Trainer, 1954-59, First Team Trainer 1959-70, Assistant Manager 1970-74, Manager 1974-83, member of the board 1983-92, Team Consultant 1985-87, Life Vice-President 1992-96; OBE 1977; married 1946 Jessie Chandler (two sons, one daughter); died Liverpool 14 February 1996.

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