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Back in the 1960s, the words ‘Free Transfer’ were feared by every footballer. No matter what level you played at, it just about meant you were on the scrap heap with your playing career likely to be at and end, if indeed it had even really got started.

You might have had a chance if a top flight club released you; there might have been a chance of joining a lower division club or one in the non-league. What wasn’t going to happen, or what shouldn’t have happened, is being released by a Second Division club and winning a deal with one in the First Division.

That’s exactly what did happen to the 19-year-old Martin Dobson. Deemed surplus to requirements at Bolton by their manager Bill Ridding, he found himself at Burnley but only after his dad intervened and spoke to Harry Potts about giving his son a trial.

This was the summer when Frank Casper became our first signing in over eight years. That was greeted with some excitement, the very thought that Burnley were actually spending money on a player. The Dobson signing went very much under the radar. No one could quite understand why we would want to sign a lower division cast off.

Potts clearly saw more in him than Ridding had done and by September he’d won himself a first team debut in a 3-2 defeat at Wolves, coming in for the injured Andy Lochhead in the number nine shirt. It didn’t lead to a regular place although he did go on to make fourteen league appearances that season in which he scored three times. The first of those goals proved to be the winner against Manchester United. George Best had given United an early lead on the Turf but Brian O’Neil equalised before Dobson, who had come on as a substitute for Lochhead, scored the winner.

Twice in the latter stages of the season, he wore the number four shirt which meant a midfield berth. Maybe he was signed as a potential centre-forward but he was soon to prove that a midfield role would see him at his best.

The next season saw him play around half the games, most of them coming in two spells. The first of those was for that terrific run of eight successive wins in October and November 1968 in a team that included a lot of young players. By the end of that season his real potential was beginning to shine through.

To show his versatility, the next season saw him win a regular place but this time at centre-half. With Colin Waldron very much out of favour, Dobson made the position his own, usually alongside either Sammy Todd or Dave Merrington.

It was the season that saw Jimmy Adamson replace Potts as manager and immediately claimed we would be the Team of the Seventies. Unfortunately, we had to kick off the 1970/71 without the now very influential Dobson. I was on holiday in Spain and walking past a bar when someone shouted to me: “Have you heard about Dobbo? He’s broken his leg at Middlesbrough.” It was devastating news for him and Burnley. By the time he returned in November we were in serious trouble. We didn’t recover and were relegated at the end of the season.

Dobson replaced Merrington as club captain and when Ralph Coates left, Dobson became the crowd favourite in a team that Adamson was rebuilding. After one season that ebbed and flowed, but ended with six successive wins, we went into a superb period for the club and for the next two years, Dobbo was a huge part of it having moved back into midfield with Jim Thomson now partnering Waldron in defence.

He led us to promotion in 1973 and a year later we were so, so close to a return to Europe, finishing the season in sixth place. His form hadn’t gone unnoticed at international level and Alf Ramsey gave him his international bow against Portugal in Lisbon on the same night as we were drawing 3-3 against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

He played three more times for England in the summer, now under the management of Joe Mercer, but his time at Burnley was about to end. Having played in the first three games of the following season, he was sold to Everton. On the night of the fourth game, at home against Chelsea, I can’t ever recall seeing such an angry home support, some revelling in the two late goals that gave the visitors both points.

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There was a new stand to pay for, the money received from Everton was just about the cost of the stand. You can make your own minds up, but there are many today who still refer to it as the Martin Dobson Stand.

It was difficult to believe we’d have a Burnley team without him. He’d missed just three games since returning from that broken leg and was such a key member of the side. We did well enough initially, and challenged for the league title until a run of injuries put paid to that. That was it though, we were relegated in the next season and never seriously threatened to get back.

In the summer of 1979, five years after he’d signed for Everton, he made the return journey and was once again a Claret. It proved to be a horrific season for Burnley and saw us drop into the Third Division for the first time in our history. By then, Dobson had again been appointed captain following the departure of Peter Noble and two years later he would lead us back up, this time playing as a sweeper behind a teenage back four.

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He’d been involved in two relegations and two promotions as a Burnley player but, sadly, his final full season saw us drop again in a season when we had two great cup runs but seriously struggled in the league.

The 1983/84 season saw him have major difficulties with new manager John Bond. He stripped him of the captaincy and left him out for the opening game of the season at Hull. He was back for the next game and played regularly until Bury came calling. They wanted him as player/manager. It was reported that he hadn’t made a decision but as the final whistle blew on a 0-0 home draw against Bristol Rovers on 10th March 1984, his response to the crowd told us all that he was leaving. By now he was 36. He’d played 406 league games for us and was only six short of five hundred including cup games. He’d also scored 76 goals, 63 of them in the league.

He had great success at Bury with a team that had more than a flavouring of ex-Clarets. After five years at Gigg Lane, he moved on to Bristol Rovers but left after three months. That was the end of his management career although he’s been involved in football in other roles for much of the time since.

His days at Burnley weren’t over. More than once back in the 1980s, he was tipped to become manager. It never happened but in September 2008 he returned to head up the youth department. This was at a time when we were fundraising for them and that meant that I got to know Dobbo well over the next few years.

I could write at length on my experiences dealing with him but suffice to say I have not one single wrong word to say. I’ve said it before and I’m happy to repeat it that nobody at Burnley Football Club has ever treated me with as much respect as Martin Dobson did. I was at Coventry in October 2011, just walking from the car to the stadium. I received a phone call from Vince Overson telling me that the club were dispensing with Dobbo’s services. I couldn’t believe it. The staff at the time, I know, were shocked but some of them were to quickly follow. My relationship with the youth department was never again the same.

In 2013, I pushed for him to receive some recognition from the Supporters’ Groups and, forty years after we’d won the Second Division, he was presented with the Special Achievement Award on a night when he was supported by former team mates Casper, Mick Docherty, Thomson and Waldron.

It was the first time the event had been held with Sean Dyche and his team there. I had the pleasure of introducing Dobbo to them but Ian Woan told me I didn’t need to. Woany was star struck; he’d idolised Dobbo when he’d played for Everton.

I last saw him a few months ago at the launch of Barry Kilby’s book. I was with Derek Gill’s son David who called him Martin. Not me, he’ll always be Dobbo to me. Indeed, I still have a letter from him that he signed Dobbo.

He was a very special player in the history of our club and today he remains very much a Claret.

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