Bill Shankly memorial unveiled on his birthday
In the neat grounds of Muirkirk’s Heritage Park, Scousers and Scots alike witnessed the unveiling of a new and permanent memorial to Shankly, who was born and raised four miles away at Glenbuck village.
There is already a plaque to his memory installed by Liverpool FC supporters amid the rubble of Glenbuck, where nearly every building in the famous footballing village – no less than 38 professional footballers came from there – was bulldozed when the pits closed and open cast mining began nearby.
With Glenbuck all but gone, Muirkirk is claiming Shankly as its own, and with the memorial that depicts his life they have made a more than decent attempt to honour the man who learned to play football in these environs and went on to become the most famous man in Liverpool outside The Beatles.
The memorial was unveiled by Liverpool legends Alan Kennedy and Roy Evans after being put together by artists John Crosby and Sid Barlow as part of a public art project run by East Ayrshire Council.
“It was a great privilege,” said Barlow, “and from the start we wanted to do justice to Bill Shankly.”
Crosby echoed that view: “As people who knew nothing about football, we knew we had to get the information on the memorial right, and I think we have got it all correct.”
Children from Muirkirk Primary School had an input into the design of the bright metal collage – red being the dominant colour, of course – that stands atop a metal bench.
Were the ghost of Shankly to sit there he would see that opposite his memorial stands a sculpted miner above a monument to all the men and boys who died in local coal mines, including the 17 men killed in the Kames Colliery explosion on 19 November, 1957.
Mining was in Shankly’s blood, and like almost all his peers, he went down the pits after leaving school. He escaped, however, to play football for Carlisle United and Preston North End before embarking on the managerial career that took him to Liverpool and 15 years of glory.
Kennedy, who twice scored the winning goal for Liverpool in European Cup finals, said he was deeply honoured to have been asked to perform the ceremony, as he joined Liverpool after Shankly retired. He told a story that showed Shankly’s humanity.
“I didn’t know Bill that well,” said Kennedy, “but after the 1974 (FA) Cup Final which my then team Newcastle lost 3-0 to Liverpool, he came up to me and said ‘hey, you did all right, you always played decent stuff and you put your heart and soul into the game’.
“That he was prepared to have a word with me in a situation like that showed me what a great, great man he was.
“A month later he resigned as manager, which was a shock, but four years later when I joined the club, he was the first man I saw in the corridor, and he said ‘how are you doing?’ and encouraged me again. He was so passionate about the game, he was incredible.”
Roy Evans played for Liverpool under Shankly and went on to become a coach at the Scot’s suggestion, eventually managing the club for nearly four seasons in the 1990s.
Evans is in no doubt about Shankly’s influence over Liverpool: “We had ended up in the Second Division and he got us out and into the First Division and we went from strength to strength, winning the championship and the FA Cup and later winning in Europe. Without him, we would not be where we are today. The man will never be forgotten, both here where we are today, and certainly in Liverpool where he is revered by so many people.”
Also in attendance and helping to organise the memorial and unveiling was Liverpool FC sponsorship representative John Joyce, the former Motherwell FC player who was signed by Shankly for Liverpool as a 15-year-old.
“I was thrilled to bits to sign for Liverpool when I left school,” said Joyce. “I had played for Scotland shoolboys and been for trials with English clubs, but when I met Bill Shankly there was only one club I would sign for. He was very kind to me, and he would talk to me about Kilmarnock, where I come from, and about Ayrshire and all the footballers from here, and when I went to see him to tell him how homesick I was, he said ‘son, I am from the same place as you, I know how you feel’.
“He then called managers on my behalf and Ian St John took me to Motherwell. Bill Shankly was the kindest and most humble of men, but that’s what helped make him a truly great man.”
Ian O’Connell, 47, organised the busload of Liverpool FC fans who came north to attend the unveiling: “We had to be here. We attended the celebrations here last year for what would have been his 100th birthday. The history of how he came from Glenbuck to create his Liverpool FC is just fantastic. The memorial really captures that in an imaginative way. I never met him myself, I only ever saw him from a distance as a youngster, but to us Bill Shankly is Liverpool – that’s it in a nutshell.”