Outside Anfield is a simple black plaque depicting the infectiously grinning face of Liverpool’s greatest ever manager. Above this small tribute is the famous gateway named in Bob Paisley’s honour depicting the three European Cups won by the quiet, unassuming man from the North East of England.
Some managers have stands and statues names after them, but the most successful manager to grace Liverpool’s history is honored with a somewhat understated tribute. By contrast, on the other side of the ground is a statue to his predecessor, arms wide, gazing defiantly out at the fans whom he loved so much. It is a bold, loud declaration for a man who received near, deity status in the game.
Paisley’s diminished status outside the stadium is perhaps a fitting similarly to his career. A shy, introverted man, he would nonetheless, step out of his predecessor’s shadow and forge one of the greatest managerial careers in the history of the game.
Bill Shankly’s resignation in 1974 sent shockwaves through the city. The stricken club was quick to turn to the Scot’s right hand man, more out of keenness for continuity, than a rightful acknowledgment of the wonderful work done by Paisley since becoming assistant manager in 1959.
Having initially tried to talk his former boss and friend around, Paisley reluctantly accepted the job and was tasked with the daunting role of carrying on from where Shankly had so successfully left off. Many in the media looked on dubiously at the lifelong coach and doubted his capacity to follow in the footsteps of Bill Shankly. Jack Charlton, for example, had been linked with the vacancy, before the directors made the internal appointment. A first season without trophies and widely reported stories of the players till tipping their cap to the legendary Scot whose presense at the training ground was a major distraction, did much to fan the flames that Paisley would soon enough be ousted by a bigger name. How very different history may have been if the board had panicked then, as they often do today.
If his first season was a bit of a letdown, the subsequent period from 1975-1983 must go down as the greatest of any English manager. Slowly and with his trademark calm and measured approach, Paisley began to add to own gears to the Liverpool machine.
Men who would go on to be legends at the club were brought in. McDermott, Neal, and Kennedy were added to the spine built by Shankly. Eventually Dalglish, Souness and Hansen would also come to name but three. Paisley’s watchful eye and self taught knowledge of physiotherapy also helped men like Tommy Smith and Ian Callaghan play a vital first team role until way on into their thirties.
Slowly he started to emulate and then surpass the big man in the background. A league title and UEFA Cup win in 1976 emulated Shankly’s double of ’73, but it was May 1977 that finally brought Liverpool the European Cup and place amongst Europe’s elite. Borussia Monchengladbach were seen off comfortably in Rome, to begin a remarkable period of dominance by Paisley’s Reds
Between 1977 and 1981 Liverpool were Champion of Europe three times and Paisley had completely revolutionised the club. Playing some of the best football ever seen by generations of supporters, Paisley had lifted Liverpool above their immediate rivals of the day and into immortality. In the same way manner that Jose Villalonga and Rinus Michels, lifted Real Madrid and Ajax into a different tier success and fame, Paisley had transformed Liverpool into a respected and feared side, up there with the biggest names in the history of the game. It’s a cliché that has attached itself to the Paisley story, but it’s also true; Shanks built put in the foundations for greatness, Paisley built the empire.
Having led Liverpool to six League titles, three league cups, three European Cups and a UEFA Cup, Bob Paisley stepped down in 1983. He had been a wonderful servant to the club, having joined in 1939 as a left back and playing over two hundred games for the club. His omission from a starting place in 1950 FA Cup final defeat to Arsenal is said to have deeply affected him, perhaps that stinging disappointment helped him to make some of the bigger calls in his own managerial career years later.
Paisley transcended Liverpool’s eras for the club, from its nadir in 1954 when they were relegated to the second division, to the glory days that followed. Fittingly he stayed on to guide the club to its greatest triumphs first as an assistant, then as a reluctant manager.
Not many men have served one club so well and so faithfully. Paisley is just one of three managers to have won three European Cups; to have dominated over such a short spell is a testament to the true great from arguably the great man from Hetten-le-hole.
Best Quotes on Bob Paisley
“He was a great man, and has once and for all broken the myth that nice guys don’t win anything.”
– Brian Clough
“If Shankly was the Anfield foreman, Paisley was the brickie, ready to build an empire with his own hands.”
– Tommy Smith
“Liverpool wouldn’t be the club it is today without Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley and the players who played there. When I first went there it was a typical Second Division ground, and look at it now!”
– Ian Callaghan
“I’m a 25-year-old guy and he is asking my opinion…He is saying, ‘You might not get it right but you might get one little thing we don’t.’ They gave you your voice, your confidence, and that’s the only way you could learn, really. It showed he wanted the people below him to have a voice and to speak.”
– Roy Evans
“I find it extraordinary that Manchester United saw Matt Busby, Bobby Charlton and Alex Ferguson knighted but Shankly and Paisley were plain ‘Bill’ and ‘Bob’. They deserved as much recognition, Paisley particularly.”
– Ron Atkinson
“He didn’t just chat to the tea ladies and the kit washing women, he knew their first names and, more to the point, wanted to know them.”
– Alan Kennedy
“Bob said ‘look, we’re going to continue to do things the way Bill Shankly did it, we’re just going to do it better’.”
– Ray Clemence
“Bob didn’t focus on individuals, he treated everyone the same. He knew the importance of the team and so no-one was left out in the cold. If you had a problem on or off the pitch his door was always open.”
– Phil Neal
“Under Bob Paisley, if a player showed signs of complacency, he was out. It was all over for him.”
– Alan Hansen
Best quotes from the man himself:
“If you’re in the penalty area and don’t know what to do with the ball, put it in the net and we’ll discuss options later.”
“This club has been my life. I’d go out and sweep the street and be proud to do it for Liverpool FC if they asked me to.”
“It’s not about the long ball or the short ball, it’s about the right ball.”
“I’ve been here during the bad times, one year we finished second.”
“The sort of lad I am looking for is a kid who will nutmeg Kevin Keegan in training, then step aside him in the corridor.”
“This is the second time I’ve beaten the Germans here… the first time was in 1944. I drove into Rome on a tank when the city was liberated. If anyone had told me I’d be back here to see us win the European Cup 33 years later I’d have told them they were mad! But I want to savour every minute of it… which is why I’m not having a drink tonight. I’m just drinking in the occasion.”
– On his first European cup win
“The secret is that our Liverpool team never know when to stop running and working. At Anfield we have always believed in players supporting each other and concentrating on not giving the ball away. You can’t go charging forward all the time, willy-nilly. You must have patience, and this is where we can play the Continentals at their own game.”
“Other people have earned more money than me in football but no-one has enjoyed it as much as me.”
“The whole of my life, what they wanted was honesty. They were not concerned with cultured football, but with triers who gave one hundred percent.”
– Paisley on the DNA of Liverpool supporters.
Passionate football writer and lifelong Liverpool fan. Specializing in a mixture of blogs, opinion pieces and featured articles. A football purist at heart.