Shankly’s Town: A Paradise Lost.

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.

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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.”

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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.

It’s off to the game I go…

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Adidas Superstars. Levi 501 jeans. Ben Sherman shirt. Fred Perry crew neck jumper. Keys, wallet, season card and it’s of to the game I go. I walk pass two supporters from different clubs talking, ‘I never thought I’d see us in the Premier League’ ‘Enjoy the game mate and good luck for the rest of the season’. Policemen smiling. Kids running. Walking to the game 200 strong home supporters. Yorkshire! Yorkshire! Yorkshire! A Blue flair goes off. Blue smoke starts to fill the sky. I cross by the canal and can see the stadium. A young lad scans my card. ‘Enjoy the game’. Heineken. Speak to a friend by gate D.  Three O’clock. Whistle. Kick Off. Yorkshire! Yorkshire! Yorkshire! Aron Mooy. Tom Ince. Shot. Save. Mooy to the rebound. Goal. Yorkshire! Yorkshire! Yorkshire! Jonas Lossl error. Laurent Depoitre, round De Gea. Goal. Yorkshire! Yorkshire! Yorkshire! Whistle. Half time. Two-Nil. A stadium full of electricity. Whistle. Second Half underway. Watching the clock. Mkhitaryan. Cross. Lukaku. Goal! Counting the seconds. Hoping. Watching the clock. Counting the seconds. Whistle. Full time. Two-One. History made. Huddersfield Town beat Manchester United for the first time since 1952. Home.

Jurgen Klopp & The Carnival Club

“Everything I am, everything I can, is because you let me be” – Jurgen Klopp

It was a bright sunny morning on May 23rd 2008. 20,000 FSV Mainz 05 supporters gathered in the city centre to bid farewell to a friend. A man who had spent the best part of eight years playing for ‘Zerofivers’and the subsequent nine as their manager. For the first time in their history, they were taken to the Bundesliga and the UEFA Cup in 2005/06. Jurgen Norbert Klopp was born and raised in Glatten, Stuttgart. As a young player, he had stints at

FC Pforzheim and then at Frankfurt Clubs; Eintracht FrankfurtViktoria Sindlingen & Rot-Weiss Frankfurt. He was scouted by Robert JungFSV Mainz 05 Manager during a play-off game against the ‘Zerofivers’ in 1990, Klopp was signed later that summer for Mainz 05 at the age of 23.

Helmut Malinowski had been a supporter of FSV Mainz 05 since the early 1980s, when he moved to study American Literature, English Linguistics & Geography at Mainz University. Recounting his memories of Klopphe said: “He had lots of energy was fast but with technical limitations. He was a leader on the pitch even as a younger player, what he lacked in technical skill he made up for with effort. He never was anything more than a mildly talented footballer with limited skills who relied on speed and height throughout his career. And he’ll be the first one to agree to that assessment.”

In his second season, Klopp managed to score an impressive four goals in an away win against Erfurt.However, his inconsistency in front of the goal coupled with his limited technical ability, it became a problem. The Black Forrest native was manoeuvred into defence at fullback, to better utilise his speed to support the attacking players.‘Kloppo’ had a largely uneventful playing career. His passion on the pitch sometimes lead to him losing his temper and becoming involved arguments with anyone from the referee, the opposing team and even his own team mates.

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Mainz were in a constant state of battling relegation. However, they continued to sustain survival in the 2nd Division. “We changed managers left, right and centre during his time as a player.” recalls Malinowski. “The absolute low was the 3:5 loss at Wolfsburg on the last day of the 1996-97 season, when a win could have promoted Mainz to the Bundesliga” 

In February 2000, Mainz were once again languishing near the bottom of the table. Things looked hopeless. General Manager, Christian Heidel asked Jurgen Klopp if he would become the interim manager for the remainder of the season. “I don’t think anybody, Heidel included, could foresee how successful he would eventually be. Promotion wasn’t on anybody’s agenda at the time. It was all about survival.” said Malinowski.

It became apparent to an injured Klopp, that his playing career was likely over. In the Bundesliga, it is against the rules to be a player manager. In a recent interview,

Heidel reflected upon this period; “it was lucky that the decision to stop playing and become manager worked out so well. I am delighted the guy who played his football and became a manager here, has gone on to be a German champion and reached the Champions League final. And has now gone on to manage one of the most famous Stadiums in Europe [Anfield].”

Klopp was made manager without having the required licence. Zejko Buvac, his assistant had the licence and was ‘officially’ manager. However, this set-up wasn’t accepted by the DFB (German Football Federation) in the long run, so he had to acquire his license whilst he was coaching at Mainz during his first season. What began as a magical term became nerve wrecking and ultimately ended in tragedy. Mainz ended the first half of the season at top of the league, having collected 39 out of 51 points. 12 points clear of Bochum, who was in fifth place. After the winter break, results began to get worse. Too many draws and a few losses. Three games before the end of season, everything was neck and neck at the top of the league. Mainz required three points from their final games or another team to drop points. They drew their first and second matches, thus they needed to at least draw at Union Berlin. In a hostile atmosphere, cultivated by the media in an ‘Anti-Klopp’ tabloid article, the team lost 3:1. All other teams that were competing for promotion won their respective games. The Carnival Club missed out on promotion by one point.

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As a manager, Klopp adopted a strategy of utilising two banks of four and two strikers. This didn’t alter much over the seasons. The ‘Zerofivers’ didn’t possess many technically gifted players, the emphasis was put into playing long balls over the midfield to the strikers. Malinowski remembers the differing styles Klopp adopted at Mainz and Dortmund; “The style didn’t really change much during his time at Mainz, mainly because of the personnel he had available. From the beginning, he favoured a high pressing style. At Dortmund, he perfected what the British now call Gegenpressing, i.e. trying to win back the ball immediately after losing it in the opponent’s half. Quick pass and move football became the focus when he was at Dortmund.”

The following season, the situation grew direr. When Mainz played Braunschweig and rivals, Frankfurt had a home game against lowly, Reutlingen. They were dead equal on points and goal difference proceeding the final game. The ‘Zerofivers’ dominated Braunschweig, clocking an impressive 4-0 lead after 60 minutes. At the same time, the score was 3-3 in Frankfurt. In the 80th minute, Braunschweig scored reducing Mainz’ lead to three goals with a mere 10 minutes remaining. “I remember thinking, this couldn’t go wrong, could it? It did. Frankfurt scored three goals in the final nine minutes and won promotion not by a point (like last season), but on goal difference” A few days later, there was a rally attended by several thousand fans. Klopp delivered a now-famous speech stating how they would come back stronger and better the following season.

Despite, Klopp’s promise, the next season was an up and down affair. The team being in contention for promotion. Like the previous two season, the latter end of the term took a turn for the worst. Five games before the end of the season, another defeat. The ‘Zerofivers’ were six points off promotion. Both Heideland Klopp, publically through in the towel. This triggered a reaction from the players, like an overwhelming weight had been lifted off their shoulders. The ‘Carnival Club’ won the next three games. Before the final game of the season, promotion was within touching distance.

To constitute a promotion, Mainz would have to beat Trier at home and rivals, Aachen would have to lose toKarlsruhe“Beating Trier was no problem as they came off a week of celebration the fact they were not relegated. But the game in Karlsruhe was a true nail biter. When that final whistle was finally blown, after what seemed an eternity. The joy, relief and happiness in the stadium was unbelievable. Every Mainz fan who witnessed that moment will tell you it’s the greatest football moment of their life. People were crying with joy because it meant so much that Mainz were promoted for the first time after having suffered so much in the past two seasons. I can’t describe it. You had to be there. I was all a bit like a fairy-tale” This mythic momentum continued into the next season, which was the first time FSV Mainz 05 had featured in the Bundesliga. Much to everyone’s surprise, they finished in 11th place and due to fair play ranking attained a qualification to the UEFA Cup.

Alas, the dream ended in 2006/07 when Mainz were relegated. Before the last game of the season, playing at home against Monchengladbach, relegation was all but assure. Supporters celebrated their team’s valiant effort. Klopp announced that he would be staying on and after the game, took a microphone and assured supporters that they would do everything to get back into the Bundesliga. People left with a positive feeling, instilled by Jurgen’s words” Helmut remembers.

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During the 2007/08 season, it was published that if Mainz failed to gain promotion this season, Kloppwould leave. After finishing in 4th place, a mere two points off promotion. The fairy-tale ended abruptly. All that was left was for supporters to bid a fond farewell to one of the most important figureheads in their club’s history.

Jurgen Klopp stood before 20,000 emotional supporters with his players and interim staff behind him. Their heads bowed solemnly. Surveying the faces of his supporters, a picture of despair, he began “Alles was ich bin, alles was ich kann…”* Succumbing to his emotions, it all became too much for the man from the Black Forest. The tears began to stream down his face. His voice started to crack. To hide his cracking façade, he covered his face with his hand. He breaks down. Unable to speak, he can only cry. This immense show of emotion was quelled by chants of “Jurgen! Jurgen! Jurgen!” from the crowd. He eventually mustered the strength to finish his goodbye, which Kurt Vonnegut once wrote is, ‘the emptiest and yet fullest of human messages’.

*everything I am, everything I can