Nice guy Joe Fagan was a bona fide Anfield legend
Story by Luke Traynor
THE IRONY couldn't be more clear. At a time when the leadership of Liverpool is currently mired in doubt and mistrust, Anfield is remembering one of the most thoroughly decent Reds of them all.
Monday marks the 50th anniversary of former manager Joe Fagan joining the club back in 1958.
Throughout his career, his laconic and friendly style, always counterpointed by a firmness and a wealth of football know-how, won him constant admirers.
And in 40 glittering glory years at Liverpool, he remains the only Reds boss to achieve the coveted treble.
In the beginning, Joe grew up in Litherland and made the grade in the game as a dependable and solid 5ft 10ins centre-half.
The defender was offered terms by Liverpool in 1938, but turned them down after opting to join Manchester City. Thankfully, he was to return to his ultimate vocation on Merseyside two decades later.
Joe was an early member of the famous Boot Room and was often at the heart of the legendary chats about tactics, form and transfers.
It was in his role as coach where he made his mark, acting as a confidant of troubled players which gave rise to his affectionate nickname of Uncle Joe.
Sometimes wrongly viewed as a soft touch, he had the balance between encouragement and criticism down to a fine art.
As Joe himself once explained: "I can give anyone the mother and father of a hiding, verbally. You can't let players think you are a soft touch, not here or at any club."
Joe worked his way steadily through the ranks at Melwood, progressing from reserve team manager to first team trainer in 1971.
Three years later, Shankly's shock retirement elevated him to chief coach and in 1979 he was handed the role of assistant manager.
It was these seamless promotions, everything kept in-house with trusted individuals gaining more expertise by the year, that turned Liverpool FC into the best side in Europe.
The appointment of this mild-mannered man to the Reds hotseat after the belligerence of Shankly and craftiness of Paisley, was something of a departure.
Joe seemed uncomfortable at press conferences, but his plain speaking always remained.
When Dynamo Bucharest's cloggers once played at Anfield, he flippantly noted: "I thought that, at this stage, the European Cup is supposed to be about ability and skill."
Another well told story recounts how a struggling Reds side, then 12th in the table, were urged into life during the 1981-82 season.
A frank-talking Joe quipped: "They were having more meetings than the UN and should just concentrate on playing."
Liverpool went on to win the title.
Joe's big chance came in 1983 following the retirement of Bob Paisley, and in his first season, he captured an unprecedented treble.
His League title, League Cup and European Cup triumph against Roma has never been bettered at Anfield and remains one of the greatest achievements in Liverpool history.
However, from such a monumental high came a devastating low, when Liverpool's 1985 European Cup final at Heysel ended in tragedy.
Joe had already decided to quit earlier that season, and those events sadly cast an undeserved shadow over his time as manager.
But, the legions of Reds fans will always remember him as one of the most successful and honourable men to ever grace the corridors of Anfield.
Never one for the limelight, Joe kept a low profile in retirement, returning occasionally to Melwood during Roy Evans' time in charge.
He died in July, 2001, at the age of 80 but only after he had watched the current Reds crop record a treble of their own in Dortmund two months earlier.
There were tides of tributes after his death, but former Red Mark Lawrenson perhaps explained best why Joe had been so successful.
The defender said: "The players really liked and respected Joe and were desperate for him to succeed."
Nobody wanted to let Uncle Joe down.
* A special tribute programme about Joe Fagan screens tonight on the LFC TV channel.
"No Ordinary Joe" includes vintage footage and a panel of Ronnie Moran, John Keith and Fagan's first signing, Gary Gillespie, who will discuss his achievements with the club.
There are also contributions from Roy Evans, Tommy Smith, Brian Hall, Peter Hooton, former Echo journalist Brian Reade, Les Lawson, Stephen Monaghan and Fagan's son, Michael.
The show airs tonight at 9pm.