Book Review – Shanks, Yanks and Jürgen, by Bob Holmes.

Book Review – Shanks, Yanks and Jürgen, by Bob Holmes.
September 16, 2020 Chris Rowland
In Book Reviews, Chris Rowland, Free


Shanks, Yanks and Jürgen traces the direct lineage between the two messianic managers who book-end the modern era of Liverpool FC, as well as the dramatic history of the club in between, unparalleled in its spectacular peaks and equally deep troughs. The author, a journalist and Reds fan now based in Asia, contends that with Liverpool FC, all roads led to and from Shankly.

It is a story we all know, but is well told here. Holmes’ book traces that history and the men who shaped it in between. Whilst fully accepting that much of the credit for Liverpool’s return to their perch belongs to a German manager, American owners and players from around the globe, Shankly, he claims, still had a hand in it, his philosophies still resonating to this day.

The book does contain a few surprises, to me at least. There’s a certain amount of sympathy for the conventionally-castigated David Moores during the torturous process of selling the club, initially to Dubai Investment Capital (DIC) and ultimately to Hicks and Gillett.

“Moores was hard done by”, claims Holmes, claiming Moores acted in the interests of the club and not for his own pocket, but that he was badly misled and let down – undone by bare-faced lies, basically, and a degree of deception that lay way outside his experience. And there’s a fascinating account, during a section on the Spion Kop and the war in South Africa where the name originates, where two of the greats of history, Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill, passed “like ships in the night” whilst the future World War 2 Prime Minister was serving as a journalist and Gandhi as a stretcher bearer. A real sliding doors moment…

And I had not been aware that, such was the excitement swirling around Liverpool fans at the appointment of Jürgen Klopp as Liverpool manager that 30,000 people tracked his flight from Germany to Liverpool on October 8th 2015!

The Acknowledgments take a tour around many of the best-known writers, books and films about Liverpool, Klopp and Shankly, including a certain Paul Tomkins. The Foreword by John Dyke, an Asia-based journalist and broadcaster specialising in English football, describes the book as “an affectionate and insightful study of Liverpool’s journey from those formative Cavern Club days to Klopp’s Heavy Metal era. It masterfully juxtaposes Shankly’s acerbic sayings with Klopp’s rumbling bonhomie.”

A well-researched dig into Shankly’s history takes us back to his teenage years at Glenbuck, Ayrshire, where the stark choice of work options were basically coal-mining or football. And then the pits started closing … There’s an interesting comparison to the way football was played and regarded north and south of the border, with the amateur spirit summed up by the Corinthians, where individualism and playing the game in the right spirit were the important elements, whilst north of the border teamwork, togetherness, common purpose and a ferocious will to win were the drivers. Scotland beat England more often than the other way around in the early days.

Talking about Glenbuck, this piece should appeal to TTTers:

“As for players, Glenbuck nurtured no less than 50 professionals from a village of never more than 1,700 souls (and mostly a few hundred) in just three generations. Or, at its peak, one in every 35 inhabitants. It’s enough to have Manchester City and Chelsea taking soil samples. Both spent fortunes on their academies.”

The author makes several obvious parallels between the two managers’ core philosophies and key strengths, and the ways they conducted their business. For example, both set out in dogged pursuit of two pivotal signings that would emerge as the proverbial last pieces of the jigsaw, and would accept no substitute. For Yeats and St.John, read Van Dijk and Alisson.

Chris Carline, Shankly’s grandson and co-owner of the Shankly Hotel in Liverpool city centre, said “Jürgen Klopp and my granddad have a lot of very similar traits” – and he should know!

There are a couple of quotes and a mention for our own Paul Tomkins, the first on when doubts about whether selling to Hicks and Gillett began to arise:

Paul Tomkins, the man behind The Tomkins Times, also got wind of criticism, but admits:

“They might have seemed alright at first, but a friend in the States kept e-mailing me and saying these guys [Hicks and Gillett] are not good owners –  they have a really bad reputation. He called them cowboys.”

Later, talking about the contrast between Hicks and Gillett and NESV/FSG, the book says:

Paul Tomkins’s (sic) The Tomkins Times is a byword for balance and incisive analysis of all things Liverpool, which is why (John) Henry took him to lunch. Asked for his take on the owners, eight years on, this is an abridged version of what Tomkins wrote in his blog (though we at TTT are definitely not keen on the word blog – we would prefer ‘site’! – Ed):

“When Liverpool was close to administration in 2010, someone had to buy the club. FSG (then NESV) did so, when fan initiatives couldn’t raise the money, and while FSG haven’t pumped billions of their own money into the club, they have operated it no strict sensible principles – selling players when a ton of money is offered and putting that money back into the transfer kitty (and learning not to rush to spend it on the wrong players): revamping Anfield, with an increased capacity, and now with a state-of-the-art new training complex in Kirkby; improving marketing and merchandise; and keeping the wage bill within the generally accepted sensible parameters.

Debt isn’t being heaped on the club in the way it was under the previous owners. FSG also realised the quality of a manager like Klopp, and paid him and his staff big money, because they knew he could get more value for money in the transfer market given how he improved players. FSG’s reputation in America was always much better (than their predecessors) from what I could tell. They had brought success to the Red Sox, whereas Hicks and Gillett mostly left chaos wherever they went.”

RAWK also get a mention, explaining Liverpool’s curiously singular manager cult:

“We are known as a manager’s club. It’s about wanting to see the club personified in a single figure that we can show immense devotion to.”

There was one manager who was exempt from such devotion, of course, and here Roy Hodgson is described as having “the charisma of the M25 southern section.”

As for Liverpool itself, it is branded here as “England’s least English city.”

Holmes spells out the massive part played by the supporters and the connection between them, players and manager, the “holy trinity” as Shankly called it. Spirit of Shankly indeed. And quasi-religious terminology is scattered around the book – terms like evangelical, missionary zeal and communion convey the parallels between organised religion and the Liverpool faith and the Church of Anfield, the club “boasting a following more passionate and devoted than some religions.”

Today’s football may be a global business complicated by three of Shankly’s pet hates –  high finance, agents and greed – but you are left with the distinct impression that Shanks would still have loved Jürgen Klopp.

You can order Shanks, Yanks and Jürgen here.

Paul Tomkins’ new book “Perched: Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool FC – Champions Of Everything” is available NOW!:

– Buy via UK Amazon

– Buy via US Amazon