Scottish winger Billy Liddell certainly took an unlikely route to Anfield when he joined Liverpool on the eve of World War II.
It started with Reds’ halfback Matt Busby hearing about Liddell on a golf trip to Scotland with Manchester City forward Alec Herd in 1938.
Busby wondered why Herd had missed one of the rounds, only to find out he’d been to see Liddell play for Lochgelly Violet with Willie McAndrew, the manager of Hamilton Academicals.
McAndrew was keen to recruit Liddell, but when Busby learned that no contract had been finalised, he made sure that Liverpool swooped.
They signed Liddell as an amateur in July 1938. He became a professional on a wage of £3 per week in 1939.
Hamilton lost out because the club failed to guarantee that Liddell could continue his accountancy studies – something his parents had insisted upon.
Liverpool readily agreed – and got their hands on a player that would become a club legend.
Liddell ended up making 534 appearances for the Reds from 1939 until April 1961, scoring 228 goals. He was Liverpool’s leading scorer for eight out of nine seasons from 1949 to 1958.
He was also the oldest player to score at Liverpool at the age of 38 years and 55 days – and remains the club’s fourth highest goalscorer of all time after Ian Rush (346 goals), Roger Hunt (286) and Gordon Hodgson (241).
Liverpool manager Bill Shankly described Liddell as a player ‘who had everything’ and was as hard as granite. He compared his headers to ‘blasts from a gun’.
In his prime, the powerful winger’s influence was so great that Liverpool gained the nickname ‘Liddlepool’! There could hardly be a finer tribute.
Born in Townhill, Dunfermline, in January 1922, Liddell started playing football at the age of seven when his parents bought him his first pair of boots.
His father, a miner, was determined that his son would not go down the pit and steered him toward accountancy. The young Liddell studied mathematics at Dunfermline High School.
By the age of 16, Liddell was playing for Lochgelly Violet and then Liverpool. His first team debut for the Reds, however, had to wait until the end of World War II.
Liddell volunteered for the Royal Air Force and trained as a navigator during the war. He played as a guest for Cambridge Town and Chelsea before completing his RAF training in Canada.
After returning to the UK in 1944, Liddell turned out for Dunfermline Athletic and then Linfield when he was posted to Northern Ireland.
He ended the war with 617 Squadron, helping to transport allied troops back from Italy.
Liddell made his Liverpool debut against Chester City in the third round of the FA Cup in January 1946. The match ended 2-0 to the Reds with Liddell scoring in the 30th minute.
Also making his first appearance on the left of Liverpool’s defence was future Reds’ manager Bob Paisley. He went on to form a strong partnership with Liddell.
Liddell finally made his league debut in September 1946 when he netted twice in Liverpool’s 7-4 win over Chelsea.
The 1946-7 season was to prove memorable for Liddell and the Reds. Playing on the left wing, he made 34 league appearances, notching up seven goals.
Even though the season was disrupted by the severe winter, the Reds held their nerve to win the league on the final match of the campaign.
After beating Wolves 2-1 away, Liverpool had to wait for Sheffield United to defeat nearest rivals Stoke City to confirm the title.
Stoke’s setback saw them finish fourth in a tight title race. Liverpool were league champions with 57 points, while Manchester United and Wolves were second and third with 56 points, one ahead of Stoke on 55.
Liddell came close to honours again in the 1950 FA Cup Final against Arsenal. The Gunners won 2-0 with both goals scored by Reg Lewis.
Many could not understand why Paisley was dropped for the match, even though he’d scored against Everton in the semi-final.
Liddell carried on playing for the Reds until the 1960-61 season. His final match was a 1-0 defeat to Southampton. He made his last appearance for the reserves in April 1961.
In September 1961, Liddell played in a star-studded testimonial match to mark his unprecedented 22 years at Anfield. The Reds took on an international XI in front of 38,789 fans.
Liddell played eight times for Scotland during the war. He then won 29 caps for his country from 1946 to 1955, scoring eight goals.
*Clive Hardy’s latest hardback book, The Home Front – Britain 1939-45, is now on the sale at the special pre-order price of £14.99 including UK postage and packing.
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