Shankly's final interview

Bill Shankly'sĀ final interview by Moya Jones was published in the Liverpool Echo seven years after he retiredĀ from Liverpool on 13th July 1981. Three and a half months later Shankly retired from this world. Shankly discussed various topics in this excellent interview which give an interesting insight into his methods.

TRAINING

During serious training a football player sweats. But you must still wear a sweater or top to train in, particularly if it's a cold day. This is to cover and protect your kidneys. If you haven't worn one, you must put it on as soon as training is finished to keep warm. Instead of stripping, training and showering at Melwood, eating there and then going home, we stripped at Anfield and went down by bus. When it's pre-season and you are hot and perspiring, you don't to be leaping into the bath five minutes after you've finished. If you do, you'll sweat all day. After training I encouraged the boys to have a cup of tea and even a walk around. It takes 15 minutes or so to get to Anfield from West Derby. About 40 minutes would have passed from training until they actually got into the bath.

This is probably one of the reasons why we were always fitter than the rest. Most of the other clubs report directly to their training grounds, strip there and come straight off the pitch into a hot bath which I always disagreed with. Our lads never felt uncomfortable. They never had their lunch with sweat pouring off them. In my opinion, this was very important and a key part of Liverpool's fitness. It actually prevented injuries from happening.

Footballers normally train for an hour and a half, but it doesn't mean they work for an hour and half. Some might be demonstrating a function while the others are watching. And then it's your turn. It's not how long you train, but what you put into it. If you train properly, 35 minutes a day might do. We built Liverpool's training on exhaustion and recovery with little areas of two-a-side, three-a-side and five-a-side in which you work like a boxer, twisting and turning. Training was based on basic skills, control, passing, vision, awareness. If you are fit, you have a tremendous advantage over everybody else. It's important to try and give everyone a touch of the ball as quickly as possible once the match starts. If it comes to you, you chest it down simple and you roll it to your mate. It doesn't look much, but it's something. If you try to do something clever and it breaks down, it can take the confidence out of you. That's not my way.

MATCH PREPARATION

After all the training was complete on Fridays, we always had a talk about the impending game. All the players and subs attended. One of the staff would have watched the opposition and would bring their report in. All I wanted to know was the formation. Was it 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or whatever. And did any of the opposing players have any little characteristics we might want to stifle? I never ever discussed the opposition at length. The last thing you want to do is build up your opponents and frighten your own players. We might have been playing Manchester United that weekend, but I wasn't going to be singing the praises of the opposition. I can remember overhearing one of the lads coming out of a meeting and saying: 'Are Best, Law and Charlton not playing?' That made me smile. In the main, we were only concerned about us and our collective approach. The message was: 'Keep everything simple. Be patient, even it takes 89 minutes to score.' The number of times we won a match at the death was unbelievable. And when you sneak one like that, it's heartbreaking for the opposition.

I always tried to have a joke up my sleeve to boost our lads and knock down the opposition. We took our football seriously, but we always tried to get a laugh out of the team talks. And I would always keep a few bombs for Saturday. I might say to the old guy on the Anfield door: 'Here's a box af toilet rolls. Hand them to the opposition when they come through the door.' Often I'd say it just as our opponents were walking in. We didn't lose many, but when we did we were always ready to learn. We were always confident, but we were never over-confident. Being cocky is a form of ignorance. It means you are talking too much and if you are guilty of that, an opponent will bring you down to earth.

THE ART OF FOOTBALL

A football match is a like a relay race. We realised at Liverpool that you can score a goal by playing from the back. We learned this through playing the Latins in Europe. It might be cat and mouse for a while, waiting for that opening to appear. It's all very simple really, but it's effective. Improvisation! If your players can improvise and adjust to what's happening, you've got a chance. It's vital you conserve energy, making the opposition do all the chasing. When you play over 60 games a season you can't afford to be running flat out all the time.

The system we devised was designed to confuse the opposition. And it was economical. You want everyone to do their share. The important thing is that everyone can control the ball and do the basic things. It's control and pass - control and pass. If you delay, the opposition is all behind the ball. So you are looking for somebody who can control it instantly and give a forward pass. And that gives you more space. You see some teams playing and it seems as nobody wants the ball. They turn their back on on each other. But at Liverpool, there is always somebody to help you. That's why Kenny Dalglish was an instant success. He came to a club and he had choices. Kenny was the kind of player who could exploit that kind of thing to the full.

So this is the secret. Get it. Give an early pass. Switch the ball around. You might not seem to be getting very far, but the opposition pattern is changing. And the space opens up for the final pass. All the players must understand that when they've delivered a pass, you've only just started. You have to back up and look to help somebody else.

THE MAGIC OF MELWOOD

In the early days I went down to Melwood every day for training. That lasted a season then I stopped going. Felt I was intruding. I still go to Melwood but only for a sauna and a bath, a dip in the Melwood's magic waters. Melwood means more to me than any other part of Liverpool. It was where Liverpool was made. The first time I saw the place, an overgrown, neglected place it was too, I said to Ness, 'I'm going to see Melwood reborn, cultivated.' I did. Every inch of it. If someone took Melwood away from me....(the words faltered into silence).

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Shanks quote

Throughout the next couple of years, whereas you state that Bill visited Bellefield, which is at the other end of Sandforth Close, he was a very, very frequent visitor to our school. He was given permission by the headmaster to use the school's facilities, which were at the time light years ahead of any other school in the city, and we became almost blase about seeing Bill as we went to the gym, the baths, the weights room or elsewhere. One day during a spring half-term holiday along with the rest of the school cross-country squad I turned up at the school at around 9.30, to find a game of football going on in the playground. Some local boys were playing there along with a couple of my teammates. Obviously I joined in and only then noticed a short haired older man, not resembling any of the teachers. When the ball went into play it was obvious that Shanks was playing too. I had died and was playing in heaven, and to make things better Bill was on my side. He spoke, you listened. He coached and you did as he said. And it worked, too. I have never played as well, and even when it was my turn to go in goal I performed out of my skin. A cross came over and I reached as high as I could and somehow managed to trap the ball against the 'bar', which was the underside of pillared shed some six foot or so off the ground. One of the other side charged into me. Not prepared to let down my side, most of all Shanks, I struggle to stop the ball from falling over the line. From nowhere Shanks arrived and saved the day. Pushing the boy away he took the ball out of my hands and congratulated me on a good save. He spotted the ball and took the free kick he had awarded himself. As the play developed up the yard he turned back to me and asked if I was OK. I stammered that I was and took a hefty pat of encouragement on my shoulders.

Bill said, "You're doing well, son", smiled and looked at me playing football in my athletics kit. He cocked his head to the side and told me "Aye, you've got footballer's legs." The ultimate hero had just paid me the ultimate compliment a 14 year old could receive. I was in ecstacy (as I am now writing this and remembering how good I felt for months afterwards).

Gerry Crute

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