History Podcasts

Bob Paisley

Bob Paisley

Robert (Bob) Paisley was born in Hetton-le-Hole on 23rd January 1919. He played football for Bishop Aukland and in 1938 he was a member of the team that won the FA Amateur Cup.

George Kay, the manager of Liverpool, signed Paisley as a professional in May 1939. The captain of the team at the time was Matt Busby.

Paisley's football career was interrupted by the Second World War. He served in the However, he served in England and played as a guest for Bristol City during the conflict.

Paisley made his debut for Liverpool against Chester City in the FA Cup in January 1946. George Kay had developed an excellent team by the time football resumed after the war. Matt Busby had been forced into retirement but Kay had acquired players of the quality of Billy Liddell, Jack Balmer and Albert Stubbins.

Liverpool won the First Division championship in the 1946-47 season. Bob Paisley claimed that George Kay "took Liverpool through the War to come out a bit like West Ham did after the First War ...He was one of the people who laid the ground for the way Liverpool teams would play in the future ...keeping the ball on the ground and passing it well ...but being strong on the ball as well." The club owed a great deal to Jack Balmer and Albert Stubbins who ended up joint top-scorers with 24 goals each. Liverpool also reached the semi-final of the FA Cup, but was unfortunately beaten by Burnley 1-0.

Tony Matthews in Who's Who of Liverpool described Paisley as: "A dour tackling left-half, determined and pugnacious, he was blessed with an indefatigable spirit and scored a vital goal in the FA Cup semi-final clash with Everton in 1950 but was then left out of the final team against Arsenal. He was also a long-throw expert and many goals were scored from his deliveries which dropped deep into the danger zone."

Paisley retired from playing football in July 1954. He had scored 13 goals in 278 appearances. He remained on the staff as physiotherapist and in 1957 became chief trainer.

In December 1959, Bill Shankly became manager of Liverpool, another Second Division club trying to get promotion to the top league. Shankly got them into 3rd place in 1959-60. He repeated this in 1960-61, but the following year won the championship with 62 points.

Liverpool finished in a respectable 8th place in their first season back in the First Division. The following season (1963-64) they won the league with their arch-rivals, Everton, finishing in 3rd place. Over the next ten years Liverpool won the league on two more occasions: 1965-66 and 1972-73. They also won the FA Cup in 1971 and 1974.

In July, 1974, Bill Shankly, now 60 years old, decided to retire. He later commented: "It was the most difficult thing in the world, when I went to tell the chairman. It was like walking to the electric chair."

Paisley now became the new manager. He was even more successful than Bill Shankly winning six First Division championships (1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982 and 1983), three League Cup finals (1981, 1982 and 1983) and three European Championship's Cup finals (1977, 1978 and 1981). He was also voted "Manager of the Year" a record six times between 1976 and 1983.

Paisley retired as manager in June 1983, but continued as a director and adviser until he retired from ill-health in 1992.

Bob Paisley died in Liverpool on 14th February 1996.


'He was tougher than I thought. The players didn't all like him that much'

Updated at 20.04

ARGUABLY NO OTHER coach in the history of football has enjoyed such success in so little time as Bob Paisley.

Along with Carlo Ancelotti, he is the only manager to win the European Cup/Champions League three times.

In nine years in charge at Liverpool, he won an incredible 14 trophies, after taking over from the similarly successful and equally iconic Bill Shankly.

What also made Paisley stand out was his unique personality. Unlike most modern managers, he was a reluctant public speaker and could hardly be described as media savvy, given that he possessed little to no interest in self promotion.

And perhaps partially on account of these modest traits, Paisley’s achievements have been downplayed by some critics, with the unfair claim made in some quarters that he was no more than a steady pair of hands who benefitted from taking over the great team that Shankly had built.

His persona has also been perceived in a simplified manner and the nuances in his character glossed over with the passing of time.

However, a recently published biography of Paisley, written by British sports journalist Ian Herbert, entitled ‘Quiet Genius,’ seeks to re-evaluate the venerated boss and go beyond the stereotypical portrait, while providing a deeper insight into this relatively complex figure, through a mixture of comprehensive research and in-depth interviews with those who knew him best.

The42 recently caught up with Herbert to chat about the book…

Liverpool fans show their support by waving large flags, one of which depicting former manager Bob Paisley, during a Champions League match in 2008. Source: EMPICS Sport

What prompted you to write the book?

When I was growing up, I watched a lot of Liverpool in that period — the ’70s. As I got older and analysed football as a journalist, I wondered a bit more about what it was that made Paisley tick and what his secrets were.

There never seemed to be that much written about him, aside from him being this slightly eccentric, avuncular guy. I thought there must be more to it than him just being a nice guy. So that’s where I came from — (Liverpool and Paisley) being part of the fabric of growing up watching football and wanting to know a bit more really.

What surprised you and went against the stereotypical notion of Paisley?

He was tougher than I thought. One of the consistent themes was that the players didn’t all like him that much, though they respected him.

He was very uncompromising and that was a big surprise — the idea of him being like an uncle or a grandad shuffling around Anfield with his slippers and a cardigan was quite a long way from the truth. In my mind, I wonder whether that was partly a front to create a false sense of security about him, making people complacent about Liverpool and what he thought.

Did being in the army during the war have a significant influence on him as a person?

He didn’t say an awful lot about that, either to his family or in interviews afterwards, other than to describe his experiences in the war.

But it just seems logical to me that it must put a lot of things into perspective, when you’ve actually served in war and you’ve seen people who you served with killed in duty.

I don’t think he came back home psychologically affected by it. I think it was more his upbringing that hardened him. A lot of footballers had known poverty in that time. They weren’t namby-pambys, they didn’t expect anything, they just wanted to win football games.

Unlike a lot of managers, he was actually a very good footballer who played at a quite high level, didn’t he?

He was a left-half, he was a very tough defensive midfielder as we call it now. He captained Liverpool in 1950 in a First Division title-winning team. He just wasn’t quite good enough to be an England left-half, in a time when there were other left-halfs who edged him out.

He was a really important part of the Liverpool playing staff for a long time. If it hadn’t been for the Second World War, he would have had a longer career. But like a lot of those players, his career didn’t really get started until 1945. And by the early ’50s, it was reaching the end.

I think that was significant about the Second World War, rather than affecting him psychologically, like a lot of players, it cut short his career, because it went on for six years.

Paisley pictured during his days as a player. Source: S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport

You mentioned that a lot of the Liverpool players who worked under him didn’t really like him. Why was this the case?

To some extent, it was the usual thing about all players wanting to play. But I think that was (exacerbated) by two factors.

In that Liverpool team, there wasn’t much of a squad. He played the same players in all competitions really.

Once you were out of the team, it could be very hard to get back in. It wasn’t like you could get a chance in a League Cup game — there were a lot of players who were in the squad but hardly got a look-in.

In those days, the salary was affected to a large degree by how many times you played. The game bonus contributed a big percentage towards your salary. So there were conventional reasons for not liking the manager.

The other thing about Bob was that he was not very good at fronting up to players when they weren’t going to play, and then they might find out they were (omitted) through the Liverpool Echo the day of the game.

He didn’t handle that side of things well. He wasn’t very good at being honest, and that exacerbated (the ill-feeling among players).

Those were the factors and he could be very brutal about it. He could cut people out very quickly. But the most successful managers are the ones who are able to be ruthless and he was ruthless about team selection, and that’s why he won games.

Jack Charlton was in the running for Liverpool manager’s job, along with Paisley, after Shankly stepped down. How would he have gotten on as manager?

It would have been a very different sort of Liverpool team. What was good about Paisley was that he very much carried on what Shankly brought through. He wasn’t so egotistical to rip it up and start again like a lot of managers did then and certainly do now.

I can’t see how Charlton would have succeeded in the way that Paisley did. Liverpool had a collective culture of playing football that Shankly introduced and Paisley carried on, and I don’t think Charlton would have done that.

Who knows? But it’s hard to imagine they would have had the same success if Charlton would have taken over that team.

Was there a degree of envy from Shankly at Paisley’s position ultimately, given how he clearly missed being Liverpool manager after a while?

‘Envy’ is quite a hard word, but Shankly immediately realised he’d made a mistake by stepping down. By the time he realised it, Paisley was ensconced in the job.

It’s fair to say there was some tension, because Paisley felt Shankly’s presence around the training ground wasn’t helpful.

It’s a fascinating period — the 1974-75 season, where you’ve got him trying to make his way and Shanks in the background.

But what’s important about that relationship is that, as the years went by, Shankly was always welcome around Anfield and he was at Anfield a lot

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When they won the European Cup in ’77, Shankly was very much part of the celebrations. And he would often be found just inside the players’ entrance at Liverpool, shaking hands with all the players.

These days, there’s a lot less of that now — Van Gaal welcoming Mourinho, or Rodgers welcoming Klopp (is hard to imagine). There’s more ego in management now than when Bob took over.

Liverpool celebrate with the 1983 Milk Cup (back row, l-r): Mark Lawrenson, David Fairclough, Alan Hansen, Ronnie Whelan, Ian Rush, Bruce Grobbelaar, Bob Paisley (front row, l-r): Craig Johnston, Kenny Dalglish, Phil Neal, Graeme Souness, Sammy Lee, Alan Kennedy. Source: EMPICS Sport

He was reluctant initially to take the Liverpool job, wasn’t he?

I think he did have doubts about whether he was up to it, but I don’t think those doubts lasted terribly long. Once he’d started, he was quite determined to see it through. That’s another part of the narrative of Paisley, which I think has got lost — this idea that he was a bumbling, slightly incoherent old grandad, who took over and waddled around Anfield for nine years.

If he wanted to get out and it was too much for him, he could have got out in the first season, when Shanks decided he (wanted) the job.

Within a few months of taking over, Paisley was just determined to carry on. He asked that Shankly not be present at the training ground when he and the players were doing their work. He was a more determined individual than he’s given credit for.

Is he underrated as a coach to a degree, given that there is a tendency to take for granted how good a job he did in successfully managing the club’s transitional period in the post-Shankly era?

What a lot of people haven’t been able to do is realise what’s good about the inheritance and stick with it.

The natural inclination with a lot of new managers is rip it up and start again, but because he was part of the fixtures and fittings, he saw what was good.

Then he introduced his own qualities. He was a better judge of a player (than Shankly). He was a more ruthless dispenser of players, he sold players when they were younger, compared with Shankly.

He was tactically aware enough to rebuild the team when Kenny Dalglish took over (from Kevin Keegan in attack) — it was a different type of football that they played. Then when Ian Rush and Ronnie Whelan came through in 1980-81, he rebuilt the team again.

The overwhelming myth was that Paisley took over a great Liverpool team and just kind of minded the shop for a few years — it was far more proactive and imaginative than that. It was his own team that won the European Cup, not Bill Shankly’s.

Could Paisley be a great manager today?

It’s far more of a circus these days. It’s a form of public theatre really, in which the managers are very much players.

I think he would struggle with the powers that players wield in today’s world. For better or worse, players now demand to leave regularly. Contracts seem to be worth an awful lot less and part of the job now seems to be trying to coax players into staying, as well as putting the right team on the field.

He was of his time really, although he was succeeding at a time when flamboyant managers were coming through: Malcolm Allison, Brian Clough and Ron Atkinson — these were the glittering showbiz managers of the day and it was becoming more of a celebrity environment. He certainly was a throwback, even in those days.

Liverpool manager Bob Paisley (right) and former Manchester United manager Matt Busby (left) receive the acclaim of the Wembley crowd in 1983. Source: EMPICS Sport

Did he have any sense of regret about leaving the Liverpool job, particularly given that they were still highly successful when he did decide to step down?

He may have felt it, but he never expressed it, and there’s nothing his family said to me that made me feel he regretted it.

Unlike Shankly, he did have a life beyond football, particularly the horses. He liked horse-racing as much as football, if not more at times. He wanted to fulfill that passion more in his life, and there was lots he wanted to do. He did spend more time with his wife when he retired, so I don’t think he did regret (leaving).

The world was changing by the early 1980s — there were more flamboyant players coming through, more international players coming through, it was harder to maintain that old Liverpool collective.

Craig Johnston was a good example of the new style of player who came through — more ebullient and individualistic.

I wonder whether Bob felt his time had passed and it was a new era.

They tried to keep him on for one more year at 64, which was certainly a year younger than he needed to have gone. He probably could have gone on for several years more.

He caused controversy with some public criticisms of Liverpool after his retirement. What were the reasons behind this slight sense of acrimony?

That public criticism got him in trouble with the board. I thought it was incredibly uncharacteristic of Paisley and the Liverpool way.

Although there’s no evidence for it, if you look at the chronology of things, I’m convinced it was a sign that his mind was beginning to fray.

He suffered from dementia and ultimately, that made the last years of his life very much a shadow of his greatness.

I think the beginning of his mental disintegration was about that time. If it hadn’t been for his mind starting to go, he wouldn’t have spoken out in that way.

Paisley came extremely close to landing the Ireland job after leaving Liverpool, with Jack Charlton beating him to the role after a much-publicised vote by FAI board members. Was it a blessing in disguise that he narrowly missed out ultimately?

I think it was. He was beginning to be a different kind of individual then. And it was obviously a very close thing. He could have got that job.

Former Liverpool stars pictured at Paisley's funeral in 1996. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Finally, what is Paisley’s legacy, does he deserve to be considered as one of the all-time coaching greats and is there any modern manager that compares to him?

I think he is, in terms of trophies per season, better than anyone really. Obviously, he wasn’t in the job for as long as (for example) Fergie, but three European Cups in that period is an incredible achievement.

I think his legacy is to show that there’s a different way of managing. You can manage quietly, you can manage by delegating to others and using that more collectivist ethos — less ego, individualism, the big I am really. I think that’s true today and a lot of managers could learn from Bob in that respect.

I don’t think there is an equivalent now. They’re all in their own way about media and self-promotion. I don’t think there’s anyone like him. Ancelotti, in terms of continental managers, is probably as close as you’ll get.

‘Quiet Genius’ by Ian Herbert is published by Bloomsbury. More info here.


BOB PAISLEY

Bob Paisley came from a small Durham mining community and, in his youth, played for Bishop Auckland before he signed for Liverpool in 1939. During the Second World War, he served in the British Army and could not make his Liverpool debut until 1946. In the 1946–47 season, he was a member of the Liverpool team that won the First Division title for the first time in 24 years. In 1951, he was made club captain and remained with Liverpool until he retired from playing in 1954.

Bob Paisley stayed with Liverpool and took on two roles as a reserve team coach and club physiotherapist. By this time, Liverpool had been relegated to the Second Division and their facilities were in decline. In December 1959, Bill Shankly was appointed Liverpool manager and he promoted Paisley to work alongside him as his assistant in a management/coaching team that included Joe Fagan and Reuben Bennett. Under their leadership, the fortunes of Liverpool turned around dramatically and, in the 1961–62 season, the team gained promotion back to the First Division. Bob Paisley filled an important role as tactician under Shankly’s leadership and the team won numerous honors during the next twelve seasons.

In 1974, Shankly retired as manager and, despite Paisley’s own initial reluctance, he was appointed as Shankly’s successor. He went on to lead Liverpool through a period of domestic and European dominance, winning twenty honors in nine seasons: six League Championships, three League Cups, six Charity Shields, three European Cups, one UEFA Cup, and one UEFA Super Cup. At the time of his retirement, he had won the Manager of the Year Award a record six times. He retired from management in 1983 and was succeeded by Joe Fagan. He died in 1996, aged 77, after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for several years.


Bob Paisley

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Date of birth/Age: Jan 23, 1919

Place of birth: Hetton-le-Hole

Citizenship: England

Date of death: 14.02.1996 (77)

Avg. term as coach : 8.93 Years

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The understated, unrivalled perfection of Bob Paisley

F ootball has its greats. It has its brilliant players. Modern or otherwise, you can always argue love for one, or dislike for another. Even now, in the era of Lionel Messi, argument can be made, if not won, about Cristiano Ronaldo being a better player. Brilliant players will always exist. The light of a brilliant player will always shine bright. Their glow may flicker and wane, but the candle will continue to burn.

Football has its greats. It is easy to wax lyrical about footballers because since the very first Match of the Day, the very first match report or the very first photographed picture of a player scoring a goal, their brilliance has always been recorded. Not only can their skill be measured in titles and trophies, but it can be valued in goals scored and minutes played. Caps earnt and years at the top. Players can always be judged. Hence why the conversation will always go on. But with a manager, things are slightly different.

Football managers are always in or out of fashion. In the catwalk that is the Premier League, a manager can have one bad season and be sacked, or one good season and become a genius. The fickle nature of the football fan only becomes enhanced because of the readily available ability to have your voice heard. One man’s legend is another man’s Judas. Great and loyal one minute, on the scrap heap the next.

A manager’s ability to linger in the memory is altered because they live and die by their decisions. Brendan Rodgers’ decision to keep Luis Suárez in 2013 didn’t receive as much notice as his decision to let him leave the following year because failure followed soon after the latter. It’s understandable, if not a little short-sighted. But football is short sighted.

José Mourinho has just been sacked, merely months after he won the Premier League, so what chances do managers from decades passed stand of being remembered if the Special One is sacked in not-so-special circumstances?

Sir Alex Ferguson will be remembered for his brilliance at managing Manchester United as an institution in the same way that a director of a business can be held in high esteem for turning around a troubled company, because that is what basically happened. He turned around that rowing boat and transformed it into a cruise-liner, forever to sail the seas as one of the greatest footballing masterpieces.

Brian Clough , for all of his problems and off-the-field attention, will forever be remembered in a favourable light, and rightly so. His work with Derby County and Nottingham Forest should never be underestimated. The club Forest was before he took over is akin to Bill Shankly taking over a beleaguered Liverpool during the 1950s. And the speed at which he brought the European Cup back to these shores for the club shows how important he should be to the British game.

But there is a manager who is arguably better than them all, but whose name rarely gets a mention in the same light as the above during today’s conversations. This is Liverpool’s greatest ever manager, Bob Paisley.

Read | Bill Shankly: it’s not how you arrive, it’s how you leave

A quiet man with a heart of gold, Paisley took over the mantle from Liverpool’s messiah, Shankly, in uncertain terms in more ways than one. Approached by Liverpool’s then secretary Peter Robinson, Paisley was reluctant to take the top job from one of football’s all-time great servants.

Persuaded into accepting the challenge, Paisley is described as telling his players how he “was only looking after the shop until a proper manager arrives.”

Well, if he was only looking after the shop, then he should have gone into business more regularly. Winning nothing shy of 19 trophies in a mere nine seasons, Bob Paisley took a club that was successful and transformed them into the greatest club in world football at the time. Winning the league title on six occasions, the European Cup three times, a UEFA Cup, the League Cup three times, five Charity Shields and one European Super Cup, Paisley is a true footballing great.

Bob Paisley plastered Liverpool’s name across the continent, and in winning the European Cup for a third time in Paris became the first manager to win it thrice with the same club. It’s a feat that is still intact to this day.

In the years when it took a truly great team to win the European Cup, and only the league winners qualified, it typifies how the County Durham-born schemer paved the streets of Anfield with red, white and gold.

The Champions League today may be held in the highest of esteem, but it has been created to offer the most amount of teams possible the grandest of chances. This is great and during a time where fans are treated like consumers – and a lot of fans act this way – teams are added to the pot to thicken the load. To give us more, more, more. But this does dissolve the quality of a once platinum competition. Paisley owned the trophy during his time at the club. He owned Europe. Platinum Paisley was the king of football.

It’s easy to banish my argument as merely a fan propelling a former manager into a light he doesn’t deserve, but at a time when football was tougher and competition was closer, Bob Paisley was the talk of his profession. And he has the awards to prove it. Six times during his nine years at Liverpool Paisley won Manager of the Year, but even during his most successful spell as a footballing man, it never changed his approach to football and to his methods.

Sir Alex Ferguson, the only manager who should come close to Paisley for praise, is often used as an example of a man who created a dynasty. A man who, over a massive period of time, transformed a club over and over again. The former Liverpool manager, like Ferguson, was one for knowing when the time was right to allow a player to leave. Paisley knew when the record was beginning to skip.

Paisley remains one of the most charming men to have ever worked in English football

In 1977, one of Liverpool’s greatest ever strikers, Kevin Keegan, decided he wanted to leave the club, signing for Hamburg for £500,000 . In a situation that looked lose-lose, Paisley signed a Scottish player who had spent his whole career with Celtic. In bringing Kenny Dalglish to Liverpool, Paisley moulded him to become the greatest player to ever play for the Reds, and one of the club’s most influential figures on both sides of the touchline. Bob Paisley had been handed a blow, had soaked it up, and had turned it into a win. Like so many times during his career, he let his actions speak louder than his words.

It is not only Dalglish that the Liverpool great signed. Ian Rush and Bruce Grobbelaar were plucked from Chester and Vancouver respectively. Mark Lawrenson , Alan Kennedy and Graeme Souness were brought in during the height of his tenure – all players famous around the Isles for their successes and achievements. All signings worthy of praise. But who did he recycle? Who did he realise had had their day for the club?

As the old guard and the trusty soldiers of Shankly’s army began to wane, Paisley knew that things needed changing. Liverpool greats such as Tommy Smith, Ray Clemence and John Toshack were all sold on, sacrificed for the good of the team. And these are only a few examples.

Bob Paisley created teams and destroyed teams. He won trophies and he spoke softly. His 50 years at Liverpool in total typify the man and his desire to get on with the job at a place he loved.

Before working as part of the off-the-field staff, Paisley had a career with Liverpool as a player, signing with the club in 1939, yet not making his debut for the Merseyside team until 1946, seven years later, because of the Second World War – a war in which he actively took part in on the front lines.

Appearing as club captain numerous times, the most famous occasion of Paisley’s playing career is a game that went on to define his coaching and man-management style: the FA Cup final of 1950.

Playing in the semi-final versus Everton, Paisley scored the opening goal in a 2-0 win. Liverpool, through to the final, would play Arsenal in their first ever appearance at Wembley. Despite playing a significant role in the team progressing through the rounds, and having made 28 appearances that season, Bob Paisley was dropped from the team. Liverpool would go on to lose the final 2-0, beginning a relationship with the FA Cup that saw Paisley never manage to bring the it back to Anfield, as player or manager. This day would leave its mark on Liverpool Football Club history.

Speaking of his omission from the 1950 cup final, Paisley said that this was a great learning curve for him as a person and later as manager because it allowed him to approach tough decisions, such as dropping players, in a way that was moulded by his own experiences. Leaving a player out of an important game can often be the tough reality of football management, but Paisley knew how this felt. And he knew how to approach the process of disappointing a seasoned pro. All because of one day in 1950.

Read | Kenny Dalglish: a king among men

During his time at Liverpool, Paisley held various positions, roaming between physiotherapist, coach, assistant and finally manager. Like any man taking over from a legend, Paisley was ready to create his own way of managing and establish his own imprint on the team, differentiating himself from his friend and mentor, Shankly.

It is well known by those around the club at the time that Paisley thought Shankly was much too loyal to the players he had at his disposal, using the fact that players were never fined under his stewardship as example of having a touch too soft to control players, whilst seeking success on multiple stages.

Paisley could have had a point. Although Shankly forged the club into a great name in world football, during the period of 1966-73 his teams never won a trophy. Clearly, although he still won three more trophies after the above time period until he resigned during 1974, there was a stagnation between what the club needed and what the players and management were doing. Could this have been down to the players knowing their manager a little too well? We will never know with any certainty, but Paisley made sure this would never be the case under his stewardship.

Past tales from former players tell us that although he was a quiet and shy man off the field, Paisley took the approach of being able to handle his duties with ruthless efficiency and startling accuracy. A man with strong will and incredible knowledge, former midfielder Graeme Souness stated that Paisley was “the best judge of a player I have ever seen” – not bad for a man often spoken about as merely reaping Shankly’s rewards.

Another attribute to his management style was a knack for spotting a weakness in the opposition. “There wasn’t anything on an injury side or a football side that he didn’t know,” said Phil Thompson, Liverpool’s former captain.

“He would look at any player and spot a weakness,” spoke Alan Hansen. “One match, Liverpool are playing Chelsea, and he comes to Kenny Dalglish and he says ‘I’ve been watching some tapes and occasionally the Chelsea ‘keeper will stray off his line’. Six minutes into the match, it’s played into Kenny’s feet, he turns, doesn’t look up and chips the goalkeeper.”

It’s brilliant first hand evidence of Bob Paisley’s eye for weakness and ability to portray his instructions and information simply and effectively. He let the players play, and gave them snippets of information along the way a technique that worked a charm during his fruitful years in charge of Liverpool.

A big man with a love for the quiet life in the background, Bob Paisley should be spoken in today’s terms as the greatest manager in English football, if not European football. Only Pep Guardiola has a better trophies-per-game ratio than the big Englishman, and will no doubt go on to surpass everyone in the game as a manager, but for now, let’s hear more of Bob Paisley. Let’s give his name what it deserves: the time of day.


  • Bob Paisley succeeded legendary Bill Shankly as Liverpool manager in 1974
  • Paisley made it clear to the Liverpool board that he did not want the role
  • His first season saw Reds squeak second place by 0.038 superior goal average

Published: 22:31 BST, 28 April 2017 | Updated: 15:56 BST, 30 April 2017

It didn’t help that Bob Paisley was wearing his unflattering red Gola tracksuit. It had never done much to conceal the rotund demeanour that had made him such a foil to taut drill sergeant Bill Shankly.

The kit had always been part of the faintly comical air Paisley gave off in the years when he was just ‘Bob’, Liverpool’s assistant manager.

Yet here he was standing in front of the players, July 1974, telling them he was going to be manager.

Liverpool icon Bob Paisley shows pals his trophies in his hometown of Hetton, County Durham

Read more extracts from Quiet Genius: Bob Paisley, British Football’s Greatest Manager below

When it was my way not the Heighway for Steve

It would have lifted the mood of despondency caused by Shankly stepping down if Paisley had been able to impress upon them that they were all in this together. But it wasn’t like that. He didn’t want to be there, Paisley told them over and over.

Kevin Keegan responded first. Paisley had to take the job. He was entitled to it, Keegan said. Emlyn Hughes, the captain, was in the corner, still unable to accept that Shankly was leaving. A few of the players rolled their eyes.

Paisley mumbled some self-conscious thanks. Three minutes later he’d run out of things to say and ventured off, with the familiar limp they’d all come to know.

He had made it clear to Liverpool chief executive Peter Robinson and chairman John Smith that he did not want the role.

Paisley was also thinking of what had happened 40 miles up the road where, five years earlier, Frank O’Farrell had stepped into Matt Busby’s shoes at Manchester United. Paisley knew Busby well enough to have an insight into O’Farrell’s disastrous 18 months.

Liverpool’s opening game of 1974-75, at newly promoted Luton Town, awaited the new manager.

Paisley, in his familiar red Gola tracksuit, lead Liverpool through a golden era of trophies

His first Friday team talk — at 10am in the little Melwood room where players would gather on chairs round a table with a baize cloth laid on top of it and blue figures to mark out the tactical plan — revealed Paisley was no speechmaker.

Paisley’s instructions for defender Tommy Smith were not to go ‘wandering round like a miner without a lamp’. Midfielder Brian Hall was to ‘keep an eye’ on ‘what’s-his-name’. Hall, a squad player looking to make an impression, wanted to be sure who he was supposed to be dealing with. ‘Eerm, eeerm . . . what’s his name?’ Paisley replied, still unable to conjure the name. ‘Ah b******s,’ said Paisley. He swept the figures to the floor, told the players to just go out and beat their opponents, and left the room.

Paisley sold central defender Larry Lloyd on August 15, two days before his first game, to Coventry City for £240,000. ‘That was Bob’s biggest call and it came right at the start,’ says Phil Thompson, who replaced Lloyd.

‘It was Paisley saying, “I want a different, ball-playing kind of central defender”.’ They beat Luton 2-1 but there were reality checks — a 2-0 defeat at Manchester City and defeats at home by Burnley and away to Ipswich.

Paisley was being hammered in the press and in November he told Robinson and Smith he wanted to step down. They talked him around. They realised this quiet man was open to ideas.

Former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly (left) lights a cigar for his successor Paisley in 1976

The Anfield maintenance man, Bert Johnson, mentioned a sign he made. In white letters on a red background, it read, ‘THIS IS ANFIELD.’ Johnson thought he might place it above the players’ tunnel. Paisley agreed. Paisley’s vocabulary could be a mystery, because of his struggle to recall a name and the almost indecipherable County Durham accent.

He disclosed before a game against Aston Villa that he had been speaking to one of their scouts, whose surname eluded him. ‘I’ve been speaking to Duggie. Duggie. Duggie Doin’s,’ he said. The players dissolved into laughter and from that day on, Paisley was known to them as ‘Duggie Doin’s’ or sometimes plain ‘Duggie’.

There was some merciless mickey-taking. Terry McDermott, comedian in chief, adopted the ‘Bob walk’. An ankle injury from Paisley’s playing days created a tendency for him to sway from side to side as he moved, with a pronounced swing of the arm.

This was recreated to great comic effect by players who complemented the routine with his favourite expletive: ‘What the f***! What the f*** are you doing?’

His first season saw Liverpool squeak second place by a mere 0.038 superior goal average over Bobby Robson’s Ipswich. A year later, they needed a 1-1 draw or a win at Wolves to take the title.

For Shankly, this would have been a moment for the big speech. For Paisley, it was another moment of unintended comedy gold.

Vast numbers of Liverpool fans had turned up without tickets, including Thompson’s brothers. The defender was worrying about them getting in and, since the door of the dressing room at Molineux opened out on to the main road, he kept disappearing to see if he could find them.

Paisley spent almost 50 years at Anfield and guided Liverpool to three European Cups

‘Boss, you have to help,’ he said. ‘My brothers have been to every game this season and now they can’t get in.’

Paisley went into the corridor, buttonholed the elderly steward for a key and told Thompson to ‘get them up here’. But then Hughes — never one to pass up an opportunity — informed Paisley: ‘My mates are out there as well.’

Paisley opened the door once again, and this time 40 people filed in, carrying flags, banners and horns and singing their Liverpool anthems in the dressing room.

What was supposed to be an environment of calm was bedlam.

Paisley started to panic. ‘What the f***?’ he shouted at no one in particular, single-handedly attempting to force the door shut. ‘How many are in your family?’

Thompson recalls: ‘We were in pieces. It was typical Bob. It relaxed us more than any team talk.’

Liverpool clinched the title by a point from QPR and retained the championship the following summer. The European Cup felt unattainable, but Paisley instilled a more subtle style.

Paisley with his Reds side after victory over Manchetser United in the 1983 League Cup Final

He was very suspicious of foreign territory and Liverpool travelled abroad with a siege mentality.

Players knew better than to consume any of the local produce. Soup was served up in Romania. ‘Don’t touch it,’ Paisley told his players. ‘It’s probably drugged.’

In 1977 Liverpool reached the Rome final against Borussia Monchengladbach. They went ahead in the first half through McDermott.

The Germans equalised but Tommy Smith put Liverpool ahead with a header and Phil Neal sealed things with a penalty.

Paisley would go on to win the European Cup three times, retaining the trophy against Bruges at Wembley in 1978 and seeing off Real Madrid in Paris in 1981.

In only one year between the blank opening season and his retirement in 1983 did Paisley fail to clinch the First Division title.

Extracted from QUIET GENIUS: BOB PAISLEY, BRITISH FOOTBALL’S GREATEST MANAGER by Ian Herbert, published by Bloomsbury Sport on May 4 at £20. © Ian Herbert 2017.


Bob Paisley

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Date of birth/Age: Jan 23, 1919

Place of birth: Hetton-le-Hole

Citizenship: England

Date of death: 14.02.1996 (77)

Avg. term as coach : 8.93 Years

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Jurgen Klopp can match incredible 40-year record set by Bob Paisley if Liverpool avoid defeat to West Ham at Anfield today

Liverpool will be aiming to make it two Premier League wins on the bounce today as they take on West Ham at Anfield – a match you can follow live on talkSPORT.

The Reds have had a mixed bag of results so far this season, but had the quality to overcome a resolute Sheffield United last time out thanks to new signing Diogo Jota.

But it has been anything but plane sailing for the champions this term.

They had their worst defeat in decades inflicted on them by Aston Villa and also held to a stalemate by fierce rivals Everton earlier this month.

Liverpool’s home form, however, has remained incredible throughout the campaign.

In fact, the Reds’ Anfield form under Jurgen Klopp has been nothing short of remarkable since his arrival.

The Merseyside club just don’t lose at Anfield and they can match a remarkable stat this weekend if they avoid defeat to the Hammers.

Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 62 Premier League home games (W51 D11), winning 28 of their last 29 at Anfield. If they avoid defeat here, it will equal the longest ever unbeaten home run in their league history (63 between February 1978 and December 1980).

This record was set by another true icon of the club Bob Paisley. So no pressure, Jurgen!

Despite the incredible home form, Liverpool come up against a team who look revitalised under David Moyes.

Having lost their opening two Premier League games this season, the Hammers are now unbeaten in their last four (W2 D2), with that four-game unbeaten run coming against sides who finished in the top seven places last season.

The stage is set for it to be a cracker at Anfield.

You can listen to Liverpool vs West Ham this Saturday live on talkSPORT, kick off 5.30pm


Icons Of Liverpool: Bob Paisley

Bob Paisley: The Playing Years

Paisley’s long association with the Reds began in 1939 when he arrived as a player. However, due to the second world war, Paisley had to wait until the 5 th of January 1946 to make his debut. His eight years playing for the Reds brought just one piece of silverware, a first division title in 1947. After 253 appearances for the Reds, Paisley retired from professional football.

Transition Into Coaching

Following his retirement, Paisley remained at the club taking on several roles including physiotherapist and reserve coach, but became assistant manager when Bill Shankly arrived in 1959. Shankly and Paisley would form a dream partnership designed to get Liverpool back amongst Europe’s elite. As assistant to Shankly, Paisley helped Liverpool win ten pieces of silverware including three first division titles and a UEFA Cup.

Paisley developed as a coach and built good relationships with the players and the Liverpool hierarchy. Following Shankly’s retirement in 1974, the club immediately wanted Paisley to take over. Despite his reluctance to replace his friend, Paisley did eventually become Liverpool manager.

His First Season In Management

The transition from number two to number one took time for Paisley with success limited to just a Community Shield in his first season at the club. However, the foundations were put in place for the success that would follow in the coming season.

The 1975/76 season brought Paisley his first league title and his first taste of European success as they collected the 1976 UEFA Cup. This would begin Liverpool’s dominance of domestic and European football. Paisley also collected the first of six Manager of the Year awards following their success.

Continued Success

The 1976/77 campaign brought Paisley his second league title and saw Liverpool take the crown as the kings of Europe. More success followed as Liverpool defended the European Cup the following season and collected the Super Cup and their third community shield in four seasons.

Paisley continued to collect major silverware winning at least one trophy every season. Following the completion of the 1977/78 season, Liverpool would collect a further four league titles, three league cups and another European cup.

Paisley’s Final Season as Manager

The 1982/83 would prove to be Paisley’s final season in the dugout. Paisley’s final season concluded with his sixth league title as Liverpool manager and his third league cup.

After 535 games, 20 pieces of silverware and nine glorious years in the dugout, Paisley retired as Liverpool manager in May 1983. He departed the dugout a true hero and loyal servant who the fans idolised. The year would conclude with his sixth Manager of the Year award and an OBE from the Queen.

However, his affiliation with the club was not over as following his retirement from management, Paisley moved upstairs and became a director. His role as director lasted nine years before officially leaving the club in 1992 ending his 53-year association with the Reds.

Bob Paisley: Icon Does Not Come Close

When Paisley arrived in 1939, nobody expected the impact he made across five decades. He loved his time on and off the pitch and certainly is one of Britain’s best football managers. He took Liverpool to heights fans could only dream off.

Icon does not come close to what he did for Liverpool Football Club. He worked hard throughout his spell bring joy and happiness to players, senior figures and most importantly the fans. Paisley built an amazing legacy at the club and certainly contributed to Liverpool becoming one of Europe’s biggest clubs.

He departed a true legend and is still fondly remembered by fans and players alike for his achievements. Bob Paisley is Liverpool royalty and a British football icon.


Bob Paisley: The reluctant successor creates his own story of legend

Bob Paisley joined the Reds’ playing ranks in 1939, would serve in the Second World War and then return to help clinch the First Division title in 1947.

A future in management awaited when he hung up his boots in 1954, but he would first re-join the ranks as a physiotherapist before stepping into the role of reserve team coach and then subsequently first-team trainer.

The arrival of Bill Shankly in 1959 would forever alter Liverpool Football Club and with it, the trajectory of Paisley’s career, as his role as assistant manager would then steer him into the hot seat upon Shankly’s retirement in 1974.

Paisley had been “happy to play second fiddle” to the Scot and was resistant to succeed Shankly, following his shock retirement announcement, after 15 successful years which returned three league titles, two FA Cups and a UEFA Cup.

Former Liverpool chief executive Peter Robinson even admitted that “the chairman, directors and I had to gang up on him,” in order for him to assume the position.

Ray Clemence provided this insight into the words the humble genius would later utter:

“I’ll never forget him standing in the dressing room in the summer of 1974 on the first day of pre-season training and telling us: ‘Shanks has gone and they’re giving me the job even though I didn’t really want it. But we must try to carry on what he’s started.’”

An introvert and not one for the spotlight, Paisley was content to let others take centre-stage and let the achievements speak for themselves as he continued to hone his craft without any prying eyes.

But the demands of the press would now require him to step out of the shadows in a multitude of ways, and the enormity of what lay ahead was not lost:

“It’s like being given the Queen Elizabeth to steer in a force 10 gale,” Paisley had confessed to the press.

On July 26, 1974, Paisley was officially ushered into the manager’s position at Anfield, 35 years after first joining the club.

It was no secret that Shankly’s success would be a tough act to follow, and his first season as manager would end without silverware, but it would be the first and last time in the eight seasons which followed.

The Reds’ domination would extend not only to English football but Europe too as Paisley and his men would secure the European Cup, not once but an unparalleled three times.

He became the first man to manage three European Cup-winning sides, and would later be joined by both Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane, who matched the feat in 2014 and 2018 respectively.

In addition to Paisley’s expert knowledge of the game, his ability to identify and pick players from obscurity became a hallmark of his management career.

The likes of Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen, Graeme Souness, Ian Rush, Alan Kennedy, Ronnie Whelan and Mark Lawrenson all signed for the Reds during his time at the helm, and each would etch their place in Liverpool folklore in one way or another.

And after nine seasons as manager, Paisley would bid farewell with six First Division titles, three European Cups, one UEFA Cup, one UEFA Super Cup, three League Cups and six Charity Shields.

Once his time at the helm came to an end in 1983, Paisley had loyally served Liverpool Football Club for 44 years.

He would then continue his association with the club as a director and would arm Kenny Dalglish with a wealth of knowledge when he took over as manager in 1985.

Despite having faced the all-mighty task of being the man to directly step into the position vacated by Shankly, Paisley would go on to become a legend in his own right, with Dalglish aptly saying, “there will never be another like him.”

A motivator and a humble genius, and one whose achievements see him rightly regarded as the best and most successful manager in English football.

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