Vic Gill - I Could Have Been a Contender - part 3

Liverpudlian Victor Gill had achieved his lifelong dream of signing a professional contract for his boyhood club. His life would take a dramatic turn when Shankly took over. This is the final part of Vic's story of being at Liverpool Football Club when it ascended to the top of English football after a decade and a half in the doldrums. Vic was also about to become a part of Bill Shankly's family.

I had a particular mate during my time at Liverpool, his name was Bobby Oldham and he lived right next door to the entrance to the Everton training ground in Bellefield Avenue, the very same road where the Shankly family lived. Bobby and I would occasionally play head tennis in the entrance to Bellefield and sometimes this young girl would come and watch. We chatted to her and she told us her name was Barbara Shankly. She seemed to have a crush on Bobby but she was too young and was also the boss’s daughter. I met her again in the “The Lowlands” club in West Derby Village and we would have a dance and a coffee, nothing serious and sometimes I would walk her home.

She was a strange girl, she could be really good company and had a great sense of humour one night and quiet and moody the next time I saw her. It wasn’t serious and I just looked upon her as a friend in those first years. But eventually it got a little more serious and we started dating. We would go to the cinema or the club and sometimes for a drink in the city centre. It was quite a strange relationship really, sometimes we would have a row over something stupid and wouldn’t see each other for a while and then we would get back together again. By the time I was twenty one years old and Barbara was eighteen our relationship was very serious and I asked her to marry me and she said yes. It was 1964, Mr. and Mrs. Shankly gave their approval and a date was set for the summer of 1965.

Bill and Nessie with their daughters: Barbara (left) and Jeanette as well as Nessie's dad.

It was December 1964 and I had arranged to meet Barbara at her house and we would go for a drink in West Derby village, nothing heavy because I was playing football the next day. I arrived at the house and was shown into the living room by Mrs. Shankly, I asked her if Barbara was ready and she said no, Barbara was in bed not feeling very well. I asked what the matter was and was told that Barbara was pregnant. I went upstairs and we had a chat for a while, she seemed quite pleased and I have to admit I was a bit chuffed myself. After about half an hour I left and Mrs. Shankly said that I should return the following evening, Mr. Shankly was not there because Liverpool had a game against Stoke City in Stoke the following day. I played in a match on the Saturday afternoon but my heart wasn’t really in it. I turned up at the Shankly home in the evening not knowing what to expect, strangely, I felt just as nervous as I did all those years ago waiting for Mr. Paisley to read out the teams.

Mr. Shankly arrived home and the first thing he did was to give me two loaves of bread, I’ll explain, at the time all the major bakeries in Liverpool were on strike and you couldn’t get a loaf for love nor money. I remember thinking: ”What a decent bloke to think of my family when he must have had a thousand other things to think about”. After his meal Mrs. Shankly broke the news to him and there was an ominous silence, Mr. Shankly paced up and down behind the settee that I was sitting on. I was waiting for a punch in the back of my head or at least have the bread taken off me, then he said: “Well, it happens in the best of families”. I was a bit shocked but very relieved.

I was to have another shock within a week but this one has stayed with me all of my life so far. I mentioned at the beginning of this story that we lived with my grandparents in Scarisbrick Drive who had two young children; Dave and Carol. Dave and I were only eighteen months apart so I suppose it was natural that we mated up. We grew up together and both of us supported Liverpool FC as did all the family. Dave and I would go out to the clubs and pubs with our mates and if I wasn’t playing on Saturday afternoons through injury then we would go and stand on the Kop and cheer on the reds. Normally he would come and watch me play, if we were playing locally.

Sunday 20th December 1964 he didn’t turn up to watch me play. One of our friends Jeff Fendle had just passed his driving test and had bought himself a car. He asked Dave to go for a Sunday lunch drink at a pub in Ormskirk just outside Liverpool. On the way there they crashed into a big articulated lorry and Dave was killed. He was twenty three years old, what a terrible waste of life. When I think about him I see him just the way he was, good looking, great smile, black curly hair and always making me laugh, he was a great artist and he taught himself to play Spanish guitar. I had seen Dave for the last time on the Saturday evening prior to the accident when I told him about Barbara being pregnant. He told me not to worry and that everything would be ok. He asked me how Mr. Shankly had taken the news. I told him what had happened the previous week and he said: “Bloody great, typical of Shanks”. Dave was convinced that Liverpool would win the FA Cup under Shankly; it was a trophy that Liverpool had never won in its entire history. We did, but Dave missed it by five months.

Vic approved as Bill's son-in-law

About a week or so after Dave’s funeral I was leaving the Shankly’s house when Mr. Shankly called me back and said that Mrs. Shankly was having great difficulty living with the fact that we were having a church wedding and could not bear the shame of her daughter walking down the aisle in white when she was pregnant. Mr. Shankly asked me to talk to Barbara about it. He said that if we cancelled the church wedding and had a register office wedding instead he would give us the deposit on a house, any house of our choosing. I told Barbara what her dad had offered, pointing out that all our friends would have a great day out and we would end up homeless. After giving it some thought she agreed and we went house hunting. We found a lovely three bed roomed terrace house in Inigo Road just off Queens Drive in the Stoneycroft district, it was £2,200 and only a ten minute walk from the Shankly home. I think Nessie was beginning to like me. Mr. Shankly paid the deposit (£450) and I got a mortgage for the rest at £14 per month over 25 years. 

Barbara and I were married at 10am on Saturday 23rd January 1965 at Brougham Terrace Registry Office, why 10am? It also happened to be derby day in Liverpool and the reds were playing Everton at Goodison Park in the afternoon and one guest in particular was not going to miss the game, a feeling shared by several of the other guests I imagine. We held the wedding breakfast at the Lord Nelson Hotel, at the back of the Empire Theatre and I was quite touched when Mr. Shankly said in his speech that it was one of the best transfer deals he had ever done. As it happens the derby match was called off, waterlogged pitch I think.

By this time I was a qualified fitter earning about £14-10 shillings a week. I was offered another job at The Government Wool Station on the Dock road, all the wool that came into England had to come to the Wool Station first to be cleaned then it was shipped on to its final destination. The pay was better, £15-10 shillings a week and an extra thruppence an hour for each machine I could operate in the machine shop, thanks to West Derby Tech. We spent most Sundays having dinner at the Shankly’s or my parents so we got to have at least one good meal per week. Barbara did try hard to learn but I guess she just wasn’t cut out to be a cook. Barbara was getting bigger and Liverpool reached the Cup final and the European Cup semi-final playing Leeds Utd and Inter Milan respectively.

I think it was a couple of weeks before the Cup final when Mr. Shankly made one of his regular visits to our house. I made two cups of tea, herbal tea for him, and we sat down to chat. He started talking about Gordon Milne and Geoff Strong, “What do you think son?” The problem he said was that Gordon Milne looked like he may be fit for the final but Geoff Strong had been playing really well in his place. I thought Christ why he is discussing this with me but I suppose he was just using me as a sounding board and we went on and talked about it for a while and then he said: “Are you going to the final?” and I said that there would be about six of my family going so he said that he would arrange six tickets for us. He said goodbye to Barbara and left. Blimey I felt like I had sorted the team for the final and had managed to get six tickets for my family, bloody great.

But on the Sunday before the final we were having dinner when he asked me if I would do him a big favour, of course I said yes. He explained that the police had advised him that his house might be broken into while he was away, so the favour was, would Barbara and I stay in his house while he and Nessie were at the final. I couldn’t refuse and had to watch the final on his tele, but what a great day though, for the first time in football history the FA Cup was coming to Anfield. I was jumping up and down all round the living room while Barbara was looking at me as though I had gone mad. I know she didn’t like football, it had taken her dad away from her for so long, but she was really pleased for him. We didn’t have time to absorb what had happened and only a few days later Liverpool had to take on Inter Milan at Anfield in the semi final of the European Cup, another brilliant game which we won 3-1 and had a tie winning goal ruled out for a non existent foul. The return game in Milan was lost 3-0 and we were out of the Cup but Mr. Shankly was furious, convinced that the referee had been bought and you only have to watch the game on video to see that he was right.

6th August 1965, Karen Elizabeth was born and what a beautiful birthday present for me (my birthday is 7th August). She weighed in at 9 pounds 4 ounces, both our families were absolutely delighted. I had never seen my father behave the way he did, holding her with a big stupid smile on his face and Mr. Shankly saying it was his turn to hold her, it was nice.

It was not long after Karen was born, I was going to work and I was on the No1 bus traveling down the Dock Rd the conductor came to me and asked for the fare. I looked up and there was my mate from our apprenticeship days taking my fare off me. I asked him what he was doing working as a conductor and he told me that the money was great he could earn up to £40 per week if he did quite a bit of overtime. I got off the bus at the next stop and made my way to Hatton Garden, the head office of The Liverpool Transport Corporation department. I was interviewed immediately, they offered me a job, I gave my notice in to the Wool Station and started the following Monday at the training school for conductors. A week later I was sent to start work at the Green Lane depot.

Vic (circled) representing Deysbrook

This work brought me into daily contact with the Liverpool public and I have to say it was really enjoyable, it is said that Liverpool people have a very rare sense of humour and I believe it to be true, every day something would happen that would make me fall about laughing, I remember one particular day during the afternoon rush hour my bus was absolutely packed and we pulled up at the bus stop in West Derby Village about three or four people got off the bus and I allowed the same amount to get on, I had to put my arm across a lady who was trying to push herself on, I said “sorry love no more room” so she asked me: “How long will the next bus be?” and I replied: “The same length as this one”. Instantly she shouted back at me: “And I suppose it will have a shithouse on the back like this one!” 

Each depot had its own football team and played on Wednesdays in the Business house league but on Saturdays they had the “Rep team” which was selected from all the depot teams which played in the Liverpool Combination. Mr. Shankly had been to watch a few of the games I played in but I remember one in particular, we were playing Kirkby Town, a really good team but even more special it was the switching on of their new floodlights and it was played on a Wednesday evening. Mr. Shankly turned up to watch and it made the occasion even more special. He came up to me and said: “I’ve noticed your boots are a bit worn son, so I brought you these,“ and handed me a box with new boots in it. I played out of my skin that night, we lost 4-3 but I scored a hat-trick and had a goal disallowed in the last minute to equalise. The referee said I had handled the ball but I swear to you I had chested it down and buried it. Mr. Shankly gave me a lift home and during the journey he was quiet which was unusual for him. I asked him if he enjoyed the game, he said yes he had but that he hated to see talent go to waste. I said: “Who’s that then?” thinking he had a problem with someone at Anfield. He replied: “You son,” well, the rest of the journey was spent in silence.

Barbara and Nessie with Karen and Pauline

It was now early December 1965 and Barbara tells me she thinks she is pregnant again, it was a bit of a shock but a very welcome one for us. I was really pleased when the doctor confirmed it and we both went to tell her parents. Nessie was alone in the house and when we told her, she said to me, “You should be locked up in November,” but she was pleased as well. My mum and dad said more or less the same thing but again I knew they were pleased.

1966 - everything was going ok, Barbara was getting bigger and more tired but both grandmothers were helping out, I was doing as much overtime as I could get and Karen was great. I applied to become a bus driver and successfully completed the 3 week course. I had loads to look forward to, our second baby in August, Liverpool were going great in the League and the European Cup Winners Cup and England were going to host the World Cup in the summer, football fan’s heaven. It was early June I think and I had just finished my shift and arrived home, I had felt quite uncomfortable for the last couple of hours, like I had peed myself or sweating, so I took my trousers off and put my hand down my underpants, my hand was covered in blood. I went straight to my doctor and he examined me, he told me that I had something called “Pylonidal sinuses”. The doctor phoned the hospital and made an appointment for me and within in a couple of weeks I was in the Royal Infirmary to have an operation, what should have been a formality ended in my staying in hospital for 6 weeks.

There was always a bit of commotion when Mr. Shankly came to visit me, it would go something like, “Hello son, how’s it going are you ok?” and then he would be off round the ward talking to every other bloke in there and the nurses, it happened every time he visited. Pauline was born on the 29th July in Broadgreen Hospital while I was in the Royal Infirmary. The Royal were very kind and arranged for an ambulance to take me to Broadgreen to see Barbara and Pauly, you can imagine the piss taking that went on, “You for the maternity ward, Mr. Gill when it's due”. Although not as big as Karen she weighed in at just over 7lbs and she was beautiful, so there I was, me in a wheelchair, my wife in bed and my second daughter in my arms, brilliant.

Karen, Vic's daughter has been a tremendous representative of the Shankly family

© Victor Gill


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