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Teenager keeping stride with past as he prepares to run for Scotland

THE crowd of family and friends, fans and dignitaries crowded around the memorial set back from an Ayrshire road.

Cameron Shankly has started down a famous sporting path
Cameron Shankly has started down a famous sporting path

It was the spring of 1997 and the extraordinary life of Bill Shankly was being celebrated, not just in the solid shape of stone and carved words but in anecdote and witticisms.

A baby was held firmly as the crowds milled around.

Sixteen years on, this innocent spectator prepares to add to the history of the Shankly family. Cameron Shankly, great-grandson of Bob Shankly, and great nephew of Bill, is to pull on the Scottish jersey.

His international debut will come on Saturday in Celtic cross country races in Antrim, part of the British Cross Country Challenge series. The 17-year-old Shankly will be part of the Scotland under-20 team taking on Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Birchfield Harrier - he will be joined by Jonathan Glen of Inverclyde AC, Aidan Thompson of Pitreavie and Josh Kerr of Edinburgh AC - is passionate about his running and quietly proud to be following in the footsteps of a family tradition.

Bill Shankly, who as manager of Liverpool led the club from the second division of England's Football League to the pinnacle of the sport, played 12 times for Scotland. Bob Shankly, only played for a representative Scotland XI once, but he did manage Dundee to a Scottish title and to the semi-finals of the European Cup. Bob was also an innovative and shrewd manager at other clubs, including Hibernian and Stirling Albion. Bob and Bill were two of five brothers from Glenbuck, Ayrshire, who played professional football.

The stone near Glenbuck marks the greatness of Bill but Cameron is aware he is part of a wider family tradition. Sport is part of the very fibre of being a Shankly, though Cameron's dad, Bob, admits that athletic prowess seems to have skipped a generation in his case.

"I was never outstanding at sport," he says in a Scottish accent he has retained despite having spent a working life away from his homeland. "But I love it as a spectator. The family will be in Antrim to support Cameron."

The runner was once a keen footballer but he found out quickly that his sporting future lay in running, particularly over extended distances. "I was a decent player as a kid," he says, "but I maybe stood out because I was tall and I always had that stamina. I loved the game and I still do but I knew I was not going to be a professional footballer."

Cameron's link with football endures. The family support Liverpool and head to Anfield when they can for matches. "I know all about the Shankly tradition there," he says, "but I know of the sporting career of my great grandad too. It is difficult to go to Anfield with the name of Shankly and not hear stories about your family."

Cameron, who was born in Blackburn, lives with his brother and sister and parents in Lichfield, Staffordshire, but is delighted with his promotion to the Scotland team. It is yet another step in a running career that started 10 years ago in Germany where his father worked for BMW.

His father says: "While he was at an International School in Munich he first showed a wee bit of potential and interest in running. I wasn't a runner myself but Cameron remained interested in athletics when we came back to Britain and he joined Birchfield Harriers.

"He is having a good season in the Midlands cross country league. It is a five-race series and he is top of the table at the moment after winning a couple of races. He did well in Liverpool in the British Cross Challenge under-17 race there and I believe that's helped him towards selection by Scotland."

It was Cameron's coach at Birchfield who alerted him to the possibility of representing Scotland and the young Shankly was keen to run in the jersey of his forefathers. "I know I am part of that tradition and it is great to follow where others in the family have been. As a family we have always loved sport, loved going to watch it and being a part of it and I am looking forward to the weekend."

The Shankly family - parents, Cameron and brother Fraser and sister Eve - are spending part of their festive break in Cornwall but the runner was keen to point out there would no respite in his preparations for his biggest day in athletics so far. "I will continue to train," he says, aware that being picked is only part of the process and that the international meeting is an opportunity to lay down a marker for the future.

This is part of the work ethic he has inherited from national and personal roots. His father says: "The great thing about his selection is that it is a reward for all the hours Cameron puts in. He loves his sport but he works at it, too. We're thrilled as a family that Cameron has been picked for Scotland for the first time. It feels as if all the training over a number of years and all the effort he has put into his sport has paid off."

The family will fly to Antrim to watch Cameron take another step in a Shankly sporting story that needs no round ball as an accessory. The sporting dynasty that started with those five brothers preparing for a professional football career in Glenbuck a century ago has made several triumphal stops in Europe and now flares again in Antrim.

The future holds wonderful possibilities for Cameron Shankly but he is emboldened and encouraged by his pride in an illustrious family past.

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