Hetton-le-Hole, Co Durham 23.1. 1919
Note: Received an FA Cup runners-up medal in 1950 although he did not play in
|Bob Paisley was a reluctant genius. He never wanted to go into management. But having been persuaded to take command of Liverpool he proceeded to surpass the achievements of every manager in the entire history of British football.
The humble son of the North East, always more at ease in the wings than on centre stage, was indisputably Manager of the Millennium. And as we approach the 21st Century perhaps his record will stand forever as a tribute to his towering feats.
Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen and Graeme Souness, the world class Scottish trio signed by Paisley and a threesome not given to hyperbole, unhesitatingly place him at the management summit.
"There was only one Bob Paisley and he was the greatest of them all," says Dalglish. "He went through the card in football. He played for Liverpool, he treated the players, he coached them, he managed them and then he became a director."
"He could tell if someone was injured and what the problem was just by watching them walk a few paces. He was never boastful but had great football knowledge. I owe Bob more than I owe anybody else in the game. There will never be another like him."
Hansen agrees, declaring: "I go by records and Bob Paisley is the No.1 manager ever."
While Souness salutes him thus: "When you talk of great managers there's one man at the top of the list and that's Bob Paisley."
Paisley's amazing collection of 19 trophies in nine seasons makes you rub your eyes in wonder. It is the supreme testimony to his magnificent response to what many believed was Mission Impossible...
...After all, ask pundits and public alike, how could anybody follow the legend of Shankly?
When Shanks dropped the bombshell and retired in July 1974 Paisley was the man Liverpool wanted to succeed him. He had been at Shankly's shoulder since the great Scot crossed the Pennines from Huddersfield to transform Anfield's fortunes in December 1959. And his own connection with Liverpool stretched back a further two decades to his arrival at Anfield as a 20-year old left-half on May 8, 1939 for a £10 signing-on fee and weekly wage of £5.
Paisley, born the son of a miner in the County Durham village of Hetton-le-Hole on January 23, 1919, had signed the transfer forms in the Sunderland board room after helping Bishop Auckland beat Willington 3-0 to lift the FA Amateur Cup. During his childhood, spent in a harsh economic climate, he had a talent for absorbing knowledge and advice. His widow Jessie recalls: "Bob always tried to remember what his headmaster told him. That if you speak softly people will try to listen to what you're saying. If you shout they're liable to walk away and not take it in."
Such homespun psychology would serve Paisley invaluably during his management years when Europe bowed to the stocky figure in a flat cap that belied a masterful football brain. Wartime service in Egypt and the western desert delayed Paisley's League debut as a Liverpool player until 1946-47 when he won the first of 10 championship medals in his various Anfield roles in a team that included Scotland and Great Britain star Billy Liddell and centre forward Albert Stubbins.
And despite being readdy to leave the club after being dropped by the directors who picked the team for the 1950 FA Cup Final he played on to captain the side and hung up his boots after Liverpool's relegation in 1954 to become reserve team trainer. He also became a renowned, self-taught physiotherapist and Shankly's idiosyncratic apprehension, even fear, of injuries made Paisley's treatment room role even more crucial in their partnership of opposites, one often outrageously extrovert, the other happy in the background.
It was to Paisley, though, that Liverpool turned to follow Shankly. He needed much persuasion from the club and his family to take on the challenge at the age of 55. Finally, he agreed and exclaimed: "It's like being given the Queen Elizabeth to steer in a force 10 gale." But he steered it brilliantly even though he was disappointed with a championship runners-up spot in his first season. Borrowing a phrase from his other great sporting passion of horse racing, he said: "I was like an apprentice that ran wide at the bends."
But Liverpool galloped past a couple of winning posts the following season with a League title and UEFA Cup double. The championship was secured with a 3-1 win on a heady night at Wolves in the final league fixture while European success was clinched with a 4-3 aggregate win over Bruges.
It was the forerunner to a season climaxed by what Paisley termed "my perfect day" when he and his team lifted the European Cup for the first time with a 3-1 conquest of Borussia Moenchengladbach in Rome in May 1977. Four days earlier, having already retained the championship, his team had lost the FA Cup Final to Manchester United. But the gloom of Wembley was banished by Liverpool's sparkling display in the Eternal City, which Paisley had helped liberate in wartime.
The victory installed Paisley as the first English-born manager to lift Europe's greatest prize following the success of Scottish duo Jock Stein's Celtic in 1967 and Sir Matt Busby, captain at Liverpool when Paisley first arrived, with Manchester United in 1968.
As the celebratory champagne flowed Paisley, later honoured with an OBE, sat quietly in a corner of the team hotel and said: "I'm not having a drink becacause I want to savour every moment. The Pope and I are two of the few sober people in Rome tonight!"
The Roman carnival also heralded the end of Kevin Keegan's fine Anfield career in which he had forged a potent attack partnership with John Toshack. The England striker, who would go on to manage his country, departed for Hamburg.
But Paisley, revealing that his superb command of tactics was matched by his judgment of football talent, soon had Keegan's replacement at No. 7 lined up. He signed Kenny Dalglish from Celtic for £440,000, £60,000 less than the income from Keegan's transfer.
"There's never been a better bit of business than that," said delighted Anfield Chairman John Smith. Paisley's genius for team building had already been evident in his capture of Phil Neal, Terry McDermott, Joey Jones and David Johnson, his switch of Ray Kennedy from a powerful striker to a left midfielder who terrorised Europe and his use of David Fairclough as football's prototype "super sub". Paisley, aware he was not the greatest orator, would say: "I let my side do the talking for me." It did with deafening volume thanks to a litany of Paisley recruits including Hansen, Souness, Alan Kennedy, Ronnie Whelan, Ian Rush, Craig Johnston, Mark Lawrenson, Bruce Grobbelaar and Steve Nicol.
And he soared into the stratosphere of managerial achievement by guiding Liverpool to two further European Cup triumphs, at Wembley in 1978, overcoming Bruges, and in Paris three years later when Real Madrid were put to the sword.
Paisley's teams annexed a total of six championships, the most remarkable being in 1978-79 when they emerged with a record 68 points under the old two-points-for-a-win system, conceded a record low 16 goals in their 42 games, scored 85 and lost only four times. He also guided Liverpool to a hat-trick of League Cup successes, failing only to land the FA Cup. But that gap in his collection was bearable given his torrent of triumph before passing on command to Joe Fagan in 1983, having amassed a grand total of 23 Bells Managerial Awards.
After retiring in 1983, he was elected to the board of directors and was an advisor to Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool's first player-manager, before being tragically stricken with Alzheimer's Disease.
Bob Paisley and his deeds were summed up perfectly by Canon John Roberts at his funeral service at St. Peter's, Woolton in February 1996 when he saluted him as an ordinary man of extraordinary greatness. The world of football, not least Liverpool FC, was enriched by his massive and exemplary contribution to it.
On Thursday 8th April 1999 Liverpool FC officially opened The Paisley Gateway as an enduring monument to this great man.
Thor Zakariassen ©