Bursting the ball on the crossbar: Billy Liddell’s final Liverpool days under the new manager, Bill Shankly

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On the 10th of January 2022, Billy Liddell would have been celebrating his 100th birthday and as the countdown to one of our greatest ever player’s milestone day edges closer – here’s an excerpt from the book written to mark the event: Liddell at One Hundred.

Many people believe that Liverpool began in 1959 when the great Bill Shankly took the helm at Anfield and one man who was certainly part of his maiden team, was the veteran Billy Liddell.

Promotion from the Second Division wasn’t secured until the 1961/62 season, the campaign after our fourth-highest goal scorer retried but this two year period in between saw a crossover of two legends at very different parts of their Merseyside careers.

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Liddell was in the latter days of his footballing life, in his late thirties and dropped (for the first time in 20 years) by newly replaced manager Phil Taylor.

When the influential Shankly took the top job, he singled out the experience and talent of the flying Scot and, despite his advanced years, used him frequently.

‘Billy was to play 11 of the final 14 matches of the new manager’s maiden season.

‘Some of the terminology used to describe his role in his penultimate match of the campaign perhaps best suggests his impact: ‘Liddell, who has obviously lost his speed, did his best work in the second half, but close marking ensures that if he is not getting over the centres, there is little else to offer.’

‘It should be noted that this final spell of first-team action saw two famous moments for all those in attendance.

‘One came against Shankly’s old team Huddersfield Town when Billy was tasked with taking a penalty to put his side 3-2 ahead.

‘He was looking to score his 35th Liverpool penalty and his mind was set on power, too much power.

‘His penalty kick reverberated around Anfield as it walloped the crossbar with such power that the ball burst, the same ball that was almost knocking players out as often as it was being passed in this era.

‘The cannon of a left foot had not gone, but maybe the eye for goal was diminishing.

‘The second memorable moment came in a match at home to Stoke City.

‘Young Roger Hunt was making a name for himself in Shankly’s resurgent side, lifted to third by the end of the season, and he scored the first in this 5-1 victory against Stoke.

‘Hunt continued to impress, and when he crossed the ball five minutes before the break, it met the left foot of Liddell and for the final time he found the back of the net.

‘Fittingly, the loss of the toss had meant that Liverpool were kicking to the Kop for the first half, so his final goal was scored in front of the ones who loved him dearest.

‘The age of 38 years and 55 days meant that Billy was, and remains, the oldest player to ever score for Liverpool. A fitting tribute to his longevity.

‘The following seasons saw the first of Billy’s three final matches for Liverpool.

‘Of the 37,000 in attendance in August 1960, no one knew for sure whether it would be the final time he would represent the Liverpool first team.

‘The appearance made him the oldest post-war player to play an outfield match for Liverpool.

‘He was still to represent the club at reserve level but never again amongst the club’s elite.

‘The physique was still there, but little else was living up to the legacy that had so long graced Merseyside.

‘The upsetting report from the Daily Express read: ‘Billy Liddell, the once-great footballer who is 39 in January, was thrown back into the furnace of League football last night in place of Liverpool centre-forward Dave Hickson. But though the heart is still in his great frame, the reflexes are gone. I winced every time Billy fumbled an attempt to trap, turn and shoot. And I say Liverpool must stop asking the impossible of a man who is still Anfield’s idol’.’

It’s sad to hear of the demise of a 38-year-old’s legendary status but it is important to remember the lack of sport science, the terrible pitches and the fact that there were no substitutions for him to be used as an impact player in search of a goal.

What is also important to note is that the man who recalled the great Billy Liddell into the Liverpool team is a man widely regarded as the greatest manager Liverpool, and if not the World, has ever seen and for him to bring the aged forward back into the limelight shows what he thought of him.

Every story has an end and this was his, if only their time had overlapped earlier or if we had been able to utilise our oldest ever scorer in his prime and during the halcyon eras of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

All quotes obtained first hand by the author. Billy Liddell at One Hundred is available here.

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