Bob Paisley established himself in the Liverpool side as an uncompromising left-half when League football resumed at the end of World War II and immediately won the League title, the first of many League Championships he would be associated with as player, trainer/coach, assistant manager and eventually manager of the only professional club he served during his long career in the game. Paisley's precocious talents as a schoolboy footballer were well noted in the County Durham area. His performances as a 15-year-old for Hetton Juniors had attracted scouts from further afield. Unfortunately for Bob his childhood dream of playing for Sunderland was crushed as he was deemed too small by the club. He suffered rejection for the same reason at the hands of Wolves and Spurs and it seemed his footballing ambitions were not to be realised. Bishop Auckland came to Paisley's rescue as they signed him up prior to the start of the 1937/38 season. In the incredible treble winning season of 1938/39 Bishop Auckland collected their tenth amateur championship, a non-league record, and Sunderland's interest in signing Paisley was reignited. However, Liverpool were now on the scene, and unbeknown to Sunderland Paisley had promised Liverpool manager George Kay that at the end of the season he would sign for them. Bishop Auckland won the Amateur Cup at Roker Park when they beat Willington 3-0 after extra-time. Paisley played his part in an incredible run-in to the season that saw the team play eleven matches in fourteen days. There was still one more cup final for the Bishops to play in on 6 May 1939. They beat South Shields to take the Durham Challenge Cup and thus complete their treble. Two days later Paisley boarded a train to Exchange Street station in Liverpool to begin an association that was to last over half a century. He managed just two reserve games at the start of the 1939/40 season when war broke out and changed everything for everyone.
Before being posted abroad in the war in 1941 Paisley made 34 appearances and scored ten goals, the majority of them coming in the North Regional League. Paisley joined the seventy-third regiment of the Royal Artillery. He served as an anti-tank gunner with Montgomery's Eighth Army, the so-called Desert Rats, in the watershed victory at El Alamein. In June 1944 he proudly rode aboard a tank as the Allies liberated Rome. It was a proud moment as the relieving forces were welcomed as heroes by the Italians. Paisley resumed his Liverpool career in 1945/46 as the Football League set up a temporary North and South Division as well featuring in the FA Cup. On 31 August 1946, in a team that boasted Jackie Balmer and the great Billy Liddell, Liverpool finally kicked off the new post-war era. Paisley missed the opening two matches but made his full League debut in the third game of the season against Chelsea at Anfield on 7 September. On a dramatic afternoon Paisley helped Liverpool to an incredible 7-4 victory, with Liddell, Willie Fagan and Bill Jones scoring two apiece and Balmer claiming the other. According to the Liverpool Echo: "Paisley and Liddell transformed the attack." Four days after the Chelsea goal feast the Reds crashed 5-0 to Matt Busby's Manchester United and manager Kay promptly went out and signed 28-year-old Albert Stubbins from Newcastle United for a club record £13,000. The signing of Stubbins proved a masterstroke after he scored on his debut against Bolton and immediately won the fans over. The goals continued and Liverpool marched, eventually, to the title. Paisley played in 33 of Liverpool's 42 League matches that season and quickly established himself at left-half as a mainstay of the side. He had gained the admiration of others in the squad through his hard work and tenacity and his ability to correctly analyse the game's turning points in the dressing room afterwards.
If the success of 1946/47 had been a heady one for Liverpool, the following years were something of an anti-climax for the club. In 1949/50 Liverpool were seemingly marching on to new glories as they ripped through the first 19 League games unbeaten. It set a new record in English football; broken by Leeds United in 1973/74. Unfortunately, after losing their first game of the season to Huddersfield on 10 December the wheels began to come off the League campaign and attention turned instead to the FA Cup. The club progressed confidently through to the semi-finals after dismissing Blackpool 2-1 at Anfield. Neighbours Everton provided the opposition at Manchester City's Maine Road in front of 73,000 spectators. Paisley was never renowned as a goalscorer but a lob from the left caught the Everton goalkeeper out after 29 minutes. Liddell added another in the second half as Liverpool celebrated their first cup final participation since 1914. But there was great disappointment in store for the likeable Geordie. He had been absent through a knee injury leading up to the final and despite being declared fit in the days before the game he missed out on a cup final place. Paisley later said this disappointment helped him when he had to make similarly tough decisions as a manager. Paisley remained at Liverpool and went to play 41 of the 42 League games in the 1950/51 season but Liverpool were now set inexorably on a downward spiral. George Kay stood down as manager in February 1951 through ill health and was replaced by Don Welsh, but the decline was gathering pace. In the following three seasons Liverpool finished ninth, eleventh, and seventeenth. Relegation to the Second Division was avoided only on the last day of the 1952/53 season when the Reds roared to a 2-0 win over Chelsea in front of 47,000 at Anfield. Inevitably, Liverpool were relegated at the end of the 1953/54 season. Paisley was 35-years-old and on 4 May 1954 it was made public in the Liverpool Evening Express that "Bobby Paisley, the tough little North-Easterner who specialises in the long throw and is of the never-say-die order," was not on the retained list of players for the coming season. Paisley had his future mapped out when asked in 1950. "Though I hope to have a few more seasons still in senior football, I am studying to be a physiotherapist and masseur when my playing days are over. We married men have to look to the future, you know." The rest is history as they say.
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The question is what Ian Herbert, who is the Independent's chief sportswriter and former deputy editor of the Liverpool Daily Post, can add to Bob Paisley's legacy.
Liverpool's game vs Chelsea on 7th of September 1946 was remarkable for various reasons.
Bob Paisley described himself as "aggressive but I played the game because I loved and enjoyed it. I might have hurt people and I got hurt myself a few times, but not with any malice."
The Liverpool Daily Post preview of the Merseyside derby on 16 September , 1950
The Liverpool Echo on 27 March, 1950 on the Merseyside FA Cup semi-final.
The first post-war season of 1946-47 saw Liverpool being crowned as Champions of England. Their second home match pitted them against Chelsea.
"Though I hope to have a few more seasons still in senior football, I am studying to be a physiotherapist and masseur when my playing days are over. We married men have to look to the future, you know."
Bob Paisley in 1950
"Believe it or not the most thrilling experience of my life has nothing to do with football! It was the unforgettable sight of Vesuvius in eruption while stationed near Naples during the war. The most pleasurable experience is football one, and came when I won an Amateur Cup Final with Bishop Auckland in 1939."
Bob Paisley in 1950
"Bob was shattered to be left out. He was very low and contemplating leaving the club, but I told him not to make any hasty decisions. The fact that he went on to carve out a successful management career was a big surprise to me because as a player Bob was so quiet. During the week he had never much to say. It was only after a game, when we were relaxing in the hot bath, that Bob would speak and then we couldn’t shut him up!"
Bob Paisley was left out of 1950 FA Cup final side. Quote from Albert Stubbins