June 1951 - 2nd January 1954
When Shankly arrived at Grimsby, the club was in free fall having dropped from Division 1 to regional football in Division 3 in quick time, the morale of the players and supporters was low. However, the players who had been at the club when Grimsby were in the top flight were still there, there being little point in players swapping and changing clubs in those days due to the maximum wage. Shankly was quickly able to use the raw material at his disposal to weld the players into a good side.
He quickly became a cult figure at Blundell Park, the team regularly drawing crowds in excess of 20,000. When Shankly turned out for the reserve team, it too would draw huge crowds, 5,000 not being unusual for Shanks who was still more than a decent player himself. In 1951-52, Grimsby just missed promotion, despite picking up an incredible 36 points out a possible 40 in the last 20 matches.
The 1952-53 season started with much optimism around the club but the players still felt the disappointment of the previous season. The team too, was an ageing one, and struggled after a bright start and the season fizzled out. Shankly was given no money to buy new players and was reluctant to blood some promising reserves because of the loyalty he felt to these older stalwarts (a fault that was to surface at Liverpool years later). Disillusioned by events, he quit in January 1954, citing a lack of ambition by the board as his main reason.
Shanks with his Grimsby team in 1953
Remarkably, in his autobiography he was to claim: "That Grimsby team was pound for pound, and class for class, the best football team I have seen in England since the war. In the league they were in they played football nobody else could play. Everything was measured, planned and perfected and you could not wish to see more entertaining football."
League Matches: 118
1951/52: 2nd in Division 3 North
1952/53: 5th in Division 3 North
1953/54: Resigned on 2nd January 1954
"Tommy Lawrence was frightened to death of Shanks. He was just a young boy. He had been there since he was 16-year-old. He got his chance in ’61. I’ll always remember we were playing Arsenal for the first time in 8 years because Liverpool had been in the 2nd division. We were winning 1-0 with 10 minutes to go and I thought, 'what a good win this will be at Arsenal.' I can’t remember the Arsenal’s striker name that hit the ball from 25 yards. I am not joking, but he stubbed his toe first and then hit the ball. It trickled by me and I went 'it’s yours, Tommy.' Tommy was on the line and opened his legs and the bloody ball went right through him. I couldn’t believe it. They put the pressure on us for the last five minutes, but we held out.
I am thinking to myself all this time, 'when we get into that dressing room I am going to get into the bath before Shanks come in the door.' Little did I know that the ten players I was playing with thought the same thing. When the final whistle went... if we had sprinted that much during the game we would have won it easily. Everybody was trying to hurry into the dressing room but it wasn’t quick enough. The door opened and in came Shanks. His face was blue and I am thinking, 'here it goes.' He went, 'where is he?' I didn’t realise, but big Tommy Lawrence was behind me. I was three inches bigger than him and didn’t know where he was. His finger went up and he said, 'I am here, boss.' 'Where?' 'I am here, boss.' He said, 'before you say anything, boss, I want to apologize to you and the lads. I should have never opened my legs to that ball.' Shankly went, 'it’s not your fault. It’s your fucking mother who should have never opened her legs.'"