Peter Thompson - Shankly's wing wizard

When asked if I was ready to take a 550-mile round trip to spend a couple of hours with Peter Thompson in Kent, I said instantly 'Yes, I am going all-in.' Rarely has a footballer with as much natural ability worn the shirt of Liverpool and he is in a class only reserved for a select few. Thompson moved back to England after a couple of years in Portugal and this was a dream come true for me. Off we drove from Bootle and the great Peter Thompson didn't disappoint.

You almost messed up your transfer to Liverpool with an inappropriate request.

I went to Anfield from Preston and there were thousands of people outside," Thompson told "I got my way through to the front door and Shankly is there. 'Why are all these here for?', I asked. 'You!', Shankly thundered. 'You? 'Me?', I gasped. He took me all around Melwood. He showed me Anfield. Took me to the office. The chairman came in: 'Could you sign here?' 'Actually Mr. Shankly, I would like a signing-on fee.' 'You what? I am giving you the chance to play in the greatest city in the greatest team that is going to be in the world and you want illegal money. Fuckin' get out! 'Give me the pen,' I said. So I signed. Best thing I ever did.

Thompson was the great schoolboy star of his day and became a regular First Division player at 17 for Preston. Chairman Nat Buck raved about him. 'I’ve lost the number of clubs who want him, but how could we sell?'

I was only a young boy at Preston.. it was difficult because Tom Finney was one of the greatest wingers of all time. They said I was the new Tom Finney. I was only 17. It was a lot to live up to. That put pressure on me. They might say: 'He is okay, but he is not Tom Finney' which I wasn't. He was magnificent.

Bill Shankly had been impressed by the speed and trickery of the young winger during a marathon fifth round FA Cup tie between Liverpool and Preston in February 1962 which went to a second replay at Old Trafford. After two goalless draws the deadlock was finally broken by Thompson.

I was doubtful to play. I had trouble with my leg. It was snowing. The ball came out from the sky, I just swung a foot and it went straight in. It could have gone anywhere. One of those nights. Shankly thought he had signed a goalscorer.

Thompson was a regular for three seasons for Preston and following relegation from their only top-flight season during his spell there the 20-year-old moved to Liverpool for £37,000.

The standard was so high. I had only been there four weeks. Shankly used to prod you... [pokes me in the chest] 'Are you a winner? I'm talking to you! Are you a winner?' 'Yes, Mr. Shankly.' 'I want winners. Second is no good to me. If you're second I'll get rid of you. Simple as that.' It was a good place to be in Liverpool. All the groups were coming out in Liverpool. The Beatles. All the comedians. They used to come to the ground all the time.

We were winning everything. Everything was good as well with our arch rivals. We would win the League, they would win the cup. We win the cup, they win the League. We were passing trophies across the park. The first year I was there we were champions of England, the second year we won the FA Cup for the first time in Liverpool's history. The third year we were champions of England. The fourth year he called a crisis meeting. 'You, you and you. Sell your big houses. You are no good to me.' I went home and said: 'I think he is going to sell me.' He didn't."

Thompson was the missing piece in Shankly title-winning jigsaw.

Liverpool had a very good team that got promoted. They signed me and it was said that's the last piece of the jigsaw. It's true that. Champions of England. Circumstances had changed. When I was at Preston I was a wonderboy, 17-18. When I was twenty I was a has-been, We got relegated and got beat every week. I couldn't get out of my own half. I was playing as a defender and was useless. I went to Liverpool and within 12 months I was playing for England.

Thompson made his England debut in a 4-3 friendly win in Lisbon over Eusebio's Portugal on 17 May 1964. He established himself as an international a few weeks later in the Brazil Jubilee Tournament.

I played against Brazil, Argentina and Portugal. After the tournament I was the "White Pelé". I was no Pelé. You always keep your first England shirt because you might not get another one. Then you swap them. When the whistle went I was stood right by Pelé. He took his shirt off. Bobby Moore took it off him. I got Vava's. They were the best team in the world. It was 1-1 with 30 minutes to go. Jimmy Greaves had scored. There were about 120,000 people there. We got beat 5-1. They just kept on scoring. I didn't know what was happening. After the game Alf Ramsey said: 'What happened?' After a game Shankly was effing and shouting. Alf Ramsey wasn't like that. I played against West Germany and I knew I hadn't played well. After the game he sat beside me and said: 'I'm a bit disappointed, Peter.' I was used to Shankly swearing and boots flying.

Shankly used to swear all the time. When I signed for Liverpool I never swore. I was twenty. Footballers always tried to hurt me. Shankly said to me: 'What are you saying to that man there who is trying to break your leg?' I said: 'He didn't kick me. I am allergic to pain.' He said: 'When you get on that pitch you swear at him.' I used to ignore him. He said to me at half-time: 'If you don't swear at him I'll come on the pitch and I'll have him kick you.' He shouted right in front of him: 'Go on, go on!' 'Fuck off,' I said to the player. 'Louder!,' Shankly screamed. So I swore to him. So I started swearing to everybody, but it didn't make any difference.

Bob Paisley quote: "He was always a very good winger but I don't think he ever exploited his skills the way he should have done. He was probably too nice a person, too even tempered. If he had a little bit more venom he would have got more caps for England than he did. He wasn't a gentle build, in fact he was the perfect build for racing along and using his strength but it's something he wouldn't do. We tried to get him to do it on so many occasions but we could never convert him to our way of thinking - he just couldn't do it."

Bob Paisley said you could have been a world-beater if you had been more aggressive and more direct.

Yeah, I was a coward... No, I wasn't. The problem was when I got the ball I got my head down and off I went. On the Friday we had a meeting. Roger [Hunt] never said anything. Shankly said: 'Meeting finished', but Roger said 'Actually, Peter beats his full-back about four or five times and we don't know where to run. Why don't you just beat your man and cross it?' Shankly said: 'That is a good idea.' We played against West Brom at Anfield, I pushed it past the full-back, crossed it, Roger smashed it into the net. Roger said: 'That's what I want.' I said: 'That's fucking boring. 'I am not doing that. Let Ian Callaghan do that.'

I tried to change from being a little boy who used to beat players. When I was at Preston the press would criticize me for being greedy. Tom Finney was still playing and asked: 'What's wrong with you?' I was in the first team at 17. 'I am being criticized. I think I have to change.' 'Don't change. You've got one great ability. Take that away, what are you left with?', Finney advised me.

You were good with both feet.

I practiced all the time. I was right-footed on the left wing. At Melwood I used to spend hours just pushing the ball down the wing with my right foot and crossing it with my left. I used to fall over half the time. I found it difficult but I got quite good at it. Ian [Callaghan] and I were completely different. I was an individualist. Ian was straightforward, boring, pushing it down the line, cross it, boom 1-0! How boring is that?

My full-back wouldn't tackle me. Ian was very fast but sometimes he came up against someone faster than him. I said: 'Should we swop?' It worked a treat. If the full-back would try to hurt me I could slip him easy. There was one game at Anfield when I was struggling. Ian was doing fabulous. 'Should we swop?' 'Piss off!' He never swore Ian, it was 'Get lost!'

Some games you played were more memorable than others... The first European game in Reykjavik. An Icelandic reporter wrote: "It is not possible to compare these two sides. Liverpool were so much better. They could do what they wanted to. But they did not try too hard to score goals. Many of their players made good efforts to entertain the crowd. But nobody did more in that way than the winger Thompson with his clever and various solo tricks. The Icelandic crowd and the players of K.R. watched like good students at a school."

I remember it very well. We won 5-0 and then 6-1. I was an individualist. I tried not to be like that but I couldn't change. In Reykjavik, I got the ball in their half and I set off. I didn't know where I was going. I kept beating player after player after player. Eventually I passed it. Billy Stevenson said: 'It was fabulous, you beat six players.' I went: 'Yeah, it must have been about six.' He says: 'You beat Ron Yeats twice, you beat me twice, went through my legs...'

Were there any particular full-backs that were difficult?

I had full-backs that I had trouble against. Berti Vogts, Jimmy Armfield was very fast. There was a guy at Leeds, Paul Reaney. What I wanted them to do was to tackle me because I could slip them. Easy. Some of them wouldn't tackle me. 'Go on tackle me.' They held back. I was fast.

You scored Liverpool's first with a solo effort in the 2-0 win over Chelsea in the 1965 FA Cup semi-final.

We were playing in Germany and it went to extra time. We flew back from Germany, went to Birmingham, Aston Villa's ground against a very, very good, fit Chelsea side and Shankly said: 'Play it easy.' 'I am not playing it easy.' I had to beat 3 or 4 men before I passed it, I was greedy. [Tells me: 'You were nodding, don't agree with me.'] We beat them 2-0. Billy Stevenson scored a penalty, the best penalty he ever took.

The semi-finals with Inter Milan in the European Cup.

A few days earlier we won the FA Cup for the first time in history. We all went out and got drunk. Inter were the best team in the world. They had won the European Cup and the Intercontinental Cup. Nobody could beat them and nobody could score against them. The atmosphere was absolutely electric. We won 3-1. Chris Lawler scored a wonderful goal that was disallowed. It could have been 4-1. In hindsight I shouldn't have played in the return in Milan. I had been picked to play for England against Yugoslavia in Belgrade. In the middle of the night I woke up with a terrible stomach ache. I ran to the doctor's room. He came around to give me pills. Sir Alf Ramsey asked: 'How do you feel?' 'I feel dizzy.' 'Go back to bed. You're not playing.' Then I flew from Belgrade to Milan. Shankly said: 'Are you alright? It's only in your head. 90,000 people in San Siro, You'll forget your bloody headache.' 'I don't know if I am ready.' 'Yeah, you are. There's nothing wrong with you.' So I played. Our plan was to hold them early because the Italian crowd tend to get on their backs. We lost an early goal. Then there was the fiasco with Tommy Lawrence. I saw it different than Tommy who said he kicked it out of his hands. I didn't see it that way but I am a long way off on the wing. He ran past Tommy. As Tommy bounced it he came around with his foot... I didn't see him kick it out of his hands. They scored a late goal and we lost 3-0. I was so upset. We should have won that European Cup that year but we didn't.

How did Shankly feel after that game?

I can't tell you. I don't swear.

The interviewer with a signed copy of his Complete Record book!

Thompson had avoided any major injuries and only missed twelve League games in seven and a half seasons when he suffered an injury in December 1970 and was out until March 1971. He started the first seven League games of the 1971/72 season but an injury forced him out and once he was match-fit again he only appeared sporadically in the first team and spent the rest of the season languishing in the reserves. Thompson's last two seasons at Liverpool were agonising for him. He suffered from serious knee injuries, was ignored by his boss Shankly, who famously had no time for injured players, and only appeared on occasion for the reserves.

In football there is no sentiment at all. When my day was up Shankly was horrible. He treated me like a son for about nine years. I had two operations on my left knee. I have had two since on my right. He wouldn't speak to me. 'Why do you treat me like this?', I asked. Shankly was funny. I was never injured year after year after year. When I had my second operation the specialist said: 'You'll never play again.' I got upset. I was only thirty. 'When you train hard, your knee will blow up.' So when I went back to Liverpool, the boss said: 'Fuck off. you are knackered. You are finished.' 'Who are you talking to, me?,' I responded. That's how he was.

I actually went to Shankly and said: 'I've only got six months of my contract left. Pay me up and you won't see me again.' I had been there nine years. He wouldn't pay my contract up but he did me a favour. I owned two caravan parks. One I couldn't afford. I didn't have enough money. I went back to the bank. Shankly loaned me the money. But he wouldn't pay me up. I had been in every day. Do you know what I did? I said to my wife. 'I am not going in today and we went to Blackpool, a holiday resort, an hour from Liverpool. I trained every day, the next week I didn't go in for two days. Next I didn't go in for a week. Steve Heighway was doing fabulous. I am not going in having Shankly swear at me. I didn't go in for two weeks. Bob Paisley rang up. 'Where were you yesterday?' I said: 'Did you miss me?'. 'Oh yeah,' Paisley responded. 'I haven't been in for two weeks.' 'You better go in.' So I went in. Bolton asked me to go there. I wasn't sure about my knee. Jimmy Armfield was manager. You've got nothing to lose. You are finished anyhow. If Shankly had paid me up, that was it. I would have retired. I went to Bolton and I was there five years.

Shankly came to my testimonial [Liverpool - Bolton on 12 May 1978] and paid me so many compliments. He was different altogether like he was for the nine years. It was the time I was getting paid and I wasn't playing... 'People are working on the docks to pay you money,' he told me. 'You are a cripple!'

You had quite a successful spell with Bolton, coming from the brink of retirement and playing five years winning promotion to First Division in your last season in 1978.

I didn't go down the Leagues. I went to Bolton initially on a month's loan. When I got to 35 I was having trouble with my hamstrings. They shorten as you get older. I was really struggling. They started to give me Cortisone injections before a game. They would get me through a game. I said to my ex-wife, 'I am going to finish at the end of the season. If they have to give me a needle to get through a game someone is telling me something. Some ex-players who I know, Geoff Strong particularly, had a lot of Cortisone injections and have lot of problems now, walking and moving about. You have to pay the price. You suffer later in life. The left knee keeps locking. It is really painful but it was worth it.

Shankly wrote very nice things about you in the testimonial brochure: "If Peter Thompson would not have taken up football he could have competed in the Olympic games. That’s how good an athlete he was. He could run forever, but more importantly in football he could run with the ball – probably the hardest thing to do. He could run every minute of every game, every week, every year better than anybody else. His work rate was outstanding, his fitness unequalled, his balance like a ballet dancer. I have no hesitation in placing Peter up among the all-time greats – alongside such players as Tom Finney, Stanley Matthews and George Best. They say he didn’t score enough goals, they said his final pass wasn’t telling enough. Well, if he had scored goals as well as everything else he did, he would have been in the same category as Jesus Christ!"

I was without scoring goals [laughs].

Copyright - - Interview by Arnie ([email protected])

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