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Bill Shankley
Bill Shankley

Was Bill Shankley the Greatest?

By: Geoff Bartholomew
Date: 26/10/2009

ROB Sedgwick has analysed the results of the first 54 games of every Grimsby Town manager who has reached 54 games. Rob concludes, "Bill Shankly is the greatest ever GTFC manager."

I am sorry to disagree with his conclusion for two reasons. The first reason I am sorry to disagree is that as a student in Liverpool in the late 60's, Bill Shankly became my football hero. The second reason is that my uncles George and Fred Bartholomew and other older friends like Doug Wray, Stan Lowis and Chummy Rigall, people who watched Town during the early 50s, spoke so highly of Shankly's enthusiasm and public relations and the excitement he created.

Also Rob is correct in that in his first 54 games, Bill Shankly amassed more wins and more points than any other GTFC manager in his first 54 games. So why, do I disagree with his conclusion?

Great managers make progress. Great managers move teams to higher leagues. Great managers do not leave a club worse than they found it.

Let's look at Shankly's GTFC record in more detail. In his first season, 1951-52, Shankly's team finished second in Division 3 North, with 29 wins and 8 draws, gaining 66 points on a 2 points for a win system. In those days, finishing second was not enough to win promotion from Division 3 North to Division 2.

In his second season, Shankly's team finished 5th, with 8 fewer wins than in his first season and 14 less points.

In his third season, Shankly resigned in mid-season. The team managed only 16 wins all season and only 41 points, finishing 17th in the Division. In two seasons under Shankly, the team had gone from one capable of winning 29 games to one winning only 16 in the same division. A team which lost only 9 games in Shankly's first season lost 21 games in his third season.

The finishing position of 17th in Division 3 North was the lowest and poorest in the club's league history. Worse followed the next season with a finish of 23rd out of 24. Grimsby Town had to apply to be re-elected to stay in the Football League.

Shankly's record is not that of Grimsby Town's greatest ever manager.

If you want a contender from the 1950s for Grimsby Town's greatest ever manager, Allenby Chilton stands way ahead of Shankly. Chilton took over as manager in March 1955, the season after Shankly left. That season, as mentioned earlier, Town finished 23rd out of 24 and had to apply for re-election.

The following season, instead of finishing next to bottom, Allenby Chilton, in his first full season, took Grimsby Town to the Championship of Division 3 North. The 1955-56 Chilton team record of 31 wins, 6 draws and 9 defeats with a total of 68 points (on a 2 points for a win system) is a better one season record than any other in Grimsby Town s modern history.

Chilton s team had three seasons in Division 2, finishing 16th in 1956-57 and 13th in 1957-58.

The finishing position of 13th in 1957-58 was the club s highest finishing position in the Football League in a period of 30 years from 1950 to 1980. It came only three years after Town s poorest finish in its league history.

The manager in that period was Allenby Chilton. Chilton did what Shankly failed to do.

Shankly s team went from 2nd to 17th in two seasons, 29 wins to 16 wins, only 9 defeats to 21 defeats.

On the other hand, Chilton s team went from the lowest position in the club s history and having to apply for re-election one season to a League Championship the next season with an incredible 31 wins and then within two years to our highest league position of the period 1950-80.

The three seasons at the second level under Chilton from 1956 to 1959 were three of the only five years we had at that level between 1951 and 1980.

Since 1951, the duration of Allenby Chilton s four year period as manager (1955-59) has been surpassed only by Alan Buckley.

Most Town fans do not realise that over the last 70 years only three managers (Allenby Chilton, George Kerr and Alan Buckley) have gained promotion with Grimsby Town to the second level of English football and moved up with their team. In the cases of both George Kerr and Alan Buckley it required a double promotion to achieve that. In the case of Allenby Chilton it required the manager to turn a team which had finished second from bottom of the basement league one season into the most successful (points per game) team in the club's history the next season.

Our present plight is very much like 1955 as we sit in the bottom two of the basement division, just as we did at the end of the 1954-55 season.

Who is the man who can do what Allenby Chilton did?

Who is the man who can take us from the foot of the basement division to mid-table at the second level?

The article continues in Part 2

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