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The story behind Bill Shankly’s most iconic speech to 100,000 fans – after Liverpool LOST

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Bill Shankly was one of football’s greatest orators, and the backstory to how he came up with his iconic 1971 speech at St George’s Hall sums up the talent he had.


“Chairman Mao has never seen the greatest show of red strength…

“I’ve drummed it into our players, time and again, that they are privileged to play for you.”

Just one of countless quotes from Shankly to have gone down in history, but this particular speech stands out from the others and, believe it or not, it came after a defeat.

Having won the FA Cup in 1965, when Shankly addressed the masses from Liverpool Town Hall’s balcony, they returned to Wembley in 1971.

This time, they faced Arsenal but lost 2-1 after the Gunners turned the game around in extra time. The defeat didn’t alter Liverpool supporters’ unwavering support of their manager, though.

The next day, May 9, 1971, Shankly addressed over 100,000 people from the steps of St George’s Hall in Liverpool. Journalist John Keith was there and recalled how he came up with his famous words.

Keith said: “In the course of that speech he wanted to refer to Chairman Mao because ‘we’re all together’, but he couldn’t remember the guy’s name.

“Brian Hall, a very clever guy, university grad – he was standing almost next to Shanks. He (Shankly) said: ‘What’s the name of that chairman?’.

“And [Hall] said: ‘Do you mean Chairman Mao?’.”

“‘Yes! Chairman Mao said all the people must work together, and that’s what you and I do’,” Keith remembers the boss replying.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 21, 2023: A street-art mural of Liverpool former manager Bill Shankly seen before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Everton FC, the 243rd Merseyside Derby, at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Stood on the steps with Shankly were the players and influential figures at Liverpool. Among them was Peter Robinson, the club’s secretary at the time.

Keith recalled Robinson saying, a few days later: “If Bill Shankly had told that crowd to storm through the Mersey tunnel and seize Birkenhead, they’d have done it.”

Despite defeat, Shankly had the Liverpool crowd in the palm of his hand and would lead the team to victory over Newcastle in the 1974 FA Cup final before his shock retirement.