Before Liverpool, there was Huddersfield. Before Anfield, there was Leeds Road. At Anfield you will find the Shankly Gates. and a seven-foot-high bronze statue of the legendary Scottish manager, arms aloft in victory. Hundreds of thousands of Liverpool supporters pose for photos in front of the statue every year. They do so because ‘Shanks’ started a footballing dynasty, that lasted the best part of thirty years at Liverpool. In the sixties, they conquered England. In the seventies and eighties, they conquered Europe. Shankly put in place free-flowing attacking football. Pass and move football. Before Bill Shankly went to Liverpool, they had been in the second tier of English football for five years. Liverpool hadn’t won the first division for thirteen years. Liverpool had never won the FA Cup in their sixty-seven-year history. Huddersfield Town’s stadium, Leeds Road was knocked down in 1994. It’s now a retail park. There is a plaque by a DIY store where the centre spot of the pitch once lay. It mentions nothing of Shankly’s four year stay at Town. That’s all that remains of Leeds Road stadium. Even before the ground was demolished there was no tribute to Bill Shankly. No Shankly gates. No 7th foot bronze statue. That’s because Bill Shankly never won any trophies at Town. In the three seasons, he managed Huddersfield Town, he only finished in the top half of the second division once, finishing 9th 1958. On the face of it Shankly’s time with ‘The Terriers’ was unremarkable. That’s why we must delve a little deeper to find the real story of Shankly’s Town and a footballing dynasty, that was never realised.
To think Shankly’s time at Town was insignificant would be a serious error of judgment. Bill saw his Town side beat Liverpool 5-0 with only ten men “Taylor damaged ligaments in the first five minutes, but that didn’t stop us. I remember the Liverpool directors leaving the ground in single file with their shoulders slumped, like a funeral procession”. Shankly gave Denis Law his debut at 16 years of age in 1956, “Right from the start Denis stood out with his enthusiasm and will to win. He would have died to have won.” Eight years later Law was the best player in the world and has the Ballon d’Or to prove it. He brought through Ray Wilson. Wilson went on to be Town’s most capped outfield player before moving to Everton and lifting the World Cup with England in 1966. Bill knew he was close to creating something special at Huddersfield, a team that could not only get promoted to the first division, but a side that could compete in the top tier of English football. Shankly pleaded with the board to sanction the signings of defender, Ron Yeats and striker, Ian St. John. A duo he thought could be the backbone of his Town side for the next decade. The board turned down his request.
After Huddersfield Town played Cardiff City at Leeds Road, the Chairman of Liverpool football club, Tom Williams and director Harry Latham paid Bill a visit. Williams asked Shankly if he “wanted the greatest job in football?” Bill responded “Why, is Matt Busby packing it in at United?”. Williams smiled. Bill knew who they were, he’d met them eight years earlier in 1951.: “When I was the manager of Carlisle United, I got a telephone call from Liverpool and was asked if I’d like to be interviewed for the manager’s job. The big snag had cropped up when the Liverpool board had said the manager could put down his team for matches and the directors would scrutinise it and alter it if they wanted to. So, I just said, ‘If I don’t pick the team, what am I manager of?… And that was that.”
Shankly wouldn’t turn down the job a second time. The pull was too strong, “Right away I knew that was it. Liverpool was a city like the Scottish cities and the people were similar to the Scottish people. The football atmosphere was reminiscent of Celtic and Rangers.” Shankly informed the Huddersfield board of his decision to leave to Anfield, they didn’t try to persuade him to stay. They didn’t try and talk him round. They started to discuss who would replace him as manager and they did this in front of Bill. Shankly shook his head and went home. At home Bill’s wife, Nessy did try and persuade her husband to reconsider. She was happy at Huddersfield. Their children where happy at Huddersfield. Huddersfield had been good to them. Huddersfield was home. But, Bill wouldn’t listen. 18 months after Bill Shankly joined Liverpool in 1959, he signed Ron Yeats from Dundee United and Ian St. John from Motherwell. The three Scots went on to win the second division, the first division twice, three FA Charity shield’s and Liverpool’s long awaited first ever FA Cup. Yeats and St. John would stay at Anfield for ten years a piece. Shankly stayed five years longer and won another four major trophies including a UEFA cup, Liverpool’s first European piece of silverware. It’s frightening to think what could have been for Huddersfield Town AFC. A Town side with Yeats, St. John, Ray Wilson and Dennis Law. A side fit for the first division. A side capable of winning major honors. A side capable competing in Europe. A side that sounds like paradise. A paradise lost.