Harry Potts Way
Feature by Tony Scholes
Updated Monday, 16th January 2012
The 31st August 1946 was a special day for English football. Not only was it the opening day of the season but the opening day of the first season since 1938/39 because of World War II.
Many players across the country were making their Football League debuts. Turf Moor was no different and one of the debutants was 25 year old Harry Potts at inside-left. Harry had played some war time games for the Clarets but like many others his league career was starting late. His start was in the Second Division.
He wore the number 10, the inside-left always did. Not only were there no squad numbers but the numbers always related to the player’s position. He played in 40 of the 42 league games that season and scored 15 goals, making him leading scorer. He also played in all nine FA Cup ties culminating in a Final appearance at Wembley against Charlton Athletic which was lost 1-0.
It was a successful season for Harry and the Clarets, not only did we reach the FA Cup Final but finished runners up in the league to Manchester City. It was a long season and didn’t end until 7th June after the worst winter for years.
A special day that season for him must have been 21st September as the Clarets won 2-0 against Newcastle United at St. James Park. Harry, from Hetton-le-Hole, Sunderland, scored his first Burnley goals which for a Sunderland man must have given him even more pleasure.
He took the step up to the top division in his stride and was again a regular as we ended the season in 3rd place. His contribution was 14 goals in 38 games. In a spell during November and December he scored in six consecutive league games.
He continued to show top form during the next two seasons as Burnley became a mid-table team in Division One and on 3rd December 1949 scored his only Clarets hat trick in a 5-1 against Everton at Turf Moor. He ended the season with a goal in a 3-2 win against Middlesbrough.
Maybe that hat trick was to be more significant than anyone at the time thought because less than a year later he said goodbye to Turf Moor and moved to Goodison Park in a £20,000 transfer. His last game for Burnley was another 5-1 win, this time at home to Charlton Athletic on 14th October 1950. He hadn’t scored a goal that season and so that goal against Middlesbrough proved to be his last goal for Burnley. He had scored 47 goals in 165 league games and 3 goals in 16 FA Cup games for Burnley.
There was huge debate as to who might replace him for the trip to Roker Park to play Sunderland the following week and then manager Frank Hill gave his number 10 shirt to an 18 year-old Irishman he had signed from Glentoran, Jimmy McIlroy.
Harry had gone and after a successful time at Everton he moved on to Wolverhampton Wanderers as coach. That was followed by a spell as manager at Shrewsbury Town before Burnley called him back to Turf Moor in February 1958 as the new manager.
His first game in charge was a 3-2 win at Sunderland. Two players who were to provide him with many goals over the next few years were both on the mark that day, Jimmy Robson with two and Ray Pointer. The first Burnley team he selected was: Colin McDonald, John Angus, Doug Winton, Bobby Seith, Jimmy Adamson, Les Shannon, Doug Newlands, Jimmy Robson, Ray Pointer, Albert Cheesebrough, Brian Pilkington.
We ended the season in 6th position and the following season, Harry’s first full season in charge we were 7th. What was to happen next was real fairy tale stuff, never to be forgotten by anyone with any interest in Burnley Football Club. Not long into the season he spent a small sum to bring in another Irish player from Glentoran, left back Alex Elder. He was his first cash signing, it was to be another eight years before he made his next, Frank Casper from Rotherham United.
It was a fantastic season with some memorable games. Nottingham Forest came to Turf Moor in November and were beaten 8-0 with Jimmy Robson getting five of them. Everton conceded five at Turf Moor as did West Ham on their own ground. There were also fours against Manchester City, Wolves, Bolton, at home and Arsenal at Higbury. It wasn’t all plain sailing and we did lose 6-1 at Wolves. We were in the top group of clubs all season but as the lead changed over on several occasions we never quite made it to the top. The season’s last day was 30th April and we drew 0-0 at home to Fulham. Wolves were top, we were second but we still had a game to play away to Manchester City. It was played on the following Monday evening at Maine Road. If Burnley drew or lost Wolves would be the first double winners of the 20th century. It was to be our day though, our year and goals from Brian Pilkington and reserve team player Trevor Meredith took us to a 2-1 win in front of a crowd of 65,981.
Burnley Football Club were, for the second time in their history, Champions of England and Harry Potts had achieved what so few managers ever do achieve.
To this day the Championship trophy has never been back to Turf Moor but that wasn’t the end of the excitement. The following season saw us represent the country in the European Cup. We were only the third English Club to do so after Manchester United and Wolves. There were great matches against French champions Rheims and finally West Germany’s SV Hamburg in the quarter-final. We were FA Cup semi-finalists, semi-finalists in the inaugural season of the new Football League Cup and still managed to end the season in fourth place in the league.
The 1961/62 season came close to being the best ever. It was only in the very last week of the season that the double was lost and we finished second in both. What a season though and a look back at the results show that we scored seven against Birmingham, six on four occasions, five once and four in another four games. After a 6-0 win against West Ham in early March we were looking unstoppable but a loss of form saw Ipswich come through to win the league before Spurs beat us at Wembley in the FA Cup Final. Harry Potts became the first to play in and manage a Burnley team at Wembley. To this day it has been equalled on just one occasion, by Brian Miller.
Twice in the next four seasons we finished third but as players had to be sold to balance the books the glory days were all but over. Harry’s worst time at Burnley came in January 1963 when he placed Jimmy McIlroy on the transfer list and subsequently sold him to Stoke City. There were even banners showing "Potts Out" but in fact he was doing no more than carrying out the instructions of chairman Bob Lord.
The 1966/67 season did bring European football back to Turf Moor for the second and last time. If only the rules had been different then we would have had a run for years in the European competitions. This time it was the European Fairs Cup (later the UEFA Cup). There were wins against VFB Stuttgart (West Germany), Lausanne Sports (Switzerland), Napoli (Italy) before we went out to West German's Eintracht Frankfurt. The game that will always be remembered is the second leg of the 3rd round game in Naples.
Having won the first leg 3-0 we held them to a 0-0 draw in Italy with an inspired performance from goalkeeper Harry Thomson. At the end of the game all hell broke loose, we had been warned about the volatile Italians, and sub goalkeeper Adam Blacklaw having been attacked was finally arrested (presumably for his own safety). The Burnley players and officials were locked in the stadium for some time before being allowed to return to the airport under armed guard. I wonder what Harry really made of all that.
The game was covered locally by two journalists Keith McNee and Granville Shackleton. One of them, Granville I think, penned the headline the day after, "See Naples and Die - and Burnley almost did!". There weren't many supporters there but how they got out safely I do not know.
It’s difficult to believe now in a football world where manager's change so often, but as the 1960s came to an end Harry Potts was still manager of Burnley. That was soon to change and on 21st February 1970 Steve Kindon scored a hat trick in a 5-0 win against Nottingham Forest at Turf Moor. It was to be Harry’s last game in charge. The team that day was: Peter Mellor, John Angus, Jim Thomson, Brian O'Neil, Martin Dobson, Sammy Todd, Frank Casper, Ralph Coates, Arthur Bellamy, Dave Thomas, Steve Kindon.
By the following week Jimmy Adamson had taken over and Harry became General Manager. It was fitting that the new manager should be a player from the great Championship winning team of 1959/60. A second member of that team, Brian Miller, was on the coaching staff and a third, John Angus, was the remaining member of that team still to be found on the team sheet ten years on.
After just over two years in a role that nobody really understood, probably none more so that Harry, he left Burnley Football Club for a second time. Just a few months later though and he was back in football as manager of Blackpool. And who did they play in his first game in charge? You've guessed it, Burnley, on Boxing Day 1972. The Clarets, having been relegated in the first season under Adamson's management were marching back to the first division with some style. Blackpool were one of the better sides in the division but the Clarets won 2-1 that day at Bloomfield Road as two Blackpool players were sent off. Professionally Harry would have been disappointed but that part of him that always remained Claret and Blue would have had a smile.
A three year spell back in the top flight was Burnley's reward after promotion. The first two seasons were a delight but the third became a struggle that ended with relegation and our days as a top division club to this day have never returned. Jimmy Adamson had been sacked after an FA Cup 3rd round defeat at Blackpool although rumour had it that he had gone for non footballing matters. If that was true he wasn't the first to leave for falling out with Bob Lord. Joe Brown had taken over as boss and in the summer of 1976 he brought Harry back to Turf Moor as Chief Scout.
We were struggling in the Second Division and by February Joe Brown was sacked and Bob Lord turned to Harry to become manager for the second time. We hadn't won a league game since 6th November (14 games), our only win had come in an FA Cup 3rd round replay at Lincoln on 12th January, and had then gone out of the FA Cup to lowly Port Vale. Harry had taken over with a second relegation looking a real possibility. On 26th February 1977 Harry named the following side for a home game against Carlisle: Alan Stevenson, Keith Newton, Ian Brennan, Peter Noble, Jim Thomson, Billy Rodaway, Terry Cochrane (Billy Ingham), Paul Fletcher, Brian Flynn, Tony Morley. Despite our poor run of form his return was celebrated with a win, by 2-0. Terry Cochrane and Peter Noble were the goal scorers. Relegation was avoided almost comfortably in the end but Harry's second spell as boss wasn't destined to be a great success.
The 1977/78 season was even more disastrous than the previous season. There were just six wins up to the beginning of March when suddenly everything changed with five successive wins and seven in eight games. It was almost like the old days as we scored four against Sheffield United, Oldham and Cardiff and three against Hull. We ended the season in the top half of the league.
The following season was the opposite, a good start which tailed off at the end to leave us in 13th place. However there was some success and on 12th December 1978 we lifted the Anglo Scottish Cup. We had beaten Preston and Blackpool and drawn with Blackburn in the pre-season group before beating Celtic in the quarter-final. Who will ever forget the Celtic match at Turf Moor when referee Pat Partridge had to take the players off as the Celtic fans rioted? Some minutes before the players came back Harry Potts came back onto the field and was helping youngsters and older people back into the safety of the terraces, they had initially fled onto the pitch to avoid the Celtic fans.
I wonder if his mind went back to 1967 and Italy at that moment. Having beaten Celtic in both legs we saw of Mansfield in the semi-final in the Club's first ever penalty shoot out. We were good at taking penalties then and won the shoot out 8-7 from 8 penalties each. It was Oldham in the final and although the second leg was lost on the Turf a 4-1 win at Boundary Park guaranteed the cup. The team in both legs of the final was: Alan Stevenson, Tony Arins, Ian Brennan, Peter Noble, Jim Thomson, Billy Rodaway, Brian Hall, Billy Ingham, Paul Fletcher, Steve Kindon Leighton James.
In the summer of 1979 Harry Potts made his fourth and last signing during his second spell as manager bringing Martin Dobson back from Everton. Two of his three other signings, Steve Kindon and Leighton James were returning players. Didn't someone once say that Burnley players were like homing pigeons?
What happened at the start of that season Harry Potts did not deserve. After eleven games we had drawn five and lost six and his time was up. If anyone ever deserved to leave Turf Moor in a blaze of glory it was Harry but it wasn't to be. After a 2-0 home defeat against Cardiff City he was replaced by Brian Miller and his days at Turf Moor were finally over. It was fitting that again he handed over to a member of that Championship winning team. The last players to play for Harry Potts were: Alan Stevenson, Derek Scott, Joe Jakub, Peter Noble, Jim Thomson, Billy Rodaway, Brian Hall, Martin Dobson, Jeff Tate (Steve Kindon), Kevin Young, Leighton James.
Harry's final involvement in football was with Colne Dynamoes during the late 1980s as they moved up the leagues before disappearing faster than they had climbed. He never turned his back on the game though and before he became too ill was often seen at Burnley games.
I think most people knew Harry was ill but on 16th January 1996 the town was shocked to hear of his death at the age of 75. He was to make one last visit to Turf Moor as his funeral cortege made its way down Brunshaw Road. The section of road outside Turf Moor was closed to traffic and the cortege came to a stop outside the ground. The pavement was lined down both sides with Club officials, staff and players, a who's who of former players including virtually all of the Championship side and many, many supporters. They were all there to say farewell to Harry Potts the Club's finest ever manager.
Harry Potts was never forgotten and now has now been granted a further spell at Turf Moor with the road outside to be renamed "Harry Potts Way". It is a fitting tribute to a great Burnley FC man and in fact a great man. This time his stay will be forever.
Welcome home Harry
This artlcle was originally published on the Clarets Independent Supporters Association web site in February 2001 on the occasion of the renaming of Brunshaw Road to Harry Potts Way.