WORDS: ADAM POWLEY AND ROBERT GILLAN
Bill Shankly is one of the most famous football managers of all-time but he also had four brothers, all of whom played the game professionally. In an excerpt from ‘Shankly’s Village’, a new book about the history and astonishing footballing pedigree of his home town Glenbuck, Adam Powley and Robert Gillan tell the story of Bob Shankly, a managerial legend in his own right…
Above: Bob Shankly (right) watches as Dundee’s Ian Ure signs for Arsenal (courtesy of Press Association Images)
“Bob Shankly is a legendary figure at Dundee,” says Kenny Ross, author and historian of the club, and chronicler of the club’s and Shankly’s finest hours. The reasons are obvious.
“He managed them to the Scottish League championship for the only time in their history in 1962 and then to the European Cup semi-final in 1963. They knocked out the likes of Cologne, Sporting Lisbon and Anderlecht en route before losing to AC Milan in the semi despite a 1–0 home leg win.”
Memories of that European Cup run can still reduce gnarled old Dundee fans to tears. It had everything – wonderful football, goals, drama, feverish excitement and raw emotion. Shankly’s maxim about the need for his players to fight and never give up came in handy for a tempestuous away leg at Cologne, in which the intervention of some soldiers of the British Army of the Rhine helped the Dundee players to survive a near-riot at the final whistle. But at the centre of it all throughout the campaign, Shankly was the resolute, reassuring heart.
When Willie Thornton resigned at Dens Park, Bob put in an application. There was a rival for the post, a certain W. Shankly, then manager of Huddersfield Town, but Bob’s calm authority had convinced the Dundee board to opt for the older of the two Shanklys.
“I look for character. I want lads with guts and go, who won’t crumple when things don’t go their way.” This was the Bob Shankly template for what he wanted in a player. It was, naturally, a characteristic of Glenbuck teams, and Bob distilled its essence in the clubs he managed. He took over first at his second home, Falkirk, and led them for seven years and bequeathed a team that won the Scottish Cup in 1957.
His next stop was in south Glasgow and Third Lanark. This venerable name of Scottish football, founded by members of Third Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers and now sadly no more as a professional concern, played at Cathkin Park, a ground purchased from Queen’s Park when they moved to the new Hampden. Today, Cathkin Park provides haunting reminders of its once gilded past. Nestling in the middle of a housing estate and with glorious views into Glasgow city centre, the pitch is now a council-owned field, but, emerging in and out of the trees, the substantial terraces and banking can still be seen, now overgrown with moss but giving an indication of what a major club Third Lanark was.
The team’s trophy-winning days were behind them when Shankly was installed, though again he left a team capable of competing for silverware, as the Thirds reached the Scottish League Cup Final the year of his departure in 1959. There was also said to be an interested spectator who watched some of Third Lanark’s matches under Bob Shankly. Jock Stein was forging his own managerial career and would call on Bob for advice and wisdom.
The merits of that intelligence and experience were manifested in Bob’s next appointment at Dens Park.
That European campaign in 1963 was a glorious failure. Shankly’s Dundee side were a joy to watch, scoring freely as Bob brought the best out of rare talents like Alan Gilzean, Ian Ure, Alex Hamilton, Gordon Smith and Alan Cousin. In the season when the side reached the Scottish Cup Final in 1964, they scored an astonishing 141 goals. The insatiable hunger for them came as a consequence of Shankly’s reasoned demands. “No one could argue with his philosophy or how he moulded his team into winners,” says Ross. “He let his players express themselves but earned their utmost respect and they rewarded him with the greatest days in the club’s history.”
The run towards the league title in 1962 is the stuff of Dundee legend. Rangers were seen off 5–1. The incredible comeback to beat Raith 5–4 after being 4–2 down with less than half an hour to go, was described by Bob as “surely among the greatest feats recorded all season.”
Sounds familiar? Like another Shankly not averse to a piece of tongue-in-cheek hyperbole? There were similarities between the two brothers but also clear distinctions. Bob was a measured man and usually unfussed by great football drama. He was a fine tactician, an effective communicator, and a smart man-manager, as Ross confirms.
“There’s a story that when Dundee played Highland League Inverness Thistle in the Scottish Cup in 1963 Shankly was worried the game was going to be [frozen] off. His players were concerned as some had been involved in a shock defeat to Fraserburgh four years previously so he sneaked out of the hotel at midnight, went to Thistle’s ground, climbed over the wall, and saw the pitch was going to be good enough for the game. He got the players some continental rubber boots to wear and was able to reassure them at breakfast. Dundee won 5–1.”
After two seasons of bedding in his way of working, Shankly brought home the silverware. He had a reputation for honesty with his players and a hands-on, no-nonsense approach on the touchline, but also a dry sense of humour. He was an old-fashioned boss in a rolled-up-sleeves sense, but in addition a forward thinker. They named a stand after him at Dens Park in 1999, a decision reached by popular vote among the fans.
After 130 wins in 259 games in the Dundee dugout, the loss of players like Gilzean, Ure and Charlie Cooke prompted Shankly’s own departure, to Hibs, to replace Jock Stein on the Celtic legend’s recommendation. Shankly struggled at first, courting unpopularity by selling crowd favourite Willie Hamilton before steering the side through a period that included some thrilling European ties. The problem of players being sold reared again and led to Shankly leaving for Stirling Albion, where he became a director. He nearly lost his life in 1975 after being involved in a bad car accident with his friend Stein, but recovered. Like his brothers John and Bill, it was a heart attack that finally took him, at an SFA meeting in May 1982 at the age of 72. Bill had pre-deceased him by a year.