NORMAN GILLER remembers on how he and Harry Miller were set-up by Liverpool’s greatest manager
There is not a football reporter from my generation who will have got through this Bill Shankly 50th anniversary week without being warmed by memories of one of the game’s greatest ever characters.
From the moment he stepped on to the Anfield stage on December 1, 1959, Shankly became the football writer’s best friend, quieter than Clough, louder than Busby, less ruthless than Revie, more dynamic than Nicholson, wiser than Docherty, and certainly more garrulous than Ramsey. He was a walking, talking headline-maker.
Many of the famous old Shankly stories and quotes have been trotted out in memory of the Laird of Liverpool, but I have managed to come up with one having its first public airing and suitable for this SJA setting because it has journalists’ jargon.
You need to come back with me to March 31, 1973, a famous date in sporting context because Red Rum won the first of his historic three Grand Nationals at Aintree. My business that day was at Anfield, where the League leaders Liverpool were playing Tottenham in a crucial First Division match, with an early kick-off to avoid a clash with the racing.
In those days, I was chief football reporter for the Daily Express and almost joined at the hip with that exceptional reporter, Harry Miller of the Daily Mirror. Aitch, now sadly gone to the great press box in the sky, was one of the most trusted football newsmen in the business, respected for never breaking confidences and with the ear of all the people who mattered in the game.
Harry and I arrived early for the game, wanting to take in the sight and sounds of the new main stand that had been declared open a few days earlier by the Duke of Kent. We were just about to show our passes at the press gate when Shankly’s unmistakable voice boomed: “If it’s not Miller and Giller, songs at the piano â€¦”
We turned and shook hands with Shanks, who was beaming like a host welcoming early arrivals at his house party. “So what d’you think o’ the noo manor hoose?” he asked, waving his arms to indicate the gleaming main stand. “It’s now the greatest football stadium in the world.”
“We’ve not had time to look at it,” Harry said, “but it’s certainly impressive from the outside.”
Shankly put his arms around our shoulders. “Well now,” he said, “I’ll show you the inside and you will be astonished.”
Here we were, an hour to the kick-off to one of Liverpool’s most important games of the season, and their manager was taking us on a conducted tour of the new stand. Little did Harry and I realise then that Shankly already had mischief in mind.
He showed us the boardroom (“where the idle rich reside”), the famous boot room (“I insisted on them keeping it just like the old one”), the laundryroom (“we have the greatest laundry women in the whole of football”), the main reception room (“we have the best telephone system in the country”), and then down to the dressing-rooms, passing the tunnel leading to the pitch with the famous sign placed by Shanks: “THIS IS ANFIELD.”
“That” he explained, pointing a finger, “is to remind players where they are. It lifts Liverpool players and deflates the opponents.”
We walked past the home dressing-room (“The best equipped in the business”) to where Tottenham’s players were preparing for the match. Shanks rapped on the door, and coach Eddie Baily opened it, his eyes nearly popping out of his head.
“Is Bill Nick there?” Shankly asked. “Tell him I’ve got some important people who need to talk to him.”
A startled Bill Nicholson came out into the corridor, giving a double take as he saw Harry and I standing either side of the mischievous Shanks.
“Remember what you were saying on the phone last week, Bill, about reporters making a nuisance of themselves by ringing you at home?” Shanks said, barely able to keep a straight face. “Well now you can bollock them yeself.”
He then scuttled off down the corridor, his laughter coming like the sound of ruptured bagpipes.
We spluttered our apologies to Bill Nick, who saw the funny side of it. “That’s Shanks for you,” he said. “Never ever predictable.”
Shankly was not laughing after the game in which Tottenham forced a 1-1 draw, with the highlight being two penalty saves by goalkeeper Pat Jennings against Anfield Iron Tommy Smith.
“There should be a law against goalkeepers being allowed to play with hands as big as those that Pat Jennings has got,” Shankly said, delivering one of the classic quotes for which we were always grateful. “Theyâ€™re not hands. They’re bloody shovels.”
I wonder what Shanks would think of the dilemma facing both Liverpool and Everton as they struggle to find new homes. There has even been talk of ground sharing, which would have turned Shankly blue in the face. He once famously said: “If Everton were playing at the bottom of my garden I would draw the curtains.”
But for me looking in from the outside, a shared ground is the sensible and economic answer for both clubs. I have seen the system working perfectly in Milan, Rome and Turin, and many of the supporters who share the seats on alternate weekends have forged friendships.
I can hear Shankly shouting his disgust.
Read more: The Shankly book that they banned at Anfield
And read previous Norman Giller columns by clicking here.
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