Shannon – a key player in the fifties
When Peter Crouch made his Burnley debut in February 2019, he became the eighth player to have played for both us and Liverpool in post-war football.
It’s a small number of players given the number of similar connections with other clubs but it’s not Crouch we feature today but the second of those eight to join the list – wing half Les Shannon.
Shannon was born in Liverpool in 1926 and joined his home town club although only after he’d been rejected by their rivals Everton. Although he scored against Everton in a Liverpool Senior Cup tie, he was never able to establish himself with Liverpool and played just eleven times for them having made his debut in the 1947/48 season.
It was Burnley’s Central League win in 1948/49 that ultimately brought him to Turf Moor. To commemorate the winning of the league, the team played a Central League representative team in the following October in which Shannon played against us. He scored, although Burnley won 2-1, and a month later he signed for us in a £6,000 deal.
He made his Burnley debut at Blackpool at the end of December but for a player considered to be an inside-forward, it was at outside-right where he deputised for Jackie Chew. He played eight times that season, all in the same position, and scored once and a key goal too in a 1-0 home win against Huddersfield.
The next season was even less successful for him; not once did he feature in the first team and for Shannon, as at Liverpool, he looked destined for a reserve team career. That, however, all changed in the next season when he won a regular place, and mainly in his favoured inside-left position. He scored goals too, netting nine in the league and two in the FA Cup that season. The two in the FA Cup are both, in some ways, memorable for me personally. The first of them against Hartlepools United came on the day I was born and then he scored two rounds later against his former club Liverpool and that goal led to me meeting Shannon many years later.
It was an even better following season in front of goal. He played every game and scored fifteen times. By then, he’d become a first choice in the team but there was to be a change of position for the deep lying inside-forward early in the 1954/55 season following the departure of Reg Attwell. Shannon moved to left-half and impressed even more in that position.
So well was he playing, it was considered that an England call up was imminent. Three times he played for England B and once for the Football League, but he is another in a list of Burnley players who, wrongly, were never called up to play for England.
Time was catching up with him by the time the 1958/50 season kicked off although he played in eight of the first nine games. The last of those was a 2-2 home draw against Luton. It proved to be his final game at the age of 32. He had played a total of 282 games for the Clarets in which he’d scored 39 goals.
He remained at Burnley, playing for the reserves that season before bringing his playing career to an end although that was by no means his football career. He joined the coaching staff at Everton and then went to Arsenal as manager Billy Wright’s assistant where he stayed for four years. A return to the North West followed; he became manager of Bury and then Blackpool, winning a promotion at Bury but then suffering a relegation, and returning Blackpool to the top flight in 1970.
He resigned early in the following season and moved to Greece where he had great success as manager of clubs such as PAOK and Olympiacos. He’s always been considered to be one of the best foreign managers ever to work in Greece.
Between clubs in Greece, he spent two years in charge of Brann in Norway before returning home to act as an advisor at Port Vale for a short time before taking up a scouting role at Luton in 1986, a position he held until 2001.
His knowledge of the game took him into both films and television. In 1981, he worked with Pele to coordinate the football scenes in the film ‘Escape to Victory’ and right years later was the football advisor for the Channel 4 programme ‘The Manageress’.
I mentioned his FA Cup goal against Liverpool in 1952. When the same teams met in the competition in 2005, Sky Sports, who were covering the game, showed a clip of his goal at the start of the programme. That, through an email, brought me into contact with his niece and it led eventually to Les making one final visit to Turf Moor for the final game of the following season against Luton when I was able to meet the scorer of our goal on the day I was born.
Sadly, by then, Les Shannon was suffering from dementia and passed away in December 2007 at the age of 81. He’d retained an affection for Burnley Football Club and as I left Wembley almost eighteen months later following the win against Sheffield United, the first message I received was from his niece congratulating us on reaching the Premier League. “Uncle Les would have been so proud,” she wrote.
I never saw Les Shannon play but was told so much about him by my dad, granddad and others. They all rated him as a very good player and he undoubtedly was one of that group of players who progressed Burnley during the 1950s but just missed out, in his case through age, on the glory years that followed.Follow UpTheClarets:
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