Corbyn Quotes Shankly: Liverpool, Football, and Socialism

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 24, 2016: Liverpool supporters' banner "We are the famous Kopites" before the FA Premier League match against Hull City at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

IT was a Saturday of roaring success for Reds of all dispositions across Merseyside as Jürgen Klopp’s team swept aside Hull City and Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected as leader of the Labour Party for the second time in a year.

Unless you’ve been too busy toasting one or both victories ever since, you’ll be fully aware by now that Corbyn, facing his second leadership election after a spate of Shadow Cabinet resignations and a vote of no confidence supported by c. 80 per cent of the Parliamentary Labour Party, saw off rival Penfold from Danger Mouse Owen Smith with consummate ease and in the following days has delivered a number of speeches outlining his vision for the UK under a Labour government, while calling for the Party to unite and fight the Tories.

You will also have noticed, no doubt, that he chose to end his final speech and indeed the 2016 Labour conference, held in our own Echo Arena, with a quote from Bill Shankly.

He said, “Let us do it, in the spirit of the great Scots-born Liverpool football manager Bill Shankly, who said, ‘The socialism I believe in, is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That’s how I see football, that’s how I see life.'”

The decision to go with a Shankly quotation is an interesting one — far more nuanced than simply thinking, ‘We’re in Liverpool so I’m bloody well going to quote someone who was a hero here to make sure I definitely get a clap.’

In fact, to some it may even be a peculiar choice. He is, after all, standing in a room full of mainly Oxbridge-educated MPs, journalists and political activists, many of whom you would assume have very little interest in football. He alternatively might have gone for something from Clement Atlee, or someone of that ilk.

But the pertinence of that particular quotation from Shankly is that it boils socialism down to its very foundation: a belief in people to work together and make the world a better place. It eschews complex political theory and reduces an ideology, about which thousands of academics have written thousands of books, to something that can be understood by anybody from any walk of life.

It’s also nice to hear something about Shankly in the press that does not relate to that hideous fucking Sega Dreamcast-looking hologram that has been haunting my dreams for the past month.

There are certainly similarities in the way Shankly set out to turn Liverpool Football Club into a footballing force and Corbyn’s method of Labour leadership — principally, both set out to reform struggling institutions through the use of people power.

For Shankly, the goal was to take Liverpool from the second division to the pinnacle of the first, while for Corbyn it remains turning Labour around from the devastating 2015 General Election defeat to the Tories and offering a viable alternative to austerity in order to gain power.

In the statement that followed the announcement that Shankly would take over as Liverpool manager in 1959, he explained: “I am very pleased to and proud to have been chosen as manager of Liverpool FC, a club of such potential.

“It is my opinion that Liverpool have a crowd of followers which rank with the greatest in the game. They deserve success.”

Having the people on side was crucial to Shankly’s strategy to modernise the club and instil fear in every other team in the land.

Yes, he could train the players and change the kit to all red to start things off, but he needed a raucous crowd of believers behind him to truly make it work.

Soccer - Bill Shankly In His Office

And Corbyn sees things similarly. In the same speech he announced that more people had joined the Labour Party under his leadership than had done in the previous 20 years. Labour is now the biggest political party in Western Europe and the Momentum group, despite the mainstream media making them out to be worse than the Nazis and Khmer Rouge combined, has been set up to act as a social movement and reach into communities disillusioned with Westminster politics.

Part of the success of his leadership campaign was that his team created an app to allow supporters to call up undecided voters across the country and explain why he was the man for the job.

Both men even underlined their beliefs with speeches outside St. George’s Hall in the city centre. Shankly stood atop the plateau after winning the FA Cup in 1974 and highlighted to the throng of 100,000 their role: “Since I came here to Liverpool, and to Anfield, I have drummed it into our players time and again that they are privileged to play for you. And if they didn’t believe me, they believe me now.”

In August, Corbyn spoke to thousands of supporters and posed for photos holding aloft the ‘UNITY IS STRENGTH’ banner that adorns the Kop at most home games.

And in that we find a truth – that Liverpool was and is a socialist city, and that must be remembered and respected.

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-22-03-02

The power of socialism and its relevance to the people of Liverpool has nary been better illustrated in recent years than in the success achieved by those that fought for justice for Hillsborough. Families, survivors, supporters, a city, a people, came together to right a wrong and fought elitism and systematic oppression with such fortitude that the justice system in the United Kingdom has been changed forever and the attitudes of many towards the city and disaster have been proven wrong.

People worked together for years to achieve a common goal and succeeded, and this city has never seen a prouder moment than that day in April when we all gathered at St. George’s Hall once again and stared at the word ‘JUSTICE’ writ large across its pillars.

Thus, the display of a banner on the Kop for the Hull game at the weekend featuring the faces of both Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, amongst a message about foodbanks and support for an inquiry into Orgreave, was, for me, a welcome one.

Though some Liverpool fans will clearly hold different political viewpoints, the fact is that the pair’s views are in keeping with a significant proportion of what this left-wing city believes in.

Liverpool in 2016 votes Labour, full stop.

And at the minute it needs a Labour Party that will support the NHS and not privatise it, with the Royal Hospital absolutely on its arse. It needs a Labour Party that will build affordable council housing instead of throwing student flats up everywhere, á la Joe Anderson. It needs a Labour Party that will reverse austerity measures that have forced thousands here into abject poverty. Any show of support for all that in Anfield is absolutely fine by me.

Corbyn, of course, faces a problem Shankly never had to cope with — convincing those who oppose him to come aboard. Once Shankly had his team and the city on his side he did not need to win over supporters of other clubs. But Corbyn, massive mandate and social movement or not, must now go out and somehow persuade the other factions of the Labour Party and people who vote Tory and UKIP to buy into his ideals.

That is a massive challenge and even his most fervent supporters will admit it looks increasingly difficult.

He has a bloody long way to go and innumerable barriers in front of him, but if the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn can be half as successful as Liverpool Football Club under Bill Shankly, they might just change politics, and this country, forever.

29 Comments

  1. No way in hell that Corbyn/McDonnell banner belongs in the ground

  2. Comparing Shankly with Corbyn, Really?

    This is a piece about politics tenuously linked to football. If there’s one thing I can’t stand about being a Liverpool fan it’s constant linking of football and socialist politics

    I’d prefer LFC to be apolitical

    • Sukh you just don’t get it do you? ….. Liverpool is a socialist city and LFC is a socialist football club.
      If you can’t understand why that is, you should get yourself an education.

      You could start by investigating why Real Madrid and Barcelona are such fierce rivals then move on to why Celtic and Rangers hate each other so much.

      LFC apolitical? ……… only in the eyes of a football virgin.

    • The club is linked to the City/Community and this particular city has had to hold its own from the Conservative policy of managed decline to the mass unemployment in the 80’s.

      Then there was Hillsborough where the city again had to stand up for itself against inaccurate claims and the continuous campaigning by the families for just.

      Then there was the campaigning against Hicks and Gillett aswell where a political framework was used to leverage them out in the same of a Trade Union style organisation in Spirit of Shankly.

      As a Punjabi/Sikh myself we have seen 1984 and continuous injustices by the indian govt aswell. So therefore I feel more inline with principals of LFC and fellow Reds and confirmation that this is the club for me.

      • robin crimes

        Excellent comment Joe.
        I wanted to say, I find the Sikh community very nice people but if I’m honest I found Indians very nice people too. I often refer to them as the most gentle people you could meet so I was disappointed on my visits to the Punjab and Amritsar / Chandigarh to read about the history (although I do vaguely remember it from when I was a kid). I don’t really understand why the world has to be like this. I visited the Punjab many times on my way up to Manali (don’t ask).
        Interesting to read your comment though about why you particularly empathise with LFC. Never really looked at it that way. Good stuff mate.

  3. Sorry, but tough.

    My city, my politics, my club. All linked.

    One of the greatest things about our support is that we fight for things. That will never change.

  4. I’m a socialist. I’ve been a candidate in local elections for Labour. My late dad (from Halewood) had a long and successful career in Labour politics. He was brought up a Shankly acolyte and was there for those heady days when modern Liverpool was born in the 60’s. My political compass has always been set by him and, therefore in turn, by Shankly’s socialism.
    But Shankly was a pragmatist and a winner. And the Labour Party was founded in order to represent the needs of the people in parliament – not as a protest movement, or a solidarity march or an ideological whimsy. Corbyn is a good man – but he has been deeply misguided, self indulgent and recklessly destructive in his overthrow of the party. And he has ensured a Tory government with no effective opposition for a generation to come. For that he should be ashamed. As should anyone who tries to compare him to the great Bill Shankly.

  5. readsomehistory

    Your club, huh Karl? Was true until it became big enough to be a WORLD club and is made up of players from all over the WORLD. Socialism is great, until you run out of someone else’s money. Lazy people will continue to be lazy (just ask my neighbor) until they can’t be anymore. I love LFC and I am a supporter as you are but that doesn’t mean we have to throw politics into someone else’s face when we all can just enjoy a great game of football. Bad move, Karl. Make LFC apolitical.

  6. One of the things that makes me feel most proud of being a Liverpool fan is its identity. More so than it’s trophy laden past if I’m honest. Due to a programme on Radio 2 tonight about protest songs I was wondering to myself are my political views naturally formed from my wiring or have they been shaped by music and the team I love. I’m inclined to think the latter. On a separate issue, Gareth’s piece earlier tonight got me thinking about whether it’s right or wrong for Klopp to be giving interviews. I decided some of the values we hold dear aren’t necessarily right or the only way. This is modern football and although I’d give anything for crowd culture and admission prices to return to the 80’s I can accept things progress. Football is more exciting now than it’s ever been I reckon. It’s evolution and I’m not complaining. It is what it is. One thing I don’t want to change though is Liverpool’s identity. I’m proud to support Liverpool because of what the city represents in a way I couldn’t be if, say, I was a Chelsea fan. So, if I’m honest, it saddens me to see comments like Sukh’s. I think he’s missing a big part of what it is to support Liverpool. I’m not saying only socialists can support Liverpool, far from it but I think all Liverpool fans should have an appreciation of what Liverpool is about whether they hold those values or not. Klopp doing his interviews may well be the start of a more modern way of doing things and I’m happy to accept it. I’m less keen on Liverpool losing the identity which has become intrinsically linked to the city. I felt proud that Corbyn’s victory was delivered in Liverpool even if I am from Chester, haha but even more proud of the banner on the Kop.

  7. Charlie Christian

    That Corbyn banner was an absolute disgrace. The vanity of it is actually mind blowing. No politician has done anything like enough to merit their face being lashed next to the HJC logo, never mind Corbyn or McDonnell, two men who most people would never have heard of fifteen months ago.

    Social democracy is not about individual politicians or a set of policies. Social democracy is a collection of values, the most important of which is equality. So yes, Liverpool is a socialist city and yes Liverpool FC’s support has deep roots in those socialist ideals but to link the HJC with the Corbyn campaign was, in my view, utterly crass and belittled everything the HJC represents.

    As for comparing Corbyn to Shankly? Right. Shankly built Liverpool up and up to the top of world football. Labour will be lucky to exist as a viable political force when Corbyn and McDonnell are done with it.

    I really do hate to resort to what sound like insults but pieces like this do little to counter the claim Corbynism has become an unquestioning cult.

  8. Alison McGovern will be coming out quoting Roy Hodsgon at this rate.

    Sukh reminds me of when idiots came on this comment section blaming fans for Sunderland’s goals after the walkout.

  9. Antonius Block

    I am a lifelong Labour voter and I have no problem with the sport/politics overlap – we have learned to our cost that these worlds are inseparable – but this piece riled me. Whilst Shankly’s wonderfully simplistic reduction of complex political ideas into a simple maxim is one of my favorite quotes, it is also a little one eyed. Yes, a football team is everybody working together towards a common goal, but that goal is the defeat of all opposition. That is the unspoken part of Shankly’s words. Togetherness was not an end in itself, the purpose was always to compete and win. As well as being a man that undoubtedly had socialist ideals, Shankly was above all a winner – a man that hated losing, a man that was driven by the urge to be the best. A bastion of invincibility.

    Jeremy Corbyn is a self-serving incompetent who has fatally completed the near 10 year journey from being one of the most powerful political machines in the democratic world – a bastion of incvincibility – to being an introspective, self-obsessed, excuse making, organization that has zero chance of winning power in the next 20 years.

    If a comparison is to be drawn between Corbyn and an ex-Liverpool manager, then the more suitable candidate would be Roy Hodgson.

    • I think that I would prefer to have an honest, principled man in power than another Blair/Cameron clone. If you now cannot get elected because you are honest and principled, that says more about the people of the UK than it does about Mr. Corbyn. You get the government you deserve.

  10. Go ‘ed la!

  11. Shankly -legend Corbyn – left wing romantic with no balls.

  12. Jezza can promise us all a golden unicorn that shits money but it makes no difference. I have more chance of being Prime Minister before him

  13. I count myself very much left wing but this…just no.

    Liverpool support has been largely left leaning and socialist for years and it’s one of the things I love about the club. But Jeremy bloody Corbyn shouldn’t be anywhere near LFC. Was he channeling Shankly when he stood on a podium and smirked as Ruth Smeeth was abused by one of his acolytes? And why was he on that banner? The fella appeared on Press TV FFS. Everyone has a right to expression but Corbyn and McDonnell have done nothing to merit that. And this quote is straight off “The Canary” –

    “the Momentum group, despite the mainstream media making them out to be worse than the Nazis and Khmer Rouge combined”

    You’ve managed to hit every Corb cult keyword there. Even mentioned the Nazis. Are you Ken Livingstone in disguise? Maybe you can explain Hitler next.

    The “mainstream media” think Corbyn is a joke. They called Miliband’s dad a traitor to the country. Corbs has had nothing compared to that, even though there’s an absolute ton of ammunition (the IRA stuff and aforementioned Press TV appearance just for starters).

    It’s a well written piece and there’s space for a real exploration of Liverpool fans socialist outlook over the last 50 years but wow, Corbyn shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as Shankly. Ever.

  14. Excellent article. Nothing about politics at the moment is ever going to be met with unanimous acclaim, but I really enjoyed this article and thought Saturday was a brilliant day for the city.

  15. Not really into politics and do not know what Corbyn is about but he does not come across as a great leader, far closer to the Hodge (reads books) than Shankly. Completey dissapeared during the Brexit vote, (I voted to stay in Europe), Shankly would never have done that.

    • I understand people’s concerns about his leadership qualities, but I would argue that depends on your definition of a leader. This is a man who has emerged resilient and refreshed despite enduring a brutal leadership challenge.

      Regarding the referendum (I also voted to stay), it’s a point often made about Corbyn that he wasn’t around for the Remain campaign, but this is a man who attended hundreds of events across the country and made it clear he was in favour of remaining a member. I think the fact that his message centred more around remain and reform, rather than just remain, gave the impression that he wasn’t truly in favour of remaining. I believe his approach was honest and genuine and I think if he campaigned in any other fashion Labour would have had more voters vote to leave.

      • Troutbeck_Red

        It easy preaching to the converted and from the outside thats what Corbyn does, he has a group of followers but if you are not part of this group I dont know what he has to offer. Leadership is about turning doubters into belivers and having somebody gives the aura of being in complete control and knowing what they are doing and how they are going to do this, the great Liverpool managers all had that in common and did it in different ways, Shankly was outspoken, Paisley was quiet but ruthless etc, these were all people that you would follow and trust. During the Brexit debates Corbyn went missing and missed a golden opportunity to say how good the EU is on social and ecological reform all the things the tory party are dead against and not once did he come across as standing up for the EU or any of its social benefits and if he did I missed them along with everybody else.

        • robin crimes

          Hiya mate. I’ll be honest, I found that a little bit of a contradiction if I’m honest. You can say Paisley was quiet and ruthless which I’d agree with but you could also say he was unassuming as a man (as some have said). Look at his success though. Compare him to Rodgers who, in fairness, had the slick aura, spoke the lingo and played the game. There’s no contest. I pray that one day we’ll judge politicians on their actions or what they’re potentially capable of and their convictions rather than their image. I think it’s a sad state of affairs at the minute. Paisley wouldn’t get a managers job today I don’t think, were he starting out, yet he’s one of the most successful managers of all time. Some of that was down to the support he had around him. Corbyn would have support too but in truth we’ll probably never get to see if he was better than the charlatans of New Labour. The Labour party without Corbyn is a complete joke in my opinion and certainly not something I’d buy into. But, perception is king it seems in this country and that is based largely on image. I think it’s a real shame.

          • ‘The Labour party without Corbyn is a complete joke in my opinion and certainly not something I’d buy into. But, perception is king it seems in this country and that is based largely on image. I think it’s a real shame.’

            Very much so. Image is far much more than it should be. In some ways it is part of Corbyn’s appeal. He isn’t polished or well-versed in PR techniques and doesn’t play the game in the way many politicians do. Numerous journalists stated their surprise at his directness in terms of actually answering questions when he was first elected Labour leader.

            On the other hand – and I find this very sad – I wonder how broadly he can appeal to an electorate that has been conditioned to expect to see certain things in their politicians i.e. sharp suits and slick put-downs.

            He is a man of principle, substance and integrity. I will never understand the personal hatred some have for him.

            I’m not suggesting Troutbeck_Red hates him, I am commenting more broadly.

          • Hi Robin,
            my point about leadership and with Liverpool managers was that they all had a strong personality and they were all different, Shankly, Paisley, Fagan, Kenny and Rafa. Some were quiet some were more talkative some ignored the press but they all commanded respect from the players and it was always clear that they were in charge and made all the decisions and they had a plan and new what they were doing. They were all strong leaders and this is the aura that came through, they were in charge and they would make the decision they thought best for the team. Corbyn does not come across as one of these type of leaders, he comes across as lacking gravitas, as did Rodgers. I dont know a lot about politics or what Corbyn is about politically but I would not compare his leadership with the leadership of any of Liverpools great managers.

  16. ‘I felt proud that Corbyn’s victory was delivered in Liverpool even if I am from Chester, haha but even more proud of the banner on the Kop.’

    This^^^

  17. Keep politics and religion out of football.

  18. Phil Rowan

    That’s my tweet used. It’s just the start as well. The next banner in the pipeline is about the great jack jones and the Spaniard civil war. Should be done soon.
    Think we will go for a James Larkin one after that.

  19. Most people thirty plus will not vote labour…This is a Tory country and the middle ground is where it is won and lost …young people are joining the Labour party…but they won’t vote in numbers and that is why Labour will not win the next election. ..It is sad but for me true.As for Liverpool and politics, It was built on socialist ideas,but the days where it was a socia list club died a long time ago…its core support from the city is left wing…but you ask a lot of the fans from outside the city they wouldn’t have a clue about the left wing connections to the club.

  20. Those people who do not understand that for many of us politics and supporting LFC inseparable. If you don’t get that then you’re probably following the wrong club. And if you’re a big fan of social democracy rather than democratic socialism you’re probably more suited to the Lib Dems than the Labour Party.

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