A football scout by the name of Fred O’Donoghue quoted in his book Scouting For Glory “working for a football club is a delicate business, back stabbing is often rife, suspicion a constant disease.”
One of, if not the most, iconic institutions of English football is the boot room of Liverpool Football club – it’s members made up of Ronnie Moran, Joe Fagan, Roy Evans, Tom Saunders, Reuben Bennett, Geoff Twentyman and John Bennison. They wore red but traded in gold and silver. A staff that brought great combined football knowledge to Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness.
On his appointment, having assessed his playing staff, the was concerns amongst the backroom staff that Shankly, who dispensed with the services of two dozen players would bring his own team. ‘Some managers bring in the own people not me. I have my own system and will work in cooperation with you‘. He kept faith with them but made his demands crystal clear when it came to back room side: loyalty to each other, as well as himself. And no back-biting.
The one thing that mattered most of all was that everyone should pull together in the cause of Liverpool Football Club. This has been the story ever since Shanks preached the gospel of a collective effort – everyone working for and with each other. While the team kicked the ball around on the field of play, the boys on the back room kicked around ideas designed to further the cause of Liverpool Football club. I have read all four books written by the boot room men, the most recent being Mr Liverpool, Bugsy Moran. This year marked the third anniversary of Ronnie’s death. He died a year after his book was published. He was suffering with vascular dementia and his memories sadly taken away. In 2013 he welcomed The Times reporter Tony Barrett in to his “Trophy Room” in his retirement bungalow on the outskirts of Liverpool. ‘Ronnie picked up a framed photograph and trailing his finger along the picture from right to left, he named his former comrades in arms one by one‘, Tony reported.
“The first one is Reuben Bennett” he says. “Then there’s Joe Fagan, me, Bob Paisley and last but not least, Shanks. They’ve all left us now.” Ronnie seemed wistful for the old days, reciting the names of the men with whom he spent the better part of his adult life.
Joe Fagan was another integral part of the boot room. Joe was totally honest. He was the glue holding it all together. If the were little spats or differences, it was Joe who reasoned everything out. Roy Evans, the only surviving member: ‘The strength of Fagan’s honesty provided Roy with many lessons during his early days in The Boot Room. I remember once at Manchester City and one of their coaches, I think Jimmy Frizzell, came to chat to us after the game. We’d won the match and Jimmy was having a go at his manager’s team selection. Joe leaned over and cut him dead, “Hey, never ever call your own manager behind his back, you always back your manager no matter what”, and that was that. The was a similar incident involving Phil Thomson. Gaffer Souness was recovering from the effects of the open heart surgery he had undergone a couple of weeks previously and left Moran in charge in a caretaker capacity. After the game, and in time honoured fashion, Roy, Moran and Thompson and the opposition staff gather together in the boot room over the traditional post match drink, either a Guinness, of which Joe Fagan would store crates in the room having been given them for coaching the Runcorn dept of the famous drink, or a drop of Whisky. To discuss the day’s events they were joined by the United contingent. In an astonishing outburst, Thompson proceeded to lay in to Souness, dismissing his signings and generally rubbishing his spell as manager of the club. Roy attempted to intervene to no avail. It was always drummed in to us that you never bad mouthed one of you own, certainly not to opponents. We all stuck together and that was the way it was, the way it had always been, whether you agreed with it or not. Phil shouldn’t have said what he did but The was no reasoning with him.’
United coach Brian Kidd was so shocked by the outburst that he mentioned it that same night to his ex-United colleague Archie Knox, who was working alongside Souness’s old buddy Walter Smith at Rangers, thought it serious enough to drive down to Liverpool the next morning to warn his old chum that one of his close associates was stabbing him in the back. Souness was livid and made up his mind to sack Thompson. The boot room conjures up so many images, but fundamentally it was about a group of closely knit people all working together with a common goal, honourable, hardworking and honest.
It had everything: balance, functionality and the most importantly, trust. Ronnie Moran and the other members of that football brains trust are never far from my thoughts, I mention them often. The boot room conjures up so many images, but fundamentally it is all about a group of closely knit people all working together with a common goal – winning. Their philosophy, together with the inspiration they gave me from a very early age to work and be part of football’s back room staff. The ‘Liverpool way’ of doing things is understated, private, dignified, strong, principled and consistent. If Shanks and Bob were in the hot seat today they’d be the first to tell you that football is a team game and without the help and dedication of the tried and trusted backroom lieutenants the success and fame they enjoyed would not of been possible. The astute chairmanship of John Smith in the 70s and 80s, ‘we’re a very, very modest club. We don’t talk. We don’t boast but we’re very professional,’ Smith once said after taking over in 1973.
‘Other people have earned more money than me in football but no one has enjoyed it as much as me’.