Bob Lord was a butcher
On two occasions Burnley can boast of having had the best team in the land, the first time either side of the First World War and then in the late 1950s and early 1960s. During both periods we had some exceptional players at the club and two exceptional managers while in other times we’ve had some not so good players and likewise had managers who should never have been given the job in the first place.
What happens on the pitch is of the utmost importance, after all that’s what it’s all about, but what happens in the boardroom is also of huge importance. If you think not, take a close look at the success of Burnley Football Club since Barry Kilby became chairman at the start of 1999 and maybe compare that with the twenty previous years when we had what were our worst ever years.
Barry is one of only six to have been chairmen at Turf Moor in all the years I’ve watched Burnley. I’ve met current chairman Mike Garlick very briefly on a couple of occasions but certainly can’t say I know him. I knew both John Jackson and Frank Teasdale very well and also know the previous two chairmen, Kilby and John Banaszkiewicz, very well too. The sixth, the chairman when I first went to Turf Moor, was one Robert William (Bob) Lord.
Today marks the 35th anniversary of his death from cancer at the age of 73. By the time of his death he had sold most of his shares with Jackson becoming the new chairman, but not until he had run the club very much his own way for some 26 years. It was a time when chairmen tended to be very much low profile characters. With Lord, the whole football world knew who he was and whatever anyone thought of him, he certainly put our great club on the map.
He was the local butcher who wore a butcher’s hat. He’d been a Burnley supporter and was keen to get control of the club and won himself a place on the board in 1951 at the age of 43. From day one he was destined to be chairman; he’d have considered anything less to be failure. It might have been too; his first attempt to get into the chair ended without success but he fought back to win his place at the top in 1955 and from that day until September 1981, when he disposed of the bulk of his shares, the club was very much in his hands.
Lord was a decisive man. He knew what he wanted and set out to get it. If any obstacles were placed in his way he just pushed them to one side, but there is no doubt that he had grasped control at what was a good time. We’d won promotion in 1947 and things were going reasonably well in the First Division although going reasonably well was never going to be good enough for him.
Alan Brown, the captain of the 1947 team, was in place as manager and it was this partnership that was responsible for creating something that exists to this day, our training ground at Gawthorpe. Back in the 1950s, training grounds were unheard of, even in the late 1960s I can recall our local rivals Blackburn, with no training facilities of their own, forced to train on a piece of land adjacent to the ground on Nuttall Street used on match days as a car park.
It was Brown’s dream and Lord helped him create it, to have a training ground to boost the club’s already flourishing policy of bringing in youngsters straight from school. The whole thing was about to take off with Burnley set to have the finest youth policy in the land.
Brown left in 1957 to take the manager’s job at Sunderland. Billy Dougall was given the job but it was short lived due to health issues. That led to Lord making probably the best and most important decision in all his years at Turf Moor. He had installed a policy of only appointing former players to any management and coaching roles and he turned to another player from the immediate post war era to become our new manager, persuading Harry Potts to move from Shrewsbury where he’d been in charge for just a few months with limited success.
When Harry became manager he was all set to build on Brown’s work. He had a wonderful group of players at the club. Jimmy McIlroy was the star but there were others who were internationals or were to become internationals. Lord and Potts could never have achieved what they did without those players but the question has to be asked as to whether the players could have taken Burnley right to the top without Lord and Potts.
In 1960 Burnley became champions of England. The local butcher from a small town in North East Lancashire had taken his club to the very top of the English game. He had upset a good number of people on the way with his abrasive style but he didn’t give a damn about that. All he was bothered about was Burnley Football Club and after just five years in the chair he had reached the summit. He was never to achieve it again but there was still much more to come.
Two years later we were so close to winning the title again; we were so close to completing the double and emulating Tottenham who in 1961 had become the first club to win the double in the 20th Century.
Things were about to change at Burnley. Less than a year later he rocked the whole town by placing star man McIlroy on the transfer list. It was like the outbreak of war in Burnley. Petitions against McIlroy leaving were organised, demonstrations were held and damage was done to Lord’s property. He didn’t care, and within days Jimmy Mac was on his way to Stoke. Burnley fans turned against the chairman, not for the first and not for the last time. Some never forgave him and vowed never to go to Turf Moor again. Lord just stubbornly continued.
He had enemies throughout the game, no one liked him we often heard. It was very strange then that he was elected as vice president of the Football League and was also a member of the Football Association Cup committee. Winning elections for these positions suggested he was more popular than some would have you believe.
The year after that title win life became more difficult for clubs like Burnley when the maximum wage for players of £20 per week was lifted. Lord knew that we would now have to compete with clubs much bigger than ourselves who could pay the higher wages without any difficulty. So to remain a top club players had to be sold and the youth policy had to provide the replacements.
For a while it worked. John Connelly left for Manchester United and was replaced on the right wing by Willie Morgan. When Morgan went down the same route to Old Trafford in came Dave Thomas. They are just two examples and that’s how it had to be. It enabled Lord to keep Burnley in the top flight until 1971. That was beyond all the other Lancashire town clubs who had gone before us but the modern game had finally had its say on Bob Lord and Burnley Football Club. And other clubs were competing for youngsters meaning in reality the great days were well and truly over.
On the non-playing side, Lord had brought in another former player in Jack Butterfield to launch the Turf Moor Development Association. Commercialism had arrived on Brunshaw Road with Jack starting daily draws, weekly draws, bingo tickets and golden goal competitions. He recruited supporters to act as agents and sell the tickets for him and the money came pouring in. Lord didn’t really like the idea. He would have much preferred to see the club run without it. He fought against sponsorship too until he realised how much money it could bring in at a time when it was very much needed.
Burnley went back up to the First Division in 1973 and remained there for another three years before things started to really go wrong. During that last season in the First Division, manager Jimmy Adamson, who had replaced Potts in 1970, was sacked while Butterfield walked out after disagreements with Lord. New manager Joe Brown was told there were players he must not select, players such as Morgan, who had returned from United in the previous summer, Colin Waldron, Mick Docherty and Doug Collins.
Lord had kept a tight grip on the club for twenty years and more. Despite upsetting so many people, had he decided to leave then he would have been remembered for having done a great job. Sadly, he was losing his grip but not the control. There were to be another five years of the Lord era during which there was a serious decline.
He sacked Brown within a year and gave the job back to Potts, probably more so to annoy Adamson as much as anything else. There was no magical formula this time and in October 1979 Potts was sacked in what had to be one of the saddest days ever at Turf Moor. The manager who had brought so much had left Burnley Football Club for the last time.
Brian Miller, one of Potts’ champions, took over but had no real chance of keeping us up. Lord, however, was still very much in the spotlight and on a cold January day in 1980 we got what was a rare win that season against Fulham at Turf Moor. He’d previously had a number of very public run ins with Fulham chairman Ernie Clay. A good friend of the previous chairman, music hall comedian Tommy Trinder, Lord didn’t take to Yorkshire man Clay. At this game, Clay said something to Lord during the half time interval that clearly upset him. Lord promptly had him thrown out of the ground.
Burnley were relegated at the end of the season and played Third Division football for the first time in the club’s history. That 1980/81 season was to be Lord’s last in charge.
At the end that season Manchester City played Spurs in the Centenary Cup Final. As always Lord was in the official party that made its way down onto the pitch at Wembley to be presented to the players. The game was drawn and he was conspicuous by his absence for the replay. Within hours the rumours spread around Burnley that he was seriously ill; for once the rumours were true. The indestructible Bob Lord had one final battle to fight, and that was cancer.
Amidst all the turmoil, the 1981/82 season started badly. Lord attended the first home game sat in a wheelchair at the back of the directors’ box, it was to be the last game he saw. Manager Miller was rushed into hospital as we lost six of the first eight games. On the morning of the ninth game the news broke that he was selling his shares. We won that day at Portsmouth and didn’t lose again in the next twenty league games.
Within a week Jackson became the new chairman and the club immediately started to change. Lord did remain a director but his final battle was lost on 8th December 1981. The Clarets were at home that night in a Football League Group Cup game against Watford. We won 2-1 with goals from Derek Scott and David Holt in front of just 2,658, the game preceded by an immaculately observed minute’s silence as the flag above the stand that Bob Lord had given his own name to flew at half mast. Burnley Football Club was never to be the same again. The curtain had finally come down on the Lord years.
What was he like? It’s difficult for me to say, I was a supporter and therefore the sworn enemy. He rarely spoke with fans, I always got the impression that he would have preferred us not to be there. Just occasionally you saw him speaking to selected supporters, and I was once privileged to be in a group that received his attention. I was with two great Burnley fans of the time in Brian Wren and Roy Kilby, both sadly no longer with us. I just wonder whether Roy was asking for advice in case any member of his family were ever to take over.
At the first game of 1981, at Brentford, he was sat on the team coach outside Griffin Park when a young supporter walked up to the coach, leaned in and said: “Happy New Year Mr. Lord”. He would have been around 7 or 8 years old and was wearing new scarf, bob cap etc. He was ignored so tried again. Again ignored he made a third attempt, this time climbing onto the first step of the coach and repeated his greeting. This time he got a reply: “Get off this bus,” the chairman bellowed.
He did have an amazing ability to upset people and he didn’t like it when things didn’t go his own way. He once stood for President of the Football League and was totally confident that he would be elected by a comfortable margin. In the end he lost out to Newcastle’s Lord Westwood, a dodgy looking character with a patch over one eye. People who he thought would back him didn’t and he didn’t like it one little bit. He called the decision a disgrace and said the problem was the fact that Lord came at the wrong end of his name. “I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth,” he blasted, also claiming that he’d forgotten more about football than Westwood would ever know.
He always put Burnley first. On one occasion, during one of his regular disagreements with the television companies, he decided he didn’t want the cameras inside Turf Moor. He said very publicly, “If the BBC don’t shift their cameras from Turf Moor I’ll be down there myself and personally burn them. They are on the ground without our consent and I don’t care if even Harold Wilson (then Prime Minister) has given them permission.”
That was when the BBC had announced they were to show highlights of our FA Cup replay against Bournemouth in 1966, they were never shown. 1974 though was his peak for TV arguments. He banned all the Burnley directors from Elland Road because the then Leeds chairman Manny Cussins had taken offence at his remarks about Jews and the way they were running television. The banned directors missed a treat as Burnley won 4-1. On Lord’s instructions they were all at Bloomfield Road taking in Blackpool’s Second Division 3-0 win against Preston. Only weeks before the BBC had been forced to show a League game on their FA Cup special as Lord banned the cameras yet again from Turf Moor for our 6th round tie against Wrexham, a game we won 1-0.
When a group of supporters suggested a Supporters’ Club, led by Mr Kilby, he said, “We are not having an official supporters’ club at Burnley. They cause a lot of problems because the people who run them eventually want the football club power.”
I think it is safe to say he was his own man.
No matter what our club achieves in the future though there will never quite be anything again like the Bob Lord years.Follow UpTheClarets:
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