Parking The Coach: Liverpool & The Anfield Boot Room
For more than a quarter of the Twentieth Century, English football was dominated by a new way of thinking. A Socialist revolution that inspired dedication, simplicity and some of the most breathtakingly brilliant, instinctive and organic football that Europe had ever seen. This side were not halted by changes in playing staff, nor managerial switches. On four occasions the reins would change hands without so much as a blip or interruption to their accumulation of titles, accolades and awards. It was a system so holistic, so deceptively simple and enduring, that every rival club studiously ignored it with flying colours. Eventually, the club that had incubated this philosophy also disavowed it. They haven’t won a league title since.
By December 1959, Liverpool Football Club looked like they might have been a busted flush. They had been five time English League champions, most recently in 1946/47, but things had gone south very quickly since then. By April 1954, the club had finished bottom of the First Division and were relegated to the second tier under manager Harry Welch. Welch proved unable to remedy the situation and in 1956 had been replaced by Phil Taylor. But Taylor, too, proved not to have the power: five years on from their demotion, the club were treading water. When Taylor stepped aside after just three years in the role, the club directors had already identified their new man. Rumours at the time even suggested that they had been sounding him out before his predecessor had even vacated his office. The club sent an emissary to Huddersfield Town to offer their manager the role at Anfield, asking him how he would like to take over at the biggest club in England. “Oh, is Matt Busby packing it in?”, came his response. Unless you have been living as a Missionary in deepest Africa for the past sixty years, you probably already know that their target’s name was Bill Shankly.
Shankly is perhaps the most remarkable man to manage a football club in the history of English soccer, a place where interesting characters are not difficult to find. He was born in Glenbuck, Ayrshire in 1913. Shankly came from a mining family and would surely have also ended up below ground but for his talent and love for Association Football. A right-half, he began his career at Carlisle United aged 19 before joining Preston North End the following season. He would make 297 appearances at Deepdale over the next 16 years, also winning five caps for Scotland.
Shankly retired from playing in 1949 and returned to Carlisle as manager and spells at Grimsby Town (1951-1954), Workington (1954-1955) and Huddersfield Town (1955-1959) followed. At the time, Liverpool were not, in terms of their achievements in the English game, particularly a greater proposition than Huddersfield. However, the city was imbued with a far greater culture of and love for football, which made it much more to Shankly’s tastes. It was the beginning of a love affair. But what nobody, save perhaps Shankly, could have predicted at the time was that by time the dynasty that the Scot would build came to an end, Liverpool – Second Division Liverpool – would be the greatest English football club of all time.
The Shanklian dynasty at Anfield ran from December 1959 until Kenny Dalglish’s departure in January 1991. In addition to the Second Division title – which Shankly secured in his second full season – Liverpool would finish either 1st or 2nd in the Football League 21 times from 29 attempts, win four FA Cups, four League Cups, two UEFA Cups and were four times champions of Europe. It would take Manchester United 22 years to overhaul their record tally of 18 English titles. Liverpool remain the most successful British club in European competition.
Bill Shankly arrived at Anfield on Monday 14th December 1959. If the directors didn’t already know what they had let themselves in for, they were quickly disabused of any notion. Shankly’s first act as manager was to demand £3000 be spent bringing the groundskeeping facilities at Anfield up to scratch. The club’s training ground, Melwood, was the next target on his list. Dilapidated, with no heating or running water, it needed a complete refurbishment. If his new employers were alarmed (they were) or beginning to blanche at the invoices that had started to land on their desks (ditto), they hadn’t seen anything yet. Having assessed the squad, Shankly decreed that the majority of the club’s players were not up to the required standard. 24 men were transfer listed and within a year, they had all gone. Crucially, however, Shankly had no such doubts with regards to the backroom staff that he had inherited.
The first team coach at Liverpool under Taylor had been Bob Paisley. Paisley, born in County Durham in 1919, had played over 250 times for Liverpool. He signed for the club in 1939, but the outbreak of the Second World War – in which Paisley would serve in both North Africa and Italy – meant that he did not make his debut for the club until 1946, eventually becoming the club captain. Retiring from the playing staff in 1954, Paisley stayed on as the reserve team coach and physiotherapist. He would later, however reluctantly, become the most successful English club manager in history. Shankly appointed Paisley, as thoroughly marinaded in the culture of Liverpool Football Club as any man, his Assistant Manager.
The reserve coach was Joe Fagan. Fagan was the only member of the initial Boot Room staff to have been born in Liverpool, in 1921, although he spent the majority of his professional career playing for Manchester City before dropping into the semi-professional game with Hyde, Nelson, Bradford Park Avenue and Altrincham. Fagan retired from playing in 1955 and became a coach under the future Everton manager Harry Catterick at Rochdale, before a recommendation from Catterick saw him join Phil Taylor’s staff at Anfield. Shankly was pleased to see Fagan. He had been a player who Shankly had admired, so much so in fact that he had tried to sign him when he was the manager at Grimsby Town. Fagan became the reserve team manager, a role that Shankly considered of vital importance, as he viewed the second string as the kindergarten and proving ground for a strong first XI. The third and final man retained from Taylor’s staff was Reuben Bennett. Bennett was born in Aberdeen in 1914 and had played as a goalkeeper for Hull City, Queen of the South, Dundee and Elgin City. After his retirement from playing, he had briefly been the manager at Ayr United before becoming the assistant at Motherwell and Third Lanark until Liverpool came calling. Shankly considered his fellow Scot – who had worked alongside Shankly’s brother Bob at Third Lanark – as his closest confidant. Aside from his smoking habit, Bennett was obsessed with maintaining his physical health and would become Shankly’s fitness coach.
Liverpool returned to the top flight in 1962 and by the spring of 1964 they had become champions of England. They had added a second title – a seventh overall – by the time the next key member of the Anfield Boot Room arrived. Tom Saunders, like Joe Fagan, was born in Liverpool in 1921. He had been an amateur player for New Brighton, Prescot Cables, Burscough, Fleetwood Town and Marine. After a four year spell in the Territorial Army, Saunders settled for a career in teaching. He spent 17 years at Olive Mount Secondary School before he was made the headmaster at the lower school of Derby Comprehensive.
Saunders combined his love of football with his scholarly bent to study coaching at Lilleshall in his spare time. When he joined Liverpool, on the recommendation of Shankly’s youth coach Tony Walters in 1968, he was the only member of staff to hold a formal coaching certificate. More significantly, he was the first person in English football to be given the title of Youth Development Officer. In the next 18 years, Saunders would be responsible for bringing through players like David Fairclough and Jimmy Case, as well as serving as a scout of no small distinction. Saunders, in charge of preparing reports on Liverpool’s European opponents, was also the man responsible for the discovery of Bruce Grobbelaar.
Shankly’s Liverpool were built upon his own, strongly held, personal principles. A committed socialist, Shankly believed in responsibility both for yourself and also for the well-being of your fellow, in order that it might better serve the overall goal. Delegation and dialectics were just as important for the backroom staff as they were for the players. Shankly set the tone: he was the public face and voice of the club, the father figure, disciplinarian and philosopher king. Paisley was in charge of the tactical side and Bennett took control of player conditioning. Both men were also the go-betweens between the manager and the playing staff on a day to day basis: Shankly himself would hardly ever speak to anyone at training except for his coaches.
Joe Fagan, meanwhile, was “the glue that held it all together”. His jovial, easy-going nature made him a vital counterpoint to the dour Bennett, the acidic Shankly or the reserved Paisley. Fagan was also a confidant and psychologist for the players; possessed of a particular skill when it came to man management which would serve Fagan well when he, too, was given his turn in the manager’s seat. It was Joe Fagan who first hit upon the idea of clearing a space in a small room adjacent to the changing rooms at Anfield, where every day the backroom staff would meet up. Previously, it had been used to store crates of beer sent to the club through promotional and sponsorship deals. Afterwards it became the meeting place, where the coaching staff would discuss player condition, form, potential new signings, forthcoming fixtures and tactical plans. Powered by whisky, fags and plenty of pictures of topless ladies cribbed from magazines pinned to the calendar on the wall, it became known as the Boot Room. “My idea was to turn Liverpool into a bastion of invicibility. Napoleon had that idea. He wanted to conquer the bloody world! I wanted Liverpool to be untouchable. My idea was to build Liverpool up and up until eventually everyone would have to submit and give in”. And with that, Bill Shankly set out his vision.
The Boot Room became the hub of Shankly’s dynastic ambitions. It was a proving ground for ideas as well as a built in catch net making sure nothing was missed and that support was available for people finding it an uphill struggle. It was also the breeding ground for the next generation of coaches. In the Boot Room, Shankly would blood the people from the playing squad whom he considered to be the most promising new candidates for coaching position, establishing a distinct line of succession. After Shankly’s appointment in 1959, it would be 32 years until Liverpool appointed a manager from outside of their existing staff and a further seven until they appointed someone without any previous history of working within the operation.
The first two such graduates both became Anfield mainstays, whose tenure at Liverpool would span the Boot Room era and beyond. Ronnie Moran was Shankly’s first appointment. Born in Liverpool, he – like Bob Paisley – dedicated his life to Liverpool Football Club, eventually filling every available position. Moran was the club’s left back and captain upon Shankly’s arrival, one of the few players not to be deemed surplus to requirements. As his playing career ran down, Shankly invited him to join the Boot Room as a player in 1966 and, upon his retirement in 1968, there was a seamless transition. Moran would go on to be the sponge and bucket man, reserve manager, disciplinarian, the first team coach and – upon Kenny Dalglish’s shock resignation in 1991, caretaker manager.
His great contemporary, Roy Evans, was similarly earmarked as coaching material by Shankly but could not boast anything like Moran’s pedigree on the playing field. A left half, in nine years at Anfield he made only nine appearances before he formally joined the coaching staff when Bob Paisley assumed the manager’s chair in 1974. Evans remained on the Anfield staff until he resigned in 1998, by which time he had risen to become the club’s manager.
However, this is to get ahead of ourselves. The year is 1966 and Liverpool are champions of England for the second time in the past three seasons. Bill Shankly is the most feted manager in English football. However, just five years before, Shankly had given the board an ultimatum: sign Scottish internationals Ron Yeats and Ian St. John or he would walk away. He argued that these players would win Liverpool the FA Cup. The same year, Littlewoods Pools executive Ian Bowyer joined the Liverpool board. Bowyer was a staunch supporter of Shankly’s methods and quickly became a valuable ally, helping to smooth over any cracks as Shankly’s extensive – expensive – overhaul of the club’s squad and infrastructure threatened to cause rifts between the powers that be and their manager.
Shankly’s squad took shape quickly. His theory was that every great football team was possessed of a solid backbone and he was not precious about the way it came to be cobbled together. Finding the right man with the right skills and the right character was far more important than ideals of romance or purity. A great team needs a reliable goalkeeper, a rock solid centre half who will also be Shankly’s eyes and ears on the field (Shankly firmly believed that captains should be centre halves), a playmaker to be the focus of the movement of the ball forward and a man to score the goals.
Tommy Lawrence came through the reserves to become Shankly’s safe pair of hands, but Ron Yeats and Ian St. John both needed to be brought in. With these totem players in place, Shankly felt able to assemble the squad around them courtesy of Joe Fagan’s reserves – Alan A’Court, Roger Hunt and Gerry Byrne all came through the ranks – or by finding bargain signings whose potential he knew he could unlock such as Gordon Milne and Peter Thompson. Shankly’s goal was to establish a unit, an organism which could then be administered to on a peacemeal basis, as and when was it was required, to guarantee continuity and understanding. In 1965, the team with Yeats and St. John at its spine delivered the promised result. Leeds United were beaten 2-1 at Wembley, with St. John scoring the winner in the 27th minute of extra time. It was the first time Liverpool had won the FA Cup.
Central to Shankly’s Liverpool machine was the extraordinary training regime that he and his staff had instituted at the club. One of Shankly’s first decisions was to abandon the previous management’s policy of conditioning the players through road running. Under Shankly, Liverpool would do all of their training on grass at the rebuilt Melwood facility rather than pounding the streets of Liverpool, putting their ankles and knees at risk. Bob Paisley’s experience as the club’s physiotherapist then saw the Boot Room team institute a cool down period immediately after training. Paisley had noticed that the majority of deep tissue injuries were caused when players dived straight into a hot bath immediately after having finished physical exertion. It was Joe Fagan who hit upon the right formula: players would assemble at Anfield and then travel by bus to Melwood. There, they would be warmed up by Reuben Bennett before running through Shankly’s regime of ball-centred work.
Afterwards, they would return to Anfield and eat a meal together before bathing and going their separate ways. It is a crystalline demonstration of the way the Boot Room system worked: Shankly’s philosophy demanded a certain set of targets be met, his staff innovate until they are. The results were there for all to see: the team, bonded by their travels to and from training and their shared mealtime, had an understanding and spirit which was more akin to that of a family. Allied to this, their fitness was absolutely second to none: in winning the 1965/66 championship, Liverpool would use just 14 different players.
Under Shankly, Liverpool would win one more league championship title – in 1972/73 – as well as a first UEFA Cup title in the same season and a second FA Cup the following year. This, a rip-roaring 3-0 defeat of Newcastle United, would prove to be his final match in charge. However, the gap between the 1966 title and this late flourish of success would be the most fallow spell of the club’s next quarter of a century. Possibly as a result of having done so much in such a short space of time, Shankly took his eye off of the ball – relatively speaking – in the middle years of his reign, proving slow to identify the evolutionary steps that required to maintain their level of performance. However, the system that he had put in place would guarantee they would not lag behind for long. No longer was one man solely responsible for the fortunes of Liverpool Football Club: Joe Fagan’s efforts saw to it that Ian Callaghan and Tommy Smith come through the ranks. And when, in 1969/70, Liverpool finished a distant fifth, 15 points shy of champions Everton, Tom Saunders was on hand to bring Steve Heighway through the youth ranks.
Meanwhile, new chief scout Geoff Twentyman was able to unearth Cardiff City’s John Toshack and a player from Fourth Division Scunthorpe United who Shankly considered so central to his second great Liverpool side that he dedicated a whole chapter to him in his autobiography: Kevin Keegan. But was the Boot Room system the reason for Liverpool’s meteoric rise and consistency? Eventually. However, Liverpool’s success under Shankly was a result of Shankly himself. Firstly, he led by example and by force of his personality. While it would be disingenuous to say that he was not particularly interested in tactics or systems, his main contribution was to change the way Liverpool Football Club THOUGHT. Under the Shanklian philosophy, no aspect of the business of winning football matches was too small to be deemed insignificant. Shankly, for example, was responsible for the team’s change to playing in an all-red kit. He was also a pioneer of changing the length of the studs on the players boots depending on the playing conditions. It is Shankly, too, who established Youth Development as central to the development and continuity of a football club.
Shankly considered three things as central to success in football. Firstly, honesty: a two-way system of accountablity was established. Fans, coaches and players alike all had a responsibility to themselves and to each other. There was nowhere to hide. Secondly, the importance of expression. Shankly believed that football should be an outlet for creativity and fun. “Enjoy yourselves, boys”, would be his key instruction before training began. Ultimately, though, it was the third, training, which was central to his revolution. Shankly came from an era where football players were conditioned by being run along roads or hopped and skipped around gymnasia. Everything, in other words, to put off giving them a ball. This, the prevailing orthodoxy had it, would make them hungrier for it on Saturday afternoon. Shankly tore up this manual and started again. Liverpool’s players were flabbergasted: not only was all their training now taking place at a rebuilt, dedicated facility and entirely on grass, but wherever possible they were expected to do everything with a ball at their feet.
Shankly’s focus was designing drills which focused on high intensity, speed, ball control and technique. Speed of thought, too, was encouraged as just as important as speed of feet. He set great store by five-a-side football, which he used to play as an apprentice miner in his home town. However, these were not aimless kickabouts: Shankly insisted that training be conducted with the intensity and focus of a competitive match. One of his favourite activities was a three-a-side game played on a small, 45 x 25 yard pitch enclosed within wooden boards to prevent the ball ever going out of play. It was an activity that would often leave the players exhausted to the point of physical collapse. However, it was also an activity that encouraged creativity and expression, while the players at rival clubs underwent training aimed at perfecting regimes and learning by rote. “Everything we do here is for a purpose,” Shankly said to his charges. “It has been tried and tested and is so simple that anybody can understand it. But if you think it is so simple that it is not worth doing then you are wrong. The simple things are the ones that count.”
It was this that made Shankly’s Liverpool the team they were. Players came to view themselves as a cog in a machine designed to quickly and effectively move the football forward and towards its target. Pass and move was the Liverpool groove long before their FA Cup song put a name to it after the horse had bolted. Shankly’s retirement, in June 1974, came as a shock to everyone within the English game but the Boot Room system meant that its effects were barely felt. Indeed, with Bob Paisley shuffled into the top job, the club went from strength to strength. If their rivals thought that the club’s failure to win anything in Paisley’s first season was portentious, the following nine set them straight. From 1974/75 until his retirement in 1983, Liverpool under Bob Paisley would win at least one trophy every season.
Paisley retained Shankly’s system more or less completely, with Joe Fagan becoming assistant manager and Ronnie Moran moving into Fagan’s vacated role as reserve coach. Roy Evans stepped up from the playing staff to join the Boot Room. Paisley kept the faith, too, with the styles of play and training espoused by his predecessor. However, Paisley, always the tactical brain during the Shankly era, also proved capable of moving with the times. He added a more direct ball forward to Liverpool’s repertoire, in keeping with the overall developments in the English game. It made his Liverpool an irrepressable force. Under Paisley, Liverpool won titles in 1976, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982 and 1983; the UEFA Cup in 1976 and three League Cups between 1981 and 1983. They also became the champions of Europe three times, in 1977, 1978 and 1981. Not until Carlo Ancelotti, in 2015, did a manager equal Paisley’s record of three European Cups.
They were even able to weather the effects of the post-Shankly era. Shankly retired in 1974, citing the fact that he was tired. However, it was almost certainly premature. He was itching to be involved, publically dismissive of the club for not affording him the status that his achievements ought to have merited, such as tickets to away games or European fixtures. The Liverpool and Shankly relationship began to become frosty, even antagonistic. When he would turn up at training sessions, it made life particularly uncomfortable for Bob Paisley: mindful of his mentor’s role in his and the club’s success but similarly aware of his need to retain command in the same way that Shankly himself would have. Bill Shankly died of heart failure in September 1981, aged 68. The following summer, Liverpool erected the Shankly Gates at the entrance to the stadium, a permanent monument to their greatest manager.
The philosophy and practice that Shankly had put in place remained central in spite of his passing. When a player was identified as weak or at the end of their usefulness, he could be accurately and quickly replaced without any loss to the efficiency of the team as a whole. When Kevin Keegan decided he needed to move on and move to Hamburg, Kenny Dalglish was seamlessly integrated from Celtic. For every potential bump in the road, Liverpool seemed to not just be able to damp it down but to continually come back stronger. Upon Paisley’s departure, Joe Fagan was promoted. Like Paisley, he was a reluctant appointment. Like Paisley, he changed little and reaped the rewards: in his first season in charge, Liverpool won the League, League Cup and European Cup treble.
That night in Rome, with Bruce Grobbelaar’s wobbly legs and Alan Kennedy’s winning penalty, with hindsight now appears to be a line in the sand. It was far from the last great triumph for the Anfield Boot Room, but it was probably the first step towards its eventual break-up. The following season, 1984/85, Liverpool finished second in the league to Everton but worse, far worse, was to come in the European Cup final against Juventus at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels. Fagan retired from the club he had served for nearly 30 years, broken by the experience. His successor would be Kenny Dalglish, promoted to player/manager.
The conventional narrative of the decline and fall of Liverpool’s Boot Room era is that it was disassembled by Graeme Souness, after the club appointed the Glasgow Rangers manager and former Liverpool captain as Kenny Dalglish’s successor in 1991. What does Souness no favours in this regard is that his regime did oversee the actual physical demolition of the Boot Room: development of a larger, Premier League-ready, media room at Anfield necessitated its removal. However, I think that, upon closer analysis, history may have been a little hasty and a little unkind to Souness. There’s an argument that the person who fiddled while Rome burnt was, in fact, Dalglish himself.
If you are looking for clues of this disintegration early in the Dalglish era, you are out of luck. In 1985/86, his first season in charge, the club won the League and FA Cup double for the first time in their history. However, if you look under the covers, the evidence is there. Bill Shankly had died, Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan now in retirement. Reuben Bennett and Tom Saunders, too, would follow them at the end of the 1986 season. The classic five man Boot Room was no more, and while Dalglish could still call upon the experience of Ronnie Moran and Roy Evans, he himself had never been a part of the inner circle. While Dalglish looked to all extents and purposes to be a continuation of the line of succession, he was in fact the first break in the chain.
The most damning evidence against Dalglish, however, is that he also quickly dispensed with the services of the chief scout Geoff Twentyman – a man who had uncovered previously unheralded players of the calibre of Kevin Keegan, Alan Hansen and Ian Rush – and the reserve manager Chris Lawler. The latter would have been utterly unthinkable under Shankly: the second string was where the philosophy and style expected of Liverpool Football Club was inculated into psyche of the next generation of great Liverpool sides. Dalglish was breaking up all of the failsafe systems that Shankly’s system had installed and flying without a net.
But flying they still were. Dalglish’s Liverpool remain perhaps the most thrilling ball-playing side that Britain has produced. Tom Finney called their 5-0 demolition of a fine, if young, Nottingham Forest side in April 1988 the finest display of football that he had ever seen. Finney was a former Preston teammate and idol of Bill Shankly, so there is no doubt he would have been greatly touched by the compliment. Whether or not Shankly would have approved of some of Dalglish’s methods, however, is more open to question.
In 1986/87, Everton once again pipped their rivals to the championship. Liverpool’s response was to sign Peter Beardsley, John Barnes, Ray Houghton and John Aldridge. The team they formed, forged in the furnace of non-stop five-a-side football at Melwood, is perhaps the greatest that Anfield had ever seen. However, there was a big difference: for the first time, Liverpool were having to rely on their accumulated financial clout in order to retain their position at the top of the tree. Shankly, Paisley and Fagan were able to rely on the keen eye of Geoff Twentyman to find just the man at just the right price in the lower leagues and upon the steady influence and experience of Tom Saunders in educating the next generation of local talent. Dalglish, it seemed, was a cheque book manager.
While there is no question that the initial results were magnificent, the law of diminishing returns soon came into play. With no European football to help boost the club’s coffers, the lack of any real substantial back-up plan would wreak havoc a few years down the line. Which is where Graeme Souness came in. Yes, Graeme Souness signed Paul Stewart, Julian Dicks and Neil Ruddock. But he also signed Mark Wright and Dean Saunders, two of the finest players in the league at the time. Such wholesale changes were forced upon him, too, by the increasingly elderly and depleted squad that he inherited: Alan Hansen had retired; Ronnie Whelan, Steve McMahon and Ian Rush had begun to lose their edge; John Aldridge had just returned to the English game after a sojourn in Spanish football but had chosen to become a player-coach down the road at Tranmere Rovers. Souness’s plan was to rebuilt a new team around the country’s best player, John Barnes. But, unfortunately, hindsight shows that he, too, was past his brilliant peak.
What Souness found at Liverpool was a club whose soul was in decline. As a former great, he could see it, smell it and feel it. The managerial structure which had given the team such a solid foundation was gone and, at Melwood, he saw no great social leaders or character amongst the playing staff. Souness retained the services of Ronnie Moran and Roy Evans, but sensed that the players were now overly deferential – or, worse yet, dismissive – of these club grandees. The culture of dialogue and dialectics had vanished.
Souness was, to be clear, not entirely blameless in this decline. He made a big mistake early on in selling Peter Beardsley, who he thought was now, at 30, over the hill. Beardsley would go on to enjoy the form of his life throughout the mid-1990s, while his replacement, Nigel Clough, had plateaued.
Souness also offloaded Gary Gillespie, Steve McMahon and Ray Houghton, all experienced senior professionals still capable of doing a job and, potentially, being brought into the coaching structure as the next generation of Liverpool management. Barry Venison, too, went back home to Newcastle to reap the benefits of Kevin Keegan’s whirlwind. One of the home-grown players, Gary Ablett, was also offloaded. Ablett was never going to set the Kop alight, but he was nevertheless a more than capable performer with a vital knowledge of the inner workings of the club. The cherry on this particular cake was a short-lived FA rule capping the number of non-UK players allowed in the matchday squad, which forced Souness to sell Steve Staunton, one of the club’s most versatile and promising young players, on account of an Irish passport.
In spite of their win against Sunderland in the 1992 FA Cup final, the Souness era was as fallow a time as anyone who had followed the club had seen in the past 40 years. Souness left the club in 1994, to be replaced by Roy Evans. Evans was a direct line to the Shanklian dynasty, although he had not himself trained as a coach under the Scot’s guidance. He oversaw an upturn in fortunes inspired by the cream of the new Melwood crop, Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler. However, their supporting cast still needed to be brought in at a premium, and Liverpool’s meagre recent form meant that every Jamie Redknapp, Stan Collymore or Patrik Berger would potentially come at a long term cost greater than its benefit. For all their competitiveness during Evans’ tenure, however, all the club would have to show for it was a desperately disappointing performance in the 1996 FA Cup final against Manchester United.
Ronnie Moran retired from Liverpool at the end of the 1997/98 season. He would be followed, shortly after, by Evans himself: humiliatingly relegated to co-manager during the summer when the club appointed Gerard Houllier, he resigned in November. It was the final full stop in an era that had been crying out to be euthanised for the bulk of the 1990s. Houllier and his successor Rafael Benitez managed to bring back some measure of success to the club, particularly in European competition. Critically, from the Liverpool supporters’ perspective, a nineteenth league title eluded them. Worse still, their bitterest rivals Manchester United – reaping the benefits of their own great dynasty under Sir Alex Ferguson – filled their boots. When, in 2010/11, United overhauled their record of 18 league championship titles, Liverpool finished in sixth place in the table, 22 points in arrears.
Bob Paisley retired in 1983 and remains England’s greatest club football manager, although like his nearest rival Brian Clough, an FA Cup win would elude him. Over his 44 years of service, Paisley represented Liverpool in every footballing capacity. During his retirement he would continue to advise Kenny Dalglish on an informal basis and he was interviewed for the Republic of Ireland job that was eventually taken by Jack Charlton. His later life was beset by Alzheimer’s disease and he died on 14th February 1996. He is commemorated, like Shankly, by a set of gates leading into Anfield.
Tom Saunders and Joe Fagan, the two Liverpudlian members of the canonical Boot Room team, died within eight days of one another during the summer of 2001. While Fagan had spent his retirement in quiet seclusion, increasingly troubled by health problems, Saunders had been appointed to the Anfield board in 1993, where he helped both Graeme Souness and Roy Evans during their managerial spells. Reuben Bennett, the only member of the original Boot Room quartet never to manage the club, died in 1989 aged 76. Of the surviving members of the Boot Room story, Ronnie Moran died earlier this year at the age of 83. Roy Evans is now 68 and works as a commentator and analyst for Liverpool TV. Kenny Dalglish is 65 and would go on to manage Blackburn Rovers to a Premier League title in 1995. Brief spells at Newcastle United and Celtic followed, before an unsuccessful return to the Anfield dugout in 2011/12 after the dismissal of Roy Hodgson. He is now an non-executive director at the club. In 2006, he topped a poll of Liverpool supporters to find the 100 Players Who Shook The Kop.
Can Liverpool recapture the spirit of the Shankly revolution? Is it a prerequisite of achieving success? The answer to both questions, is probably no. This is not to say that Liverpool’s story is done: after all, they have been here, and lower, before. To try and reimagine a Boot Room-style dynasty is perhaps an over-simplistic view, but as Shankly said, being dismissive of something just because it is simple is a foolhardy enterprise. Jurgen Klopp is the man currently tasked with the almost impossible dream to re-establish the club’s standing. Klopp’s regime looks to be moving them in the right direction but, if and when it does ultimately bear fruit, it will be more surely a continuation of Klopp’s success with Borussia Dortmund than it is a reprise of the days of yore at Anfield, when Shankly, Paisley, Fagan and Dalglish were king.