Geoff Twentyman: A lesson from Liverpool FC's past
IN FOOTBALL, a culture pervades which places the success of a club on the shoulders of one man. As Liverpool fans, we know this all too well. Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Kenny Dalglish, Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez. A conveyor belt of names associated with the club's mantra: to win trophies.
Each of these figures has been revered by the Kop – sewn into flags, penned into verse, immortalised in books, t-shirts and a host of memorabilia. But behind every manager, supporting each of these names that will forever remain part of Liverpool's history, are men lesser known. Figures that, through hours of tireless dedication to the cause, ensured that Liverpool, as Shankly so famously said, were a “bastion of invincibility”.
There have been many unsung heroes down the years, but the man perhaps best deserving of the title is Geoff Twentyman, the subject of Simon Hughes' book, Secret Diary of a Liverpool Scout.
Twentyman was the club's Chief Scout between 1967 and 1986. In that time he discovered a wealth of talent from the lower leagues and Scotland, talent that allowed Liverpool to win nine league titles and four European Cups. He was also a trusted voice, sounding board for Shankly, a motivator for players. Yet nowhere will you find a Geoff Twentyman t-shirt, flag or song.
In fact, before Secret Diary of a Liverpool Scout his tale went largely untold. Yet this was the man who unearthed Kevin Keegan playing on the flanks for Scunthorpe, spotted Stevie Heighway on the wing at Skelmersdale and gave the nod for Liverpool to sign Alan Hansen from Partick Thistle. Then there's John Toshack, Phil Neal, Steve Nicol, Ray Clemence, Terry McDermott, Ian Rush...
These players, and more who were recommended by Twentyman but never signed for the Reds, are interviewed in the book, which includes extracts from Twentyman's original scouting reports. There's also the background of Twentyman's playing career with the Reds, and consideration of how the job has changed, with former chief scout Eduardo Macia interviewed.
It offers some fascinating insight. And while the game has changed beyond all recognition since the days of Twentyman, it's remarkable how much has stayed the same.
Contrary to popular belief, Liverpool didn't just wins things by throwing bags of cash around. Often Twentyman's recommendations were not acted upon because of a lack of money – so Franny Lee, Andy Gray and Trevor Francis were all watched and rated but never bought. The brief, as it remains today, was to identify talent as young, and as preferably cheap, as possible.
But that's not to say the club didn't spend big when Twentyman and his manager felt it was justfied. The boardroom didn't always agree of course. Chairman and directors sticking their oar in isn't something exclusive to the reign of Tom Hicks and George Gillett. So when Ian Rush was signed for £300,000 from Chester – a then record fee for a teenager – one director told Twentyman at Anfield: “That's a lot of money you've spent on a dud.” “He'll prove you wrong,” was Twentyman's response.
The club's record goalscorer did the rest.
Rushie's interview in the book is interesting in that he also underlines the importance of the club's teams - the reserves, the kids, the first eleven – playing the same way.
It's the case at Liverpool again now after years of contrasting styles being taught and nurtured between the different facets of the club.
Rush, who played for the reserves for more than a year before he made it into the first team, says: “I don't know who did it first, but it is exactly the same thing that Ajax do now and have always done. It means that a young lad can come into the first team and know exactly what his job is straight away. It means that it's easier to blood young lads and easier to have continuation.”
In so many ways different, in so many ways the same as it ever was.
As the great man said, football is a simple game. It's why I can't understand the moaners and whingers. Liverpool are getting back to the ways and values that served them so successfully for years. The traditional methods, with a sprinkling of modern day intelligence, is Liverpool's best chance of success to my mind.
Dalglish's insistence of a wall of silence around Anfield is part of that. So while some fans foamed at the mouth about the perceived lack of activity earlier in the summer, I was more than happy to sit and smirk safe in the knowledge that people who know and understand the club and football in general are doing what's right for Liverpool.
As Steve Nicol says in the book: “Liverpool went public in their pursuit of players like Gareth Barry but it makes no sense to me. Why would you want everyone to know what you are up to?”
The book may be written about the past, but throughout it will have you nodding or wondering about things happening at Liverpool right now.
Jim Magilton might not have made the grade at Liverpool but being involved with the club influenced his playing, managing and scouting.
When talking about what he looks for in a player, he says: “We need players with energy, all the great Liverpool teams and players had that. The opposition hate it when you can run all day and that's what I look for in a player. Everyone at Liverpool had the same ideas and Geoff Twentyman understood what Liverpool managers wanted.”
This got me thinking. For me, one of the best Anfield performances of last season was the 3-0 drubbing of Manchester City. Liverpool's hunger and work-rate that night won the game – they afforded City no space, hunted in packs and crushed them into submission.
It was all about the energy. Energy which Jordan Henderson has bags of. A player who is still improving. A player who can perform in a position, right wing, where there is a paucity of options.
It's conjecture of course, but perhaps he would have ticked the boxes for Twentyman – despite the knee-jerk reactions there are plenty of reasons to say he looks a good buy. Energy for one.
But scouting, anyone can do it, right? Well sorry to disappoint the Football Manager types – no, they can't.
Alan Hansen, who had a spell as a scout under Kenny Dalglish in his first spell as manager, sums it up in the book: “There is a knack for looking at players and knowing their ability and potential for the future. It's hard. I went watching players in the lower divisions and up in Scotland, but I just came away every time not really knowing whether the player had enough ability. I never really had the decisiveness to pin my money on a player. I didn't want the stress either.
“Geoff was decisive. He had the knack.”
Gary Gillespie adds: “His biggest attribute was that he could spot a player that could improve himself while at Liverpool as well as improving the team.”
Having that foresight is something so many seem to lack these days. Too many fans expect every transfer in to be the finished product. But the moaners should log out of the forums and Twitter, unplug their laptops for a while and take heed of many of the tales in the book.
Liverpool broke the transfer record for a full back to sign Alan Kennedy. But when he failed to hit the ground running, many doubted the signing. After Barney scored two winning goals in European Cup finals, the dissenting voices were silenced.
All he needed was time to settle, to get used to his new club's way of playing. Patience is in short supply in modern football, but history has plenty of evidence to suggest that it is rewarded when afforded, not least within the pages of this book.
The task of finding talent though has become harder. While Twentyman had only to jump in his car and drive to Scotland to find paths less trodden, Liverpool's current set up will be plotting global spying missions to unearth the next big thing.
And as the club has found this summer, many of its rivals are having the same ideas and then it comes down to the modern-day matchwinner in luring a player – cash.
That's not to say good judgement and smart methods can't overcome the chequebook. It worked for Geoff Twentyman and Bill Shankly. Now we all hope it works for Damien Comolli and Kenny Dalglish.
Secret Diary Of A Liverpool Scout is now available as a paperback, priced £8.99.