Merseyside’s Scottish Football Managers

This article originally appeared in Issue 2 of The Merseysider magazine. The managerial merry-go-round has continued spinning since then, and Kenny Dalglish is of course no longer Liverpool manager. His replacement Brendan Rogers may not be Scottish but he is a Celt!  And now there’s renewed speculation about David Moyes’s future – is he about to continue the Scottish stranglehold on Man Utd by succeeding Fergie? [UPDATE No.2: Well, David Moyes did join Man Utd, but unfortunately…You know the rest!] (Also check out our article on Liverpool Trojans and the history of baseball in the city – did you know Dixie Dean was a baseball player?)


David Moyes and Kenny Dalglish are just two of the Scottish managers currently dominating English football. John Hinton investigates the phenomenon.

Liverpool has in fact had several notable Scottish managers in its history. Matt McQueen managed the club for five years in the 1920s (winning the title in 1923), and his successors have included Bill Shankly, Graeme Souness and (twice) Dalglish. Everton has now been managed by a Scot for fourteen years, with Moyes succeeding Walter Smith in 2002.

So what is it about Scottish managers? Could it be the red hair? After all, even Harry Redknapp (the most successful English manager of recent years) has a surname that means ‘red-headed’ and a barnet to match. And Andre Villas-Boas…ok, maybe not (though he did pretty well at Porto).

A rather more considered solution to the conundrum is sought in a recently published study. The Management, by Michael Grant and Rob Robertson, explores the familiar Scottish manager stereotype (shrewd, disciplinarian, intensely focused, straight-talking), testing its validity by examining the careers of a parade of Scottish managerial greats. David Moyes, no less, has called it ‘a great book’.

Tracing the history of high-achieving Scottish managers since the Second World War, it’s possible to identify three distinct generations, the leading lights of the first being Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and Jock Stein. Busby managed Manchester United for over 20 years, winning five titles and a European cup, but he came surprisingly close to taking the helm at Liverpool. He’d captained the club as a player in the 1930s (becoming something of a mentor to the young Bob Paisley), and was on the verge of accepting a Liverpool coaching job when United approached him to become their manager.

Bill Shankly is described in The Management as a typical working class Scot of his time. Like Busby he’d worked as a miner and he always saw himself as a man of the people, with a strong belief in the power of collective effort. His approach to management was based on wit, honesty and directness. Tommy Smith tells the authors of the book, ‘He confronted things head on and you respected him for it.’ His hoard of trophies (three league titles, two FA cups, one UEFA cup) may have been relatively modest but he created the modern Liverpool, lifting them from the Second Division and transforming them into a team whose fans have come to expect and demand success. His own inner belief (a characteristic of many Scottish managers) was communicated to his teams. He sought to create an aura of invincibility, repeatedly reminding players they were the best in the land, and telling them in pre-match team talks that he’d just seen the opposition arriving for the game and they looked terrified.

Bob Paisley and Bill Shankly: who was the greatest?

Bob Paisley and Bill Shankly: who was the greatest?

Shankly was succeeded by arguably (though personally I don’t think there’s any argument about it) Liverpool’s greatest ever manager, Bob Paisley. He was from County Durham, but in view of his surname, and for the purposes of this article, might he perhaps be considered an honorary Scot? There were certainly important Scottish influences in his career: as mentioned earlier, he encountered Matt Busby early in his playing career, then later on was a member of Liverpool’s backroom staff throughout the Shankly years. Paisley’s incredible managerial record included six league titles, and he’s the only manager in history to win three European Cups.

The second wave of Scottish managers includes Kenny Dalglish, Walter Smith, Graeme Souness, George Graham and Alex Ferguson. All of these had played under, worked with or been influenced by the older generation of Scottish managers and they shared many of their values. Walter Smith, for example, had spells as Scotland under-21 coach working with Jock Stein. Smith is revered north of the border for his achievements with Rangers. Before managing Everton he steered them to seven consecutive league titles and he secured another three (again consecutive) after returning there in 2007. His four year spell at Everton was less successful, Smith proving unable (unlike David Moyes) to do much with the club’s limited financial resources.

Walter Smith: incredible success at Rangers but he couldn't replicate it at Everton

Walter Smith: incredible success at Rangers but he couldn’t replicate it at Everton

Graham Souness’s legendary toughness as a combative Liverpool midfielder was central to his style of management, and in Grant and Robertson’s book he has some interesting reflections on his shortcomings as a manager, admitting that he ‘wanted success yesterday’, and ‘was maybe a bit too aggressive’. His strength of character served him well at Rangers, where he revolutionised Scottish football by becoming their first manager to sign a high –profile Catholic (Mo Johnston). He also signed an unprecedented number of English players, including Terry Butcher, Ray Wilkins, Trevor Steven and Gary Stevens. There were high expectations when he came to Liverpool, but his ‘bull in a china shop’ approach (Souness’s own description) alienated many at the club. His three years at Liverpool included an FA Cup trophy in 1992, but his time there is largely remembered as a period of controversy off the pitch and under-achievement on it.

Souness came to Liverpool following the shock resignation in 1991 of Kenny Dalglish, who had won the title three times, along with two FA Cups (he was the first Liverpool manager to win the double). During five full seasons at Liverpool the club never finished lower than second. But Dalglish’s time at Anfield also included Hillsborough and the Heysel stadium tragedy, which occurred the day before he took over as player/manager. These events must have taken a heavy toll, and after a dramatic, emotionally draining 4-4 draw with Everton he told the Liverpool board he had had enough and wanted to resign with immediate effect.

Dalglish, like most of the great Scottish managers, was brought up in Glasgow, though his father was an engineer and his childhood was not one of stereotypical poverty and hardship. Nevertheless Graeme Souness has remarked that he has the stubbornness of a Govan shipyard shop steward. During his first period as Liverpool manager, Dalglish’s magic as a player won him immediate respect from the dressing room, and even 20 years later his legendary status makes him a commanding figure at the club. His dry, sarcastic demeanour contrasts strikingly with the volcanic temperament of his great rival Alex Ferguson, though there are interesting connections between them. When Dalglish was a teenager living near Rangers’ Ibrox stadium he was a friend of one of the players and Ferguson, also a player at the club, would give the pair of them lifts in his car. Dalglish then joined Celtic and as an 18 year old playing at centre half he marked Ferguson in a reserve game. Ferguson was also a regular customer at a restaurant owned by Dalglish’s father-in-law, who when the future United manager revealed his ambition to run a pub gave him advice on frying fish and handling beer barrels. If during their managerial careers the media have seized on the more barbed exchanges between them, there have also been several instances of mutual support and respect, as when Ferguson wrote the foreword for Dalglish’s autobiography.

David Moyes, Owen Coyle (at Bolton) and Paul Lambert (at Norwich) are all examples of the third generation of Scottish managers. Moyes’s father worked in the Clydeside shipyards and his early childhood was spent in one of the poorer areas of Glasgow, but when he was ten his father had a change of career and the family moved to a more prosperous suburb. Nevertheless Moyes says in The Management that those first ten years had a formative influence on him. He also recalls that travelling across the city to Celtic Boys Club as a teenager entailed eventful journeys in which he was often ambushed by gangs of Rangers supporters: ‘You were edgy all the time…….you had to have your wits about you.’ He adds, ‘You had to be tough. Not physically tough, mentally tough. I see it a lot in Liverpool too. There is a toughness to the people here and there’s a toughness to the people in Glasgow.’ His parents’ work ethic also instilled in him an extraordinary level of determination and ambition. Despite the limited money for players available to him at Everton he has generally kept the club challenging for a place in the top six, an achievement recognised by his peers in the League Managers Association who have voted him Manager of the Year three times.

During his career Moyes has received encouragement from older Scottish managers, including Walter Smith, Alex Ferguson and former national manager Andy Roxburgh. The Management raises the question of whether he might be ‘the last of the Mohicans’, the final representative of a dying breed of hard, traditional managers. Moyes himself has carefully studied and made use of newer management techniques, drawing on sports science, psychology and the advice of nutrition experts. He also firmly believes in the value of coaching courses and in many ways his style reflects the more sophisticated approach of the modern game.

The Management notes that the mining villages and the heavy industry which moulded the likes of Bill Shankly and Alex Ferguson (a qualified toolmaker) have all but disappeared, observing that ‘Scotland won’t be able to draw from a reservoir of great working-class managers any more’. But other influences remain, such as a national obsession with football and, in many parts of the country, a strong sense of community and local solidarity. The current abundance of managers from Scotland in the Premier League certainly lends support to the book’s conclusion that future Scottish managers will still have ‘something that has fuelled great managers since football began: Scottish DNA’.

Cartoons by Spanner.

‘The Management’ by Michael Grant and Rob Robertson is published by Birlinn Limited.