This story is about a gruff, quote-worthy coach who single-handidly built a football dynasty in the 1960s. No, this isn’t a review of the upcoming Broadway play based on the life of Vince Lombardi. Rather, it’s an interesting story about another type of football coach, born the same year as Vince, whose persona and achievements closely mirror those of Lombardi. Eerily so, in some cases. I call him “Vince Lombardi with an Accent”. This fine piece of historical comparison is brought to you by guest author Fran Dunn, a Packer fan from “across the pond”, known as “baboons” on twitter.
“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
I wonder how many of you reading that quote thought you’d missed an excerpt from one of Vince Lombardi’s famous speeches. Don’t worry, you haven’t. These words belong to Bill Shankly, the manager of English football team Liverpool in the 1960s. Shankly created a team, a dynasty that would live past his retirement and untimely death in 1981.
If Green Bay is TitleTown USA, then Liverpool is the English equivalent. It remains English football’s most successful team, being national champions 18 times and European champions five times. Whilst many of these titles would come after he left the club, it was Shankly’s ideas, Shankly’s philosophy, Shankly’s “way” that was responsible for the success. Shankly and Lombardi were men cut from the same cloth.
AL’s Note: Listen to Shankly’s words. This is Vince Lombardi with an Accent:
Bill Shankly was born just three months after Lombardi, in September 1913, far from the cauldron of Brooklyn in the Scottish mining village of Glenbuck. One of ten children, his family lived a spartan life. The one respite for the young Shankly was the cinema. An eight mile round trip to the nearest picture house by foot would take him to the heartland of American cities and their mobster gangs.
His love of James Cagney and Edward G Robinson would follow him into his managerial career, often quoting movies at players he believed weren’t pulling their weight. “Foist is foist and second is nut’n,” he would say, pointing out that mobsters, not sportsmen were the true “hard men” – if they made a mistake, they were shot dead. Even his speech, soaked in a broad Ayrshire accent that would never be diluted despite years in England, mirrored Cagney’s machine gun delivery.
Shankly: “I believe the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other, everyone helping each other, and everyone having a share of the rewards at the end of the day.”
Lombardi: “People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society.”
Upon leaving school, like most boys, he went down the mine, spending two years in the black pits before being made unemployed. It was this harsh upbringing that created an intense belief that honesty, effort and hard work were what were required in all aspects of life. In Tv interview he said, “If I had a job to do, even it was scrubbing the floor, I wanted my floor to be cleaner than yours. If everyone thinks along these lines, and does all of the small jobs to the best of their ability, that’s honesty. Then the world would be better, and football would be better, so what we want is hard work. No football club has ever been successful without hard work.”
Shankly turned down Liverpool’s initial approach in 1951, furious that the Directors wanted to vet his team selections. “If I don’t pick the team, what am I manager of?” he said. But in December 1959, ten months after Lombardi launched his regime at Green Bay, the club came back, giving him complete control over the team. Not that he wouldn’t continue to battle with the boardroom; it would be years before he was able to bring in all the players he wanted. The press asked if he felt pressure, coming to a club that had fallen from former glories but which retained a passion for success. “Pressure is working down the pit. Pressure is having no work at all. Pressure is not the European Cup or the Championship or the Cup Final. That’s the reward.”
Shankly: “Football is a simple game based on the giving and taking of passes, of controlling the ball and of making yourself available to receive a pass. It is terribly simple.”
Lombardi: “Some people try to find things in this game that don’t exist but football is only two things – blocking and tackling.”
Whilst Shanks spoke publicly about the simplicity of the game, he was ahead of his time for bringing science to sport. He studied physiotherapy and learnt the importance of diet to the athlete. Players had previously enjoyed a large meal on the night prior to the game. Shankly stopped this, taking them to a hotel the night before home or road games, arriving at 10pm for tea, toast and honey – and his cherished “The Untouchables” on Tv.
“On the day of the match, three hours before the kick-off, they could have a steak or chicken or poached eggs. It was a simple diet and the word “simple” came into most of my football thinking in training and playing as well. The food players had before a match is to preserve their strength, not build it up.”
In 1965 Shankly changed the club’s kit to all red, something that has remained unchanged ever since. He believed the players looked like giants and played like giants, that the kit had a psychological effect on the opposition.
Shankly: “Fire in your belly comes from pride and passion in wearing the red shirt. We don’t need to motivate players because each of them is responsible for the performance of the team as a whole. The status of Liverpool’s players keeps them motivated.”
Lombardi: “The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.”
Shankly transformed not only the club, but also how football was played across the country. He created an absolute bond between the team and the fans, forged at the height of The Beatles’ success, but one that lasts to this day. The Kop – an all standing mass of life at one end of the Anfield stadium – found its voice, if not sartorial elegance:
AL’s Note: Amazing – 1964 Liverpool fans singing Beatles’ “She Loves You”
Shankly turned Liverpool around. Under his stewardship the club were English champions three times, won the FA Cup twice and their first European trophy in 1973. After he retired in 1974, his backroom team took over. Bob Paisley kept the winning streak going, building on Shankly’s success, making the team the most successful in English history. But it was all built on Shanks.
“My idea was to build Liverpool into a bastion of invincibility. 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.”
Lombardi and Shankly, born only months, yet thousands of miles apart, had a huge impact on their teams and sports, through the enforcement of a simple philosophy built on hard work, honesty and teamwork.
Fran Dunn, born in Liverpool, England, saw his first American Football game on TV in 1982 and has been a fan ever since. He’s not sure exactly why he gravitated towards the Packers, but I surmise that as he learned about the legend of Vince Lombardi, the similarities with Liverpool hero Bill Shankly sealed the deal. It certainly wasn’t the “great” Packers teams of the 80s that drew him in. he is now a rabid Packers fans, watching every game and his youngest son has dream of playing football in the NFL. Fran will be visiting Lambeau Field for the first time next year.——————
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.