The village team was Glenbuck Cherrypickers who had rooted itself firmly in the fabric of Scottish football history, but by the time Bill was old enough and good enough to force his way into the team, the recession of the 1930s was taking hold and many of the men of the village were leaving to find work. The Cherrypickers folded, without Bill ever having played a first team game for them, and instead, he signed for another local team, Cronberry Eglinton as a right-half.
Cronberry Eglinton were founder members of the Ayrshire Junior Football Association in 1889. District Leagues were set up in the first decade of the 20th century with Cronberry in the Cumnock & District League and mentioned by one source as "the top side at that time", dominating up until the first world war.
Though no definitive records of this time exist, legend has it that Cronberry were unbeaten at home for ten years between 1904-14, partly due to home fans letting the opposing keeper know what his fate would be if he didn't let in a few goals!
They won the Mauchline Cup in 1918, closed down for a season then joined the Cumnock & Mauchline league in 1919, then the re-formed Cumnock & District after that. They won the Ayrshire Cup for the only time in their history in 1930, having actually lost the final, but through a successful protest that their opponents had given a false name for one of their players.
18-year-old Bill Shankly's performances in the 1931-32 season were so impressive, he took the eye of several of the many scouts who regularly combed the area for football talent.
After half a season he was on his way.
Sadly, a lot of junior and senior teams were to go under in the 1930s as the pits closed and the global pre-war recession hit Scotland hard. Teams like the Glenbuck Cherrypickers and Cronberry Eglinton simply ceased to exist after the resumption of organised football at the end of the war.
I got caught up in an amazing post-match row after the Albion game which took place at Maine Road. We were all disappointed at the end of the match and sitting in the dressing-room when a knock came on the door. A policeman was standing there and he said: 'I want to see number four.' One of the lads said: 'You're wanted, Smithy. There's a policeman asking for you outside.' I had a cousin called Lawrie who was in the force. I assumed it was him and went towards the door. Standing there, helmet under his arm, bike leaning against the corridor wall, was a large constable. He immediately cautioned me, saying: 'At around 9.15 pm this evening, you were heard to shout: 'Chris, give me the fucking ball!' I thought he was joking and said: 'It's a good job you were not in earshot when they scored their second goal.' The pedantic PC clearly didn't see the funny side. He said: 'I'm arresting you for using abusive language.'
I shouted for Bill Shankly who came out and said: 'What's going on?' 'Who are you?', said the constable to the most famous manager in football. 'I'm the manager of this football team', said Shanks, clearly getting agitated. 'Are you in charge of Tommy Smith?', said the constable. I've just arrested him.' 'You've what?', roared the boss. The fact that the PC was in blue didn't help. When he started to repeat this business about me swearing, Shanks went into a rage. 'You better listen to me. If you don't fuck off, I'll let the tyres down on your bike.'"