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The Most Successful yet the Most Underrated: Liverpool’s Reluctant Manager, Bob Paisley

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A brief look at Bob Paisley’s immense contribution to Liverpool’s illustrious history

Liverpool v Birmingham City - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Before Carlo Ancelotti in 2014 and Zinedine Zidane in 2018, Bob Paisley had been the only football manager to win the European Cup three times while his trophy success rate of 2.2 per season remained unchallenged until Pep Guardiola surpassed it.

Bob Paisley was a part of Liverpool Football Club for almost 50 years; firstly as a player, when he joined the then declining LFC in 1939, at the age of 20 as a defender. However due to his service in the British Army during the Second World War, he was unable to make his debut until 1946 and was part of the team when Liverpool won their first First Division title in 24 years. Paisley became the club captain in 1951 and retired from playing in 1954. Despite the club’s relegation to the Second Division in 1954, Paisley remained at Liverpool to take on two roles; as reserve coach and club physiotherapist - and although he was initially self-taught in the latter (he went on to complete a correspondence course to become a qualified physiotherapist and masseur), it’s been said that he could diagnose a player’s injury simply by looking at him!

Bill Shankly became the Liverpool manager in December of 1959 and promoted Paisley to become his assistant manager alongside the late ‘Smokin’ Joe Fagan and Reuben Bennett. As Liverpool’s management/coaching team, the quartet wasted no time in bringing Liverpool back up into the First Division in the 1961-62 season and guided the club to several honours over the next 12 seasons with Paisley playing an integral role as team tactician.

Shortly after Liverpool had won the FA Cup in 1974, Bill Shankly shocked the football world when he announced that he would be retiring after 15 years as manager and subsequently appointed Bob Paisley as his successor.

As reluctant as he was at the time, Paisley took on the role of club manager (guardian) went on to become the most successful English manager of all time - winning an unprecedented, six Manager of the Year awards. Aside from his first season (when LFC finished in second place), Bob Paisley’s team went on to win at least one trophy in each of the nine years he served as manager. After winning the League and the UEFA Cup in 1976, Paisley’s side were crowned as League Champions six times, finished second twice (and in 1981, fifth), won three League Cups, one UEFA Cup, one UEFA Super Cup, six Charity Shields and of course, three European Cups. The only trophy that eluded him as manager was the FA Cup which Liverpool lost out on in the 1977 final and they also finished as runners-up in the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

After spending 44 years at Liverpool Football Club in various roles, Bob Paisley retired as Liverpool manager at the end of the 1982-83 season and was succeeded by Joe Fagan. Paisley unofficially returned to LFC as an informal consultant and adviser when Kenny Dalglish took over as player-manager in 1985 for two years, before being appointed as the club director, a role in which he served until his retirement due to ill-health (having been diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s disease) in 1992.

On 14 February 1996 at the age of 77, Bob Paisley bid this world farewell and was laid to rest in the churchyard of St Peter’s Church in Woolton, Liverpool.

A Liverpool man through and through, here are some of Paisley’s quotes about his beloved football club.

“I’ve been here during the bad times too – one year we came second.”
“I just hoped that after the trials and tribulations of my early years in management someone up high would smile on me. My plea was answered when we got Kenny Dalglish.”
“I love the city and the people here. I’ve been with them for many years and I fought alongside them. Ninety percent of the regiment were from the Merseyside area. So I got to know the Liverpool character. From a psychological point of view, that was a big asset. I’ve had a fair time to judge the Liverpool people and I think they’re tremendous.”
“One of the things I keep reminding players is that when you’re lost in a fog, you must stick together. Then you don’t get lost. If there’s a secret about Liverpool, that’s it.”
And, finally, my favourite one:
“This club has been my life. I’d go out and sweep the street and be proud to do it for Liverpool FC if they asked me to.”

Robert Paisley OBE
23 January 1919 - 14 February 1996
Rest in Peace, Rise in Glory!

Up the Mighty Reds!