HERE we go again, you might think. I have used this saying before but no club is a prisoner of its past as much as Liverpool. Whether it is the bronze bust of Bill Shankly that surveys Melwood’s reception, the replica of the fifth European Cup that stands on a plinth a few yards away or simply a bad result reminding Brendan Rodgers that he is not meeting the standards of previous managers, Liverpool’s history is there; its weight almost unbearable as a wooden cross being carried on the road to Golgotha.
Even the arrival of Carlisle United at Anfield on a Wednesday night in late September for a League Cup match presents a souvenir of the better times. Bill Shankly began both his playing and management career there, while Geoff Twentyman came from the city, played for its football team under Shankly then moved to Liverpool, later to return when Shankly needed a chief scout.
As it happens, I wrote a book about Twentyman, released in 2009, entitled Secret Diary of a Liverpool Scout, which is still available on Amazon and at niche shops (sorry for the plug but I’m contractually bound to mention it in articles like these, honestly), so this week, rather than having a good old grumble about how grim matters are at Liverpool presently, I thought it might be nice to profile Twentyman, as a lot of his work went unnoticed for years.
Twentyman’s son, William, runs a barbers’ in Crosby, north Liverpool. For those of you who don’t know me, I don’t get my haircut very often but when I do, it’s where I go. It costs me a tenner. The place is a treasure trove of memorabilia, with signed shirts decorating the walls along with tickets stubs and letters of commendation from managers of other clubs delivered after Twentyman retired. One of them is from Alex Ferguson.
There is a copy of the Liverpool Echo from 1954 with the headline of ‘Twentyman fits the bill,’ and an evocative photograph from a few years later of Twentyman striding before the Kop looking macho, while Brian Clough, who seemingly has been pole-axed, sits in agony on the muddied grass in front of him with a doctor tending to his bloodied forehead.
William is proud of his dad, who died in 2004 following a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. During his life, William admits that Geoff was aloof, a quality that perhaps accounts for his success as a scout.
Shankly had moved on to Grimsby Town by the time Twentyman, a left-half, transferred from Carlisle to Liverpool in 1953. It prompted Shankly to get in touch again, congratulating him in a letter for “stepping up to the big stuff” then describing Liverpool as “probably the finest club in the game, with the most ardent supporters”.
The support mattered not that season, as Liverpool were relegated from the old First Division, finishing bottom. It was not until Shankly’s arrival five years later, indeed, that fortunes began to change and by then Twentyman had joined Ballymena United in Northern Ireland, where he wound down his playing career before returning to live in Carlisle.
Until 1967, there was a struggle for Twentyman, who was dismissed as manager of Morecambe and Hartlepool when they were known instead as Hartlepools. Clough took his job and there was a feeling within the Twentyman family that Clough had touted himself to the Hartlepool(s) board as they deliberated whether they should get rid of Twentyman.
Initially, his sacking left Twentyman and his family with nowhere to live and upon going back to Carlisle he sought work as a van driver.
According to Norman Clarke, who became his closest friend at Ballymena and later scouted for him at Liverpool, Twentyman considered finding employment on Merseyside at the Halewood car plant, “using his last £5 to cover the cost of travel,” when it was announced that Norman Lowe, Liverpool’s chief scout, was leaving to live in America. It prompted Shankly to call Twentyman on the same day and quickly enough, he was travelling to Liverpool for a very different opportunity.
Twentyman’s brief from Shankly was simple: to find the best young players Liverpool could afford with the greatest potential to develop in the future, or “to make Liverpool successful by the cheapest way possible,” as Shankly later put it. Twentyman spoke of Shankly’s desire to “get them young so he could mould them into what he wanted”.
Twentyman was given the keys to Shankly’s old orange-coloured Ford Cortina and sent on the road. “One of the doors had been damaged and sprayed a different hue,” Twentyman remembered. “It never fitted properly and there was a draught.”
His other tool was a scouting diary, a remarkable artefact, which today can be seen in the Museum of Liverpool. In it, Twentyman reveals many of the players he recommended and some of those he didn’t. The diary looks like a bookkeeper’s ledger and the notes are basic in the extreme, detailing a target’s name, surname, age, estimated height and weight as well as his position and a few brief observations.
For John Toshack he noted in 1970: “Very good in the air. Does a job we want.” On Phil Neal in 1974 he wrote: “Played as a central defender. Done well.” And two years later he saw Alan Hansen, who he described as: “The best CH (centre half) in Scotland,” and someone who was “worth buying now”.
Son William was regularly asked at school to reveal which players Liverpool were looking to sign but his dad was secretive and rarely mentioned his work. He later claimed, however, that Liverpool’s primary reason for signing Hansen, who had driven Partick Thistle manager Bertie Auld mad with his languid style, was down to the club trying to avoid a sizable tax liability.
Writing a book about Twentyman was challenging because he rarely spoke about what he was up to. He simply wrote down what he saw and supplied the information to Shankly, Bob Paisley or Joe Fagan.
He was modest and did not need to justify his own existence by telling anyone who would listen of his achievements. He merely did what he was paid to do and carried on.
Now, did somebody over there at the back mention Liverpool’s transfer committee?
Pic: PA Images