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The Three Kings The Makers of Modern Football By Leo Moynihan

Release date: 20th October, 2019
Publisher: Quercus

List Price: £20.00
Our Price: £14.00
You Save: £6 (30%)
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Leo Moynihan’s terrific ‘triple biography’ opens in cinematic fashion with flashbacks to three similar scenes in which Messrs Stein, Busby and Shankly enjoy a quiet moment prior to leading their respective football teams out to contest the final of a major knockout competition.

We start with Jock Stein and his Lisbon Lions in the tunnel waiting to enter the arena where they will face Inter Milan in the 1967 European Cup final. Stein surveys his opponents, most with surnames that sound “like Italian sports cars. Facchetti, Domenghini, Biccili.” Celtic’s manager then “turns back to his team. Names like Auld, Clark and Chambers. More a firm of solicitors in Motherwell than Italian motor moguls.”

The scene shifts to the yet-to-be-knighted Matt Busby standing in the tunnel at Wembley. It’s May 1968 and Manchester United’s players have an opportunity to become legends when they take on Benfica, also in the European Cup final.

Moynihan imagines Busby using a quiet moment to reflect upon what he has achieved. Since arriving at Old Trafford in 1945, Busby had wanted his club to be the best. Domestically, he had achieved this, winning both the FA Cup and the league championship, but now there was a chance to emulate Celtic and be the best in Europe…

Finally, Bill Shankly awaits the call to lead his red-clad Liverpool side onto Wembley’s hallowed turf for the 1974 FA Cup final against Newcastle United. The author again imagines what is running through Shanks’ mind. Although some observers suggested that such moments are determined by destiny, “Shankly scoffs at the word. To him this was down to sheer wonderful bloody hard work.”

Each short introduction is charged with a sense of anticipation and in case anyone is in doubt regarding the Messiah-like status enjoyed by each man (at least in the eyes of their team’s supporters), all three men lead their teams “towards the light.”

The introductions set the rest of the book up beautifully.

Under Stein, Celtic became the first British club to win the European Cup. The following summer, Busby guided his men as they too became European champions. Shankly was about to bring his work at Anfield to a successful conclusion after laying solid foundations for what would become Britain’s most successful football club.

So similar were their backgrounds – each born in Scotland’s Central Lowlands; each a son of teak-tough mining stock – that their stories intertwine naturally. The trio were good friends and, as Moynihan suggests, the three were the ‘makers of modern football’. It’s a premise with which it’s difficult to disagree and a book which proves football did exist before 1992.

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