Ian St John was key to Liverpool’s emergence as a football superpower | Liverpool

Ian St John was a gifted broadcaster. He was the proper straight man for Jimmy Greaves: he clearly discovered him hilarious and his chuckle was infectious. It appears virtually unimaginable that Saint and Greavsie ran solely between 1985 and 1992; to these of us of a sure age, it appeared everlasting, ITV’s light-hearted sibling to the BBC’s extra earnest Football Focus. However the oddity of these sportsmen who’ve profitable second careers is that what made them well-known within the first place is commonly obscured.

Say Ian St John at this time and, for many who know the identify, the image that can come to thoughts is of a clubbable grey-haired man in a sports activities jacket, however it shouldn’t be forgotten both what a good participant he was or how necessary within the emergence of Liverpool as a superpower of English football.

By the spring of 1961, Invoice Shankly was turning into pissed off. He had taken over as supervisor of Liverpool in December 1959 and, though he triggered an virtually immediate enchancment, they completed third, eight factors behind second and promotion. The next season they lacked consistency and completed third once more. He wanted, he determined, two gamers: a centre-half and a centre-forward. Earlier than the switch deadline, he had made a proposal for Brian Clough, whose perennial dissatisfaction at Middlesbrough had lastly reached the purpose of departure, however Clough opted for Sunderland as an alternative.

Who else had the attributes he required? Shankly wished a goalscorer who might play alongside Roger Hunt, someone with the intelligence to adapt to the system he envisaged with twin strikers, fairly than as a point of interest supported by wingers upfront of a pair of inside-forwards, as had been conventional. Clough would have been ultimate, had even performed in a two alongside Alan Peacock at Boro. After which Shankly noticed a line in a Scottish paper: Motherwell had made Ian St John out there for switch.

Ian St John warms up, watched by Liverpool’s manager Bill Shankly in January 1967
Ian St John warms up, watched by Liverpool’s supervisor Invoice Shankly in January 1967. {Photograph}: Night Commonplace/Getty Photos

St John had been six when his father, a steelworker, had died. He was certainly one of six kids who had been introduced up by his mom. He had labored on the Colville steelworks and proven aptitude as a boxer. He would flip 23 that summer time however had already scored 80 league objectives, was already a Scotland worldwide. He had scored a hat-trick towards Hibs in 150 seconds. He was robust, aggressive, intelligent, bristling with vitality and had a watch for aim. He was good. Shankly persuaded two administrators the membership had to signal him, regardless that it meant a membership report payment of £37,500. That very same day they drove to Motherwell in a Rolls-Royce belonging to one of many administrators to watch St John in a sport towards Hamilton Academical. They accomplished the deal shortly after midnight, earlier than Newcastle, who additionally wished him, had had time to act.

Ron Yeats joined from Dundee United later that summer time. Touchdown the pair of them, Shankly mentioned, was the turning level. Liverpool had been promoted the next season, gained the league in 1964 and the FA Cup in 1965, St John scoring the extra-time winner within the closing towards Leeds. He was the proper foil for Hunt, however he was additionally one thing extra. He was brash and irreverent, stuffed with concepts. When Shankly launched pink shorts to change the standard white earlier than a European Cup sport towards Anderlecht in 1964, it was St John who recommended going the entire hog and sporting pink socks as nicely. For the sociologist John Williams in his e book Pink Males, “St John symbolised the arrival of the Nineteen Sixties at Anfield”.

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For a time, music and football got here collectively in a tradition of heady self-confidence, seen most clearly within the mass singing of Beatles songs on the Kop, as recorded by the BBC’s Panorama cameras in 1964. However the first terrace music got here a little earlier and easily changed the phrases “Let’s Go!” within the Routers’ hit with “St John!” He was the primary icon of that aspect.

St John gained one other league title in 1966 and performed in Liverpool’s defeat by Borussia Dortmund within the closing of the Cup Winners’ Cup. However time eats in any respect groups. Shankly was sluggish to rejuvenate his first nice aspect, whose longevity is made clear when juxtaposed with the development of the Beatles, who had soundtracked Liverpool’s first season again within the high flight. In six years, John Lennon had gone from the harmless greetings-card lyrics of She Loves You to Chilly Turkey, a harrowing reflection on heroin withdrawal: St John was nonetheless enjoying up entrance with Hunt.

Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves on set for the filming of a Saint and Greavsie FA Cup final special for Setanta in 2009
Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves on set for the filming of a Saint and Greavsie FA Cup closing particular for Setanta in 2009. {Photograph}: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

The sixties couldn’t final endlessly. After a run of three attracts, St John was dropped for the primary time, left on the bench for a sport at Newcastle, a resolution he came upon about solely when Jackie Milburn, to whom he was chatting in a hall, was handed a staff sheet. Shankly, for all his robust exterior, hadn’t been ready to inform him to his face. Just a few weeks later, when St John complained that the turkey the membership had given him for Christmas was on the scrawny aspect, the membership secretary, Invoice Barlow, informed him the plump ones had been for first-teamers. His time at Anfield was almost carried out. Few ends in football are wonderful; hardly anyone will get the farewell they deserve.

St John’s items as a broadcaster, each on tv and radio, gave him a second act after an unconvincing dabble in administration at Motherwell and Portsmouth. However greater than something, he was a nice centre-forward and an integral a part of Liverpool within the sixties.

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