"It's like being given the Queen Elizabeth to steer in a force 10 gale" - Paisley when appointed as Liverpool's manager.
On 12th July 1974 Bill Shankly rocked the football world by resigning his post as Liverpool's manager. His recommendation to the board was that his able no. 1 Bob Paisley should take charge. Fortunately for Liverpool and their legion of fans, the board listened. The King was dead, long live the King. A quite unique journey from pre-war player to manager had taken Paisley some thirty-five years. The next nine years would dwarf everything that had gone before it.
On 27th July 1974 in the Liverpool Daily Post under the headline: "Marching into Shankly's shoes" Reds fans got to know who was following their hero:
"Two weeks of speculation were ended last night when the annual meeting of Liverpool Football Club heard Bob Paisley named as the club's new manager. It's a job many have already labelled "Mission Impossible".
As Shankly's running-mate for 15 years, Paisley says: "Nobody could have greater respect and admiration for the boss and and I would be failing him if after all that time I could not plunge into the job with confidence. I will probably never be able to equal the wonderful relationship he has with the crowd but I do claim I will be his equal in loyalty and dedication.
"I have always had and always will have every bit as great a hunger for trophies and thirst for success as he has. I am not the least overawed by the size of the job. Routines don't change and Bill has always been a boss who believed in allowing his staff to use their own talents. He has intefered only rarely and quite honestly, I don't think he has had much to complain about. We have always had a great team behind the team at Anfield. That's the way I will try to keep it. You don't play around with ideas that have proved to work. You just feed and water them."
From 1959 to 1974 Liverpool went from 2nd division to winning the league title three times, FA cup twice and the UEFA Cup once. Since 1971 Paisley had been assistant manager. Who could suspect that the pupil would progress further than his teacher?
Let's make it clear straightaway by saying Bob didn't really want the job as manager after Shanks resigned. The popular avuncular figure saw himself more as a physio rather than management material.
Jessie Paisley, his wife, said: "The persuasion was that he did it for the sake of the others there because he was afraid that when another manager came, was what they did in those days, they‘d bring in their own staff with them. He was afraid that might happen. So he took it for the sake of everybody else as well as himself."
Things started off reasonably well for Bob the boss. A good start to the season saw Liverpool head the table for a while, but then again so did the likes of Sheffield United and Carlisle United during that crazy season!
A tricky patch in November gave Bob's critics the chance to have a snipe. Maybe Bob didn't help himself at times though. A nice enough guy, Bob, but never really comfortable when facing the media. Where Shanks would court publicity Bob would shy away from it. Watching Bob in front of a TV camera would make you squirm in embarrassment for him. It was like being present at an argument between a married couple; no way out you just had to sit there and suffer 'til it was over!
Bob addressed his critics on 9th of December 1974 after four draws in a row not having won a match in six weeks: "It's the crowd I feel sorry for because they are as frustrated as the players, who are affected by the atmosphere generated from the terraces. I took over an established side when I became manager. I have tried not to disturb the side, to give everyone a fair crack of the whip, to keep faith with them, to give them a vote of confidence. I have leaned over backwards to help them individually and to give them every chance. Some may have taken that as a sign of weakness in me. Now the time has come to act to show that I can be as strong as anyone."
Despite their lack of success in recent weeks Liverpool were still in fourth place, only two points behind top team Stoke with a game in hand, owing to their excellent start to the season.
Bob's first season ended in failure; Liverpool only finished second! "I'll admit, right away, that I am disappointed that we did not have a major trophy to show for our efforts. We were in four and we had a good side, but when you count second place as failure, then standards are becoming fantastically high. We never celebrate second place here."
The groundwork had been laid though for the majesty that was ahead. Bob had the knack of turning ordinary players into good ones, good ones into greats and greats into Kenny Dalglish! The previously unheard of, Phil Neal, had been bought by Paisley, three months after taking over, to fill a problematic full-back position. Terry McDermott, an average midfielder at Newcastle who must have thought the nearest he would get to Liverpool glory was swapping shirts with Phil Thompson after the Cup Final, was signed but made no immediate impact. Players like Peter Cormack, Brian Hall, Phil Boersma, and Chris Lawler were now surplus to requirements and were gradually phased out. A young, tough midfielder, Jimmy Case, was brought in for the last match of the '74-'75 season. Where had this gem emerged? South Liverpool for a fee of £10,000! Bob's greatest masterstrokes though were to lay before him.
Shanks had signed Ray Kennedy for a big fee from Arsenal on the day of his departure. Big Razor hadn't exactly torn down any trees in his first eighteen months at Anfield until Bob saw something in him that nobody else had. Ray would make a great left midfield player. He had formed a brilliant strike partnership at Highbury with John Radford, which had helped Arsenal win the double in 1970- '71, but he hadn't cut the mustard so far at Anfield. "Trust me", said Bob. He was to be proved right. Razor's left foot could open a tin of beans!
A mad dog of a full-back, Joey Jones was signed from Wrexham but again struggled at first and was used only sparingly in the '75-'76 season. Terry Mac fell into the same bracket and his frustrations were to lead him to make a transfer request which thankfully for him and Liverpool was refused. Bob had great plans for him! Bob also saw something in a young lad, David Fairclough, that said, "Not quite good enough for a regular first team place but lethal as a substitute when a short, sharp burst is needed." Davy wasn't happy with his supersub tag but that's what he certainly was!
Bob's team, as distinct from Shanks', which he had inherited, was gradually taking shape. The players he was bringing in along with the now established nucleus of Clemence, Neal, Thompson, Hughes, Keegan, Heighway, Toshack and Callaghan were starting to look more than the part. In other words he was combining the great players left from the Shankly era with his own men to form one master team. The League Championship and UEFA Cup were won in what after all was only Bob's second season. As a physio he made a bloody good manager! As a "trainer" he made a great tactician. Maybe even he didn't realise he was a coaching genius! Underneath the "Uncle Bob" façade he had a ruthless streak. Never frightened to discipline a player who had stepped out of line. Never frightened to drop a player who wasn't doing the business, no matter who they were! A banner at Molineux when Liverpool won the League summed it up: QPR: Quality from Paisley's Reds.
Bob's first European trophy, the UEFA Cup was brought to Anfield that season after two titanic games in the final against Bruges. Phil Neal had a nightmare in the first leg at Anfield, which Liverpool won 3-2 after being two goals down. Despite calls for Neal to be dropped for the second leg, Bob stuck with him. Phil had a storming game in Bruges, which was drawn 1-1. Paisley is pictured looking at a miniature of the UEFA Cup.
The start of the 1976-77 season saw the arrival of David Johnson from Ipswich. Dave was one of the best centre-forwards in the country at the time but like a lot of good players struggled to maintain a regular starting place at Anfield. Mad Dog Jones made the left-back position his own as Phil Neal was switched again to right-back by Bob with brilliant effect. Now Joey wasn't the best player in the world. He wasn't even the best player in his house! What he lacked in skill though he made up for in heart. He would have run round the world twice for Liverpool! Bob recognised this and the effect it had not only the crowd but on Joey's team mates too. Joey let wingers know he was there though. More than one ended up in the Paddock with the Kop roaring him on! Joey's clenched fist salute to the Kop was to become his trademark.
Meanwhile Bob had switched Terry Mac from a journeyman right midfielder into a central midfielder who could run "box to box" and support the strikers with lethal effect. With Ray Kennedy throwing his left foot bombs in and around the penalty area this made the most of Terry Mac's boundless energy. A bad injury to Phil Thompson curtailed his season. The "soon to be retired" Tommy Smith was drafted in to his place. John Toshack's days were numbered as his number of thigh injuries were gradually catching up with him. The League was won with a lot more ease than it had been the previous season. The Double was thwarted by Manchester United. Then came the glory that was Rome!
David Johnson's erratic form and a poor display in the Cup Final meant Ian Callaghan took his place in Rome. A midfielder for a striker? Negative? Not a bit of it! Bob's tactics paid off handsomely as Liverpool ran out 3-1 winners against BMG. Terry Mac's goal justified just why he was in the team. I don't think even Bob though would have claimed a tactical "assist" with Tommy Smith's goal! Keegan though, in his greatest ever display for Liverpool, was running Bertie Vogts and co ragged with his non-stop running and aggression, again part of Bob's tactical plan. Vogts in the end was so tired of Kevin running at him that he conceded the penalty, which sealed Liverpool's first European Cup. Bob didn't touch a drop of alcohol that night as he said he wanted to savour the victory rather than have his brain befuddled. The same couldn't be said for the fans though, or the players for that matter!
As a footnote to that glorious evening, Frank Keating, the Guardian's former chief sports writer, not one to dispel myth, says that even though Paisley didn't drink that night, he sure wanted to:
"The party afterwards was at the Holiday Inn, just down from St Peter's itself. It was the last of its type. It was still (just) the age of soccer's innocence then. The press were invited and the world and his wife were allowed to gatecrash so long as they were decked in red.
"A number of the obits to Paisley mentioned that, however much the champagne bubbled, the beaming manager bursting out of his ill-fitting Burton's blue suit refused to take a drink, so he could "drink in the atmosphere and the achievement".
"Well, true in fact but not in theory. Halfway through the do a big mitt gripped my arm fondly. "A Keating's a boy who should know," said Bob. "D'you think there's any chance of getting a bottle of Guinness round here?" I searched every nook. The St Peter's Holiday Inn did not stock Guinness. "Ah me," said Bob, "that means only me and the Pope up the road and Horace [Yates, the teetotal sports editor of the Liverpool Daily Post] over there are the only three sober men in Rome tonight."
Paisley addressed the crowd from St George's hall after the European win in 1977.
Paisley said: "In the 38 years I've been here, this excels everything.
And of course it's the biggest day in Liverpool Football Club's life."
"Bob pinpointed strengths and weaknesses better than any manager I've ever played for or ever met. He wasn't great with words but when he did say something, you always took notice because ninety-nine times out of a hundred he was spot-on. He had this line about the first two yards at the top level being in your head. When he first said it to me I thought it was rubbish. But the more I played the game, the more I realised it was so true."