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Saint was Shankly's turning point and FA Cup hero - Liverpool have lost a legend

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The architects of football empires have to start somewhere and Bill Shankly frequently remarked that his work in building Liverpool into the most successful English club of the 20th Century post-war era began with the signing of two players: Ron Yeats and Ian St John.

Yeats was the powerful and dominant centre-back around which the defensive strength of the great Liverpool teams of the 1960s were constructed.



St John, who died Monday aged 82, was a sharp, crafty and combative inside forward. And a match-winner.



He was adept at scoring goals and creating them for others, most often for striking partner Roger Hunt.



St John's transfer fee from Motherwell in May 1961 was double the price Liverpool had previously paid for a player.

He was 22, with a track record as a proven goalscorer over the previous three seasons in Scotland. Even so, Shankly had to use his powers of persuasion to convince the Anfield board of directors to spend £37,500 on him.

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The investment was rewarded many times over as the Liverpool team Shankly reshaped around St John and Yeats won the second division title in 1962, the championship in 1964 and again in 1966 together with the FA Cup in 1965. Over a 10-year playing career at Liverpool, St John played 425 games and scored 118 goals.

Talking soon after his retirement as manager in 1974, Shankly said: "The turning point and the beginning of the whole affair was the signing of Ian St John and Ron Yeats."

The FA Cup success, the first in Liverpool's history, was particularly poignant. For the generation of fans old enough to remember the 2-1 extra time win over Leeds United, the mention of St John's name conjures an image of a diving header that sent Ian Callaghan's cross into the bottom corner of the Wembley net for the winning goal.

Hunt scored Liverpool's other goal that day. The two internationals (St John won 21 caps for Scotland, scoring nine goals, Hunt 34 caps for England, scoring 18 goals) made an irresistible partnership at club level.

St John contributed 18 goals to Liverpool's promotion season in Division Two in 1961/62 and 19 in the championship success of 1963/64 and 10 to the 1965/66 title run.

Liverpool Football Club captain Ron Yeats (left) and team mate Ian St.John (the winning goal scorer) show off the FA Cup trophy from the train that will take them from Euston back to Liverpool in triumph. Liverpool won the trophy with a 2-1 victory over Leeds United at Wembley Stadium

Hunt's ability to combine prolific goalscoring with a work ethic earned him a regular place in England's World Cup team during the 1966 tournament ahead of the Tottenham striker Jimmy Greaves.

St John would later go on to form a memorable partnership with Greaves of his own but as a TV pundit.

He was born in Motherwell on June 7, 1938. His hometown club, managed by Bobby Ancell, boasted a proud reputation for developing young, homegrown players and St John became one of the 'Ancell Babes'.

Breaking into the first team as a teenager, one of St John's notable early achievements was to score a hat-trick in two minutes and 30 second of a game against Hibernian.

The Motherwell coaching staff included Reuben Bennett, who later moved to Liverpool to became a member of Shankly's backroom team.

St John recalled in his autobiography how Shankly walked into the Motherwell dressing room and introduced himself: "Hello, Bill Shankly, Liverpool Football Club. You're coming to Liverpool."

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St John added: "I was going to join Newcastle, they had tapped me up, and Shankly obviously knew. The next day I was in a car on the way down to Liverpool. You couldn't turn him down."

St John made his debut against Everton, scoring a hat-trick which softened the blow of Liverpool's 4-3 defeat in the Liverpool Senior Cup final at the hands of the great rivals from across Stanley Park.

Shankly delivered a succinct assessment of St John's qualities to the former ECHO journalist Brian Reade in 1975.

"(He was) my first great buy," he said. "Clever, canny, bags of skill, made things happen. Liked a scrap too. Jesus, did he like a scrap.

"I sometimes wanted to tie his fists behind his back. Great player though. Gave you everything on the pitch."

St John had been keen on boxing as a youngster growing up in Scotland.

"I loved the boxing and it stood me in good stead because I wasn't frightened in the games no matter how big they were, centre-halves," he said. "I wasn't frightened of anybody.

"You sometimes took your boxing skills on to the field. I got sent off at Coventry. I got sent off at Fulham. I had a quick temper which was a bad thing. The fact I wasn't frightened of anybody was a good thing."

Ian St John and Ron Yeats former players of Liverpool pose for a photograph after winning the Lifetime Achievement Award during the Liverpool Player of the Year Awards on May 19, 2015

He once had a training ground spat with his great friend Yeats. St John recalled: "Ronnie and I had a fight. It happens It was even stevens. Shanks called us into the dressing room.

"We were best pals and room-mates and we were going away the next night so we were going to be rooming together. Shanks said: 'Come on, boys.... shake hands.'

"You do things in the heat of the moment. If you'd sit and think about it for five minutes, go and pick a fight with that big guy, you wouldn't do that, would you? Ronnie and I had been pals all our lives and since then we are still pals."

For the most part, St John recalled, the Liverpool dressing room of the 1960s was harmonious.

He said: "The 60s team was a great team. There wasn't a bad guy in it, very rarely trouble. Dressing rooms are great places. They are full of fun and laughter."

St John's relationship with Shankly was a deep and complex one. After the years of rolling success in the early part of his Liverpool career, the trophies dried up and St John was among a number of the famous faces to be cast aside in the final month of the 1960s. He felt let down by the way the great manager dealt with the situation.

The axe fell in in a game at Newcastle in the autumn of 1969. Handing out tickets to friends in the foyer at St James's Park, St John encountered former Newcastle hero Jackie Milburn, who had turned to sports writing and had just been handed copies of the team sheet.

Writing in his autobiography St John said: "As Milburn ran his eyes down the teams, I said I had to get back to the dressing room to change. Then he looked up sharply and said a few words that might have been, for the impact they had, imprinted on my brain with a branding iron: 'Bonnie lad, you're not playing.'

English League Division One match at Anfield. Liverpool 2 v Manchester City 1. Liverpool's Ian St. John. 10th August 1968. (Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images) (Image: Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)

"As I hurried down the corridors of St James's Park I thought of the great relationship I had had with Shankly, all the warmth and the intimacies, the endless laughter and the deep sense that beneath all the passing pressures of the game, and sometimes the terrible tension and the cruelties that from time to time it produced, we had a deep understanding.

"If it wasn't father and son understanding, it was something very close indeed. Or so I had thought.

"I cannot shake the belief that, at the end, Shankly had let me down. I was terribly disappointed he didn't handle it better. He should have taken me to one side, even in the hotel in Newcastle on the eve of the match. He could have said any of a hundred things.

"Anything would have been better than the blow administered by Jackie Milburn."

St John put the issue in broader perspective in the prologue to his autobiography.

He wrote: "I found myself standing alone behind the Kop, gazing intently at the bronze image of Shankly, the legendary figure who for me will always be flesh and blood, almost human to a fault.

"Conflicting emotions rise to the surface when I think of him. I'm torn between love and hate, admiration and sometimes at least a little anger and disillusionment.

"On that day at Anfield, though, I wasn't looking at my Shankly, my patron, the arbiter of all my hopes for ten years of the prime of my life but the one who was imprinted so deeply on the wider consciousness of football and who was adored by the people of Liverpool. I focused on the inscription: 'He made the people happy' and I thought, 'Aye, he did that'."

Having eased St John out of the Liverpool team, Shankly organised an opportunity for the striker to play in South Africa for Hellenic. After an enjoyable season he returned to the UK to sign for Coventry where he played the 1971/72 season, the followed Yeats, who was then a manager, to Tranmere Rovers the following season.

After retiring as a player St John managed Motherwell (1973–1974) and Portsmouth (1974–1977), the latter job not going exactly to plan.

"Shanks could sell you everything," recalled St John. "He got me a job that was the worst job in football.

"He convinced me to go to Portsmouth when I was at Motherwell. I had just missed out on Leeds. I was getting the job supposedly. Jock Stein had set it up. I had a meeting and everything and then Brian Clough got it right out of the blue.

"In the 44 days he was there making a pig's ear of Leeds, Shanks said: 'Ok, son, aye. Go to Portsmouth.'

"The chairman spoke to me. I would have money to spend on players, a new ground they were still waiting for. I thought, 'Maybe at Pompey I've got a chance there.' Not a penny. Nothing. I had the worst group of players you have ever seen in your life."

After serving as assistant manager at Sheffield Wednesday (1978-1979) St John then turned to broadcasting, having first shown a talent for the medium in 1969 when the BBC ran a "Find a Commentator" competition to find a new voice for coverage of Mexico World Cup the following year.

The competition was won by Idwal Robling, who went on to became a 40-year veteran of BBC Wales Sport, prior to his death at the age of 84 in 2011.

St John though, demonstrated a natural aptitude. After finishing at Sheffield Wednesday he joined Granada and quickly graduated to the national network as a pundit. He worked at six World Cup tournaments and five European Championships

Jimmy Greaves and Ian St John. 26/5/09.

But it was for his partnership with Greaves that he is most fondly remembered, a double act that began in 1984. The pair had a natural chemistry. St John, who had the experience and the presenting skills, more often than not played the straight man, setting up the jokes and observations for Greaves.

They were informed but blokeish, slightly old-fashioned and regarded more fun than the straight-laced rival Football Focus on the BBC.

Reunited for a one-off show in 2011, St John revealed the way "Saint and Greavsie" was dropped in 1992 also left a scar.

St John said: "To this day nobody at ITV ever lifted the phone or wrote a letter and said: 'Sorry boys it's all over for you.' ­Nothing. And we waited and waited. Jimmy was saying we should turn up next week in the studio."

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St John then went on to work as a co-commentator and on phone-in shows for Radio City, where he was not afraid to give a forthright view on the Liverpool team at the time.

St John also set up several football academies for the coaching of younger players called the Ian St John Soccer Camps

He had been suffering from illness during later years, and underwent surgery for bladder cancer in April 2014 in which both his bladder and prostate gland were removed.

The popularity of 'Saint' - as he was widely known - endured long after his Anfield retirement. The Liverpool official club website twice ran a fan poll of their favourite Reds players called "100 Players Who Shook The Kop", with St John finishing 21st in 2006 and 33rd in 2013.

Despite more than 50 years having passed since his last Liverpool appearance, St John remains one of the best-loved and important figures in the club's history. Liverpool have lost a legend.


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