The Boot Room Boys

INTERESTINGLY, Liverpool Football Club’s managerial heroes were not from the city of Liverpool. Bill Shankly was a Scot, Bob Paisley from the north-east, Kenny Dalglish is another child of Glasgow. Moreover, many of their most influential players have been from other parts of Britain: Ian St. John, Ron Yeats, Kevin Keegan, Dalglish, Ian Rush and John Barnes, to name but a few. The club’s golden age, in the mid-1970s to late 1980s, was built on adopting a more fluid European style of football, taught to them by Red Star Belgrade in 1973-74. And today’s talismanic coach, Jürgen Klopp, is from Stuttgart. 

While the sceptics criticise Liverpool for being an insular, siege mentality club, their influences are far and wide and were more cosmopolitan than their rivals for a long time. Some clubs have tried to adhere to a way of playing that epitomised their culture, but invariably, this has held them back. You could argue Tottenham, Manchester United and West Ham United, among others, were haunted by visions of their footballing past, a house-style that was mostly a myth. Liverpool modified their approach in the mid-1970s at a time when the Dutch and Germans were peddling “total football”. And these changes were formulated in a small corner of Anfield known as the Boot Room.

The BT film, The Boot Room Boys, is a delightful story about a corner of Anfield that will forever be part of the club’s DNA. The image is of a group of ageing men, beer bottles in hand, chatting over the finer points of the game, but this informal setting provided the backdrop for the likes of Shankly and Paisley to build togetherness, common goals and fresh ideas. 

No matter what you think of Liverpool, it was always hard not to respect and admire what they did in the 1970s and 1980s. Yes, they could be machine-like at times, but they were also brilliant and could improvise with the best of them.

Success breeds arrogance in football, but it was not a sentiment you found on the pitch with Liverpool’s players – well, not very often. Shankly was a caricature in many ways, but Paisley was like everyone’s favourite uncle, arrogance was never associated with either, although Shankly could be a poor loser sometimes. 

Yet Shankly was clearly a special person, somebody who created the only true British football management dynasty: from Shankly to Paisley, to Fagan, to Dalglish. It is doubtful if any manager has left such an enduring mark on a club – not even Matt Busby. While so many iconic managers have left behind a club desperately trying to live up to the standards of the departing icon, Liverpool went on to even greater things post-Shankly. That somebody as unassuming as Paisley could succeed his mentor said as much about the strength of the foundations.

What was so good about the Boot Room Boys was the way it told the real story of how the club became a European force to be feared. Watch it, and come away with a very different opinion about Liverpool Football Club.

Liverpool v Manchester City – what would Pep’s side have done with a prolific striker?

GOOD OLD fashioned entertainment, that’s what Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with Manchester City was all about. Two of the three best sides in the Premier League slugged it out for 90 pulsating minutes, there were some excellent goals, an intense atmosphere and, in the end, a fair result – for both teams and for Chelsea, who remained top of the league.

City have a good enough squad to win almost anything, but they didn’t get the striker they wanted in the close season and although their ranks are full of talented midfield players, they do not have the goal machine they coveted. You could argue that a team coached by Pep Guardiola doesn’t really need a Kane, Lukaku or Salah, but on the evidence of this game, the result may have been different if they had a front-man who scores goals for fun – perhaps someone like Liverpool’s 1960s hero Roger Hunt, whose passing was marked with a respectful and emotional round of applause.

Liverpool went into the game still unbeaten, while City had conceded just one goal in their six league fixtures, that solitary effort on the opening day when they lost to Tottenham. Liverpool seem to have returned close to their 2018-2020 peaks while City still have question marks against them after their miscalculation in the UEFA Champions League final against Chelsea. They lost their recent Champions League group game in Paris, but they’re bound to qualify for the knockout stage.

It was a proverbial game of two halves, with City the more impressive outfit in the first 45. Bernardo Silva impressed with his dainty footwork and Phil Foden gradually came into the action and showed why he’s seen as one of the great young hopes for the English game. City should have gone in at the interval a goal to the good, but they were very generous to their hosts.

In the second period, it was a different story as Liverpool found their flow. Mo Salah was outstanding in this half and created the opening goal from Sadio Mané, slipping the ball into his path and allowing him to shoot low past Ederson. Ten minutes later, in the 68th minute, Foden produced a neat left-foot finish from a narrow angle to level the scores. 

Liverpool’s James Milner was fortunate to stay on the pitch after a rough challenge, which prompted Guardiola to lose his composure, stripping off his jacket as if to prepare himself for armed combat. Naturally, this earned him plenty of abuse from the stands, along with former Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling, who some years after leaving Anfield certainly walks alone when he returns to the club.

Liverpool restored their lead in the 75th minute when Salah produced a remarkable run, twisting and turning past defenders, before calmly scoring. The pundits described it as “a goal from a different planet”. Let’s just say it was very good.

Unlike some of their recent trips to Liverpool, City didn’t collapse but scored another excellent goal, Kevin De Bruyne, who looked slightly below his best throughout, finishing after more good work by Foden. This second equaliser sent Guardiola into a frenzy as he celebrated what he would have seen as justice after the Milner incident.

Both sides could have won it, Fabinho thwarted by a block from Rodri, who came out of nowhere, and Jesus denied in similar fashion. It was all hugs and beaming white teeth at the end and Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp must have been relieved they came out of this titanic clash relatively unscathed. Just think what City might have done if they had bought a blue-chip forward in the summer!

Football Read Review: Defining Liverpool – no easy job

THERE is no other football institution like Liverpool in Britain, yet most of us don’t really understand the club or its fans. Our view of Liverpool has been coloured by TV caricatures, media bias and by footballing mythology. Rarely has that view reflected the football team itself, for mostly, Liverpool’s players and management have been a credit to the game, both at home and abroad. 

Rarely has anyone disliked Liverpool’s teams, they have always been a box-office draw and usually respected for their relentless pursuit of success. Even today, while fans of opposing clubs taunt the red men, not many people will say a bad word about the likes of Klopp, Salah and Henderson.

Dan Fieldsend’s book, Locãl, attempts to explain why Liverpool is unique and why the club and city are so intertwined. For most of the book, the author succeeds, the historical material is engaging, objective and informative. Later on, when the focus turns to the current era, the narrative becomes less balanced and reads like myopic fan-lit. Overall, though, it is an engaging book that entertains and answers many questions. 

There are some misconceptions, such as the comments made about the difficulty of winning the European Cup/Champions League if you’re a club from a non-capital. There is nothing to support this theory – of the 22 different winners, 17 are from non-capitals, including Liverpool and Manchester United.

But where this books truly wins is in revealing the history of Liverpool as a city and the culture of the club. It also explains why Liverpool’s fans have the attitude of “us against the world” and why they are among the most “unEnglish” of fan groups. It is arguably one of the reasons why the city has produced so many creative people and why talent still roams the streets.

We have largely forgotten how low the city fell in the 1980s under the Thatcher government and how bad the treatment of Liverpool was by an administration that considered managing the city into submission. This is really quite shocking and it is incredible that during the city’s steep decline, Liverpool won countless trophies and dominated English football until the heartbreak of Hillsborough derailed the club for many years.

Although the book is obviously written by a die-hard fan, there is enough objectivity to gain a clear picture of what Liverpool Football Club means to its home city and why their fans have a special bond with the club. Very few books of this kind have been written, which makes it a valuable addition to any serious football library.

Locãl by Dan Fieldsend is published by Amazon KDP