Liddell might be considered the archetypal post-Second World War professional: physically strong and courageous, yet modest, honest and loyal to club and country. He was one of many one-club men of the period, playing 534 times for Liverpool between 1945 and 1960.
This was the era of the maximum wage, where the restricted earnings of players and their tendency to live in the same communities as those who watched them on the terraces emphasised a social and cultural intimacy that was to be lost in subsequent decades.
The son of a coal miner, Liddell was spotted in 1938 playing for Lochgelly Violet by Matt Busby, then a Liverpool player. He agreed to sign for the Reds only on the condition that he was allowed to finish his accountancy training and maintain a part-time job.
The outbreak of war may have delayed Liddell’s official first team debut but wartime football helped to make his name. He scored in his first Anfield appearance – a 7-3 thrashing of Crewe Alexandra on New Year’s Day 1940 – and a little over two years later was selected for Scotland.
In the match at Hampden Park, he scored and helped the Scots to win 5-4, one of only two victories in 12 wartime encounters against the ‘Auld Enemy’. Liddle was just 19 at the time and the selectors had not even seen him play but he was, according to the Liverpool Evening Express, ‘the chief sensation of a sensational game’. ‘Ten minutes was sufficient for this boy to play himself into these critical, hard-beating Hampden hearts’, wrote one Scottish reporter.
Liddell played a key role in securing Liverpool’s 1946/47 First Division title. He offered pace, craft and aggression on the left-wing and supplied much of the ammunition for free-scoring centre-forward Albert Stubbins.
Unusually for the time, he could pass and shoot equally well with either foot. Alf Ramsey called him ‘the daddy of modern left-wingers’ in 1952; according to England captain Billy Wright, Liddell could ‘conjure goals out of nothing’.
He was also instrumental in the Reds reaching the FA Cup final in 1950, a match they were expected to win. At a rain-sodden Wembley, however, he was effectively shackled by Arsenal’s Alex Forbes, a fellow Scot, and Liverpool lost 2-0.
Liverpool struggled during the early 1950s and were relegated in 1954. Soon to be captain and often playing centre-forward, Liddell was invariably the club’s top-scorer and was increasingly regarded as the heartbeat of the team.
Some commentators nicknamed the club ‘Liddellpool’ and supporters on the Kop regularly urged the home players to ‘Give it to Billy’.
Liddell’s commitment to Liverpool was such that he rejected an attractive offer to join the outlawed Colombian league in 1950 and was prepared to play out his career in the Second Division. His loyalty was rewarded when he was selected for a second time to represent Great Britain against a European XI in 1955.
Only Stanley Matthews had been similarly honoured.
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