Bill Shankly: Legendary Scottish manager's fire still burns brightly in Liverpool

Media playback is not supported on this device

Shankly: Nature's Fire
Documentary: Shankly - Nature's Fire
Date: Sunday 12 November: 21:00 GMT
Watch: BBC Two Scotland; Avialable on iPlayer afterwards

For most football fans under the age of 45, Bill Shankly seems more myth than manager.

The Scot's legendary achievements while in charge of Liverpool in the 1960s and early 70s belong to an era before TV cameras caught every kick of the ball and every press conference was pored over on social media.

However, as a new documentary 'Shankly: Nature's Fire' reminds us, his flame still burns brightly on Merseyside, where he is remembered passionately as the man who single-handedly built one of the most successful football clubs in the world.

Sports writer Hugh McIlvanney is one of many contributors in the 90-minute film to paint a vivid picture of the great man, who was born in the Scottish town of Glenbuck, in Ayrshire, and shared a background with equally-successful football contemporaries.

"Three of the greatest managers to have worked in British football - Bill Shankly, Matt Busby and Jock Stein - were from mining families," says McIlvanney.

"Their understanding of teamwork and of camaraderie was absolutely in the marrow."

Liverpool naturally dominates the story, which tells how Shankly embraced both the city and the club after taking over as manager at Anfield in 1959.

The Scousers, in turn, made him one of their own - and the club's fans continue to chant songs from the Kop in celebration of Shankly's era-defining triumphs.

Before the Scot's arrival on Merseyside, Liverpool were in a sorry state, with former Reds striker Roger Hunt describing the archaic training methods which bore almost no relation to the game.

Kevin Keegan
Kevin Keegan is one of the key contributors to the Shankly documentary

Shankly changed everything, introducing his crop of average players to a modern, short passing game that encouraged team spirit and instilled in his players an all-consuming desire to entertain the fans.

"Originally, the training methods were running round the pitch for about two hours and then they gave you the ball," says Hunt.

"Shankly said 'this team is going to go places' and I was very lucky to be there at that time."

Liverpool had been languishing in the Second Division for five seasons, and the FA Cup had never graced the Anfield trophy cabinet.

Just 18 months later, the club had climbed to the top tier of English football, where it has remained ever since.

Further success followed, including three championship titles, a Uefa Cup triumph and that elusive FA Cup win in 1965.

The club soon became synonymous with the wave of football and music that defined the city in the 1960s, cementing Liverpool's place in British cultural history.

Among the players Shankly signed for Liverpool were Emyln Hughes, the prolific Ian St John and one of England's greatest-ever players, Kevin Keegan.

Bill Shankly gave 15 years of his life to the club that he came to love, leading Liverpool out for the last time at Wembley for the 1974 Charity Shield.

He died seven years later, aged 68.

Bill Shankly statue
The Bill Shankly statue stands outside Anfield

Keegan, in a particularly emotional recollection, describes a football award that Shankly presented to him in London, but the mercurial forward handed it straight back to his former manager, insisting that the ultimate credit for his playing career was reserved for the Scot.

On the day of Shankly's funeral in October 1981, fans lined the streets of Liverpool to bid him farewell, and his wife Nessie handed Keegan the award, telling him it had been her husband's dying wish that it be returned back to him.

The list of contributors in the film reads like a who's who of British football; John Toshack, Chris Lawler, Ron Yeats, Phil Thompson, Howard Gayle, Mark Lawrenson and Steven Gerrard, all of whom speak of Shankly with the highest regard.

There are also some magical archive moments from the great man himself, delivered in that unique, brusque Scots brogue.

Liverpool fans continue to hold Shankly up as their greatest ever manager; a man of principles, an iconic cornerstone of the club, and the man who did it all first.

In a closing tribute, Ian St John tearfully describes the seven-foot tall bronze statue of Shankly's likeness which stands outside Anfield.

The simple inscription on the plinth reads: "He made the people happy."

Shankly: Nature's Fire will be broadcast on BBC TWO Scotland on Sunday 12 November at 2100 GMT and will be available on iPlayer afterwards.

Top Stories