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The Quiet Man Speaks At Last

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The quiet man has spoken at last. It was Ron Yeats, talking to the Echo in 1961, who gave Gordon Milne that name: 'Whether training or playing, you hardly hear a word', he said. Now, at the age of 86, Milne has published his autobiography, 'Shankly, My Dad and Me'. It's surely the final word on the great team of the 60s - and it may be much more than that.

Gordon is far too modest to make this kind of claim himself, but having talked to him about his life and the book over the past few weeks, I'm going to make it on his behalf. With this book, he has provided a new and compelling answer to an old question - 'When did the 1960s really start?'

You won't find it in any history textbooks, but from the perspective Gordon's career provides, October 25th 1962 stands out as a pivotal moment, not just for him, but for all of us. It was on that day that two long-standing arguments were finally resolved, setting British culture on a course from which it would never turn back.

Appropriately, with Gordon finally telling his story, the issue in common to both of those arguments was 'authorship'.

We are all authors now, of course. All 'content creators', nurturing our social media streams. 60 years ago, things were very different, and it's not just advances in technology that are responsible. We also need to thank those who kicked down the walls, removing the remnants of the old class system in which we were all supposed to know our place.

Alf's Red Line
For many years, the argument about who should select the England football team had continued, with members of the FA International Committee clinging desperately to the privileges they had held since the 19th century. Walter Winterbottom, England manager from 1946 to 1962, had repeatedly tried to convince the FA that if he had the responsibility of molding the players into a winning team, he should have the right to select them in the first place. The FA weren't having it, and the ancient ritual continued. The nine members of the committee would get together in a posh hotel, share a couple of bottles of port, and through an exchange of opinions such as 'Burgess of the Rovers seems like a decent chap', an England XI would be selected.

But then on October 25th, a new man arrived and swept all that away. Alf Ramsey took the manager's job on one condition - that he, and he alone, would pick the team. When he got the chance to exercise that right for the first time, he gave debuts to two players - George Eastham of Arsenal, and Liverpool's Gordon Milne. Three years later, of course, Alf's insistence on doing things his way was to be thoroughly vindicated.

George Holds His Hands Up
The same morning that Ramsey was handed those powers at the FA's Lancaster Gate headquarters, two miles away, another argument was resolved. This one had been running for months not years, but it had been even more heated. As George Martin opened the latest issue of the New Musical Express at Abbey Road studios, he realised that they had been right all along. For several months he had told John Lennon and Paul McCartney that the songs they wrote were simply not good enough to be released on the A-side of a single. The Beatles' first record would be a cover version, he insisted. 'How Do You Do It?' was the track he tried to foist on them. 'That's just the way the industry works', he said. 'Our job, as producers, is to find the material that you, the artists, record'.

But John and Paul weren't like other artists. They insisted on their own composition, 'Love Me Do', which George Martin didn't rate at all. After much to-ing and fro-ing, George reluctantly agreed to put it out as their debut 45 on Parlophone. Just watch this disappear quickly into oblivion, he thought to himself.

Now, as he looked at the chart in the NME, it was there - a new entry at number 29. It was a hit. 

Paul McCartney, 200 miles away in Liverpool, saw the chart that same morning, and always remembered it as the moment he thought they'd made it. They'd made the charts, and they'd made their point. The argument was settled, not just for the Beatles, but for every artist that came after them. Never again would they have to plead for the right to release their own songs, and within a very short space of time, those who didn't write their own material would struggle to attain any artistic credibility.

In his book, Gordon describes how, inspired by the Beatles' breakthrough, supporters on the Kop at Anfield found their own voice. Their chants had just as much originality, energy and humour as the Beatles' records. He describes how Shankly used that energy to inspire the team to their great successes of the mid-60s. 'It was nigh-on impossible', he says 'to separate the two' (the music and the football). 'It was a magical time'.

So in both cases, authorship was the key issue. Does a person have the right to put his vision into practice, without interference from the likes of the FA International Committee, or the A&R departments of major record companies?

Gordon's book, the last word on Shankly's great side of the 60s, was published on November 6th, four days after Now and Then - 'the last Beatles single' - was released. Ironically, on the B-side is Love Me Do, re-mixed by Giles Martin. The B-side is where his father had wanted to put it all those years ago, before John and Paul put their foot down.

I spoke to Gordon that weekend:

Gordon, what do you think about the timing - the book and the single coming out together?

Well, when you cast your mind back to that time, the Beatles were a crucial part of it. The team took off at that time. Before that, the Kop never sang songs. They would make a noise at a corner but there was nothing like the chanting. Itís taken for granted now but it was a completely different atmosphere.

When I arrived in 1960 the Liverpool set up, the dressing rooms, the training ground was a dump, and the city was not in its best form. It was a whole different generation beginning. We used to talk about it later with the lads - most of them have now gone, sadly. It was a fantastic time to be in the city. With the Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers, the whole scene completely changed. Shankly was clever enough to mix that in with the atmosphere that was created and used the crowd in that way. At twenty to three with the crowd going mad he'd open the door and say 'Can you hear them? Can you hear them?'

Tell us where the idea for the book came from.

Iíve got an office outside the house with all my memorabilia, and there are four or five diaries that my father wrote about when he was a kid growing up, and going for a trial with Dundee Violet, and when he came to Preston, and when he was a manager, and talking about his daily life. To this day I still find them interesting, and I must have read them twenty times. Iíve got three sons myself, and I thought of the pleasure Iíd got out of my dadís diaries, and thought maybe I should do that as my sons may get the same pleasure later in their life. I donít think it will come out as a diary but I found it easy to do in that way. I wrote it freehand, and spoke to Steve (Younger) about it and he put it all together. Itís taken me years, really. Iíve played at it and packed it in and started again.

Your father and Bill Shankly lived on the same street, didn't they?

Yes, opposite each other. We were at 6, Lowthorpe Road, with Bill on the other side. Thereís a bit in the diary where Jimmy says "Shanks used to come across the road when he saw Gordon kicking the ball against the garage door. Iím sure he used to look through the window to see when he was doing that". And Shanks would come across and kick the ball with me.

Your father was nearly chosen for Scotland, then the war intervened. You later played for England. When you were growing up in Preston, did you feel Scottish or English?

Without a question, Scottish. Itís funny this. Before the war, my Auntie Grace came down to live with my parents in Preston. So there were four in the household, and three were Scottish. All my aunties and uncles were Scottish and most were football daft. The only noise I heard was Scottish noise. When that England-Scotland fixture was played my relatives were on the phone from Dundee saying weíre gonna do this and weíre gonna do that.

When your father was the trainer at Preston, he was chosen to do the same job for the Football League XI, wasn't he? And at that time those fixtures were quite prestigious - they were like a trial for the full England team. Did that make it easier for you when you were selected for England, that he'd already kind of moved away from that purely Scottish identity?

We should have had had this conversation 12 months ago - I could have put this in the book! Yes, he was very proud of being selected as trainer. I still have the photo of that game. Looking back now he missed the 1938 final through injury, then the war came along, then he studied physiotherapy and got the qualification he needed, then came the Football League job and taking Preston to the Cup Final in '54.

So your father was trainer at Preston, and you started your career there, but then you felt you needed to move away from him.

You didnít want any of those complications. You wanted to stand on your own. When I was there with my father I was only part-time. For two years I was doing my apprenticeship. There would be odd occasions when I trained with the first team but that would be very rare. I felt the pressure then. Then I went into the army for two years. I knew that when I went full time I didnít want to be in that scenario. It didnít seem right for my dad and for me. I think itís quite natural.

When you were a manager later, did you ask his advice?

I don't know if it was a different generation but the relationships of fathers to sons were - you just get on with it, learn from your mistakes. Trying to have long conversations with your father was a bit unusual. When we were younger, heíd been in the police force and had been through the war. I wouldnít say fear, but it was respect. He was not an easy act to follow - there was always that in the background.

Tell us about that extraordinary moment when you and your wife Edith first met.

It was me and David Kerry, another young Preston player. We were playing tennis one night - two young footballers so we think weíre the beesí knees, poncing around. We saw these two girls playing on another court, and as you do, we were having a look and saying ĎThey look alright!í and their names were Edith and Barbara. It led to two weddings. David and Barbara were still together until a few years ago when he sadly passed away.

Reading interviews with you in the late 60s you said that your favourite game for Liverpool was Leicester away in 1964, in the League.

When people saw that Easter programme, no-one gave us a chance. We were going for the title - Shanks' first title - and United and who else was it, in the race?  (Spurs and Everton) - and we had Spurs away on Good Friday, Leicester away the next day then Spurs again at home on Monday. No-one gave us a chance. I picked up an injury at Spurs and it was touch-and-go for Leicester. We were in the Grand Hotel in Leicester on Friday night and Bob Paisley was trying to get me fit. In those days you played a lot when you weren't 100%. It was 'Let's see how it goes, do your best'. And I played, and we won 2-0, then we beat Spurs again on the Monday.

And that season you were arguably our key player. A regular in the England team, and you got more votes than any other Liverpool player in the Footballer of the Year awards.

You could call it my peak season that, yeah.

When you made your England debut, you almost scored in the first twenty seconds when that shot was saved. What a start that would've been.

My son says it was a back pass!

You didn't make it into the final squad in Ď66, but you had so many great players competing for those positions in the mid-60s - Venables, Ball, Peters, Tony Kay of Everton...

Tony Kay to me personally was my biggest rival. He had the same style as me. He got into trouble later, didn't he. In 1966 I knew I wasn't at the level I had been. I got that injury before the Cup Final and it took me a long time to recover. Other players were emerging and I was standing still or going backwards a bit. I never felt Iíd let myself down in an England shirt, but the recovery period after the injury Ė it took me longer to get back to where I was. What was more surprising was that Peter Thompson didn't make it. In my eyes, Peter was flying at that time. There was that drive back to Liverpool from Lilleshall after the squad was announced, with five Liverpool players in the car. Roger, Cally, Gerry Byrne - they were in, then me and Peter who were out. A report came on the car radio about the squad and Roger turns it off. After that, we hardly said a word. Then there was Jimmy Greaves. I wasnít in the squad but for Jimmy it was worse. He was in the squad, and when he didnít make the final, that killed him.

Do you remember where you were for the Final?

I watched it, but I canít remember where I was. That could be the reason Ė not wanting to watch it, in a way. So sick that youíre not there.

You missed out then but I donít think thereís any doubt that, as a manager, you had more success than any of those who were chosen in Ramseyís final 22. You could look at Alan Ball maybe, and Jack Charlton of course, but in terms of trophies, no-one can rival you.

Itís never even crossed my mind that. Now that you mention it, itís interesting. I canít wish for any more from my career. Of course, there were disappointments, but the longevity of it all is something I look back on with pride.

Even the time at Coventry City. I mean, there were no trophies, but keeping them in Division One for nine seasons has to be counted as a success.

Well, that was the mandate. Produce kids, sell them and stay in Division One. It was a mandate you couldnít really publicize to the fans because they donít want to hear that. They want to hear that youíre going to go to the Cup Final and win the League.

I think one of those seasons, 1977/78, was really fascinating. Itís the year Forest shocked everyone by winning the League, but midway through the season you were right up there, in the title race, and playing thrilling, attacking football.

You know, I didnít put this in the book but there was a TV programme then, when Cloughie received some award. I was sitting watching and he said, ďThis shouldnít be coming to meĒ - you know how he talks - ďIt should be going to that young man in CoventryĒ.


Yeah. Our form at the time was surprising because at the beginning of the season, when the newspapers chose the two teams to go down, one of them was always Coventry City. So that was an achievement, as you say, in a different way.

I asked Gordon a lot about his time at Liverpool of course, but the key section of his book covers those years, so I havenít repeated it here.

Talking to him was a really rewarding experience - listening to that stream of softly-spoken footballing wisdom. One of the best descriptions I read of him while researching his career was 'he's a brilliant game reader'. Well now we know he's also a fine author - and we can be the readers. His book is well worth getting hold of.

Finally, letís go back to October 25th, 1962, the day that Ďset British culture on a course from which it would never turn backí.
It wasnít just in football and popular music.

Two years later, on October 15th 1964, Harold Wilson secured an overall majority in the General Election by a wafer-thin margin. The swing to Labour wasnít as high as heíd hoped for, and without the seats they captured in Liverpool, where the swing was higher than in any other city in England, it would have been a hung parliament. The Tory party were led by Alec Douglas-Home, a classic old-school Tory; a throwback to the age of deference. Had Labour not had that clear majority, the mid-60s in the UK would have been very different.

Wilsonís own constituency was Huyton, just outside the Liverpool city boundary. That was one reason for those key seats in the city falling Labourís way. There were other factors too, such as the decline in the importance of religion in the political life of the city. But the main reason was that wave of working-class energy that put Liverpool at the top of the charts, Shanklyís team at the top of the League, and finally, a Labour man in 10, Downing Street.

Thanks alot for the post. An interesting read of before my era

Excellent stuff, thanks for posting it.

SoÖ Howard Philips:
Good post.

 The Milne/Stevenson midfield went pretty much under the radar compared to Smithís blood and guts, Thompsonís wing player and Saint and Hunts goals.

The more I think of that team is was very Klopp like!

And I never realised how much managerial success Milne had either.

Thanks for posting.

scouse neapolitan:
Excellent read. Thanks for that. Great memories for those of us fortunate enough to have been there - not just the football but the buzzi in our city as well.      Lawrence Lawler Byrne Milne Yeats Stevenson Callaghan Hunt  St John Smith slipped off the tongue so easily. Easier than my times table tables!


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