Humble man who never walked alone

Good Bob Paisley was laid to rest in his parish churchyard yesterday as Liverpool supporters respected his family's request for privacy, and there were fewer than 100 gathered outside when the simple coffin, adorned with red and white roses, was carried into St Peter's, Woolton. There will be a more acclaiming memorial service in the city in the spring.

His widow Jessie, their three children and seven grand-children led the mourners, who included a number of players from Paisley's record-breaking teams as well as the four managers who succeeded him - Joe Fagan, Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Roy Evans.

Two of those, Fagan and Evans, would have been ruminating through moist eyes on the days when all the blazing red fires that were too hot for Europe were lit in the Anfield bootroom, which, legend has it, was instituted by the late Bill Shankly after he arrived to manage the dingy Second Division club at Christmas 1959 and kept on the two backroom boys from the previous regime, Fagan and Paisley.

By touching fluke this very day is published a biography, Shankly by Stephen F Kelly, which celebrates the founder of the feast. Kelly writes: "If there was any magic, it came from that small group who gathered within its four walls... all that came out of that bootroom was plain common sense."

And you can just picture it: a pot of tea on the hob, Shankly in his woolly cardie, Paisley in his slippers, Fagan and Ronnie Moran still in their tracksuits. "Young so-and-so didn't look too bright this morning," Paisley would mutter in his north-east vernacular. "Probably out too late last night," someone else would suggest. "Better have a word," Shankly would add. "Or give him a run in the reserve..."

Cosy little natters at elevenses which, in their way, girdled the globe - as pictures of yesterday's funeral will have. The Geordie adopted - and how! - by the Scousers knew he would be buried at St Peter's, which he and Jessie attended each Sunday for years. St Peter's! To the end he would tell of the finest night of his career, after Liverpool had won the first of their European Cups, soundly thrashing Borussia Mönchengladbach in Rome. The party afterwards was at the Holiday Inn, just down from St Peter's itself. It was the last of its type. It was still (just) the age of soccer's innocence then. The press were invited and the world and his wife were allowed to gatecrash so long as they were decked in red.

A number of the obits to Paisley mentioned that, however much the champagne bubbled, the beaming manager bursting out of his ill-fitting Burton's blue suit refused to take a drink, so he could "drink in the atmosphere and the achievement".

Well, true in fact but not in theory. Halfway through the do a big mitt gripped my arm fondly. "A Keating's a boy who should know," said Bob. "D'you think there's any chance of getting a bottle of Guinness round here?" I searched every nook. The St Peter's Holiday Inn did not stock Guinness. "Ah me," said Bob, "that means only me and the Pope up the road and Horace [Yates, the teetotal sports editor of the Liverpool Daily Post] over there are the only three sober men in Rome tonight."

By then the joint was dancing. Lo and behold, they struck up the Gay Gordons. Paisley joined in one set with us, grin on full beam, then went to bed, a happy man, the very happiest of men. Before he pattered off to the lift to get into those favourite slippers he had said something passingly matter-of-fact and prophetic. No football club in those days was sponsored but the spivs were talking such revolution. "Sponsors?" Bob winced as we walked to the lift. "Sign up with them and they'll be picking the team for you inside a fortnight." And so it has come to pass. RIP.

Copyright - The Guardian

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