Share this page :

Martin Dobson, ex-Claret, ex-Burnley captain and huge crowd favourite at Turf Moor, is celebrating his 70th birthday today and Up the Clarets couldn’t let it pass without a few words about him.

Signing for a club on a free transfer is no big thing today, but in the 1960s being available on a free was suggesting you had been placed on the football scrap heap.

Back in the summer of 1967 that happened to a young 19-year-old centre-forward at Bolton. It was deemed that he wouldn’t make the grade by then manager Bill Ridding. His name was Martin Dobson.

His future in football looked to be at an end having been released by a club in the second division and yet, after his dad contacted Harry Potts, he got himself a trial with Burnley and impressed enough for the club to offer him a contract.

It didn’t take him long to make the breakthrough in the first team either, making his debut as a replacement for Andy Lochhead at Wolves in September. He’d played just six games when, in February, he was named as the substitute against Manchester United at the Turf.

Martin Dobson captains us on our return to the First Division in 1973
Martin Dobson captains us on our return to the First Division in 1973

Trailing to a George Best goal early in the game we equalised just past the hour through Brian O’Neil and five minutes later Dobson, now on for Lochhead, scored the second and winner.

He went on to score another two goals that season, at Leicester and in the last game of the season at home to Leeds. In the following season he was in and out of the side, although he played in the run of eight successive wins. By the 1969/70 season he had established himself as a first team regular, but by now he’d firstly moved to midfield and then to a place in the centre of the defence.

Under new manager Jimmy Adamson hopes were high at the start of the 1970/71 season. The manager had said we would be the ‘Team of the Seventies’ but before a ball had been kicked in anger Dobson broke a leg in a pre-season friendly at Middlesbrough.

By the time he returned in November we were already struggling and relegation even then was looking inevitable. It came with three more games still to play but for Dobson things would get even better.

He replaced Dave Merrington, who was released, as club captain as the Clarets played football outside the top tier for the first time since 1947. Still at the back we didn’t really challenge but with just a handful of games to go he moved back into the midfield with Jim Thomson coming into the side alongside Colin Waldron at the back.

That was a masterstroke. We didn’t drop a point in the remaining games and in 1972/73 we romped to promotion. Dobson, or Dobbo to give him the name by which we all know him, was by now the idol of the Turf Moor terraces. He’d taken over that mantle from Ralph Coates in 1971 and here two years later he was the captain who led us back to the First Division.

And not only that, in our first season back he helped take us to an FA Cup Semi-Final and a sixth place finish that left us just one point short of a place in the UEFA Cup.

The club needed to sell though having built the Bob Lord Stand and just three games into the 1974/75 season Dobson was the player sold. He moved to Everton in a £300,000 transfer. Since returning from that broken leg in November 1970 he’d missed just three games and one of those three was because he was making his England debut against Portugal on the night we played at Old Trafford against Manchester United.

Players come, players go, but sometimes fans react badly to a sale of a player no matter what the reason, and that was certainly the case with Dobbo. On the night he left we played Chelsea at home and the fans were certainly hostile towards the club that night. Leighton James gave us the lead from the penalty spot but we went on to lose it 2-1 with many fans describing the result as a just one after they’d been robbed of their hero.

That, we thought, was the end of the Dobson story at Burnley, but it proved not to be. Harry Potts had brought him to Turf Moor in 1967 and there was a real buzz amongst the fans when Harry again signed him in the summer of 1979, this time paying Everton £100,000 to bring him back.

Unfortunately an injury curtailed his 1979/80 season and we were relegated into the third division for the first time. Yet history repeated itself with a promotion two years later by which time he was again captain.

In that 1981/82 season he played as a sweeper behind a teenage back four of Brian Laws, Vince Overson, Micky Phelan and Andy Wharton. He turned in some superb performances and became the first Burnley captain to lead us to two promotions.

Unfortunately relegation followed a year later and when John Bond came in the writing appeared to be on the wall when he was stripped of the captaincy by the new manager. Even so he was still a regular in the side, that was until March 1984.

He was offered the manager’s job at Bury and said he’d consider it. On Saturday 10th March 1984 we played out a 0-0 draw at home to Bristol Rovers. Would it be Dobbo’s last game for Burnley? At the end of the game the massive crowd favourite turned to each side of the ground applauding to say his farewells. We knew, we’d seen him in a Burnley shirt for the last time, just six short of 500 competitive appearances.

He won a promotion for Bury in 1985 as we went down and missed them, but we were drawn against them in the League Cup and in the second leg at Gigg Lane he named himself as the sub. When he came on during the second half the reception he received was unbelievable, and not so much from the home fans I can tell you.

The Burnley fans rose as one to their hero even though he was now wearing the opposition colours. I have never, before or since, witnessed anything quite like it.

He managed Bury for five years and two years later had a short spell as boss at Bristol Rovers. In the following years he spent a long period at Bolton on the youth side and was also involved in scouting, most latterly at Ipswich.

But for many, when Burnley Football Club confirmed him as their Director of Youth Development from September 2008 it was a case of welcoming their hero home.

His first year in his new Turf Moor role was a successful one for youth development but he was very quick to praise the staff who were there before him, Vince Overson, Terry Pashley and Jeff Taylor.

Dobbo’s always been viewed as a Claret of that there’s no doubt, and that was evident when he was guest speaker at the Bad Beat Banquet Dinner in May 2009.

Martin Dobson was without doubt a top player. For the life of me I can’t quite see how Bolton came to release him, but their loss was very much our gain. Only six players in the club’s history have played more games for us and he remained our last ever England international until Tom Heaton made his debut.

I got to know Dobbo really well during his time with the youth department and I’d say he’s one of the most respectful people I’ve ever dealt with. No one at Burnley Football Club has ever treated myself, or the websites I’ve been involved with, with as much respect as was shown me by Dobbo.

As a player, he perhaps would admit that he wasn’t the quickest, but he had just about everything else. If I was asked to describe him as a footballer in one word I would say he was cultured.

He’s also a hero to the Burnley fans who of course will still tell you he’s King when we win promotion. D-O-DOB-DOBO-DOBBO.

Follow UpTheClarets:

Share this page :