Bob Paisley was a fine trainer and physiotherapist, long before he became, in my opinion, English football’s greatest manager. Anfield in late January saw the long-overdue unveiling of a bronze statue of the great man. It was pleasing to see that the sculpture was based upon the picture taken when Paisley was in his trainer/physio days, carrying off Emlyn Hughes who had a badly cut knee. This image is everything that Liverpool stands for; helping each other, getting through tough times, with everybody working for each other. Paisley, in his red woollen Gola tracksuit, on a horrific day weather-wise, carried off Hughes. You can see something had damaged his hand, along with the bleeding from the knees, with Bob carrying him on his shoulders.
The match was in April 1969, a 1-1 draw against Tottenham. The former manager never really talked about that game or carrying the midfielder off on that day. Hughes never mentioned it in interviews either, as it was just par for the course back then. It does seem to be emblematic of what Paisley brought, as he really was the man who carried the club to great things, and this was an iconic moment in Liverpool’s football history. This was Bob as the humble sponge man as they used to call him because he was a physio as well as a coach. Do you know what that relates to? People helping each other, that’s what it’s about, everyone in a football club helping each other.
So, it is fantastic to see this recognition of the indispensable backroom staff. This really is the metaphor of life. I have an article at home based on when he was a trainer: “It’s Not Just A Magic Sponge” was the headline from the Liverpool Echo back in January 1974. I was only four years old when this was published but having read the article, not a lot has actually changed in the key aspects of the day to day role over the years, apart from the equipment obviously. A trainer’s life is one of the busiest jobs associated with football as it’s a 24/7 affair, however, the principles remain the same. One of the most important aspects of the trainer is to remember that you are dealing with people who don’t come made to measure. They come off the peg and all react very differently to circumstances in life, and that we must not forget that human science is far more important. Although the standard work of the average trainer is the treatment of soft tissue injuries, either when they happen or the necessary remedial exercises later, the trainer’s responsibilities extend much further than this simple concept. Not only is he a qualified expert in the needs of the footballer, but he is also their sympathetic adviser as well.
So when Bob was asked what are the essential qualities required in a good trainer, his reply was “a combination of everything”. He has to have expert medical knowledge, immense football experience, be quick and alert in summing up every conceivable situation, both on and off the field, and when it comes to an injury he must also be something of a psychologist. You have to know your players inside out, both from injury and the individual matchday superstitions. Some are high-morale, some are low morale and some need an arm around the shoulder. What is important is that you regard them not so much as footballers but, with a medical man’s eye, as individual people. One would confidently suggest a quiet, but knowledgeable person, with an easily approachable personality.
Because the trainer has to spend many hours with a player after injury, teaching them therapeutic exercises and during this period he/she must develop a bond of respect between one another. The trainer will be asked questions way beyond those concerned with the injury; social, domestic, financial and emotional problems will be discussed. Often it is the trainer who first finds the seeds of discontent which may lead to a transfer request later; and in the case of very serious injuries, the player will draw on the trainer’s knowledge of other players who have sustained similar troubles.
The Anfield boot room was a small group of people, it wasn’t about titles and initials on tracksuits. The managers preferred the word ‘staff’ with every one of them being all-rounders, all taking the turn to do the running on duties on a match day for three or four seasons each. They even had a rota of who would take the kit home to wash. There were no egos, everyone had a common goal and that was to win football matches. I was inspired by the boot room men of Liverpool Football Club and their true values and philosophy. It has been a privilege to have been part of football’s backroom staff for many years.