HALF-A-CENTURY after Bill Shankly announced he would be joining Liverpool, his grand-daughter reveals that nothing ceases to amaze her about the extraordinary former Reds boss.
In the lead up to the 50th anniversary of him taking the reins at Anfield, Karen Gill was inundated with requests from fans and media alike, asking her to shed further light on her late grandfather.
The passage of time has not diminished the thirst for knowledge about Shankly. If anything, Karen believes his legend is now stronger than ever.
“It has been 28 years since my granddad passed away,” she says.
“But 50 years since he came to Liverpool is much longer. Yet the memories and feelings haven’t faded after all these years. That is really special to me.
“The main thing that struck me as the 50th anniversary approached is the lasting impression he made on people.
“As the years go by the feelings towards him seem to be getting stronger.
“It tends to be the older people, who probably watched my granddad’s teams, that are looking back really nostalgically.
“It’s incredible just how many people seem to have taken courage and inspiration from him. Even to this day, they still find him a real source of inspiration.”
Raised by her parents in Liverpool – Victor Gill was in Liverpool’s youth ranks when he met Shankly’s daughter Barbara – Karen was 17 when her ‘Grandee’ died in 1981.
Prior to that she gained a unique insight into Shankly through spending most weekends at her grandparents’ house. It has only been in the ensuing years since his untimely death, however, that she has come to know him properly.
The 50th anniversary of his arrival at Anfield has reinforced what she has since come to learn about Shankly’s incredible relationship with Liverpool supporters, something she still finds astounding.
“His single-mindedness was fascinating,” she added.
“As people we all want to succeed in life. And that’s the way my granddad was with football. Losing wasn’t an option to him.
“Football was his life. He didn’t think about anything else. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone as single-minded as my granddad. I’m not sure I ever will.
“It delights me to see just how easily people took him to their hearts.
“He had such a strong connection with the Liverpool fans. I think of that time when he came back after his retirement and stood on the Kop.
“He kept everything that was ever sent or given to him by the fans; scarves, letters, everything. He didn’t want to throw anything away. He valued the fans so much. They were like his real family, the fans and his players.”
Karen’s intrigue prompted her to write a book about her granddad three years ago.
‘The Real Bill Shankly’ chronicles a side to him that many never saw and, in turn, opened his grand-daughter’s eyes to the man they say made the people happy.
“My granddad was one of 10 children so was used to having people around all the time.
“He really adored his mother and looked up to his dad. He believed in the institution of family. But football was his life and so his own family had to take a back seat really.
“I think later on he realised he’d missed out a bit on his own kids’ upbringing and tried to make up for that with his grandkids, which we didn’t mind of course. I still find things out about him today, even after writing the book. Ahead of the 50th anniversary I’ve been swamped with phone calls and e-mails from people wanting to know about him.
“I knew what he was like in everyday, family life, but since his death it’s been like getting to know another person.
“We were pretty much sheltered from his football persona. He took us over to Anfield every now and again to show us the bootroom or whatever, but generally he never really involved us in his work.
“Finding out about the impact he had has been incredible.
“I feel like I know him better now.”
As the life and times of Shankly are celebrated this week, certain memories will be tinged with sadness for Karen.
Her granddad rocked the football world when he tendered his resignation in the summer of 1974, shortly after lifting the FA Cup for a second time.
With Liverpool at the peak of its powers, one version of events is that Shankly stepped down for family reasons based on a promise he’d given to his wife Nessie, who was concerned about the strain of the job on his health.
“I think much of that is true,” agrees Karen. “He was a man of his word.
“But looking back it was clear how much he regretted retiring from Liverpool and leaving football.
“He knew almost straight away that he’d made a mistake. It makes me sad to think of him that way. Sometimes I almost want to cry.”
Karen moved to Athens 20 years ago where she lives with her husband and two children.
At 13 and 10, Panayiotis and Rhianna are at an age where they are becoming aware of the famous blood that runs through their veins.
“I tell them all about their great granddad and there are other little things which make them sit up and take notice.
“When Liverpool came to Athens for the Champions League final in 2007, there was a lot of interest in the family again and the kids saw me on telly doing an interview.
“They’ll also see old photographs of their granddad as a player and a manager and ask questions.
“Panayiotis has dedicated a corner of his bedroom wall to his great granddad and Liverpool. It’s like a shrine.”
It is one of many tributes to his great grandfather that will assume extra significance this week.
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