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Two Trophies and a New Squad, Shankly’s Liverpool in 1972-73 (Published in Red All Over The Land)

Updated: Feb 18, 2021

The six years that preceded this great season provided a baron period that was not anticipated, nor is it often mentioned. After a long wait, Liverpool became ‘the first English club to win a European trophy, the UEFA Cup, and the League championship in the same season’, in the 1972-73 season.[1] This article will explore what Shankly did to turn this rut into success. Shankly’s hardest task throughout his whole Liverpool career, was dismantling the team that brought him remarkable success in the early to mid-1960s, and creating a new squad for a new decade.

From the 1969-70 season to the start of the 1972-73 season, Shankly had sold thirteen players and purchased nine. Of the thirteen he sold, three of them had made over four hundred appearances, four had made over one hundred. Losing this amount of experience, and replacing them with fresh acquisitions, presented Shankly with a tough task. Of Shankly’s nine purchases, five made over one hundred appearances at the close of their Anfield careers. He replaced trustworthy players with new ones, who went on to also display loyalty for the club. One interesting statistic is that, if you take the average appearances and goals of the players he sold, then compare that with those who replaced them, the numbers are very close. He replaced thirteen players who on average made 180 appearances and scored 41 goals between them, with nine players who on average made 170 appearances and went on to score 39 goals, on average. This may seem like a lot of numbers that may be hard to process, the key fact is that Shankly replaced loyalty and quality successfully, creating a whole new squad. To replace one big player can be very difficult, replacing a whole team which had won him many trophies illustrates Shankly’s transfer nous.

Shankly had to sell aged club legends like Hunt (31), St John (31), Lawrence (31) and Yeats (34), as they were reaching the end of their careers. The baron years that came before the 1972-73 season illustrate that Shankly was being too loyal to these players. Nevertheless, they were sold. He replaced them with younger men who went onto be successful, such as; Heighway (22), Toshack (21), Keegan (20) and Case (18). Shankly, much like with Yeats and St. John, had highlighted his transfer targets to the board, his main target was Keegan and Shankly labelled him ‘the inspiration of the new team’.[2] Shankly is afforded a lot of praise for signing Keegan, yet it is important to note that ‘Shankly had not seen Keegan play’, acting solely off advice from his staff.[3] This may detract from some of the praise that Shankly receives for this transfer.

The changes Shankly made were not just in terms of personnel but also his formation was altered. The change from 2-3-5 formations to 4-4-2, marked a new era of ‘ball-playing defenders and a more flexible and generic type of player able to play in several positions’.[4] Shankly had already pioneered formation changes during the 1960s, he was accredited with being the ‘first club team to go into a flat back four in England’, a formation changed inspired by European football.[5]

Much like with his squad changes at the start of the Division 2 promotion season, Shankly again re-used players in the squad to build success. Ray Clemence had been purchased in 1967 as a long-term replacement for fellow goalkeeper Lawrence, and was now an integral part of the team. In his squad for the 1972-73 season, Shankly had six players who had worked their way up from the youth team at Liverpool. This included his captain Tommy Smith and future captain Phil Thompson. As well as this, Glyn mentions how Shankly converted Callaghan’s position ‘from the wing to the midfield’, to lengthen his career.[6] Shankly used the tools he had in the team already, partnering them with new transfers and young, local players. This is exemplified with Phil Thompson recalling a talk with Shankly when he was 18, Shankly told him “You are going to play for this club for years. You will captain this club one day”, this proved to be correct.[7]

It is again too simplistic to list Shankly’s transfers and state that as the reason Liverpool won the double in 1972-73, his tactical mind must also be praised. One such example of this was Shankly’s psychology. A new plaque was placed above the tunnel leading to the pitch that read ‘THIS IS ANFIELD’, written in white on a red background, this was used as a ‘form of intimidation’.[8] The Division 1 League Title that was won that year was wrapped up with a game to spare, ‘Liverpool had clinched a record eighth title’.[9]

However, the pivotal moment of the campaign that showcased Shankly at his managerial best was the UEFA Cup victory. The UEFA Cup Final first leg was held at a ‘rain-drenched Anfield’ and the game was postponed, yet this ‘futile 27 minutes of football’ meant that the ‘secrets’ of both teams were out, and Shankly had a little bit of time to alter his tactics before the replay the following day.[10] Shankly’s mind games were used well when the referee said that the game may have to be called off. Shankly insisted the pitch was not “too bad”, he believed that had he agreed with the referee then the Borussia Moenchengladbach bench, or ‘Continentals’ as Shankly labelled them, would have insisted they played on.[11]

Controversially, Shankly had left out Toshack for the first game as he was returning from injury, Toshack was ‘furious’ and confronted Shankly, stating “you must be the luckiest man alive” and stormed out of Anfield.[12] The next day Toshack was reinstated to the starting team. Shankly had spotted that ‘The German defenders weren’t very big and they never came out of their penalty box’, he utilised Toshack’s height and ultimately ‘Keegan scored a couple of goals from these flicks and we won 3-0’. Interestingly, Shankly does not mention this Toshack altercation in his autobiography. Whether it occurred or not, the decision to put Toshack in the side was a master stroke. Keegan took many headlines for his two goals and missed penalty, yet it was ‘clear that the recall of … Toshack … would pay a handsome dividend’, ‘Borussia could do nothing with Toshack in the air’.[13] Liverpool won the first leg 3-0. They went into the second leg with many believing it would ‘surely be enough to make Liverpool the first side to win the First Division and a European trophy in the same season’.[14] The second leg was not a forgone conclusion, yet following a 2-0 defeat ‘Liverpool held on to win their first European trophy after nearly ten years of trying’.[15] What made it more impressive was that they did it with, in Shankly’s words, ‘virtually a team of kids’.[16]

This season was huge for Shankly, he proved he was still a top manager. He won his third Division 1 League Title and had the UEFA Cup to go with it. This added to the golden age at Anfield under Bill Shankly and it proved to be in his penultimate season with Liverpool. After six long years without a trophy this was a huge achievement for Liverpool and ranks amongst the best campaigns Shankly had. Reflecting upon this season Shankly said; ‘winning the League Championship for the third time, and with a brand-new team, possibly gave me more satisfaction than anything’.[17]

Despite not winning a trophy for six years, the Liverpool fans were still fully in support for Bill Shankly. In fact, during this six-year slump, Liverpool recorded three of the top four average attendances of this whole period. The Liverpool fans loved and supported their team, a large part of this was because of their devotion to Shankly himself.

[1] B. Paisley, Bob Paisley: An Autobiography (London, 1983), p.24.

[2] B. Shankly, Shankly: My Story The Autobiography: Unique 50th Anniversary Edition (Liverpool, 2009), p.174.

[3] G. Swann, R. Taylor & A. Ward, ‘Talking Football: A Review of Radio Football and Histories in Derby, Liverpool and Oxford’, Oral History, 22 (1994), p.83.

[4] D. Dohren, Ghost on the Wall: The Authorised Biography of Roy Evans (Edinburgh, 2004), p.47.

[5] Unaired Broadcast from Kicking and Screaming, BBC Documentary, Series Consultant Rogan Taylor, accessed at the National Football Museum Collections & Research Centre, at Deepdale, Preston. DVD number 261, Ian St John.

[6] D. Glyn, A Legend in His Own Time: Bill Shankly, Manager, Liverpool Football Club, 12th December, 1959 – 12th July, 1974. A Tribute (Liverpool, 1975), p.76.

[7] P. Thompson with K. Rogers, Thommo: Stand up Pinocchio: From the Kop to the top. My life inside Anfield (Liverpool, 2005), p.35.

[8] B. Shankly, Shankly: My Story The Autobiography: Unique 50th Anniversary Edition (Liverpool, 2009), pp. 178-179.

[9] S. F. Kelly, The Official Illustrated History 1892-1995: Liverpool (London, 1995), p.102.

[10] ‘It’s a Washout’, Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, 10. May. 1973).

[11] B. Shankly, Shankly: My Story The Autobiography: Unique 50th Anniversary Edition (Liverpool, 2009), p.184.

[12] C. Hughes, John Toshack: FourFourTwo great footballers (London, 2002), p.47.

[13] ‘Liverpool on Glory Trail’, Mirror Sport (London, 11. May. 1973).

[14] ‘It’s a Fair Kop’, Mirror Sport (London, 11. May. 1973).

[15] P. Thompson, Shankly (Liverpool, 1993), p.62.

[16] B. Shankly, Shankly: My Story The Autobiography: Unique 50th Anniversary Edition (Liverpool, 2009), p.186.

[17] Ibid, p.177.


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