Geoff Twentyman: Secret Diary of a Liverpool Scout

Geoff had got to know Liverpool chairman TV Williams pretty well and apparently spoke a lot about Bill Shankly to his chairman. Mr. Williams recognised Geoff’s ability to ‘spot a leader’. When it came to choosing a new chief scout “Shanks realised”, according to Ivor Broadis, “that he needed someone he could trust to sign the players that would make Liverpool great again, and Geoff’s character suited that role perfectly”. Put in simple terms, Twentyman’s brief was to find the best young players Liverpool could afford with the potential to develop in the future. He was not expected to bring in already-established stars from other clubs.

Over the years he became known as a man who had a phenomenal ability to spot young talent in the lower leagues and make his move before scouts from any other big club were sniffing around. Shankly & Twentyman deliberately decided to focus on players who had what they called a ‘northern soul’. So successful was this policy that until Paul Walsh joined the club in 1984, no southern-born footballer, with the exception of Phil Neal who was born in Northamptonshire, achieved any real distinction at Anfield throughout Shankly’s reign and beyond. Twentyman’s role often over-lapped with that of Tom Saunders, the designated Youth Development Officer at the club. Saunders explained that the system was about signing players who were already “three-quarters of the way there”, after which they could be “nursed through to the first team”. Saunders was appointed to his post in 1968 (so a year after Twentyman became chief scout) but both men left in 1986 so they did spend a considerable amount of time together looking at possible players, although neither was ‘exclusively focused on finding players of a particular age’.

Eleven years after the Reds had been hugely embarrassed at Worcester, there was an equally high-profile F.A. cup exit, this time at the hands of Second Division Watford. When the team played host to Derby County a week later, Lawrence had been replaced by Ray Clemence, Yeats by Larry Lloyd and St. John by Alec Lindsay. Three more Twentyman discoveries in Heighway, Keegan and Toshack would soon arrive at Melwood to form the nucleus of the side that would finally bring trophies back to the club in the early part of the 1970’s.

Phil Thompson is just one of numerous ex-players who were only too happy to share their memories of Geoff Twentyman with Simon Hughes. Phil said that Geoff had a ‘natural skill’ in spotting a young player’s potential and “didn’t delegate too much because he knew the system well and did it all on his own”. Thompson himself did a lot of travelling to watch matches in the early stages of his role as assistant to Gerard Houllier. So he knows how tiring all that travelling could be. Twentyman was driving many thousands of miles each year across the length and breadth of the mainland, often inheriting his manager’s old cars when they were replaced every couple of years; Geoff would then drive them into the ground in his pursuit for the talent of the future. William Twentyman’s brother Geoff Junior recalls that he was often quizzed by school-friends about which player Liverpool would be signing next. However, there was a kind of unwritten family rule that the brothers would not ask their father who he had been looking at, instead waiting until Geoff Senior gave out ‘snippets of information’ that he was prepared to divulge without breaking the confidentiality of his job.

He was frequently away for several days at a time watching players in the north of England and also Scotland. Consequently, he was rarely able to watch Liverpool’s first-team, including so many young men that he had recommended, play on Saturday afternoons at a time when their brand of football took them to the pinnacle of English football and also on the continent. But missing out on the domestic matches meant that he was able to witness live some of the club’s historic European adventures and on one memorable occasion after the Rome final of 1977 he even managed to bring the giant European cup back to his home, where an inquisitive William, then about 10 years old, found it in the velvet bag that it was carried around in. William said that his father had also brought the UEFA cup home a year earlier. Geoff’s knowledge of the local football scene meant that he was often able to pass on valuable tips to his boys about other players and the right preparation. Geoff Junior turned out to be a more than capable footballer who spent the bulk of his career (1986-1993) at Bristol Rovers after earlier spending three years at Preston North End.



Four players who arrived from lower league clubs to Liverpool on Twentyman's recommendation. Rush, Keegan, Neal and Clemence!
Not a bad judge of character was he?

In the 1960’s about the first player that Geoff Twentyman recommended to his manager was Francis Lee, then at Bolton Wanderers. But the financial restraints of the time meant that Lee was out of reach. As Lee reminisces with Hughes, it seems clear that he would have loved the chance to play under Shankly at Anfield and says that Shankly himself often told him that it was ‘one of his biggest regrets in management’ that he wasn’t able to bring Lee to Liverpool. Inevitably some players (like Lee) would slip through the net but in the same year of 1967 one of the most significant of all Twentyman’s recommendations, Ray Clemence, arrived from Scunthorpe United. Ray was one of only three players, the others being Kevin Keegan and Ian Rush, from the Twentyman era who left Liverpool when they still had something to offer to another club. Significant profits were made on all three with Rush of course returning after only a year away to help steer the club to further success in both League and cup competitions.

The list of players goes on as the 1960’s turn into the 1970’s. Amongst the men who did sign contracts with Liverpool as a result of Twentyman’s involvement were John Toshack, Kevin Keegan, Terry McDermott, Joey Jones, Phil Neal, Alan Hansen, Gary Gillespie and Alan Kennedy; those who were looked at but ended up elsewhere included Trevor Francis, Andy Gray and Martin Buchan. The men who wore the Liver bird proudly on their chests all enthuse in a similar way about Geoff Twentyman; those who did not wonder wistfully what it might have been like to play at Anfield with great players and under just as great managers. One of Phil Neal’s team-mates at Northampton, John Gregory, recalls that “when Phil went to Liverpool, it gave everyone at the club, including me, a massive buzz. I started to believe that if Phil got spotted, then there was a chance that I could too”. Gregory and others learned a lot about Geoff Twentyman from Phil Neal and it gave them the belief more than hope that better things could be around the corner for them as well, even if they could never hope to match Neal’s astonishing medal haul at his new club.

Gary Gillespie was one player who had more experience than most when he was eventually signed in 1983, having captained Falkirk’s first team at the very young age of 17. Reflecting on the fact that Twentyman usually preferred to sign players with limited experience, Gillespie recalls, “When you look at the people that Geoff signed, a lot of them, including me, had something in common in that we weren’t superstars in our own right when we came to Liverpool. The players that came in were all unknowns, and through Geoff and Liverpool, they became world stars. That’s the difference between being able to spot talent and going and buying that talent at the right price”. From Geoff’s scouting book we know that Gillespie was first watched in his Falkirk days and his progress there and at Coventry was carefully monitored before Liverpool made their move.

Into the 1980’s came Ian Rush, Steve Nicol, Bruce Grobbelaar and Jim Magilton and although the last of those would fail to break through into the first-team at Anfield, that was the exception rather than the rule. Others like Simon Garner, Tim Flowers and Tony Cascarino talk enthusiastically about being flattered to be linked with Liverpool through Twentyman’s involvement as a scout. Flowers says (with some regret?) “to think about going there would have been fantastic” while Cascarino (a boyhood Liverpool fan whose bedroom was full of Liverpool memorabilia) says “If I’d gone to Liverpool it would have been as good as it gets as a footballer. It would have been my dream move. I am just pleased to know they were impressed. The highlight of my career was playing for Millwall in front of the Kop”.

Did Gary Lineker finish off Twentyman's career at Liverpool?

Geoff continued to be a Liverpool employee until 1986, even though the final entry in his scouting diary was written in 1982. The European ban following Heysel in 1985 hit the top English clubs hard and Everton emerged as a serious challenger for the domestic honours. One of Geoff’s closest friends in football from his Ballymena days, Norman Clarke, a man who had watched dozens and dozens of players on Geoff’s behalf, believes that failure to spot the potential of Gary Lineker was partly responsible for Twentyman leaving Anfield when he did. Clarke even candidly says, “Lineker finished Geoff off”. Although Lineker had a hugely-impressive debut season at Goodison Park, it was Liverpool who took both League championship and F.A. cup and in the aftermath of that unprecendented ‘Double’ success, two employees left Liverpool Football Club, Chris Lawler and Geoff Twentyman.

Geoff was approaching his 57th birthday when he left Liverpool’s employ. Graeme Souness, who knew all about him from his own time as a player at Anfield between 1978 and 1984, was now managing Rangers in Scotland and was quick to invite him to come and join him in Glasgow. Says Souness, “I couldn’t believe Liverpool let him leave. I wanted him to do exactly the same things he’d done at Liverpool. I honestly believed I was getting the best scout in Britain. He was definitely the kind of person I wanted at my club”. It was due to Twentyman’s involvement that Mark Walters, Trevor Steven, Terry Butcher and Mark Hateley all ended up at Ibrox. Geoff remained there until 1991 when Rangers seemed to change their policy to get rid of English players or rather not to sign any more. As someone who had been mainly used to scouting in northern England as well as Scotland, Geoff knew that his time in Glasgow was running out. Apart from the brief period when he left Hartlepool, for about the first time since he had joined Carlisle as a professional in 1947, Geoff was out of the game and when no offers were forthcoming, he went into retirement.

Son William says that the last ten years of his father’s life were “slow and painful. Football was his world; he had no other interests to occupy his mind”. His health deteriorated and by the end of the 1990’s he had moved into a nursing-home suffering from Alzheimer’s, the dreadful disease that takes away the mind, so much so in Geoff’s case that he was no longer able to recognise his own family. “By the end of his life”, says Hughes, “he had lost every recollection of Liverpool’s greatest nights, nights fuelled by the players he spotted”.

Geoff Twentyman died in Southport on the 16th of February, 2004. During his time as Liverpool’s Chief Scout, the club won the English championship 9 times, won 6 domestic cups and 6 major European trophies. The Reserve League, in which so many of his signings first plied their trade on arrival at Anfield, was won fourteen times during the same period. Additional trophies not usually classed as major came in the Charity Shield (5 outright and two shared) and the European Super cup in 1977. All of those successful Liverpool teams from 1973 to 1986, so far as the major tournaments were concerned anyway, were sprinkled with men who were plucked from obscurity by Geoff Twentyman and set on the path to greatness.

All of us who support Liverpool Football Club need to realise just what a huge debt we owe to Geoffrey Twentyman for his loyalty and service to the club he proudly played for in the 1950’s but even more proudly represented as a scout in the next three decades. We also probably owe a debt to author Simon Hughes for the way he has brought Geoff’s achievements to our notice. I’ll leave the final word to another Liverpool legend, a man who knew Geoff Twentyman well, Phil Thompson who says simply “You couldn’t put a price on the players Geoff signed in today’s climate”.

Copyright - Chris Wood ([email protected])

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