The Boot Room Boys: BT Sport Film reveals the inside story behind Liverpool’s success

Astonishing archive footage and a reminder of Liverpool’s collectivist culture reveals how the revered Boot Room Boys brought a city back from the brink and ushered in an unprecedented era of dominance.

By Tim Williams Published: 4 April 2022 - 4.22pm

Liverpool’s rise from obscurity to glory, devised in the fabled Anfield Boot Room, was built on a set of ideals familiar in Merseyside: collectivism, community and loyalty.

For in many ways, the nondescript sanctum under the grandstand stairs where Bill Shankly and his backroom staff worked together to orchestrate the club’s resurgence epitomised the spirit of the city. It was Liverpool in microcosm.

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The magic of Anfield’s smallest room, where Shankly, Bob Paisley, Reuben Bennett, Tom Saunders, Joe Fagan and Ronnie Moran transformed the club, was that it represented something far bigger.

Unity is a recurring motif in The Boot Room Boys, BT Sport’s latest documentary about Liverpool’s legendary lineage from Shankly to Jurgen Klopp.

Through disarmingly brilliant archive footage and a formidable cohort of contributors, it charts the rise of Liverpool from second-division mediocrity to, as Shankly prophesied, a bastion of invincibility in English football and then Europe.

Liverpool was a city on the brink after the Second World War. As Britain’s main convoy port and naval base, it was the control centre for the Battle of the Atlantic and heavily bombed by the German Luftwaffe. Four thousand people were killed, 11,000 homes were destroyed and 70,000 were made homeless. It was the second-heaviest bombed area after London.

It was “full of dereliction”, according to author and historian Stephen F. Kelly. Winston Churchill described a heavy raid in the city in 1940 as the “single worst event of the war”.

On the pitch, Liverpool were in disarray. They were relegated to the Second Division in 1954 and beaten by non-league Worcester City in the 1958-59 FA Cup.

It was shortly after this ignominy that the club turned to Bill Shankly, a Scotsman from the Ayrshire coalmining village of Glenbuck, then manager of Huddersfield Town.

Through sheer force of personality, he transformed Liverpool. Supported by his coaches, he overhauled a club with unambitious directors, dilapidated infrastructure and second-rate players, all from the sanctuary of a pokey storage room in the bowels of Anfield.

They won promotion in 1962 and, remarkably, clinched the First Division title just two years later in 1964. The club’s first FA Cup came soon after in 1965. “No praise can be too high for these men,” said Shankly of his trusted lieutenants. The Boot Room was born.

In the Swinging Sixties, Liverpool was a cultural melting pot and the epicentre of a social explosion. Beatlemania swept the globe and the messianic Shankly, an adopted Scouser, was building a formidable football team with all the zeal of a revolutionary leader.

“The socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other”
- Shankly

Astounding archive footage that must be seen to be believed perfectly conveys the sense of invigoration and aspiration in a city enjoying a renaissance after the destitution of the post-war years. “It was like a movement,” says former Liverpool defender Phil Thompson.

Longevity in management is often attributed to reinvention and iteration and by 1972, Shankly’s second great team, spearheaded by Kevin Keegan, were ready to conquer Europe.

Their first European success came in the 1973 UEFA Cup. It marked the start of a glorious adventure that would see them become the pre-eminent force on the continent.

As well as his boot-room staff, Shankly cultivated a strong relationship with Liverpool’s fans, promoting a harmony and togetherness that lives on through the most famous terrace chance of all: You’ll Never Walk Alone.

“The socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards,” he once said. “It’s the way I see football, it’s the way I see life.”

The connection ran so deep that Shankly’s shock retirement in July 1974 sent shockwaves through the city. Devastated supporters even jammed the club’s switchboard praying it wasn’t true. His passing in 1981 touched the whole city.

Bob Paisley replaced Shankly and propelled the club to even greater heights, achieving success beyond his wildest dreams.

He recruited Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen, Graeme Souness and Ian Rush and presided over three European Cup wins, six league championships, three League Cups and one UEFA Cup.

It was the greatest period of dominance in Liverpool’s history, masterminded by a man who had greatness thrust upon him. “Bill built the house, I just put the roof on,” he said.

The Boot Room lineage continued when Fagan became manager in 1983 when, for the first time, all the members were born and bred in Liverpool. The club’s success showed no sign of relenting and Fagan became the first manager of an English club to win a treble in 1984.

20
The number of trophies won by Bob Paisley in nine seasons

Nearly 40 years on, the spiritual symbolism of Anfield’s mythologised refuge is not lost on the current incumbents at Liverpool.

The Boot Room Boys features an exclusive interview with another man who was made for Liverpool in Klopp. Like Shankly, he is not from the city, but he shares an ethos with his deified predecessor and has brought back the glory days after 30 barren years.

“I’m an okay manager,” he says to Peter Hooton, lead singer of The Farm who fronts the documentary. “Together with my boys I’m a pretty good Premier League manager.

“We are very close. I was part of a team when I played football, I’m part of a team since I coached football players. Inside we see ourselves as the Boot Room reloaded!”

The real success of the documentary is that, with the help of a glorious archive, it captures the very soul of Liverpool. It provides a captivating portrait of Liverpool’s legends, but it’s about cognitive diversity, collective spirit and the enduring power of unity.

Liverpool’s assistant manager Peter Krawietz put it best: “Without a tailor, even the king would have to walk around naked.”

Sally Brown, executive producer and commissioning editor, said: “The Boot Room Boys is a fitting tribute to the legacy and influence of the Shankly dynasty, not just on Liverpool Football Club, but on the English game as a whole, and provides a fascinating insight into football management.”

Watch The Boot Room Boys on Tuesday 5 April at 10.30pm on BT Sport 3 or catch up on the BT Sport app or btsport.com.