Sep 19 2013 by Nick Hilton, The Liverpool Post
Tranmere Rovers legend set in stone
DURING the years when Johnny King piloted Tranmere on the thrilling journey from football’s basement division to the brink of the Premier League, he kept a technicolour portrait of Bill Shankly on the wall of his office at the Valley Road training complex.
Shankly was a friend, advisor and inspiration to King. The two managers shared a love and enthusiasm for football and the gift of making their passion infectious.
The founding father of the modern Anfield dynasty had been dead for more than five years by the time King began a second spell at Prenton Park in 1987 that would take Rovers to unprecedented levels of success.
Yet Shankly remained a constant reference point for the most successful manager in Tranmere’s history and now the two men are linked again, by the hands of an artist.
Tom Murphy, the celebrated Merseyside sculptor who fashioned the statue of Shankly at Anfield, is at work on producing a statue of King, due to be completed next year.
Last weekend, Murphy brought along a miniature first version of the statue, a maquette, to Tranmere’s home game against Brentford. Members of the Tranmere Rovers Supporters Trust, who commissioned the project, used the event to launch a fund-raising campaign to meet the £50,000 cost.
Murphy, whose works include giants of Merseyside culture such as John Lennon, Dixie Dean, the Moores brothers and Shankly -- men who were also national figures -- is enjoying the more intimate territory of King’s legacy. “This is a happy project,” he said.
“I think there is something special about Tranmere Rovers. The club has a nice informality and warmth about it. It does not try to be pretentious.”
Murphy chose the pose of the King statue from a photograph taken more than 20 years ago.
He said: “The pose is inspirational. I love looking at it. Having met Johnny King, I love the idea of this pose. The message is: ‘Get the best out of yourself. Aim for the top. Be as good as you can be.’
“It’s a good message. Even if you did not know who Johnny King was, if you saw the sculpture you would think: I like him. I can go with that.”
Judging by initial reactions, Tranmere fans are excited by Murphy’s interpretation of their hero.
Murphy says he can see why Rovers supporters see King, 75, as their own Shankly figure and understands the connection between the two men.
“Johnny was a devotee of Bill Shankly,” Murphy said.
“He loved Bill and I think Bill liked him. They had a lot in common.
“The poses of the two statues are similar but entirely different. Shankly is saying: ‘We are the champions’ with his fists strained and his shoulders up. It is like a boxing pose.
“With Johnny King the body language is different. You can imagine him in front of a crowd with his two fingers up saying: ‘This is where we are going, this is what we are aiming for.’
“He used to talk about being on a rocket ride to the moon.”
Murphy was able to enjoy the advantage, which can be unusual in his line of work, of meeting the subject in the flesh when King and family visited his studio.
The sculptor said: “Even when you have reasonably good photographs of the subject, the sculpture stands and falls in terms of likeness in the bone structure in the face.
“Even though Johnny is older, I can still see all the facets in his face.
“It’s going to be extremely useful, especially in the full-size version.
“Johnny King was a handsome man and he seemed like a charming man from my brief time with him and his lovely family.
“They were very nice moments and this is a very happy project.
“ I’m looking forward to getting on with the big version.”