Shankly with Nessie and their granddaughter, Karen - Photo courtesy of Karen Gill
Shankly spent his time playing "fitba": "We played football in the playground, of course, and sometimes we got a game with another school, but we never had an organized school team. It was too small a school. If we played another school we managed to get some kind of strip together, but we played in our shoes."
In all, Glenbuck produced a staggering 50 professional footballers in little under 50 years. To get a real understanding of this figure, it must be remembered the village population seldom exceeded 1000 at any one time, and was considerably below that for much of it.
Shankly felt always confident he would make it as a footballer: "I knew it would only be a matter of time before I became a professional player with one club or another. Even when I was in the pit I was only killing time - I had to make a living - until the time came when I would be playing football. It was all worked out in my mind. I knew I had something to offer and I have always been an optimist. If I'd had to wait for a few years, it is possible I might have lost my enthusiasm. But I was young and I felt that somewhere along the line I was being guided. I believed I had a destiny."
Life was hard for the mining families of Glenbuck, but it wasn't all bleak. One of the more pleasurable diversions for the Shankly family were the trips to the nearest cinema, in Muirkirk. As a boy, his father would often take the young Shankly, a mere 8 mile round trip on foot! The Hollywood stars of the day who impressed Bill the most were Jimmy Cagney, and Edward G Robinson. These were tough guys doing a tough job. Men's men who Shankly could identify with.
Years later, during his time at Anfield, he would amaze the playing staff with references to Cagney and to his new television hero, Eliott Ness from the T.V. series The Untouchables. 'You think you're a hard man?' he once asked Tommy Smith. 'Here, these guys were hard men', and he threw down photographs of Cagney and his mobsters. 'If they did something wrong they got shot!'
Liverpool would always travel by bus to away matches on the Friday night prior to the game. Shankly would ensure that wherever the match was, the bus would arrive in time for him to catch The Untouchables on the television before going to bed.
His familiar sharp suits, hand on hips strutting pose, and jaunty style, owed much to the Hollywood image. You could imagine him standing on the Kop roof like Jimmy Cagney on top of the gasometer in White Heat, 'look at me ma, top of the world!' Even the way he spoke, spitting out his words in a machine gun rhythm was pure Cagney.
His love of boxing would often surface too. At one team talk Shankly spent 15 minutes talking to his players about boxing before they went out onto the pitch. No mention of football at all. The boxing and the gangsters where all part of the tough guy image. He had boxed in his army days and had won a trophy at middleweight during a period where he was stationed in Manchester.
Shankly 'boxing' at Preston North End
Shankly's toughness went hand in hand with his fitness too. His fitness levels were extraordinary. He was wrongly cast aside years too early at Preston as the club sought to re-establish itself in the post war years. Fantastically fit, Shankly could have played well into his late thirties at the highest level.
The fitness was honed in Glenbuck. Working in the mines was bound to produce hard men, but to be athletically fit required a discipline separate to that. Shankly's father, John, had been a renowned runner and had provided fitness training for the men of Glenbuck. He was a man who looked after his body and took alcohol only sparingly. His input into the sporting prowess of the famous Cherrypickers' was widely recognised. It would have been surprising if Bill had not picked up the same good habits exhibited by his father. The long walk to the cinema to see his on screen heroes would have been no problem to him.
He worked hard in later years to keep his personal fitness level high, once comically remarking to Emlyn Hughes at Melwood, 'When I go son, I'm going to be the fittest man ever to die.'
The glen is silent now, no one would know
that here, where gorse and thistles grow,
a thousand people lived with pride
until the village died.
A store stood in that clump of birch
and there's the shadow of a church,
the school lies scattered on the ground,
it's now a rubble mound.
But see that patch of moorland fern,
down there where sheep graze by the burn,
beneath that wilderness concealed,
you'll find a football field.
Go down and walk upon that land
for that was once a hallowed stand,
out here they shaped the people's game,
a field of dreams, a place of fame.
They crawled in darkness underground
until they heard the whistle sound,
then left the danger and the dark
to run in sunlight on that park.
Their team was forged from guts and coal,
it captured Glenbuck's heart and soul,
now miners fought for village glory
to write the Cherrypickers' story.
They played with style, they beat the rest,
those Cherrypickers were the best,
wealthy clubs came for the men
who had the magic of the Glen.
But fate holds cards of joy and sorrow,
we live today, depart tomorrow.
She dealt her hand - the story ended,
and broken dreams cannot be mended.
The pit was closed, it didn't pay
and closure took all work away,
that one decision, it was said,
killed Glenbuck dead.
A ruined Glen, a flooded mine,
a boy who lost his chance to shine
but in his heart he vowed one day
to win the Cherrypickers' way.
His name was Shankly, he was the best,
his memory shines above the rest.
He won the heart of every fan,
he dignified the working man.
He came to Liverpool, he built a team,
he brought alive his Glenbuck dream,
and Anfield, his adopted home,
made sure he never walked alone.
Quotes from Shankly by Bill Shankly (1977)
I know Ali got "Personality of the Century", but Shanks will always be number one in my book. My father was converted to the red faith (from Glasgow Rangers) in the mid 1960's by the power of this man. Can I share a story with you. My late Grandfather was a Liverpool fan all his life. Upon his retirement from the Docks in the late 1960's, he received his season ticket. He was shocked to find that the club had moved from his regular seat to one where he wasn't near the people he'd sat with for years, and where he'd get wet when it rained. My uncle took him to Anfield to try and get his old seat back. He explained he had just retired after working down the docks as man and boy. The people in the ticket office were completely unsympathetic, telling him that his seat was no longer available.
On leaving the office, he noticed Shanks walking in. "Bill, Bill" shouted by Grandfather, and the Great Man came over. My Grandfather explained the situation about his retirement, his time down the docks (working every night during the blitz) and a lifetime as a Liverpool fan. Shanks told him not to worry, to hang on and he'd sort it out. Five minutes later Shanks reappeared with the season ticket for my Grandfather's seat, and said ‚If you have any bother ever again, ask for me.‘ The man will always be number one in my book.