Liverpool would not be the famous football club it is today if not for Bill Shankly. The Scotsman was manager of Liverpool FC from 1959 to 1974, taking the team from the English second division to the top of the table, winning league titles, FA Cup and one UEFA Cup, and laying the groundwork for the European Cup-winning years that followed his retirement.
Shankly’s work ethic and extreme dedication to football—made immortal by his famous “life and death” quote—were matched by his quick wit and ability to conjure memorable phrases. The 30 selected Shankly quotes below (which could easily have been 100) give some idea of the man’s drive and ambition, but also his paternal nature, the reason players were motivated to play for him, and how one man created a winning culture at Liverpool FC.
How to play football
A football team is like a piano. You need eight men to carry it and three who can play the damn thing.
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.
The trouble with referees is that they know the rules, but they don’t know the game.
If you’ve got three Scots in your side, you’ve got a chance of winning something. If you’ve got any more, you’re in trouble.
If a player is not interfering with play or seeking to gain an advantage, then he should be.
At a football club, there’s a holy trinity: the players, the manager and the supporters. Directors don’t come into it. They are only there to sign the cheques.
If you are first you are first. If you are second you are nothing.
Pressure is working down the pit. Pressure is having no work at all. Pressure is trying to escape relegation on 50 shillings a week. Pressure is not the European Cup or the Championship or the Cup Final. That’s the reward.
I want to build a team that’s invincible, so that they have to send a team from bloody Mars to beat us.
This is to remind our lads who they’re playing for, and to remind the opposition who they’re playing against. (About the “This is Anfield” plaque.)
Bob [Paisley] and I never had any rows. We didn’t have any time for that. We had to plan where we were going to keep all the cups we won.
A lot of football success is in the mind. You must believe you are the best and then make sure that you are. In my time at Anfield we always said we had the best two teams on Merseyside, Liverpool and Liverpool reserves.
If you can’t make decisions in life, you’re a bloody menace. You’d be better becoming an MP!
For a player to be good enough to play for Liverpool, he must be prepared to run through a brick wall for me then come out fighting on the other side.
Yes Roger Hunt misses a few, but he gets in the right place to miss them.
Tommy Smith wasn’t born, he was quarried.
He’s not just the best centre-forward in the British Isles, but the only one. (On Ian St. John.)
If you’re not sure what to do with the ball, just pop it in the net and we’ll discuss your options afterwards.
Shankly saved some of his best lines for poking fun at Liverpool’s Merseyside rivals, Everton, but the jokes belied a great respect for the city’s other team.
When I’ve nothing better to do, I look down the league table to see how Everton are getting along.
If Everton were playing at the bottom of the garden, I’d pull the curtains.
Sickness would not have kept me away from this one. If I’d been dead, I would have had them bring the casket to the ground, prop it up in the stands, and cut a hole in the lid. (After Liverpool beat Everton in the 1971 FA Cup semi-final)
Never mind Alan, at least you’ll be able to play next to a great team. (To Alan Ball, who had just signed for Everton)
The difference between Everton and the Queen Mary is that Everton carry more passengers!
Liverpool was made for me and I was made for Liverpool.
Of course I didn’t take my wife to see Rochdale as an anniversary present. It was her birthday. Would I have got married in the football season? Anyway, it was Rochdale reserves.
Forget the Beatles and all the rest. This is the real Liverpool sound. It’s real singing, and it’s what the Kop is all about.
Although I’m a Scot, I’d be proud to be called a Scouser.
I was only in the game for the love of football – and I wanted to bring back happiness to the people of Liverpool.
But that’s where I live! (To a Brussels hotel clerk who said Shankly couldn’t just put “Anfield” as his address.)
It was the most difficult thing in the world, when I went to tell the chairman. It was like walking to the electric chair. That’s the way it felt. (On resigning in 1974.)
Shankly is often quoted as saying:
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.
It’s a quote that is now used to illustrate Shankly’s devotion to the game, but it’s a little out of context and edited down. His original quote is much longer, and about the fraternal love and rivalry that exists among Liverpool and Everton fans.
I’ve seen supporters on Merseyside going to the ground together, one wearing red and white and the other blue and white, which is unusual elsewhere. You get families in Liverpool in which half support Liverpool and the other half Everton. They support rival teams but they have the same temperament and they know each other. They are unique in the sense that their rivalry is so great but there is no real aggro between them. This is quite amazing.
I am not saying they love each other. Oh, no. Football is not a matter of life and death … it’s much more important than that. And it’s more important to them than that. But I’ve never seen a fight at a derby game. Shouting and bawling … yes. But they don’t fight each other. And that says a lot for them.