ALEX LEONARD looks at the upbringing of Scotland’s most iconic managers and how the values instilled in them from a young age helped to shape their football philosophies.
Sixty kilometres from the Belgian border on the banks of the river Scarpe in the north of France there is a town named Arras. It was here on April 23rd 1917, as the British launched an assault on the Germans during the Great War, that Private Alexander Busby of the 7th Battalion of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders was killed by a sniper’s bullet. Consequently, it meant his only son, also named Alexander, born 1909, was forced to leave school before secondary age to work 2,000 feet underground. He had no option but to turn to mining in order to provide for his mother and three sisters. The boy’s headteacher made a personal visit to Mrs. Busby and pleaded with her to allow her son to continue in his education for he believed young Alexander would one day make an excellent schoolteacher but his attempt proved fruitless. Five times a week for three years the boy walked several miles from his hometown of Orbiston, Lanarkshire, in the central Lowlands of Scotland, to the pit in Motherwell and back.
Almost a century after the boy would make that journey again and again, the mining industry has all but vanished and no longer holds the same cultural significance as it once did. It is impossible to truly imagine what life would have been like and so it is appropriate to turn to George Orwell for an accurate description: “the place is like hell,” he explains in The Road to Wigan Pier, “or at any rate like my own mental picture of hell. Most of the things one imagines in hell are there — heat, noise, confusion, darkness, foul air, and, above all, unbearably cramped space.”
For families just several generations behind our own this “hell” and the accompanying bitter poverty was an almost inescapable every-day reality. Yet young Alexander Busby, or rather, to use his middle name Matthew, which he preferred, was one of the lucky few who was able to escape from the squalid conditions, the dangers of mining and the low life expectancy when Manchester City came calling in 1928.
Similarly, the youngest boy and ninth child of John and Barbara Shankly’s ten children, called ‘Willie’ by his family, was able to utilise football as a way out of the filthy mines and the constant hunger and having to steal vegetables from local farms. Born in 1913 in Glenbuck, Ayrshire, he left school in 1928 and alongside his brother John worked in a local mine for two years until it was forced to close. He faced the grim prospect of unemployment; yet just four years later at the age of 20 his love for football and drive to become a professional led him to become a key player in the Preston North End side which achieved promotion into the First Division of English football.
Just a short distance from the Busby home lay a settlement called Burnbank which is now a district of Hamilton. While Busby and Shankly were progressing in their playing careers in England, a young John Stein, nine years Shankly’s junior, was following in the footsteps of his father and working as a miner. “You go down that pit shaft”, he said of his time in the pits, “a mile underground. You can’t see a thing. The guy next to you, you don’t know who he is. Yet he is the best friend you will ever have.” It is this notion of trust and emphasis on teamwork that Stein would later translate to the sport he loved; yet no matter which team he played in or coached throughout his career in football he firmly believed he would never work alongside better men than those he did in the mines. His principles and socialist beliefs and leadership qualities, while perhaps already present in his younger years, were evidently consolidated thousands of metres underground in the dark and the dirt alongside strangers he had no choice but to trust with his life.
Perhaps the same can therefore be said of Busby and Shankly. Perhaps they may not have reached the heights they did at the pinnacle of European club football if they had not spent time in the pits of Lanarkshire. Perhaps it is also possible to presume that Rangers’ William Waddell, who grew up in Forth, also in Lanarkshire, and a certain Alexander Ferguson, who was born in Govan, Glasgow (then in Lanarkshire), and briefly worked as his father did in the shipyards there, would not have experienced the success they did if it were not for their youths growing up in working-class communities. Down the mines and presumably at the shipyards exceptional teamwork and leadership was the minimum requirement if workers wanted to make it to the end of their shift. It is perhaps because of these deep-rooted socialist values which resonated throughout working-class Scotland that this group of men who all grew up within an hour’s drive of each other would become its most successful football managers.
In 1953 Busby was midway through his tenure at Manchester United and was three years away from winning the 1955-56 league title with the Busby Babes. Shankly was manager of Grimsby Town following an unsuccessful interview for the Liverpool job. Stein had long since escaped the mines and had been playing at centre-half for Celtic for two years. Waddell was in the twilight of his senior playing career throughout which he only wore the colours of Rangers. Ferguson was only twelve years old. It was still well over a decade until even the first of the quintet to experience success in Europe would do so; yet Scottish football was beginning to make a name for itself.
That year Hibernian FC travelled to Brazil in order to compete in what was labelled by the country’s FA as a World Club Championship. They drew with Rio’s Vasco da Gama in a six-goal thriller at the Maracanã and it may well have proved one of the most influential football matches in the game’s history. Forty-four years later the Daily Mail published an article titled ‘Why Pele has the Hibees to thank’ which explained why: “You might have thought that Pele and the great Brazilian soccer team that won World Cup glory in 1970 did it all on their own”, begins the piece, which goes on to explain that “fans of Hibs claim that their legendary forward line of the Fifties, The Famous Five, provided the inspiration for the best football team the world has ever seen. They base their theory on what they have found in a Brazilian Football Encyclopaedia, printed shortly before the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.”
While the article labels this story merely a “theory”, this mythical encyclopaedia apparently tells of how Hibs, with their Famous Five of Gordon Smith, Willie Ormond, Eddie Turnbull, Bobby Johnstone and Lawrie Reilly, essentially introduced the style of play Brazil would later become famous for during the fixture at the Maracanã; they formed a five-man forward line and interchanged positions at will. Altogether they notched over a thousand goals for Hibs, and the club secured the league title in 1948, 1951 and 1952. Yet while their final appearance together came in 1955, the quintet’s success inspired Hibs to become the first-ever British football club to partake in European competition.
Despite finishing fifth the previous season, Hibernian were invited to play in the inaugural European Cup in 1955-56 by UEFA because of their reputation and also because the reigning champions of Scotland and England, Aberdeen and Chelsea, both declined the invite. Hibs fared well in their initial campaign, ultimately losing the semi-final to eventual runners-up Stade de Reims of France. During the ‘60s Hibs would go on to play some of Europe’s biggest clubs in the Fairs Cup, including Barcelona, Napoli, F.C Porto and Valencia – and the Easter Road club put all four to the sword at their home ground.
Yet Hibs’ tale is more significant in the sense that it encouraged other British sides to compete on the continent than it is for being particularly successful. The club’s special tale is overshadowed somewhat by the European success that Stein, Waddell and Ferguson would go to achieve with Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen retrospectively – while Shankly and Busby and later Ferguson also would fly the flag for Scottish football in England.
Great Britain’s first European Cup was delivered by the miner from Burnbank. In 1961 Jock Stein led Dunfermline Athletic to a famous Scottish Cup triumph over Celtic before moving to Hibernian and then in 1965 became manager of the club where he had spent five years in defence. His managerial tenure at the club produced ten league championships, nine of which came in a row between ‘66 and ‘74, and six league cups. The pinnacle, however, undoubtedly came in the form of the European Cup of 1967 in Lisbon; Stein’s team defeated Helenio Herrera’s historic Internazionale side which had claimed the trophy in both ’64 and ’65. After falling behind to a 7th minute penalty from Sandro Mazzola the Celts turned the game on its head. Tommy Gemmell’s equaliser 18 minutes after half time was followed by Stephen Chalmers’ winner in the closing stages which confirmed Stein’s place on the list of football’s greatest managers – and he achieved such a feat with a team made entirely of men who were born within 50km of Celtic Park. The captain of that side, Billy McNeill, said of his manager: “Lisbon wouldn’t have been possible without him. Had Jock Stein not come to Celtic at that time, the club would just have lumbered on.” Indeed, many owe the modern success of the Celts to the man who initiated almost half a century of success for Scottish football’s famous managerial quintet.
The proceeding season’s European Cup was won by Busby’s Manchester United at Wembley; after a thrilling 4-3 triumph over Real Madrid in the penultimate round his side faced Benfica in the final. Following a 1-1 draw over 90 minutes, George Best, Brian Kidd and Bobby Charlton dealt killer blows to end the hopes of their opponents. Like Stein, Busby is often credited with the modern success of his club for he instilled the values he would have learned from his grandfather who was an active socialist and trade unionist; for instance, young Busby the miner took part in the 1926 General Strike. In 2008 the Telegraph explained how “the Manchester United player conforms to a template set by Sir Matt Busby in the post-war period”. This template consists of “heart, loyalty and responsibility” – and it would later be protected by Sir Alex Ferguson throughout his 26 years at the club.
At the climax of the 1971-72 campaign it was Rangers’ turn to achieve silverware in Europe as Willie Waddell’s side defeated Dynamo Moscow 3-2 to claim the Cup Winners’ Cup in Barcelona just sixteen months on from the Ibrox disaster. While Waddell led Kilmarnock to their only league championship in 1965 and also delivered the Scottish Cup during his time at Rangers he is not generally regarded in the same band as Stein, Busby, Shankly and Ferguson, largely because of Celtic’s domestic monopoly throughout the 1960s. Indeed, he is somewhat of an enigmatic figure whose personal life and beliefs are barely recorded; despite his achievements little is known of him other than that he was a lifelong servant to Rangers, inspired immense pride in his players and, admirably, coordinated the reconstruction of Ibrox in the wake of the disaster. Yet like his counterparts he utilised the left-wing principles of the community he represented and of working-class Scotland at a particular period in history and translated it into European silverware. For that alone he deserves a place on the list of his country’s finest managers.
Just as Busby’s United followed the success of Stein’s Celtic with their own, Shankly’s Liverpool won the UEFA Cup the year after Rangers’ victory in Europe. Unlike Waddell, Shankly made his personal beliefs and ideologies evident. His strong personality survives through his quotations and it is through this medium that many can still relate to and understand the man who would become a legend on Merseyside. Born in the same county as Keir Hardie, one of the founding members of the Labour party, Shankly spoke about football as “a form of socialism”. Undoubtedly his most famous quote in this respect is: “the socialism I believe in is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That’s how I see football, that’s how I see life.” His 1959 appointment at a Liverpool side struggling in the second division and the subsequent turnaround which saw him lead the Reds to the 1964 First Division title encapsulated the beliefs he accumulated growing up in Ayrshire and would have learned from his trade unionist father. Shankly’s UEFA Cup triumph seven years later, which saw his Liverpool side overcome Borussia Mönchengladbach 3-2 over two legs, was the crowning glory of his career and personal politics.
This leaves the youngest and most successful of the quintet; labelled as a “socialist emperor” by the Telegraph, Sir Alex Ferguson’s European trophy haul of a Cup Winners Cup and UEFA Super Cup with Aberdeen in 1983 followed by an identical double eight years later with Manchester United, in addition to the Champions League titles of 1999 and 2008, means he surpassed the achievements of Busby, Shankly, Stein and Waddell and did so in an era which meant his career and style became increasingly paradoxical. As explained by the Telegraph, Ferguson, upon his move from Pittodrie to Old Trafford in 1986, became “the firebrand anti-hero at the helm of the world’s richest club – the kind of elite institution to which he was by nature opposed”. Yet as the history books detail this pairing of global institution and socialist Scotsman reared on the shipyards of Govan proved a perfect match.
Perhaps that is why in 2013 Ferguson chose David Moyes as his successor; perhaps in the Everton manager he saw not only a man from Glasgow like himself suited to longevity but a man who forged a career from the same values and experienced a working-class upbringing similar to that of his own. At the time Ewan Murray of the Guardian wrote that the two “have plenty in common”, specifically “Glasgow, a fondness for the Labour party and a dedication to the old-fashioned values of hard work”. Although Ferguson’s judgement was ultimately deemed incorrect by Ed Woodward, perhaps what he was attempting to prove by appointing Moyes with the hope that he would succeed is that the values forged in Scotland he and his counterparts stood for can still triumph in football regardless of the climate. Maybe if Moyes had been given more time that would have been the case.
Yet in the modern game perhaps there is no longer room for such thinking; perhaps Ferguson, inspired by Busby, Shankly, Stein and Waddell will be the last true Scottish socialist to conquer Europe. No longer in football are personal politics quite so prominent, no longer will managers have worked in mines or at the shipyards, and thus no longer will there be men in football quite like those five. Perhaps when Ferguson retired it drew to a close a period of almost half a century that largely belonged to a quintet of Scotsmen who became European champions because of what they believed in and what they had experienced; as the recently-retired great sportswriter Hugh McIlvanney explained, “they learned about teamwork from men whose survival depended on it”, and almost a century after young Alexander Busby had to walk to the mine and back every day such a lesson seems well and truly confined to the history books.
ALEX LEONARD – @AlexLen1995