Jim Thomson on Jimmy Adamson
The Daily Express was headlining severe arctic weather again when I went to see Jim Thomson in January, several years ago. If I could forecast football results as accurately as the Daily Express forecasted weather I think I’d give in. By the law of averages maybe they were due to get one right.
I’d spoken to Jim a few days earlier on the phone and explained about the Jimmy Adamson book I was doing. He was a mainstay of the Adamson 70s promotion team and I fancied he’d know a thing or two about Jimmy and would be able to shed some light on what it was like playing for him and might well have some insights into Jimmy’s enigmatic personality. It was coming across by now that Adamson polarised opinions amongst those who played for him, between those who revered him and those who actually disliked both him and playing for him. There seemed to be no in-between. The only common denominator was their belief in and respect for his coaching skills. On that subject, every single player I have ever spoken to has acknowledged that.
What I also knew was that Jim had been signed by Harry Potts and knew Harry well. It seemed likely that Jim might be able to talk about the Potts/Adamson relationship and how it changed; of exactly who was in charge, the dominant personality up until 1970 when Jimmy was coach, and certainly what it was like from 1970 to 72 after Adamson took full control. What I hadn’t realised was exactly how long Jim had been at the club, until May 1981 in fact. It meant that he was there for Harry’s second spell as manager.
All in all, the 13 years that Jim was at Burnley meant that he had seen Jimmy as coach, Jimmy as manager, the relegation, the promotion, the three golden years of being almost the ‘team of the seventies’ and then the Adamson dismissal in January 1976. He’d played under Joe Brown and experienced a second relegation; then Brown’s dismissal that lead to Potts’ return. He was one of many who whilst they loved Harry Potts the person, were amused by his coaching. Jim well remembers the way that full-back Ian Brennan was always told never to tackle the winger until he’d got to Mothercare – meaning of course the advertising hoarding alongside the pitch.
And throughout all that, Jim had face-to-face experience of Bob Lord and saw at first hand the break-up of the Lord/Adamson partnership and how it happened. In short, one of a very small band of players with a Burnley career that spanned two decades, Jim was an ideal person to talk to about this eventful period.
Jim Thomson never lived and played in the limelight like Leighton James, Paul Fletcher, Colin Waldron or Martin Dobson. He was one of the quiet players, forever there but in the background, never at the ‘glamour’ end of the job, rarely enjoying the plaudits, but over the years after an initial in and out series of appearances, he stacked up a total of 364 games and was an ever present in Adamson’s pride and joy team of the seventies.
He remembers that actually signing for Burnley was clouded with chaos. His manager at Chelsea in 1968 was Dave Sexton and as a fringe player at the time came up to Burnley to “look around” without any firm intention of signing. That was how Sexton understood it as well. Harry Potts picked Jim up from Piccadilly Station in Manchester and drove him to Burnley entering the town down Manchester Road; the approach made famous by Jimmy Greaves ‘where the hell is this’ comments years earlier as he saw the mill chimneys sticking up out of the gloom and the murk of the smoke from hundreds of terraced-row coal-fires. “Down through the clouds,” Jim Thomson described it.
When Dave Sexton learned that Jim had actually signed in a phone call the same day, he was furious and ordered him to get himself back to London because he needed him for games that were coming up. “Put Harry Potts on the phone,” barked Sexton intent on undoing things. There followed a largely one-sided conversation with Harry barely getting a word in other than “er well…” every now and then. But Jim had actually signed the contract so at this point Bob Lord entered the conflict and brusquely informed Sexton in no uncertain terms that Thomson was now a Burnley player. The effect and result was simple. The next time Thomson met Dave Sexton; Sexton simply ignored him and walked straight on by. For the next 13 years he would remain a Burnley employee and today is a match-day host.
Burnley paid £40,000 for him and he was amongst the first of the small group of players bought towards the end of the 60s when the Gawthorpe production line was struggling. Casper, Collins and Waldron were the others. He had a torrid debut against Liverpool at Turf Moor when Liverpool won 4–0 and Peter Thompson ran amok. He was immediately replaced by Freddie Smith. It was then the ‘Burnley babes’ took the field and won the next eight games bringing not just their names to the fore but Jimmy Adamson’s. Playing at full-back he found it difficult to establish himself and played in a number of positions, filling in, rather than holding on to a regular place. Not until after Burnley were relegated in 1971 did he gain a secure place and this was at centre-half alongside Colin Waldron. I remember him well especially his calm steadiness and dependability. There was nothing fancy about him but few opponents got the better of him.
He was ever present in the promotion season of 1972/73; then played 31 times in the season back in the First Division. He was an almost ever-present in the fateful 1975/76 season and then under Harry Potts again was a mainstay in 1978/79.
He was quite clear in the picture he painted of the management situation at the club when he joined. Officially Harry was still manager and Adamson was coach but Jim was adamant that ‘Jimmy was manager in all but name doing everything but arrange the contracts. When I joined I immediately thought it was odd that it was Jimmy Adamson who asked Andy Lochhead to take me around Burnley and show me the place, take me out and so on. My first thought was hmmm just who’s in charge here. It was Jimmy I went to and saw with any problems or questions not Harry.
‘On the training field at Gawthorpe it was Jimmy Adamson firmly in charge doing all the coaching and organising. We rarely saw Harry in a track suit there after I joined in ‘68. His track suit days had ended and it was clear that even though Harry was still present it was Jimmy who felt he was in charge.
‘Harry was never in the same league as Jimmy as a coach. Jimmy was so clever, an unbelievable tactician. If the cameras were there filming a game it was as if they’d be waiting for something special to happen. He had this expression and he’d say “we’ll double-thunk them. We’re gonna double-thunk them.” It meant that some of our free kicks involved a lot of doubling back especially the one that won us the Charity Shield. Francis Lee of City was open-mouthed by it and when in another game we did it a second time, open-mouthed he just said, “I don’t fucking believe it.” We’d just used different players to do the moves. He was such a clever, clever man and other managers copied him.
‘It was no surprise when Jimmy was made manager. My feeling is that Bob Lord would have made Jimmy manager even sooner but out of respect for Harry didn’t. And yes it is correct that Jimmy told Harry he didn’t want him at the Gawthorpe training ground. He just didn’t want him near the place. We found that out from Colin Waldron. He and Adamson were very close.’
It was then that Jim confessed to hating actually playing for him and playing in the first-team. He described Geoff Nulty as having similar thoughts. He described the strange feeling where neither enjoyed playing for Adamson yet still didn’t want to drop to the reserves. But on they went playing week in and week out knowing that on the Monday mornings after a game it was usually their heads on the block if things had gone wrong, and even if the team had won. Supporters, most of whom would love to be a footballer themselves, make an assumption that all footballers love what they are doing every day. Jim Thomson disproved that idea in no uncertain terms.
‘I hated training and I especially hated the Monday morning after a game, even if we’d won. It was a strange feeling, hating being in the first team and at the same time not wanting demotion to the reserves. Me and Geoff Nulty every Monday morning knew what was coming and made every effort to hide from Jimmy Adamson. He picked up on every one of our mistakes – even if we hadn’t made any. It was funny how some players could make a mistake and WE would get the blame.
‘He had his nucleus of favourite players and they could do no wrong. We still talk about it today when we meet up most weeks. There were four of them, Paul Fletcher, Colin Waldron, Doug Collins and Martin Dobson. We’d joke it was always them that got the biggest turkeys every Christmas. Monday morning might begin with a warm-up jog and Geoff and I would be in the middle of the group hidden from Adamson’s view. And then it would happen. Adamson’s habit was to blow a whistle and we’d stop. Then the finger would beckon as he spotted me or Geoff. The group would separate to reveal us and the others who knew what was coming, particularly Waldo and Fletch, would think it was funny and even point to us and say “there they are boss.” And then we’d be summoned over.
‘He had this habit of standing beside you with his arms folded. And then he’d quietly ask, “And how do you think you did on Saturday?” I might have had an excellent game. We might have won. But he’d ask that question and I’d say, “Well OK, I think I did alright boss.” He’d say nothing except just “hmmm” and then walk away. That would leave me confused and I’d watch him walk away and then follow him to see just what he meant. As soon as I began to follow him he knew he had me. And I hated it. In all the time I played I don’t think I ever had one word of praise from him or one pat on the back; he never praised me once so as a result I just thought he never liked me. And Geoff was the same. Geoff was later sold to Newcastle and about a month later rang me up to say he was having a wonderful time and had never been so happy away from the Adamson treatment.
‘We still talk about it today. Waldo has a ready answer and used to say it to Geoff. “But who played every game in the promotion season?” It was mind-games on Adamson’s part. I can look back now and think it was only psychology to keep me focussed and on my toes and stop me ever being complacent. If that was his intention, then I suppose it worked but at the time I hated Jimmy Adamson. And then years later the Adamson Suite was opened at Turf Moor and we met again. I knew he wasn’t well and wondered just what and who he would remember. But he saw me and gave me the biggest hug and just said “Jim.” Until then it was my impression he actually disliked me but now I’m just sure it was all psychology. For years I used to hate even talking about him when a few of us would meet up for a drink on Thursdays or Fridays. We still do. He left such indelible poor memories in my mind. But after that hug it changed.
‘But his psychology didn’t work with everybody. Leighton James was a wonderful player and Jimmy would treat him in the opposite way to me. He’d praise him all the time. But the praise that Leighton got and all the Press reviews did begin to go to his head after a while so that it seemed he lost a bit of the edge to his game. We were asked to write the names on a piece of paper of who would be in our team. When I was feeling down Waldo would remind me that I got 14 votes. Leighton got one – and that was his own vote. But anyway, Jimmy realised that he had to do something to get Leighton focussed again. He felt he was slacking so told us in the five-a-sides to kick Leighton every time he had the ball. One or two players who weren’t too fond of him relished the idea and looking back what we did was cruel and wrong. He must have been kicked every time he got the ball and these games were quite serious. It was arranged that Waldron and James would not be on the same side and Waldo led the treatment. But the psychology, if that’s what it was, backfired. After four or five minutes of this treatment Leighton just walked off. “I’m not putting up with this,” he said and headed for the dressing room. Three weeks later he was sold.
‘It was the sale of Martin Dobson that began the change in the Lord and Adamson relationship. It was clear that Jimmy had had enough. Lord was even interfering with team selections and Jimmy was having none of this. Lord tried to insist that certain players played, or that one particular player didn’t. And when Jimmy picked that player I’m sure Lord stayed away from the game deliberately. Jimmy was a very private man but just once or twice staying in a hotel before a game he’d open up a little. He was a great one for slogans too. There was another occasion I went to see him in his office and on the desk he had one of those calendars where you tear off the top date. On each day there was a Chinese slogan and this one he showed to me and I’ve never forgotten it and it said, “The biggest asset a woman has is a man’s imagination.”
‘“Have you read it?” he said to me.
“Er yes boss.”
“And do you understand it?”
“Er yes boss.”
“Well think about it and keep that in mind,” he said.
‘To this day I’ve no idea what it meant or how it applied to me and think it was just his way of putting me on the spot and testing me, maybe trying to make me think that he was clever and that I wasn’t.
Something Jim said about the fateful Blackpool cup game dispelled my notion that Jimmy might well have been contemplating resigning. ‘Wasn’t Harry Potts the Blackpool manager,” Jim remembered and I mentioned the Potts book I’d done and how Margaret disliked Adamson intensely. “If ever she was in a room and Jimmy came in, she’d get up and walk out,” said Jim.
Jim grimaced as he remembered the terrible dressing room scenes after the game.
‘It was Coach Joe Brown who tore a strip off Colin Waldron and when Waldron tried to make Brown look small with a remark, it was Brown who went for Waldron. As the scene kicked off assistant coach Brian Miller yelled, “Shut the door!” And then there was me yelling, “Get ‘em apart, get ‘em apart!” While all this was going on there was a continuous banging on the other side of the door and when we managed to drag Joe off Waldo, we opened the door and in came Adamson with a face like thunder. He was utterly fuming at the whole thing but to our amazement instead of having a go at Colin, he absolutely tore into Joe Brown and Brian Miller, yet Brian had been one of the people trying to separate them.
‘But there was Jimmy tearing into both of them and blaming them for the whole thing telling them in no uncertain terms it was his job, not theirs, to be telling players off after a game. Of course the Press were outside the door loving every minute of it. Jimmy was always a great believer in waiting a couple of days to say what he thought or go over a game and still furious he ordered us all in for a meeting first thing on the following Monday morning. So, everyone went in, but there was no Jimmy. We had no idea at that point just what was about to happen in the next 48 hours.’
We can only speculate what went on inside Adamson’s head after the game and on the following Sunday. He had ordered everyone in for the meeting but whilst they sat there waiting, he was at home taking what he called his first day off in years. At some point on the Sunday perhaps he must have pondered on the futility of the whole thing and of working for Bob Lord. Perhaps he had a few drinks when he got home and then a few more on the Sunday. If he did; who could blame him? But one thing is clear; he did not voluntarily submit his resignation. He was asked for it.
‘Much as I disliked him though,’ Thomson continued, ‘I really used to feel sorry for him knowing that he had to work and deal with Bob Lord all the time. Bob Lord was such a powerful man and he had this habit of making people feel so small. There was one game when I was sent off and by this time it was Joe Brown manager after Jimmy had been sacked. I was summoned to speak to Bob Lord about the incident and Lord had this huge long table he’d sit at, him at one end and me at the other and this was done solely to intimidate people. Joe sat alongside Bob and never said a word as Lord gave me the mother of all lectures telling me I’d let the club down, him and myself and all the rest of it. I looked at Joe every now and then and at the end looked to him for a bit of support; but none came. I don’t think he dared speak. Joe never really wanted the manager’s job; he was a good number two. He was frightened of Lord as many people were. Anyway, I was fined £200 and that was a lot in those days. Angry, I got up and walked out only for Lord to call after me, “And when will we get our money?” Funny thing is I actually made a profit. When a fine like this had to be paid, all the players chipped in and helped out. It was Waldo who collected the money and when he handed it to me to pay to Lord, there was £210. I was £10 up.
‘There was a time when I was so fed up of Adamson that I asked for a transfer and so I went to see him. “Why on earth do you want to leave,” he asked me. “You’re in the team all the time.” He explained it would have to go to the board as it wasn’t his decision to make. In fact all it meant was he wouldn’t bother to do anything about it. I’d ask him again and get the same answer. In the end I just gave in.’
We’d been talking for two hours and at the end of it my view was reinforced that football is far from glamorous or even enjoyable for many players. Funnily enough Roger Eli called a day later to say that his book had been much appreciated by one of his old playing colleagues. Football was never a bed of roses for Roger either and his pal had made the comment that his book would probably be appreciated by all lower league players who made no great fortune from the game and who found it a struggle. Coincidence too that both Roger and Jim Thomson were taken aback by events much later in life. At a re-union dinner Roger was approached by his old manager Jimmy Mullen who apologised for the way he had treated him badly at Burnley in the final year. It was a cathartic moment for Jim Thomson too when Jimmy Adamson all those years later in 2011 hugged him and smiled and simply said, “Jim.”Share this page :