By LIVINGESHAN KRISHNAN
ANY CONVERSATION about the history of Liverpool Football Club must begin, and end, with Bill Shankly.
Shanks, as he was affectionately known, transformed the fortunes of Liverpool and the landscape of English football after he was appointed manager in 1959.
English football columnist and pundit Bob Holmes, who was a fixture in theSun Sports pages before his retirement, is a Nottingham Forest fan and a Liverpool sympathiser.
His observation of the legions of Liverpool fans in this part of the world led him to write his latest book, Shanks, Yanks, and Jurgen: The Men Behind Liverpool’s Rise, Slip, and Rise Again, in which he traces these three key figures behind the genesis of modern Liverpool.
How important is it for young Liverpool fans to know about Shankly?
“It’s essential – he was the founding father of modern Liverpool, after all. Given the scale of his achievement, the abject poverty of his origins and the wealth of the club today, every fan should know about him.
“The extra passion that Liverpool fans have is partly down to his influence. He planted the seeds. For a Liverpool fan not to know about Shankly would be like an Indian not knowing about Gandhi.
You’ve said this to me before: “Liverpool, they’re not quite English”. What are they?
“Liverpudlians (or Scousers) consider themselves a little different – and the rest of the country agrees. The city has had a constant flow of immigrants, mainly from Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but also the rest of the world.
Many passed through to America but many also stayed, so the city has always been more cosmopolitan than any other in the UK, except for London, of course. And it has a fiercely independent streak.”
You’ve been in Malaysia for 25 years now. When you look at Liverpool fans here, what do you think?
“They are as passionate as they are in Liverpool, but then so are the Indonesian Liverpool fans, and the Thais. Even in countries where football is not the official sporting religion, such as Australia and the US, the Liverpool fans are the same.
“Two of the most spine-tingling renderings of You’ll Never Walk Alone have been in Melbourne and Michigan, where they attracted 100,000 crowds for pre-season friendlies.”
You’re a Forest fan and your hero is Brian Clough. How do you see him and Shankly?
“Shankly was a hero of mine even before Clough. There are similarities, but key differences.
“Clough was not as well-liked by his players as Shankly. Respected and feared, yes, but there was not the love that most Liverpool players had for Shankly, who was a warmer personality.
“There was mutual admiration between the two men. Shanks tried to sign Clough as a player, and, when he was manager, Clough ‘signed’ Shankly to help Forest on a couple of occasions with motivational talks.”
What led you to write this book?
“Jurgen Klopp reminded me of Shankly. He’s very different, obviously, from a different country and two or three generations removed, but they share similar traits – the emphasis on teamwork, respect for the fans and even politically, where both are left of centre.
“I thought the Shankly story needed to be told in Malaysia where the old-timers know him but the younger ones merely know the name. So with Klopp inspiring a return to the glory days and restoring some of the Shankly values, it enabled me to link the two and give a nice arc to the story.
“The title came from banners that protesters carried during the [Tom] Hicks and [George] Gillett era – ‘Built by Shanks, Broke by Yanks’.
But, of course, it has also been rebuilt by another set of Yanks – Fenway Sports Group (FSG) – which has proved as smart and empathetic to the club as Hicks and Gillett were destructive. So the wildly contrasting reigns of both sets of American owners are also a key part of the story.”
Catch Bob Holmes at Kinokuniya KLCC at a signing session on Sept 29 from 2pm onwards.