They were organised, they could argue a point and they really believed in one another. Already you can see all the central tenets needed for great leadership. Management. You had to be tough, inspire tough people to believe in you and, most importantly of all, you had to know your stuff. Inside out. There was no time for bluffers. Bullshit could see you killed underground.
It’s also worth talking about Scotland at this time. Football took off in a way in industrial Scotland that has very few rivals in history. Record crowds were always broken in Glasgow. Two clubs emerged and loomed large over that great city of the empire like the cranes in their teeming docks.
The men were born in that forge that made them into the greatest managers of their age. Rarely, if ever, does anything just emerge. Bill Gates had access to one of the few terminals in America in the late Sixties, The Beatles had the offer to go to Hamburg to hone their craft. The key is always if you take your chance, if you’re willing to put in the graft. Again, all three men did both and then some.
These Scottish miners with insatiable ambition and a unique connection with their players and crowds left their stamp.
Manchester United was literally a bomb site when Matt Busby took over. He had to play his first few seasons at his old club Man City. Within a decade he had created the Babes and was pioneering in Europe. Shankly went to a mid-table second division provincial club in Liverpool. They had no running water in the ground. It was the first thing he sorted. Within five years they had won the First Division title.
Stein’s impact was, if possible, even more remarkable. In 1967 he had the greatest season of any football team in history. He won every single cup available to win. Including, what’s still the most difficult trophy to win in the world, the European Cup. And, get this, he did it with a team all born within a 30 mile-radius of Glasgow.
Their legacy is that they’ve left three leviathans of football clubs and the greatest rivalry in English sport. Liverpool vs Manchester United began with Shankly and Busby.
They are now international clubs with a fanbase that reaches out across the world. Celtic are forever immortalised as the first British team to win the European Cup.
People will now argue that the game and clubs have changed out of all recognition from what the men came from and what they believed in but I would argue the DNA is still there.
After all, we still see the green and gold scarves of protest at Old Trafford, the famous walk out of the Kop during a Premier League game in an argument about ticket prices and Celtic’s proud political convictions. Refugees are welcome. That’s them. That’s the Three Kings. That’s their legacy. They are their clubs.
The Three Kings is available on digital and DVD