Published by Pitch Publishing (2020)
Bill Shankly was Liverpool’s manager for fourteen and a half years. Aberdonian George Scott was at Anfield for five of those years. Many of the men who became the backbone of Shankly’s first great team in the mid-Sixties have put their experiences of that period into printed form. George Scott, who trained, mingled and socialised with these man has not. Until now. George didn’t break through into that great team not because he wasn’t good enough but because circumstances of the time conspired against him. If events had turned out slightly differently, we might be also lauding George today as one of the Liverpool greats. It is because he slipped through the net for various reasons that his story is very different to that of a Roger Hunt, an Ian St. John or a Peter Thompson. But it is just as interesting as those of the men who picked up ‘medals as tangible reward for their success as Liverpool players, this story of the Lost Shankly Boy.
After some serious injuries in F.A. cup finals, including Gerry Byrne’s in 1965, a replacement was first allowed (but only for an injured player) in the season when George had returned to Aberdeen; and two years later the law was further relaxed to allow a replacement for tactical reasons not just injury. Bill Shankly wasn’t an early advocate of the law change because he only used his substitute nine times during the first two seasons such a change was allowed. It is pure conjecture whether or not he would have made use of his substitute option more had it been allowed earlier in the 1960s. Only 17 men played in league matches for Liverpool during the 1963-64 championship-winning season and 9 of them played in 35 or more of the 42 league fixtures. It was a similar story two years later (just 14 men, ten of whom played 37 or more times). This was an incredibly difficult team to break in to, especially in the forward positions.
Alf Arrowsmith, a key member of the 1963-64 squad, was at Anfield for eight years but only played in forty-eight league matches. George’s long-standing friend Bobby Graham also moved down from Scotland in 1960 but had to wait until 1969-70 before he could consider himself a first-team regular. In the five years that George was attached to Liverpool Football Club Roger Hunt made 196 league appearances and Ian St. John 147. This duo was hardly ever badly injured or out of form, two factors which are crucial in keeping and protecting your position in a good team. However many goals George was plundering for the reserves, the two main men up front were doing as well or better for the first team, Hunt getting 157 in all competitions from 1960 until 1965 and St. John 75 from one year less. These two guys were scoring so freely that for much of the middle period of the decade the team picked itself, “the Liverpool team is as printed in the programme” being a phrase uttered more than once by the stadium announcer of the time.
George Scott is leaning against the wall (fourth from left) while Shankly gives his instructions.
It is no coincidence that the first two words in George’s introductory chapter are Bill Shankly. The charismatic manager’s influence on his countryman’s life has been colossal and George readily thanks his Liverpool boss “for setting the standards I have lived by”. George was only 15 when he travelled by train to Liverpool in 1960 to meet the “craggy Scotsman from Glenbuck” who would change the direction of his life. Joining George on his journey to Anfield were two other Scottish teenagers, Gordon Wallace and Bobby Graham who, like George himself, had also been born in 1944. Shankly was a great admirer of what Matt Busby had done at Old Trafford and seemed to have an ambition to rival United with a great young team of his own. Although these three Scots were understandably somewhat apprehensive about what lay in store for them and had their own personal ambitions, they “would soon learn that the man who had courted us had much grander aspirations”. The boys were soon moved to different accommodation and although this meant George was separated from Gordon and Bobby, he remained in touch with them and they all remain close friends sixty years later.
George had to cut his teeth in the Central League team before he could have serious thoughts of playing for the first team. He played over a hundred times for Liverpool’s Central League team and got to play at some great stadia against some big names. He was also in the team which reached the Youth Cup final against West Ham United in 1963 but was unluckily beaten on aggregate after the second leg in London thanks to a referee who made Liverpool’s manager “incandescent with rage”. For all the magic of being an employee of LFC, George admits that this defeat remains “one of the most disappointing experiences of my football career”.
Five of Liverpool’s F.A. Cup-winning team of 1965 are no longer with us. The number of men who can talk with first-hand knowledge about Bill Shankly’s days as the club’s manager is slowly decreasing and, sadly but inevitably, will continue to do so. That is why George Scott’s story is so extraordinary … and also extraordinarily important. He had to give up on his dream of representing Liverpool’s first team in competitive matches but being released to join his hometown club did not mean that he had to give up on his dream of becoming a professional footballer. Wherever his travels took him, from Scotland to England then down to South Africa and back to the United Kingdom he collected a vast array of documents, letters and photographs and decades later that material is still in almost pristine condition. Now his story is in book form and it deserves to be because “the 12th best player in the world” (Shankly’s own description and acknowledgement of how close George came to breaking into the mid-Sixties team) has had a wonderfully varied life both in the sport of football and away from the game. Shanks once uttered “You get nothing for sitting still. Nothing happens unless you make it happen”. George Scott made it happen, on and off the pitch. Parts of his book will make you howl with laughter while others will have you reaching for a box of tissues to mop up the tears. We can only be thankful that the “Lost Shankly Boy” was eventually found and encouraged to tell us all about his amazing journey.
You can purchase The Lost Shankly Boy here at Amazon
or in various bookstores
Review by Chris Wood