Your BNA Stories – the Early History of Liverpool FC and the Bill Shankly Centenary – The British Newspaper Archive Blog


Your BNA Stories – the Early History of Liverpool FC and the Bill Shankly Centenary

As supporters of the theory that modern professional football started ‘going to the dogs’ when dogs somehow stopped running on to the pitch, we always like to hear stories about “the working people’s ballet” when fans were bunneted and players were brilliantined.

So when Kjell Hanssen got in touch to tell us about the research he is doing in the BNA on the early history of Liverpool FC, we were all ears. A former regular through the turnstiles at the Colindale Library, Kjell has been discovering scores of interesting newspaper stories about Liverpool FC and Bill Shankly at the BNA website.

As the 2nd of September 2013 is the centenary of Bill Shankly’s birth, Kjell kindly agreed to mark this occasion by writing a short article for the blog about his BNA research on ‘Shanks’ and the history of Liverpool FC. Oh, and just a wee note to say that we loved the name of Liverpool’s captain in 1914, Thomas Fairfoull – a wonderful, oxymoronic name for a footballer.


Introduction and background
I have been a passionate football supporter of Liverpool FC for as long as I can remember. Ah, he must be Norwegian some might say and, yes, those ‘some’ are correct. A Norwegian indeed. I have, though, been living and working in the UK for the last 13 years.

I have always had a passion for football history, and one thing that has always surprised me is how poor many football clubs are on their own early history. One summer’s day in 2008, I decided I’d had enough of not knowing all the facts about the early history of Liverpool F.C. – so off to the British Library’s Newspaper Collection at Colindale I went.


Liverpool FC and me
Anything I found concerning Liverpool in articles or even advertisements, I‘ve copied, printed out and taken home. At home, I have gathered all the information in a Word document, and transcribed (and written descriptions for) all the articles I found. There have been many trips to Colindale over the years, but when I saw that the British Newspaper Archives started their project I was indeed a very happy football historian. I could now do all my research from home.

Dundee Courier – Tuesday 05 April 1938

Image © D.C.Thomson & Co. Ltd. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.


From ‘just’ collecting articles from the first few years of Liverpool’s existence, I have widened the search period and have decided to try to and find out as much as possible up until 1980. My Word document now contains more than 2000 pages in a chronological order. Through my research I have found some nuggets. For example, I discovered that Liverpool as a football club was actually founded a few months earlier than most people knew. It is, though, a very tough task to try to prove the club wrong on its own foundation date, but hopefully one day…


Putting my research online
After a time, I decided to share my research by putting everything I have found online. I purchased the domain,, and I’ve been updating this website, or blog, for more than a year now. A few weeks ago the number of visitors went past 50,000, so I am happy knowing that what I find and share is enjoyed by others as well. I have received emails and comments from family members of Liverpool players from times long gone by, and it is such a wonderful feeling when you actually can present newspaper articles that bring so much joy to other people.


Researching Bill Shankly’s life and Liverpool FC in the BNA
One of the biggest characters in the history of Liverpool F.C. is Bill Shankly, and through the BNA website I have been able to find some gems from the early part of his footballing career. Bill was born on 2 September 1913 in the small Scottish mining village of Glenbuck. Shankly arrived at Liverpool as their new manager in December 1959 and became a hero almost instantly. He stayed with the club until 1974, and he died in 1981.

The first item of Bill Shankly’s career was found in Evening Telegraph on Thursday 21 July 1932 and read: “Another Scottish junior went south yesterday. He is William Shankley, his position right-half, and goes on a month’s trial to Carlisle United. Shankley’s brother was with Carlisle before going to his present club, Southport.”

Evening Telegraph – Thursday 21 July 1932

Image © D.C.Thomson & Co. Ltd. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

Moving forward to 1939, after only three League matches of the 1939/1940 season, the Football League cancelled the football season because of World War Two. This meant that all professional football players were deemed as amateurs, and they could now play for whichever club they wanted. The football season in Scotland, though, went on as ‘normal’ (although some clubs did stop playing during the war) and in the Western Morning News, on Friday 17 November 1939, this small note was found: “In granting King’s Park, the Scottish club, permission to play their right half, Shankly, the Scottish international, Preston North End have made a condition that King’s Park must insure the player for £2,000. Shankly will play for King’s Park to-morrow against Hibernian.”

Western Morning News – Friday 17 November 1939

Image © Northcliffe Media Limited. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

After the war was over football rolled on again, but age had of course done its work on many a great player from the 1930s. In The Sunday Post, for 6 July1947, I came across this article:

“Our old friend, Bill Shankly, Scotland and Preston wing-half, has landed himself a nice job. Bill’s grand career is drawing to a close, and, as insurance against the future, he has signed a contract with Preston to act as player-coach next season.

“Bill is thus filling the shoes of fellow-Scot Andy Beattie, who relinquished this coaching job to join Barrow as manager. With characteristic thoroughness Bill has already got down to business and is already in training at Deepdale.

“Personally, I’d say this is a move that’ll make both club and player happy. Only a few weeks ago, the junior final, Bill was telling me of some of the things he’d like to see done for the youngsters. This is his chance to show us.”

The Post – Sunday 06 July 1947

Image © D.C.Thomson & Co. Ltd. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

There is still much research needed to be done on Bill Shankly’s early career, and for me it is just a pleasure to have access to the BNA. It has saved me from making many trips to Colindale, though I still feel a certain excitement when visiting libraries across the UK to fill a gap in the history of my favourite club. Over the years, I have found reports of matches no one knew were played.


My best discoveries in the BNA

In particular, there two items that stick in my mind as my best discoveries on the BNA website. On 23 September 1899, the Leicester Chronicle had a long article about Liverpool’s secretary manager, Tom Watson. In this article, Watson explains what life as a football manager was like in the 1890s. It is a must-read if you like football history.

I would also say that a series of articles on print in the Liverpool Echo in May 1914 is on the top of my favourite list. These articles were in fact letters sent from Sweden and Denmark by Liverpool’s team captain, Thomas Fairfoull (what a wonderful surname for a footballer…), while Liverpool were on tour of Scandinavia.

I smile when I read stories about other BNA user finding stories of their relatives through old newspapers. I smile because I know how good it feels when you find something special in The Archive.

Kjell Hanssen


16 comments On Your BNA Stories – the Early History of Liverpool FC and the Bill Shankly Centenary

  • A fascinating article by Kjell whose devotion to Liverpool in general and Bill Shankly in particular is well-known amongst the Scottish football history coterie. He may be interested to know (I’ll put it on my site anyway – to which Kjell is a frequent contributor) of a Sunday Post article of 14/1/45, pg 10 referring to Shankly “of Partick Thistle” (where had spent some time on loan) recovering from a cartilage operation.

    The day he left hospital, Shanks phoned his permanent club Preston and was told to rest and get plenty of massage. The paper says “Next thing Scott (Preston trainer) knew, there was a knock at his door. There was Shankly in Preston for that massage!”

    • The British Newspaper Archive

      Hi David, thanks for posting that wee nugget – think it’s a story that captures Bill Shankly’s natural enthusiam to a t. Regards, Grant.

  • Well done Kjell, I keep meaning to send you a match report of East Stirlingshire v Liverpool in May 1897 from the Falkirk Mail [not yet on the BNA], it is a fixture I think we may never see again, sadly

    • The British Newspaper Archive

      Hi John, oh, we’d love to see East Stirlingshire v Liverpool in the classified results again! Thanks for the info. Regards, Grant.

  • A great article Kjell and thanks for your help in finding other football-related articles on obscure players and topics in the BNA. Last week a friend mentioned a player from long ago and asked whether I knew anything about him. As soon as he said he had played for Liverpool I immediately knew where to find the details – your great website! It was all there!

    • The British Newspaper Archive

      Hi Douglas, we’re delighted to hear that The Archive is such a useful resource for finding info about Liverpool FC players and football in general. Regards, Grant.

  • Hi all,

    Thank you for all the kind words. Let me share with you one of my latest findings from 1897.

    Thursday, March 25 – 1897
    The bi-monthly meeting of the Liverpool Burial Board was held yesterday afternoon in the board-room at Anfield Cemetery. Mr. John Henderson, deputy chairman, presided, and there were also present Messrs. Caster Jennings, J. Nicklinson, J. Cook, J. Crean, and T. Jones. – On the suggestion of Mr. Henderson the Board decided to affix a brass tablet on the wall in the board-room in memoriam of the last chairman. The tablet will be inscribed – “In memoriam, Samuel Bennett Jackson, a member of the Liverpool Burial Board from the foundation in 1856, chairman of the board for twenty-five years. Died February 4th, 1897, aged 88 years.”

    The Chairman referred to the annoyance caused to mourners at the funerals on Saturday afternoon’s by the noisy shouting and cheering from the Everton Football Club enclosure, in the immediate vicinity of the cemetery, and he suggested that the board might consider the desirability of altering the hour of public funerals from three o’clock to two on Saturday. He had nothing against the playing of football, but it was worth while considering whether they could do anything to mitigate the annoyance that undoubtedly occurred. Perhaps they could get the opinion of the undertakers in the matter. – Mr. Jennings said there was a just cause of complaint, for mourners were often caused pain by the loud howls and shouts which came from the football enclosures. It was pointed out that the football season was now drawing to a close, and in these light days the game were started at four o’clock. The subject was then allowed to be drop on the understanding that the matter would be considered at the commencement of the next football season.
    (Liverpool Mercury, 26-03-1897)

    Wonder what Bill would have said on the matter…

  • Kjell is one of the ‘Admins’ for our ‘Unofficial Liverpool Football Club Museum’ Facebook page and has contributed enormously to the page and to those on it who want to dig deeper into our history. He deserves a medal for what he has done to make early Liverpool history so accessible.

  • Hello Kjell,

    A fine article! Glad to meet someone else that has truly tried and tested Colindale’s facilities as it contains many newspapers and journals not found on BNA, though I have used BNA extensively in my family research.

    I did the same as you for my club – Aston Villa -from early in 2006 through to spring, 2007, 3 or 4 days per week, tracing the club from its earliest days (1874 onwards). My latest book (published last year), Aston Villa : The First Superclub, is built on the research I did at Colindale and at the Birmingham archives. See

    The point is that Colindale offers a huge opportunity to anyone wishing to delve deeply into all manner of things, but for football the BNA is mainly useful from the 1890s, not earlier.

    Cheers, John

  • In my last para, I should have said “The point is that both the BNA and Colindale …”.

  • Hi John. Thanks for having the same passion. I have emailed a few times with another Villa historian when there’s been some cross link questions. I love everything about football in the Victorian time so will put in an order for your book.

    By the way have you seen the Villa presentation in Sunderland Daily Echo for 26 September, 1903? It has an amazing sketch of Villa Park and few player sketches as well.

    Also, I just did a search on my website for “Aston Villa” and I must have around 100 articles there, from strange shirts colours in 1891 to hiring a private detective to spy in their players a few years later.


  • Hello Kjell,

    Many thanks for looking to purchase my book! Similarly, I have a great fascination for pre-WW1 football and try to find out as much as I can about that period.

    Congratulations on building such a wealth of information on your site! There’s so much fascinating stuff there. I accumulated much the same about Aston Villa for their first 50 years and the work was officially publised by the Villa in 2009 as “The Aston Villa Chronicles”, covering 2 volumes. Unfortunately, unless Soccer Books have a copy, they’re now fully sold out.

    No, I haven’t seen the Sunderland Echo article of 1903. I will look out for that. I do have a sketch of Villa Park from 1897 (when it opened) but it will be interesting to see the Echo’s version.

    You can contact me via e-mail from my website at any time if there is anything of cross-interest!

    Very best wishes,


  • Grant, Kjell tellls us you like the Spiders. The Falkirk Herald always made a deal of the ‘premier club in Scotland’ making a visit. Some great reports, much better than “Falkirk played Kirkintilloch at Kirkintilloch, and a great game was had by all, the home team winning by 1 goal to 0”.

    Which is the normal.

    • The British Newspaper Archive

      Hi John, yes, I have a soft spot for the wise old men of Mount Florida (though I’m an ‘Arab’). But, really, am just interested in football history in general. Oh, I’ll have to return to The Falkirk Herald and check ou some of these reports – I haven’t posted anything from that newspaper for a while. Regards, Grant.

  • The match report for East Stirlingshire v Queen’s Park Scottish Cup on the 24th Oct 1885 is quite interesting as it simply lists the QP CH as A.Watson never venturing that he was the first Black International Footballer ever, I don’t know if this was Victorian reserve, or they didn’t care about ethnicity [I hope the latter] for mor on Andre Watson see by

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