Brian Clough & Bill Shankly, 10th August 1974

Words By Seb Stafford-Bloor Illustration by Philippe Fenner
January 5, 2019

August 1973 and one of the strangest photographs taken. The day itself was different enough, with Leeds United and Liverpool contesting the first ever televised Charity Shield, but this is one of those images in which what is not shown is far more important than what actually appears.

It’s most famous, of course, for its place in Brian Clough’s history. He is leading Leeds out officially for the first time and the trail of misery behind him betrays the simmering background acrimony which will eventually cost him his job.

On the other side, Bill Shankly stands at the front of a line of Liverpool players who are no longer his own. He had retired the previous summer and Bob Paisley had been promoted in his place; this was a last, ceremonial act. Not that there was much ceremony in the game itself. Liverpool would win on penalties, but the match is remembered for its running battles and hostility. For Tommy Smith’s outrageous reducer, John Giles’s murderous right hook and for Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner flinging their shirts to the floor after being sent-off.

Years later, Clough would recall the few seconds the two spent together in the tunnel before walking out. He would remember trying to exchange pleasantries with Shankly, who he admired more than any of his contemporaries, but found him semi-responsive and distant. Clough claimed that Shankly knew then that he had made a mistake and that without the game he would likely wither. Whether that was genuinely what he thought at the time is hard to know, it could well have been an observation shaped by hindsight, but history makes it credible. Shankly was certainly treated poorly by Liverpool, their decision not to appoint him to the board proving a terrible misjudgement, and the effect on Clough isn’t difficult to trace; while Shankly left football too soon, he – despite being younger at the time – probably fought on for too long, through his declining judgement and worsening health.

The anecdotes which detail Shankly’s retirement are very sad. Ian Herbert’s excellent biography of Paisley contains a few of them and they collectively depict him as man without purpose and one blind to the harm he was doing. The tales of him turning up at Melwood months after his retirement and of his former players dutifully calling him “boss” depict an intolerably awkward situation which, eventually, Paisley had no choice but to confront. Time may have airbrushed that ending to an extent, but it remains an ugly and unfortunate blotch on what was otherwise a powerful and enduring legacy.

Look hard enough and you can see Shankly’s discomfort in the photograph. While a contrast has always been drawn between the opposing teams – Leeds’ collective sulk and their opponent’s apparent pride – the Liverpool players are hardly at ease. The transition from Shankly to Paisley would not have been as daunting as Don Revie to Brian Clough, but it wasn’t without its uncertainty. Paisley had none of Shankly’s charisma and, by his own admission, was a reluctant successor. He had been known as all manner of things at Anfield, a jack of all trades whose usefulness flowed into whatever gaps appeared, and there could have been no assuredness over how the players would respond to him or, more importantly, how he himself would cope in Shankly’s shadow.

He did brilliantly, of course. He brought patience to Liverpool’s build-up and filled the Anfield trophy cabinet with European Cups. With the passing of time, though, more has been learnt about what usually follows the departure of a dynastic figure and, more often than not, it’s not pretty. Those needn’t have worried, but they were probably right to.

Clough’s immediate future after Wembley is better known: on the forty-fourth day, he was gone. David Peace’s Damned United did him a tremendous disservice in its description of that period, portraying him as a haunted figure gripped by psychosis. Nevertheless, his behaviour during those six weeks is hard to rationalise – the antagonism, the aggressive attempt to purge Revie’s legacy, and the reluctance to appease players of whom he had been so openly and regularly critical. It was classic Clough behaviour, admittedly, but it was witlessly tactless and, within days of arriving, created the conditions for his departure.

But Leeds still altered Clough’s career and not just in the sense that the episode damaged his reputation. It was probably one of the factors which later conspired to deny him the England job, but the settlement from Clough’s sacking made him very wealthy indeed. Importantly, the independence that redundancy payment fostered helped to create a bolder Clough, one who would never suffer subservience to a director or chairman ever again. He had hardly been a wall flower before, Derby’s Sam Longson and Hartlepools Ernest Ord could attest to that, but Nottingham Forest’s rise was instructed by an even more aggressive and less consilatory Clough.

The photograph contains all of the above and yet, at the same time, none of it all. While most of the chapters in this series have dealt with moments in time and people caught in the prelude or aftermath of hugely significant events, this is neither. Instead, it captures the figures contained within at a dramatic crossroads in both their careers and their lives, at a moment when everything had or was about to change forever.

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