Remembering Paisley

As we pass what would have been Bob Paisley’s 100th birthday, the club he loved so dearly is in a fantastic position. When the team is doing well on the pitch, it allows us to look back on the ‘good old days’ with even more fondness.

Last weekend, the chants of Paisley from The Kop as his mosaic was exhibited warmed the heart. It reminded us that the youth of Anfield still appreciate and idolise even those that we as the younger generation never got to see live.

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Ironically, Bob Paisley was a man who wouldn’t have wanted any of this attention. Known as the quiet genius, he stayed humble to his mining roots in the North East throughout his life.

Born in 1919, Robert Paisley OBE was brought up in the small mining village of Hetton-le-Hole, just outside Sunderland. His family was very much working class and had little leftover money at the end of the week. The area was severely affected by mining strikes (his father’s vocation), leaving much of the population sometimes relying on soup kitchens.

Despite all of its shortcomings, Hetton-le-Hole was the place where his football career started. Football became important in Paisley’s life from an early age, so much so, Paisley himself described the place as “a close-knit community where coal was king and football was religion”.

Paisley was a fantastic footballer as a youngster. Whilst playing for his local junior team, Hetton, he was recommended to Sunderland. Unfortunately, for the young Bob Paisley, Sunderland rejected him for being ‘too small’. Instead, he joined Bishop Auckland where he remained for two seasons, before committing his future to Liverpool.

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It’s now 1939 and Britain has declared war on Germany. This forces The FA to cancel the coming football season. Before Paisley had the chance to don the famous red shirt in a competitive game, he was dragged from football by the army.

In 1945, Paisley finally returned to England permanently. In 1946, he played his first game under the then manager, George Kay. From then on, he played predominantly as a left-back, racking up 277 appearances and winning Liverpool’s first league championship for 24 years in 1947.

After retiring in 1954, he worked his way up through the club, from being a physiotherapist all the way up to first team trainer. Bill Shankly’s arrival at Liverpool had a profound effect on the club. Paisley himself described the situation by saying “from the moment he arrived, we got on like a house on fire”.

From 1959 to 1974, Bob worked as one of the famous ‘Boot Room boys’. Shankly and his backroom staff brought the club from the second division to UEFA Cup winners and one of the most dominant teams domestically.

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Following Shankly’s retirement in 1974, there was dismay amongst supporters. People couldn’t believe that he had gone and feared what would happen to the club without him. Some thought that freefall was on the cards. Instead, what happened was something quite phenomenal. 13 major trophies followed in the next nine years, including 3 European Cups and a UEFA Cup. This European dominance means that Paisley is still the joint most successful European manager of all time, with only Zidane and Carlo Ancelotti matching his three European Cup wins.

Domestic dominance belonged to Liverpool too. Liverpool won the league in two-thirds of seasons with Paisley in charge as well as winning the first three of four consecutive League Cups.

In 1983, Bob Paisley stepped down a legend and well-respected man, not just in football, but throughout society. 1983 saw him awarded an OBE and his sixth Football Manager of the Year award. Joe Fagan-another member of the Boot Room-took the reigns from Paisley and continued where he left off, winning a treble in his first season. Liverpool’s continued success under Fagan then Dalglish meant that Paisley could rest easy, knowing that the club was in good hands for the time being.

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After his term as manager, ‘the quiet genius’ stayed on at Liverpool as a director until 1992 when he was diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s.

Paisley’s death came on St. Valentine’s Day of 1996, at the age of 77. Poignantly, this brought out love and tributes from everyone connected with LFC. He was buried at St. Peter’s Church in the south Liverpool suburb of Woolton.

Bob Paisley is remembered as a humble man with an incredible footballing brain, so as we reach the hundredth anniversary of his birth, I ask ‘will there be anyone better?’

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