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Shades of Shankly in Ferguson

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Steve Wilson | 18:48 UK time, Wednesday, 17 August 2011

This summer I stumbled across a television interview with Bill Shankly. It was recorded in 1976, about two years after he had resigned from Liverpool.

But while most fans know a Shankly quote or two - usually the one about football not being a matter of life and death, but much more important than that - you hardly ever see him on film.

What really struck me about him was just how similar his mannerisms and body language were to those of Sir Alex Ferguson.

It's not just the growling accent or the sharp eyes which dart about and explore the questioner for any hint of weakness, but an aura laced with self-confidence and a surprising degree of physical intimidation given their ages - Shankly was 63 at the time of that interview, Ferguson is 69.


Legendary Liverpool FC manager William 'Bill' Shankly, OBE (Sept 2, 1913 - Sept 29, 1981) was one of Britain's most successful and respected managers. PHOTO: PA

Shankly was discussing his autobiography, in which he had criticised Liverpool for the way he felt he had been treated by them after his decision to leave.
He had built Liverpool from a second-tier team to one which was beginning to dominate English football and which, in his last game, won the 1974 FA Cup Final.
Sadly for Shankly, he seemed to regret his decision to quit almost immediately. He would turn up at Liverpool's training ground to watch until it became clear he was just making life difficult for Bob Paisley, who had replaced him.

He would sit amongst the fans at Anfield rather than the directors' box, he'd go to watch Everton, he'd even travel away with Tranmere Rovers, who were then managed by one of his greatest signings, Ron Yeats.

The final straw for Shankly was being invited to the second leg of the 1976 Uefa Cup Final, only to be put up in a hotel well away from the team. He looked like a lost soul, a warrior in search of a battle to fight.

A decade ago, Sir Alex Ferguson announced that season, 2001-02, would be his last. The following February he changed his mind and the rest, as they say, is history.

With 10 more major trophies secured, Ferguson's place in the pantheon of greats is utterly assured. And he remains as fit, healthy and sharp as ever.

Bob Paisley took over Shankly's team and made it even better, the best in Europe.
The question which begs to be asked is what would have happened over the last 10 years at United had Ferguson stuck by his original decision to stand down? We'll never know.

Swansea City, then managed by ex-Liverpool striker John Toshack, were the first visitors to Anfield after Shankly's death in the autumn of 1981. This weekend the Welsh club hosts its first game in the top flight in 28 years.

I can't wait for my first visit to the Liberty Stadium - I'm told it's really something when the home fans get going.

It's the 51st stadium to host Premier League football - a pat on the back to anyone who can come up with the other 50 without the help of Wikipedia!


  • Comment number 1.

    Sir Alex is so far ahead of Shankly, how many times has he reinvented this team? Countless.

    Sir Alex unquestionably the greatest of all time, Shankly is not in the discussion because Mourinho and Pep are ahead of him at this moment in time.

  • Comment number 2.

    This is SO wrong. Alex Ferguson pales in comparison because he lacks the one thing that made Shankly truly great. Class. Ferguson has no respect for officials or the FA and is certainly less than gracious in defeat. Plus Shankly's achievements took Liverpool from a second tier team to one that would, under Paisley, dominate English football. The foundations Shankly set ensured that Liverpool became the greatest side English football had ever seen and don't forget it has taken Ferguson MANY years to catch up with Liverpool. Although 18+5 > 19+3. This is a FACT. Whilst Ferguson has achieved a lot, he will NEVER be greater than Bill Shankly, even if he does have more titles under his belt!

  • Comment number 3.

    Lovely article, Steve. I'm inclined to fall for the myth of Shankly. The man's impact was way bigger than his trophy haul. I think the comments in #1 are very shortsighted. The comparison is not about statistics. No-one disputes SAF's success, just like no-one doubts that Fascism was quite dominant in Europe in the 1930s.

  • Comment number 4.

    Shankly was a man who knew his place in the game. He had respect. Ferguson may be very successful but falls well short as a man.

  • Comment number 5.

    Totally agree with vuvufella.
    Shankly was a man for life, not just football.
    I am not a Liverpool supporter, never have been, but Shankly’s words of philosophy were always completely electrifying to a young working class boy.
    Ferguson is a very successful football manager, no argument. For Shankly though it is his words of wisdom on how you should conduct yourself in life that will outlast any silverware for me.

  • Comment number 6.

    Have to echo the thoughts above, all they have in common is that they have Scottish roots and they are both successful football managers.

    Other than that, they are a class apart, and its an insult to Shanks to even talk about them in the same breath!

  • Comment number 7.

    Reading this as I drink a cup of tea from a mug decorated - the right word, definitely! - with his most famous quote. Yes, Shanks was always class, way above Baconface. Another famous quote - "There are two teams in Liverpool - Liverpool and Liverpool Reserves"

  • Comment number 8.

    How can you compare the two men? One took an under achieving second tier Liverpool and made them (with Paisleys help) into Champions. The other took over a team already full of stars, inherited a strong youth team and still took four years and a league being re-jigged to suit the 'big clubs' to achieve League success.

    Shanklys Liverpool weren't good to watch, but they were powerful, and that helped them be successful (two leagues and two FA cups) in a much tougher top flight than today's, or at any time during Ferguson's tenure.

    Frankly I'd be insulted if was a Liverpool fan (which I certainly am not) by the comparison. In the 60's and 70's you had to be able to beat tough sides right down to the bottom four, you had to fend off challenges from sides like Revies Leeds, Busby's Utd, Burnley, Chelsea, Everton, Nicholson's mighty Spurs side, Derby under Clough, Arsenal by the early 70's, City under Mercer and Allison, a WBA side who were among the trophies and hard to beat, West ham of moore and co, even the likes of Leicester had two England international keepers and a team that reached two FA cup finals in six years...... and so it goes on.

    Fergies realistic challenges? Arsenal on and off, Chelsea in recent years, Blackburn once, and, well, that's it over a twenty year period. No comparison.

    Yes Utd have won the watered down Champions league, and that in itself is a great achievement, but domestic competition as we can see from other leagues has no bearing on European success.

    As for comparing the two men's personalities, Shankly was dry witted sharp and engaging. Ferguson is unpleasant in the extreme.

    You cannot compare the two men, and to do so is insulting.

    To Shankly.

  • Comment number 9.

    "Sir Alex unquestionably the greatest of all time, Shankly is not in the discussion because Mourinho and Pep are ahead of him at this moment in time"
    Mourinho and Pep are not in the same league. They have not turned around a clubs fortunes, it is very easy for Mourinho to go to big club after big club spending shed loads of money on players, the fact he manages to suck any love for the teams out of them is testament to his bad character, I'm surprised if he has any love for football, no where near what Shankly had. I had no dislike of Chelsea before his reign, I enjoyed watching Zola amongst other players, as soon as he took over and imparted his negativity on his players they went down in many peoples estimation. Same for Madrid now. He's self-serving and regards himself as more important than any club he manages. There's more to a football club than to win at all costs, they have an important role in the community, Mounriho will never understand this in the way other managers have and do.

  • Comment number 10.

    #1 obviously does not know a thing about football - funny guy. #8 is spot on!

  • Comment number 11.

    "The other took over a team already full of stars, inherited a strong youth team"

    .....really? A ageing team full of players who liked a few and name the youth players he inherited. And people also easily forget his Aberdeen days, as a manager no one can touch him. Shankly...don't belive the hype.

  • Comment number 12.

    "The foundations Shankly set ensured that Liverpool became the greatest side English football had ever seen and don't forget it has taken Ferguson MANY years to catch up with Liverpool. Although 18+5 > 19+3. This is a FACT.2

    .......Add Fa cups into that sum and the FACTS change. Add league cups and it changes again, or what about charity shields. It took liverpool MANY years and MANY managers to gain their haul, what a stupid comment.

    Fergie is hated, would he be so hated if he managed, say, West Ham. I'm guessing not.

  • Comment number 13.

    I would have thought Bob Paisley would have got a mention seeing
    as he remains the greatest English top flight manager of all time.

    1975/76 Manager of the year
    1976/77 Manager of the year
    1978/79 Manager of the year
    1979/80 Manager of the year
    1981/82 Manager of the year
    1982/83 Manager of the year

    20 Trophies in 9 years and 3 European Cups. "THAT'S 3 EUROPEAN CUPS."
    Born in Sunderland England and not Scotland btw.

  • Comment number 14.

    Thank you to 'kane' for reminding us of Bob Paisley's string of successes.

    I think the real comparison should be made between Bill Shankly and David Moyes. Moyes has been a tremedous success at Everton with little or no money to spend on transfers. When he was at Preston North End it was clear that he possessed a lot of the Shankly magic and I think it is a pity that Liverpool didn't sign him in 2001 or 2002 rather than persevering with Gerard Houllier who had not fully recovered from his heart attack.

    Moyes is a strict disciplinarian with a strong work ethic. He has little time for stars' tantrums and is a very effective manager. He is a master of the well chosen few words. In all these respects he is closely comparable to Shankly.

    Ferguson differs from Shankly and Moyes in that he had already experienced success with a high spending club in the Scottish top flight (Aberdeen) before managing an English top flight club. Shankly and Moyes both played for Preston North End, then gained experience managing in the lower English leagues before stepping up to the higher level with the two top Merseyside clubs.

    What all three share is a Scottish working class background which has been the foundation for so many successful managerial careers in British top flight football. These all-time greats also include Jock Stein, Matt Busby and George Graham.

  • Comment number 15.

    Shankly had to be good if he went to watch Tranmere away, and there are a number of us still following Tranmere even though the likes of Yeats, Lawrence and Aldo have long gone.

  • Comment number 16.

    I think shankley as a manager and a person was very similar to Ron Saunders who earned his small fame at Aston villa, getting them promoted to the top flight to league and European cup winners in 8 years in charge, these were also the years of the great Liverpool team, clough and also man utd.
    He like shankly wouldn't stand for anything less than 110% and sold popular players who were not commited to the cause. The teams he managed did not play pretty football by any means but were fitter than most. He worked his way up seeing promotion and many clubs.
    Like shankly he used to toy with reporters often putting journolists on the spot by turnig an answer into a question. He maybe didn't have the same report with fans but was always respected due to his work rate.
    Maybe villa just needed a paisley to take over and continue the success?!

  • Comment number 17.

    Thanks also to 'Tony' for reminding us that the trophyless David Moyes, played, by coincidence, for Preston, like Bill Shankly.

  • Comment number 18.

    Interesting the number of Shankly supporters who claim he was a man of respect, and then poster #7 recounts with enthusiasm the quote "There are two teams in Liverpool - Liverpool and Liverpool Reserves"

    Very respectful of the real other team in Liverpool!

    I believe it is impossible to compare the characters of the 2 men as we are all basing our views on their characters on how the media presents them and media sensationalism is so different these days than in the 60s and 70s, when celebrities were given a very easy ride. Today is just the opposite where the media is constantly trying to knock down celebrities.

    The Ferguson critics continue to come out with this bad loser image - in reality he is usually complimentary to any opposing team to beat him. He may berate the referee or others, but rarely the opposing team. As a long time United fan I would hate him to be happy with a loss - I am certain Shanks was not!

  • Comment number 19.

    #17 kane

    --- What are you doing here ?

  • Comment number 20.

    I agree with some of the points above, but to be honest, the fact of the matter is you really can't compare the two (Shankly & Ferguson) without bias.

    Each commenter has his own opinion on what constitutes "respect" etc, whether it be for the game or towards officials.

    But I think most commentators on this blog were not alive when Shankly did "his thing" and are more biased against Ferguson because that is the way of the world if you are not a Manchester United fan (although some United fans will disagree) and the media today adds so much more pressure than was around in the 70's and 80's, so again, a comparison is neither fair or qualified.

    And one must remember that Ferguson, like Shankly, does have and must have respect for the game or he simply wouldn't be in it - it's a simple fact that he remains in the game for the glory of it, which after all is what any manager worth their salt aspires and/or aspired to, Shankly included.

  • Comment number 21.

    #19 Oaktree
    This is religious studies.

  • Comment number 22.

    21. At 10:10 21st Aug 2011, kane

    For once I concur with you kane, the theology of football is indeed a religion and for once one that is very beneficial. It even provides it moments of predictable amusement such as the weekly event of Arsene Wenger venting his anger at decisions, and the fact it was Liverpool who won Yesterday makes it even more enjoyable, as whilst my main team is Tranmere, Liverpool are my second preference.

  • Comment number 23.

    The first obvious difference is that Shankly made a world class football club whereas Ferguson walked into one.

    The other big differences were, of course, that Shankly had a sense of humour, didn't bad mouth opponents, didn't sulk, didn't intimidate refs and didn't go in for the hair dryer treatment.

    But his silences were, to all accounts, terrible to behold.

    Ferguson is respected, but Shankly was loved.

  • Comment number 24.

    Shankly was a far superior Manager to Ferguson! People forget that Shankly made Liverpool a great team from limited resources whereas Ferguson walked into "the pity team" the world over because of the Busby Babes,with endless resources!

    Shankly never had all the money or mod cons of Ferguson's era:

    Computers for assessing fitness, stats, diet, gameplans etc...

    The most up to date Modern training facilities.

    Scouts in every corner of the world.

    Modern transport to get to and from everywhere - Ferguson hops on a plane to get to a game down south within an hour! - Shankly had to plan a roadtrip in a ramshackled coach on very inhospitable roads and journeys unlike the modern roads of today, taking a day or more to get there!

    There is no comparison to Shankly...EVER! and those who are trying to draw comparisons or favour Ferguson in any way are deluded!

  • Comment number 25.

    Both are legends. In fact, Shankly handed Bob Paisley the foundations to build the early 80's Liverpool team, the greatest ever from the UK.
    But what a lot of people refuse to recognise is that Sir Alex took over a club in turmoil, yet still with incredible expectations precisely because of its history. Whether he took 5 or 10 years to rebuild is irrelevant. He's also rebuilt his backroom time and time again
    And let's remember Liverpool fans, these days the Champions is a lot harder than the European Cup. It's unlikely that the Greek or French champions will ever reach the final again.

  • Comment number 26.

    #21 kane

    -- Nearer my God to thee ?

    -- your presence is requested on more mundane Worldly topics !

    (click on the names --on the way down ! )

  • Comment number 27.

    #22 Buzet23

    Tranmere --- where the heck is that ?

    --male or female ?

  • Comment number 28.

    You are not camparing like with like. Ferguson has had access to top flight foreign players, whereas Shankly and Paisley, if I am not mistaken, fielded teams made up of british players in what was arguably a more competitive First Division. They seemed also to be nicer people, although being nice is probably not one of the qualifying criterion.

  • Comment number 29.

    27. At 14:17 21st Aug 2011, quietoaktree

    Philistine, you have never heard of one of the oldest clubs in the football leagues. The club has its ground between Higher Tranmere and Prenton, Birkenhead and the ground is called Prenton park, and I used to walk to the ground with my grandfather and uncle when I was there as a child.

  • Comment number 30.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 31.

    It's impossible to compare them. Ferguson and Paisley would be a better comparison as they both took teams near the top and pushed them to the very zenith.

    European Cup was probably more fraught with unexpected dismissals whether this made it easier or harder it's difficult to say.

  • Comment number 32.

    oh to be a blinded Liverpool fan. Just hurts to give Sir Alex the credit he deserves.
    Cos Shankly has passed on, there's hardly a negative word said against the man.
    Yet the haters of SAF are quick to dismiss him as almost second rate.
    The haters are arrogant enough to spout rubbish like they know the man.
    He has no class , he's this he's that. always being selective and choosing to forget and slight SAF's accomplishments. example, His time in Scotland. He did o.k., with Aberdeen!!.
    Some guy makes a bogus comment about SAF inheriting a youth squad!!
    Some guy pathetically suggests that it has taken a number of years to overhaul Liverpools 18!!. What?! like SAF should lower his head in shame.
    Any decent/successful manager in today's game has an edge to him.
    yes even that guy called Dalglish.
    Stop making up stuff to suit your agenda of your hatred towards the Greatest Manager you've ever seen in England. SAF is a Living legend.
    and now he is Manager of the Most Successful team in England. Man Utd.

  • Comment number 33.

    They are not comparable in a true sense other than they are/were highly accented Scott's, Shankly created Liverpool's success from nothing, whereas Man-U was already a successful club when Fergie took over, so he just carried on, although during his first three years he achieved nothing and there we rumours that he would be sacked, but promotional funds came in which turned him into a cheque-book manager, that is to say not creating his own players as Shankly did, but by simply purchasing them as recommended and suggested by his global player searching advisers.

  • Comment number 34.

    I make it that the Liberty Stadium is the 52nd Premiership stadium. I was able to list about 45 from memory and used Wikipedia to complete the list, so no pat on the back required!

    Of the 45 clubs who have played in the Premiership, 36 have done so in only one home stadium, 8 have played in two and the remaining one - Wimbledon - shared a ground which has already been counted.

    The eight clubs to have had two homes in the Prem (according to WikiGospel) are:
    Arsenal (Highbury & Emirates Stadium)
    Bolton (Burnden Park & Reebok Stadium)
    Derby (Baseball Ground & Pride Park)
    Leicester (Filbert Street & Walkers Stadium)
    Man City (Maine Road & Eastlands/Etihad Stadium)
    Middlesbrough (Ayrsome Park & Riverside Stadium)
    Southampton (The Dell & St Mary's)
    Sunderland (Roker Park & Stadium of Light)

    Be interested to know where the flaw lies.

  • Comment number 35.

    Tricky this one. If you're talking managers building teams from the 2nd tier into champions Mr Clough did it twice, and both in the Shankly/Paisley area. If your talking taking over a team then Paisley was left with a better start than Ferguson and Ferguson has been more successful. All things equal I'd go with Ferguson on the head to head, and Shankly if he loved the game so much, why did he quit on the cusp of greatness? I go for Cloughie overall, also who knows what he might have done at Lancaster Gate given the chance?

  • Comment number 36.

    I am a liverpool fan, but doesn't mean I'm blind to the fact that Ferguson is a great manager, but to compare him to Shankly is being a bit simplistic. They are very different types of people who had very different tasks when they took control, and football is almost incomparable nowadays to what it was in Shankly's time... but yeah they are both Scottish, so why not eh?

  • Comment number 37.

    Sorry, laddie, but this article is pointless. It's like those votes on who is the best Doctor Who actor ... the winner is always that last one or the one before that and those of us old enough to have known ALL of the actors, we can give a better evaluation and the latter three or four are also rans. Similarly, when Amy Winehouse died, she was lauded as the greatest, compared with the greatest ... sorry Amy but far from it.

    Watching ONE interview and then announcing that Ferguson rules is a symptom of very weak journalism and research

    I am not a scouser and not a fan of Liverpool but we all knew that the Shankly Liverpool team was a monster whether we liked it or now. Paisley carried on the tradition as did Fagin and Dalglish has the Liverpool aura of magic.

    Incidentally, while I am here, the most fantastic game of football I have ever seen was the day that Shankly, Keegan, Toshack et al came to Turf Moor and were beaten by Burnley: a real riot of excellent football. Just checked the date, Boxing Day 1973 but I will never forget the result: Burnley 2 Liverpool 1!

  • Comment number 38.

    You are not camparing like with like. Ferguson has had access to top flight foreign players, whereas Shankly and Paisley, if I am not mistaken, fielded teams made up of british players in what was arguably a more competitive First Division.


    times change, how many teams up2 evan the early 80's had more than 1 or 2 foreign players in their teams and its not just fergie who has access to foreign players every team in the world does so why should that count against him?

    also the argument that its taken fergie so long to overhaul the 18titles is just ridiculous, i guess fergie was to blame for united being a distance behind in titles won when he took over aswell then?

  • Comment number 39.

    What an appalling comparison. To think that Ferguson is comparable to Shankly as a manager is either a monumental piece of journalistic incompetence or deliberately inflammatory designed to provoke a wave of responses from outraged Liverpool fans just to get your blog some attention. They are Scottish, end of similiarity. Where do I complain about this weak and poorly thought - out work?

  • Comment number 40.

    Given that the main point of comparison seems to concern the retirement scenario for both these guys, this blog is just nonsense. Both were/are among the great managers of the game and we should applaud them both for their outstanding achievements without the menaingless comparisons. Both built clubs that broke the mould - Shankley with Liverpool, Fergie with Aberdeen in the 80's and then re-energising ManU.

    IMO the only other Scottish managers to stand comparison with Fergie were his mentor - Jock Stein - and Matt Busby. And interesting that even Fergie himself pointed to Stein in guiding Celtic to the 1967 EC win within two years of taking over as a feat not even he could manage.

    For anyone interested in looking at comparions between Shankley, Stein and Busby try and watch Hugh McIlvaney's documentary on The Football Men. Really is worth watching.

  • Comment number 41.

    For me Bill Shankly will always be head and shoulders above Ferguson. Ferguson has shown himself to be capable of great nastiness in his dealings with people. Consider how he treated Brian Kidd and indeed shunning until now, the BBC. When his son failed at Preston he withdrew loan arrangements with Preston.
    Shankly respected the position of manager of Liverpool and he respected people. Ferguson has so much to learn. To compare them is to insult Mr Shankly. Shame on you blog writer.

  • Comment number 42.

    "Ferguson is respected. Shankly is loved."
    Shankly took Liverpool from nothing, Ferguson took United from something. Shankly rebuilt a team with no successes, Ferguson built a team with some older successes. There is not much difference. Shankly was a better speaker and philosopher, but Ferguson has a remarkable tenacity and the same shrewd transfer market ability that Shankly had. Ferguson has had to create new United teams many times and has been extremely successful. He broke the Old Firm stranglehold in the Scottish First Division. Shankly turned a poor team into the best in the world. He made Liverpool from rags to riches. Ferguson made United from riches to rags to riches. In terms of overall achievement, Ferguson is the higher achiever (not the better manager). Shankly had one great achievement, arguably the best in football ever, but I think the two are best left not compared. We should remember Shankly for his undying love of the game and timeless brilliance and Ferguson for his ability to weather anything. Leave them be.


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