Initially playing for the local Glenbuck Cherrypickers and Auchinleck Talbot juniors, Bob Shankly went senior with Alloa, both he and his brother John netting on his debut in a 2-1 win over Dundee in the Penman Cup. During the week, Shankly continued to work as a miner for 3s 5d per day, which was in stark contrast to the £2 he received for turning out as a centre-forward for “the Wasps”. He then had a spell with English non-League side Tunbridge before signing for Falkirk. And on hanging up his boots at the age of 37, he accepted a coaching position with Stenhousemuir before becoming Falkirk manager in 1950.
After seven years in charge, he took over as Third Lanark boss and soon his astute management brought results. By the time he joined Dundee in October 1959, he had brought through a clutch of talented youngsters like Hilley, Harley and Gray and Thirds were headed for the League Cup Final. The Dens Park board were impressed and, recognising that Bob Shankly (48), was the ideal man to continue the development of promising youngsters like Alex Hamilton, Jimmy Gabriel, George McGeachie, Hugh Robertson, Ian Ure, Alan Gilzean and Andy Penman, they named him manager after Willie Thornton resigned due to his wife’s ill-health.
Shankly was Dundee’s tenth manager and although initially languishing in mid-table, his influence saw them climb to fourth place by the end of the season. Bill Shankly was making similar progress with Liverpool but although the English Division Two side came north for the official opening of the Dens Park floodlights in March 1960, the brothers did not meet as the Anfield boss was looking for new players and, instead, was at Highbury for the League International between England and Scotland.
The 1960-61 campaign began brightly but injuries to Doug Cowie, Andy Penman, and George McGeachie took their toll and Dundee could only finish eighth. By then, Shankly was resident in the city after almost two years of commuting from Kincardine but on the park there were clear signs that he was close to a winning combination. He realised the importance of adding experience to the youthful talent already at Dens and that term he had signed right-half Bob Seith from Burnley with inside-left Bobby Wishart arriving from Aberdeen. Meanwhile, veteran inside-forward Albert Henderson had gone to St Mirren and, in a shock move, long-serving club captain Doug Cowie (34), was allowed to join Morton.
It was the summer of 1961 and now Shankly made another surprise move, securing 37-year-old outside-right Gordon Smith – a former Scottish international and one of the most famous players in Scottish football. And although many doubted the wisdom of the signing, Smith - like Seith and Wishart with their previous clubs - had won championship medals with both Hibs and Hearts. It was to prove an inspirational move, his clever prompting and deadly crossing a major contribution as Dundee embarked on a 19-game unbeaten run, which included a coupon-bursting 5-1 win over Rangers in Glasgow.
At one point, near the end of January 1962, Dundee held an eight-point advantage over the Ibrox title favourites before enduring a six-game slump without a win. And, just as Shankly had produced a winning blend, he now used all his vast experience and refused to be panicked into changes. In the end his judgement was vindicated – only 15 players were used that season - as Dundee went on to win the Scottish League Championship with seven straight wins, the last a 3-0 triumph over St Johnstone at a sunny Muirton Park on 28th April, 1962.
As well as their wonderful, flowing football, it had required great resilience to take the title and the Dark Blues would now play in the 1962-63 European Cup. West German champions Cologne were first to be put to the sword, going down 8-1 at Dens before Dundee were made to survive a rough-house return leg to qualify 8-5 on aggregate win. Sporting Lisbon, who had pipped Benfica, the European Cup holders, to the Portugese championship, were brushed aside (4-2 agg), before Anderlecht, conquerors of five-times winners Real Madrid, were defeated 6-2 on aggregate in the quarter-final. That had involved a magnificent 4-1 victory at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels and now Dundee were taken very seriously indeed. However, the dream of playing in a European Cup Final at Wembley final was to end with a 5-1 defeat to AC Milan at the San Siro, although Alan Gilzean - scorer of nine European Cup goals - headed the only goal in the Dens return to restore a measure of pride.
Bob Shankly had taken it all in his stride but success can bring its own problems. In 1962, following the title win, several top players held out for increased wages before finally agreeing terms. The European Cup run brought similar difficulties with Ian Ure refusing to re-sign and despite the manager’s best efforts, the board accepted a £62,500 Scottish record transfer fee from Arsenal in August 1963. Undeterred, Shankly introduced some of the younger players and there were goals galore as Dundee raced to the 1964 Scottish Cup Final only to lose to Rangers. The Dens boss had developed Alex Hamilton, Ian Ure and Hugh Robertson into becoming full Scottish internationalists and now Alan Gilzean had made his Scotland breakthrough.
In 1963-64, “Gillie” had netted a record 52 goals for Dundee and also held the club’s all-time scoring record. Now, though, the ace scorer wanted a transfer to England and after two months out of the game, he re-signed on a monthly basis. In December 1964, Gilzean was sold to Tottenham Hotspur for a new Scottish record fee of £72,500 despite Shankly’s protestations. His departure had been almost inevitable but it came as a bitter blow and although the talented Charlie Cooke was signed from Aberdeen for £40,000 - a record fee between Scottish clubs at the time – a Scottish Cup first-round defeat to St Johnstone was the final straw for the Dens Park boss.
He had refused to sign a new contract and, in February 1965, resigned to take over at Hibernian, who had just lost their manager Jock Stein to Celtic. At Easter Road, the continuing sale of his best players prompted Shankly’s retiral in 1969. But football was in his blood and in 1971 he returned as manager of Stirling Albion, later becoming general manager and then a director. Four years later he and his great friend Jock Stein were seriously injured in a motorway car crash. Both recovered but in May 1982, just a year after the death of his younger brother Bill, Bob Shankly (72), collapsed and died of a heart-attack whilst attending an SFA meeting.
Shankly deservedly took the plaudits for Dundee’s success but he was a down to earth man of few words. However in 1964 he revealed the secrets of his success in The Honest Truth in the Sunday Post: “I live, eat and breathe football and I was still holding my own on the field when I was 37. It was a hard school, but for me it was the best - the school of experience!” Giving his opinion on why Dundee were one of the most attractive teams in the country, he remarked: “For my part, because the directors don’t interfere. They rely on me to get the best from the boys. The lads know where they are with me and if they’re in any doubt, I tell them!”
Shankly also described his first words to any newcomer at Dens: “You could call them the Shankly commandments. Pay attention to what you’re told. Look, listen, learn and keep your tongue to yourself. Respect and listen to the older players. Bring any problems straight to me. Do anything I say if you want to get to the top. Above all behave away from the ground so you can command the respect of the public. Oh, it’s quite a wee pep talk!” Regarding potential signings the Dens boss insisted: “I look for character. I want lads with guts and go, who won’t crumple when things don’t go their way.” And commenting on Dundee’s wealth of attackers in men like Smith, Penman, Cousin, Gilzean, Robertson, Waddell, Cameron and Houston to choose from, he declared: “Obviously, they’re chosen for their ability but a forward’s nae guid to me if he cannae shoot!”
Dundee’s title success in 1962 was the greatest achievement of Bob Shankly’s life and the greatest in the history of Dundee Football Club. At the home match against Airdrie in May 1982, Dundee fans chanted their former manager’s name. At his funeral, the Rev. Uist McDonald recalled the time in the ‘60s when he had talked to Bob Shankly outside Dens Park. When the manager departed, a little boy asked: “Hey, do you ken that man?” “Yes, I do, was the reply”. And, tellingly, the little boy said: “I wish I did!”
Dundee fans certainly know what he did for the club and in 1999, a new stand was named in his honour. The name of Bob Shankly will forever be an integral part of the heritage of Dundee Football Club.