Thanks very much to Torbjørn Flatin from the LFC Official Supporters Club in Norway who has written the following article after our chat on the phone. I've tried my best to translate it into English below:
January 10th 2022 would have been 100 years since Billy Liddell was born. The biggest profile at Anfield in the post-war years. We have talked to the man who has written a book about the player who made the club be known as "Liddellpool".
If you were one of those who travelled regularly to Liverpool in the 80's, and in many cases had Kenny Dalglish as your idol, you will probably more than once have met his well-aged supporter in a corner of the pub with a bitter. He would nod appreciatively to King Kenny, and an excellent red team, but added: "No one is as good as Billy Liddell was."
The Scot dominated Liverpool FC for well over a decade after World War II. Despite the lack of games in Europe and other cups for a team that was in the 2nd division for several years, Billy is still No. 4 on the list of top scorers overall and No. 12 for those with the most matches. A top scorer in the club for eight seasons, despite the fact that he was initially a left winger.
Contacts in the family
Billy Liddell is a legend for Liverpool Football Club, and we could go on for a long time about what he did at Anfield. However, since the publication of a book about Billy Liddell in the New Year, in connection with what would have been his 100th birthday, we have chosen to talk to the author of "LIDDELL AT ONE HUNDRED", with the subtitle "A Family Portrait of a Liverpool Icon.
Peter Kenny Jones will be 27 years old when he makes his book debut with his portrait of one of the biggest sons in Liverpool, and one wonders what made such a young man write about someone who was completely red about 70 years ago?
- I have studied football history at university and I am from Liverpool, but my personal link is that my aunt used to go to a Scottish dance school in Liverpool with the sister of Billy Liddell. By the way, Billy was there a lot himself as well. I therefore have a number of contacts in his family, and I wanted to write a book after writing a number of articles in magazines and programmes for LFC. I hope there can be more books later, but I think it could be a good start with the man who made sure that my club was once called "Liddellpool".
World War II destroyed a lot
In our statistics you can see a player who was signed as a teenager just before the war years, who was one of the key players when Liverpool won the league in 1946/47, who was the big star when the Reds reached the final of the FA Cup in 1950 and who beyond the 50s almost carried the team on their shoulders, in what was to be a difficult sporting decade on the south side of Stanley Park.
What surprised you when you started studying football player Billy Liddell more closely?
- One of the first things that struck me was the war years and how much football Billy played. It almost seems to have been ignored. I know it was not an official match and that people had a lot of other things to think about, but even if you disregard the fact that Billy Liddell played around the world for a number of clubs, if you just count what he played for Liverpool, he would have been in 2nd place over goals overall and 4th place in the number of games for the club through the ages. It gives a picture of how much World War II took away from his career.
He soon became a big name in the red jersey?
- There was a lot of talk about Billy when Liverpool reached the final of the FA Cup in 1950, against Arsenal. Liddell was the big star for those from Merseyside, but he was kicked almost black and blue and failed to stand out as he wanted at Wembley. His wife had to help him get dressed after the match, but there were never any complaints about either the opponent or the referee from Billy.
Billy eventually brought his whole family down to Liverpool?
- That was after his father died in 1951. Billy was the eldest of the siblings, and before his father died he had asked him to take care of his mother, Montgomery. Brother Alistair also arrived, along with the twins George and Rena. There were two more brothers, Campbell and Tom, while Rena was the only girl of six. Billy housed them in his house, while buying a new one for himself, his wife Phyllis and their twins Malcolm and David, who were born a few months before Liverpool played the final against Arsenal in 1950.
The time was different, but it is still special that a player who must have been world class stayed with Liverpool in the 2nd division?
- I think you have to assume that as Liverpool had given Billy Liddell the chance as a young man, before almost immediately becoming involved in a war. He came from very modest circumstances in Scotland, the son of a miner who died quite early and where Billy, who played for LFC, had the opportunity to take care of his family. I think he felt he was in great debt of gratitude to the club. In addition, he was never a full-time professional in Liverpool, he was trained as an accountant and worked part-time while playing. He was happy with life in Liverpool, and he was loved by the fans at The Kop.
He must have been a coveted player?
- There was interest from other clubs. What is probably most talked about is a lucrative offer from Bogotá in Colombia, which was given to a number of top players in England, but also from a big club like Aston Villa. Eventually I think clubs just understood that he was not going to leave Liverpool, even though they were in the 2nd division.
There's still a "what if" here, what if Bill Shankly had come ten years earlier?
- You have to say that Billy Liddell was incredibly unlucky with his career. When he came as a young and very promising player, a world war began, and when he retired, Liverpool were on the threshold of starting a dominance in English football. If you turn it around and say that he had been born ten, twenty or thirty years later, then he would have been on a top team in both England and Europe and he would have been a world star.
Took the bus to battle
Billy Liddell belonged to an age of frugality, with roots in the family and often the church?
- It is undoubtedly correct. He was a very religious man and immediately became active in the Court Hey Methodist Church in Huyton. His sister goes there to this day. At the time, they always played on Saturday, and sometimes on a Wednesday, and in today's modern football where it is also played on Sundays, Billy would probably refuse to join, according to his family.
- I think humble is a very appropriate word for him. He was never interested in talking about his exploits on the football field. He never touched alcohol, he never cursed at all, you have to say he is left as the almost perfect football player and the perfect person.
It should be noted that stories of footballers with "colorful" language are common, it was the case that the players at Liverpool often kept quiet if Billy Liddell was present. The Scot did not like swearing, and the respect for him was so great that his teammates dropped the insults when their star player was nearby.
Billy Liddell was not a guy who stood out publicly?
- His closest friend in football was Bob Paisley who was living close by. Billy was a big family man who was not much out among people, one or his teammates when they were not busy with training or playing. I know he was in a family where people visited each other a lot, and in such company he could be the centre of attention and hosted all of the family events, that would have been natural when he was the most famous and the one with the most money. What perhaps surprised me most about his private life was that he had several celebrities friends, not least the comedian Ken Dodd. It happened that he was the driver for Dodd and carried his equipment when he had shows, etc., which was surprising to hear when he initially gave the impression that he would rather be in the background.
No one seems to say a bad word about him?
- I have talked to a number of players, both in Liverpool and other clubs, and it was not possible to get them to say anything negative about Billy Liddell. Nor from other people through hours of conversations. The only thing you can claim came on the downside, was that one of his sons said they had been hurt when his father in his biography said they would never have any opportunity to make a name for themselves in football.
There are many stories that people have gone on the bus, and there was Billy Liddell on his way to training or a match?
- Yes, and often it was a short "hello, Mr. Liddell" from someone who often took the same bus, and that was it. At that time, there was another attitude towards football players, who were not stars as they appear today, and they were mostly allowed to be themselves and in peace.
Versatile, raw and strong
One may wonder why such a player did not apply to a club that won more in the 50's, but he seemed to find satisfaction with what he achieved in Liverpool?
- Billy Liddell came from a small village in Scotland. The fact that he was the only one, with Stanley Matthews, who played twice for Great Britain against "The Rest of the World" shows how highly valued he was. He was one of the most capped players for international matches for Scotland in the 50s, at a time when most international matches were against neighbouring countries. He did not play in the European Cup for Liverpool, but he travelled a lot with the club anyway. He won the league and he played in an FA Cup final, and he had a journey where it all started under very modest conditions until he became a legend in Liverpool FC.
One can only imagine the treatment that Billy Liddell will have received from his opponents. After being relegated in 1953/54, he was the club's top scorer for the first four years in the 2nd division, and one can formally hear the message from the opponent's manager that there was one player that his men had to stop. Nevertheless, Liddell was rarely injured, and for twelve consecutive seasons he started at least 34 league games each year.
Does Billy Liddell sound like a superman?
- When manager Phil Taylor put him out of the team for a match in 1958, it was the first time in 20 years that he was discharged and not on the team. He only trained two days a week as a result of his work as an accountant, he was never rested, it's just amazing. As I did my research on him, I also got a more and more reinforced impression of how good he was.
- He was tall, strong, fast, could use both feet, strong with his head, and he played in all positions except being a goalkeeper. He was versatile and raw.
One of the best
You are a football historian, though without having seen Billy Liddell play live, but what is your opinion of him as the greatest player of all time in Liverpool FC?
- It is hard to say. The three most mentioned, Billy Liddell, Kenny Dalglish and Steven Gerrard, never played on the same team. They are different as people, they played in different positions on the pitch. Kenny won almost everything you could win as a player, and then as a manager. Steven was a great loner on a team that did not win as much, and his history with LFC may not be over.
- The fact that Billy is mentioned in the same breath after winning one title, and playing several seasons in the 2nd division, I think tells a lot about the player he must have been. I can only say that of all the people I spoke to who had seen all three play, it was unanimous that Billy Liddell was the greatest. I do not want to have a categorical opinion about it, but I am of the clear opinion that he deserves to be mentioned in the discussion about who was Liverpool's best player of all time.
Is it almost a bit ironic that in the same week in 1960 when Billy played his last game, for Liverpool's reserve team, the rule that there should be a maximum salary for football players was removed in England?
- It is clear that today Billy Liddell would be a rich man with the salaries that are present. He earned £20 a week at the time mentioned in 1960, and that was top salary at Liverpool FC, and that was one of the reasons why Bill Shankly put the 38-year-old on the list of players who would not get a new contract. You could say that he was again unlucky with the timing of his football career, but he still earned well by the standards of the time and it helped his family to live a good life. The fact that he missed the salary increase many of his descendants received, I do not think was something that occupied him at all.
Is it any surprise that a statue of him was never erected outside Anfield?
- Both yes and no. You have to say that the two men who brought Liverpool to a higher level were Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley, and they have got their statues. Billy has a memorial bench outside the stadium, and it is generally accepted that he is one of the club's greatest players. I think it is a great recognition for someone who unfortunately only won one championship, the league in 1946/47, and it also says a lot that despite the fact that he played several years outside the 1st division, his legacy has not deteriorated.
What would you say is his legacy in Liverpool FC?
- Billy Liddell was in the club just a few months after Bill Shankly came. Two Scots who coloured the club in their own way. Liverpool's first year in the 2nd division ended with a place in the middle of the table, but whether he was the team's No. 11 or the team's No. 9, Liddell scored 30 league goals that season. It gave the team a platform to fight for promotion in the coming seasons, and show that there was potential, not least with an experienced star like Billy Liddell.
- Bill Shankly was lured by that potential. One could argue that it was Billy Liddell who kept the club and team warm, who did not give up, and who delivered it so that Shankly could continue to bring Liverpool Football Club back to where they belonged.
- For me, this is the legacy of Billy Liddell.
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Peter Kenny Jones