Sir William Liddell – to bestow upon him a title he more than earned – WAS Liverpool Football Club. He was its spirit. He was also its honesty, its integrity, its heart and its passion.
To Reds such as my mother and father and others of the pre-Bill Shankly generation he represented a ticket to acceptability. To some sort of footballing respectability. The “Liddellpool” tag the club was awarded was no hype or coincidence. It was fact.
My father would tell me that Billy kept the team going virtually single-handed during that dispiriting eight year Second Division spell we endured in the fifties. Catching the tail end of that era myself I suppose I had my own feel for what he meant, though of course as a young Liverpudlian simply seeing a red shirt on green grass was such a thrill in itself it tended to dilute any disappointment with the team performance. Nevertheless, with so little of any footballing eminence to which to cling during those dark days, Liverpudlians really did used to bask in the comforting knowledge that in “their Billy” they possessed someone who was as good as any other footballer around. No mean feat when you’re talking about Tom Finney and Stanley Matthews for starters.
Nor was this anything to do with local bias or parochial vision. Billy Liddell was the real McCoy. In fact he was THAT good he was actually selected twice for the Great Britain representative side to play, I think, against The Rest of the World. That knowledge alone gave every Red a massive fillip and sufficient justification for holding their heads up high.
For the likes of myself growing up in Liverpool during the fifties – too young to have seen the man at his best – we simply hung onto the tales of our parents and families with a steely determination and open-mouthed wonder. For we, too, were deprived of any other footballing excellence at that time. We, too, were desperate for ANY morsels of greatness. Even at that young age, deep down we knew our lowly place in the footballing echelon and craved to escape from it.
And so we’d revel in hearing how his immense power allied to simple but matchless skills meant he was virtually unstoppable down either left or right wing. How he was just as unstoppable at centre forward too. How hard he could hit that ball with either foot. How he’d had that fantastic goal disallowed against Manchester City because the ref had blown for full time while it was still in flight. And then THE photo with the encircled referee would come out of the sideboard drawer just to prove it. For the umpteenth time. Above all else just how much of a gentleman and a true sport Billy Liddell ALWAYS was. Whatever the provocation. Whatever the circumstances. Always a peerless ambassador for his club, his adopted city and his country. A man to be revered.
I suppose it was the reverence for him that stood out above everything else. The sheer universal respect that existed for this truly unassuming man. Believe me, both Red and Blue alike had a mutual respect and awe of Billy Liddell that I have only ever encountered only for two other people. One was the incredible William Ralph Dean and the other was Bill Shankly himself. I think that says everything about the man.
Billy Liddell, we salute you. You were a true legend. You were my first footballing hero. Arguably you were the best of all because you were ours alone. A true Local Hero. Looking again at your picture above, I am reminded just how much you really DID look like my dear father whom you have now gone to join. I know he will welcome you like a lost friend Billy and if you find that he has been pretending to be you up there these past fifteen years then just do what we kids used to do. Just humour him and let him sign your autograph book like he used to do for us way back then. Readers of Faith of our Fathers will know what I mean.
By Alan Edge, author of Faith Of Our Fathers