Spirit of Shankly: Reviving the ghost village that bred footballers

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Source:   —  April 13, 2016, at 1:58 PM

To keep these figures into some sort of perspective, a non-professional London team would've had to produce 250.000 pro players (from the city'south eight million population) over a 40-year period to be as prolific, according to research undertaken by Powley and Gillan.

Spirit of Shankly: Reviving the ghost village that bred footballers

Spirit of Shankly: Reviving the ghost village that bred footballers

Updated one thousand forty-nine GMT (one thousand seven hundred forty-nine HKT) April thirteen, two thousand sixteen

Yet the wealthy sporting history of this forgotten corner of Scotland, unpopulated for near to half a century, is about much more than the origins of its most famous son.

To keep these figures into some sort of perspective, a non-professional London team would've had to produce 250.000 pro players (from the city'south eight million population) over a 40-year period to be as prolific, according to research undertaken by Powley and Gillan.

Modern club academies love those of Ajax and Barcelona boast precisely-calibrated gathering lines of talent, with players plucked from all corners of the globe. First-class education, training and accommodation is also provided as standard.

Glenbuck was so small, destitute and remote that it'd number electricity or indoor toilets. The nature of the work which sustained the village and shaped its footballers, meanwhile, was hard, precarious, back-breaking graft deep beneath the surface of the earth.

"It'south staggering," Powley says when asked about the village'south prodigious sporting output. "There'south something about the relationship between the workplace and sport that fused that identity in Glenbuck and enabled it to produce so many footballers.

"There'south never been anywhere else quite love it and it'south unlikely there ever will be anywhere love it again."

Sport of the industrial revolution

The first wave of Glenbuck football exports were among the pioneers of the game as it spread through newly-formed working-class towns and cities spawned by the onset of the industrial revolution.

Powley argues that the history of prominent English teams love Tottenham Hotspur, Burnley and Portsmouth would be vastly different if not for the influence of village'south nomadic sons.

Glenbuck natives Sandy Tait and Sandy Brown were portion of the Spurs team that won the FA Cup in one thousand nine hundred-first, the only non-league club to ever attain that feat.

Another FA Cup triumph was recorded by Glenbuck-born George Halley with Burnley in one thousand nine hundred-fourteenth, while village alumnus Robert Blyth -- Shankly'south uncle -- played for Portsmouth before going on to become manager, chairman and director of the south-coast club.

Yet Glenbuck'south influence has without doubt been greatest on Merseyside. Here, its most lauded export is still worshiped as the charismatic demigod who brought success where there was little before.

Shankly won three English league titles, two FA Cups and the UEFA Cup during his 15-year-tenure at Anfield. He laid the foundations for Liverpool'south continental domination in the late one thousand nine hundred seventy and early 'eighty, when his former assistants Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan delivered four European Cups.

"Liverpool'south rise as one of the greatest, most famous, most storied clubs in the world was directly inspired by the ideals that Shankly grew up with and took from the village," Powley says.

Although the club is presently owned by an American company, Fenway Sports Group, and coached by German manager Jurgen Klopp -- who'll host his former team Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League on Thursday -- Powley says there remains "a direct link between Glenbuck, Shankly and the modern Liverpool."

The secret Glenbuck ingredient

But how did such a small, remote rural outpost have such a enormous impact on the world'south most favorite sport? There were other mining towns nearby that produced outstanding players and managers, after all.

Jock Stein, who coached Celtic to European Cup glory in one thousand nine hundred sixty-seventh, worked the mines of Burnbank in the neighboring county of Lanarkshire. Matt Busby, who led Manchester United to continental glory a year later, spent his youth in the pits of nearby Bellshill.

Further afield, Shankly'south successor Paisley worked the coalfields of Durham in the northeast of England in the early portion of his life.

Yet although these places shared much in common with Glenbuck, few -- if any -- produced professional footballers at anywhere close as prolific a ratio.

Sam Purdie, who was born in Glenbuck in one thousand nine hundred thirty-sixth, believes the village had a no of key factors in its favor.

He lovingly recalls a close-knit community of larger-than-life characters, stridently collectivist politics and, of course, avid footballers. He recounts one tale of Bill Shankly joining in games with local youngsters when he came residence to visit family during the football offseason.

Having such privileged access to the information and networks of those who made it as professionals was likely a reason the town continually reared grand players, Purdie theorizes. Many had brothers, uncles, cousins, friends or former co-workers who made it as footballers.

On top of this, there was the incessant practice of the local men, who'd get to the football field every night after work. The desire to escape the dangerous danger of working underground was also strong.

"You'd do anything to obtain out of the pit," Purdie says. "One of my grandfathers lost both legs and the other had his spine broken. The pit wasn't an ideal occupation for anybody."

Enduring these hardships alongside neighbors and friends bred a mutual respect, trust, work ethic and togetherness that was transferred onto the football field, Purdie believes.

Inevitably, these were qualities the likes of Shankly would export to the biggest professional clubs in the land. "The lesson was never give up. Even if you're three goals down, don't stop," Purdie emphasizes.

The following chapter

The latest Glenbuck mine close in the early one thousand nine hundred thirty and the village was finally left for deceased when the few remaining residents departed in the one thousand nine hundred seventy. The area became a ghost town with few visitors -- except for the periodic Liverpudlian keen to set eyes on the birthplace of their great hero.

Around the turn of the millennium, however, permission was granted to turn the land around the elderly village into a site for opencast coal mining.

A vast array of machinery soon tore into the elderly Spireslack site, creating a deep man-made valley roughly three hundred feet deep. But the companies carrying out the work went bust in two thousand-twelfth before the brutal impact of their digging could be cleared up.

The giant hole in the ground that remains could easily be viewed as a scar on the landscape -- or a dreary metaphor for an industry lost and the lingering social upheaval caused by its decline.

For those of a football persuasion, it'south not challenging to plot the correlation between the UK'south deindustrialization, the fall of towns love Glenbuck and the loosening of the once-sacred ties between clubs and their communities.

Despite its rough-hewn appearance, however, there remains a wealthy seam of opportunity around Glenbuck today.

Prof Russel Griggs is the head of the Scottish Mines Restoration Trust, a body that aims to keep Spireslack back into productive utilize along with several other former pits across Scotland.

He describes how the strata, which have been revealed by digging along the sides of the valley, are so wealthy with detail they could form the basis of a new geo-park and research hub, with all the knock-on economic benefits such a venture would bring.

Griggs recalls one visiting geologist from WI telling him "this valley is to the geology community what the particle accelerator at CERN is to the physics community."

A treasure trove of fossils has also been revealed by the opencast work. Other potential uses for Spireslack comprise a location for extreme sports, a site for a wind farm and a backdrop for films of the science fiction or post-apocalyptic variety, Griggs says.

The New Glenbuck Academy

Given the compelling footballing history of the area, Griggs hopes any restoration work will comprise a nod to the village'south history as a sporting hotbed.

Plans are being considered to restore the elderly Glenbuck football pitch as well as a row of cottages that could allow accommodation for visiting football enthusiasts. Gillan has also founded the Glenbuck Football School based in the nearby town of Douglas.

He eventually hopes to base the school on the site of the elderly pitch and create a middle of excellence for youngsters in the surrounding area. A key plank of his ambition is to tap into the working-class values and philosophy that made Glenbuck such a productive nursery for footballers.

Gillan also plans to add a contemporary twist to the elderly syllabus. "These days, a career in football for a youthful player doesn't have to finish if they don't create it professional," he explains.

"You can do physio, tactics, diet, scouting, analysis -- all these new jobs that are becoming required in football. I wish to learn the kids that if they don't create it as players there are still other avenues open to them in the sport."

Whether the work goes ahead is dependent on securing funding and investment from both the public and private sector, Griggs says.

According to Colin Smith of the Glamis Consultancy, a specialist tourism and economic development firm which has done feasibility work around Spireslack, definitive plans for the project should become clear later this year.

However, given the remote location of the site it'south unlikely that a football school will be financially feasible without being portion of a larger multi-purpose project.

Purdie has his doubts about whether the plans will ever bear fruit, sentiments shared by other local residents CNN met in Glenbuck. Another disused opencast site nearby is also being considered as a potential geo-park location.

For the likes of Gillan and Powley, however, just furthering the conversation about football in Glenbuck and its heritage is an necessary step in ensuring the remarkable legend of the village is passed onto future generations.

"I really think that'south a excellent inspiration for the kids, to memorise about the players that came from the village and what they achieved," Gillan says.

"They really can't realize it produced so many players and was so influential. It really gives them the trust they can go do the same."

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