The former Liverpool manager was born and raised in Glenbuck, an isolated mining community in East Ayrshire. He was one of at least 53 professionals to hail from the tiny East Ayrshire village, a roll call that included six Scotland internationals and four FA Cup winners.
Now, 85 years after its junior side the Glenbuck Cherrypickers played their last game, The Cradle of Football, a new BBC Radio Scotland documentary, reveals how a grassroots regeneration project hopes to revive the area’s proud footballing tradition.
Robert Gillan, a youth football coach from the nearby village of Douglas, hopes to reinstate Burnside Park, the old village pitch, one of the few areas not swallowed up by Spireslack, a nearby opencast mine.
The 49-year-old runs Glenbuck Academy, where he trains youngsters and teaches them about Glenbuck’s sporting history. As part of his fundraising drive, he has helped organise a match on 1 May between his team and a side from Liverpool, sponsored by the Shankly Family Foundation charity.
Fans from the Merseyside will also take part in a sponsored cycle, setting from the Shankly Gates at Liverpool’s Anfield stadium and making the 200 mile journey north to Glenbuck.
For Mr Gillan, the co-author of Shankly’s Village, a book documenting the community’s glory days, the goal of bringing football back to Glenbuck is about more than sport.
He explained: “It’s a rural area and the kids here, underprivileged kids, don’t really get a chance to get scouted by big teams. My priority is to get them up to a level so they can feel confident.”
“I think it’s important to pass on the values that Shankly and the Cherrypickers had. These were guys that worked down the coalmines and all they had was football. It taught them about community and working together.”
His plans have won the backing of the Shankly family. His daughter, Jeanette Carline, still has the miner’s lamps her father used while working down Glenbuck’s pits as a teenager.
She said: “My dad just loved going back to Glenbuck, it was a special place. I think if there’s been that many footballers from the village, there should be something to commemorate it and make sure people know about it.”
Mr Gillan’s ambitions also tie with proposals by the Scottish Mines Restoration Trust, a body set up by the Scottish Government to restore 10,000 acres of abandoned opencast land across the Southern Uplands.
With the support of the British Geological Survey, it wants the area to become Scotland’s first carboniferous research park, thanks to the striking geological features around Glenbuck.
Professor Russel Griggs, chair of the trust, said: “The opencast mine at Glenbuck has created a cliff face that lets you look at layer upon layer of rock, it gives geologists a view on things they’ve never had a view on before.”
“One of the things we want to look at is whether we can combine the social history of Glenbuck, which is mainly around mining and football, with a wider social history of what opencast has done for that area.”
The Cradle of Football will be broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland at 9.30am on Sunday 28 February.