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For the last couple of weeks I’ve intended writing this short piece about Billy Dougall. It was initially prompted by discussions on the away trips to both Swansea and Liverpool when the Clarets I travelled with admitted they’d never heard of him.

I decided to go ahead today following the sad death of former Liverpool player and coach Ronnie Moran of whom so much has been said by former stalwarts of that club, of Moran’s contribution during their long period of success working alongside such as Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish.

Dougall wasn’t a one club man like Moran but his contribution to Burnley Football Club was such that he should never be forgotten.

He was very much a football man. His dad had played as a centre-half with Nelson in the 19th Century and two of Billy’s three sons went on to play football. Jackie played for Pegasus, a top amateur club at the time, but Neil, who was a youngster at Burnley, played for Birmingham City and Plymouth Argyle while also being capped by Scotland.

Billy Dougall (right) with Ray Bennion
Billy Dougall (right) with Ray Bennion

Burnley held the Dougall family in such esteem that we provided the opposition for Neil’s testimonial game at Plymouth in October 1959, playing there two days after a 1-1 draw at Spurs in what proved to be our title winning season. We gave the Devonians a treat too, winning 6-1. Ray Pointer helped himself to a hat trick with the other three goals scored by Billy White, Gordon Harris and Brian Pilkington.

Billy was born in Denny in 1895 and joined his home town club Falkirk for whom he played almost 200 games between 1921 and 1926 before a transfer saw him sign for Burnley. Unfortunately, his career was cut short by injury. He’d played just 60 league games for us and in 1929 he returned to his native Scotland to study physiotherapy.

He returned to football and worked as a coach for Thames, then in the Third Division South, before moving on to Charlton, but in 1932 he returned to Turf Moor where he was to spend the rest of his working life.

It was soon after he returned that he struck up a partnership with former Welsh international Ray Bennion who had joined Burnley, initially as a player, in the same year. This partnership proved to be a major influence in the resurgence of our club in the post-war years from Second Division to the best team in England.

Billy had worked for managers Charlie Bates and Tom Bromilow prior to the war and  he continued as first team coach for all of our first three post-war managers Cliff Britton, Frank Hill and Alan Brown. When Brown left us for Sunderland in 1957 the club turned to Dougall.

Now in his 60s, he was suffering from ill health and was forced to resign just a few months later. Bennion stood in as caretaker until the appointment of Harry Potts who claimed Dougall’s continued presence at the club, alongside that of Bennion, was vital. That paved the way for his return as the club’s physiotherapist.

Much has been said of Liverpool’s boot room today and there were three wise men in ours, Potts, Dougall and Bennion. Dougall continued in the physio role until further ill health forced his retirement and in November 1965 he passed away at the age of 71.

It says so much of him that Britton, Hill, Brown and Potts all paid him glowing tributes. Potts said of him: “Over thirty years I have never heard one wrong word about Bill. He was one of the great names of English football and he did a simply marvellous job for Burnley Football Club.”

Bennion, who himself passed away in 1968, said: “Bill had been my friend and colleague since the early thirties. I will miss him more than I can say. He had so many fine qualities and he knew football from top to bottom. In fact what he didn’t know about football wasn’t worth knowing.

“We travelled a long and often tough path together and his passing leaves a great gap.”

Burnley players Alex Elder, John Angus, Gordon Harris, Andy Lochhead, Brian Miller and Dave Merrington acted as bearers at his funeral with all of Burnley’s directors, staff and players attending the Requiem Mass.

Chairman Bob Lord once called him the jewel in our crown, and speaking about Billy at the time of his death, said: “There is no doubt that Bill Dougall has been a most capable, devoted, loyal and conscientious member of Burnley Football Club during the whole of his forty years at Turf Moor.

“Many players have passed through his fingers, so to speak, and all of them have cause to thank him very much.

“He was endeared by all who were privileged to know him and he will surely never be forgotten. he was a great player and as a trainer-coach was also absolutely outstanding.”

It was some years later, in the summer of 2009 to be exact, that I had the opportunity to discuss football one morning with Jimmy McIlroy. “He taught me more about football than anyone else,” Jimmy told me about Dougall, adding that he taught him about professional football, doing such things as seeing games out by taking the ball to the corner.

Billy Dougall passed away over half a century ago but he certainly lives on at Turf Moor. Besides Neil and Jack, he left another son Bill and a daughter Ella as well as his wife Jeannie who survived him by many years while continuing her support of the club. Today, one of his grandson’s, Ella’s son, is a Burnley supporter who is an occasional poster on our message board.

I did find it quite sad that someone who had given our club so much, albeit a long time ago, might not be known to some of our younger fans, even though, for a short time, he’d been our manager.

I hope this article has at least allowed some of our supporters to know the name of Billy Dougall – the jewel in our crown.

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