We did it the Harry Potts way
When writing the history of Burnley Football Club there will be many people who would have to be referenced, people who played parts in the achievements of our club over the years.
One name right at the top of that list would surely be Harry Potts who served us as a player, twice as a manager and also as a chief scout during which time he became one of a select number to play for us in an FA Cup Final, one of only three managers to lead us into a final and one of only two managers to have presided over us becoming champions of England.
Harry, like so many who followed, was from the North East of England, Hetton-le-Hole to be exact, and having been spotted was invited down for a trial in 1937 at the age of 16. He played in a game against Blackpool, played well and was duly given a position on the groundstaff until October of that year when, on reaching his 17th birthday, he was offered and signed his first professional contract.
Playing in the reserves on a regular basis, he was doing well. Supporters and those at the club were taking notice and by 1939 he was believed to be very close to a first team debut. That debut had to wait, Harry’s football career, as was the case for many others, came to a halt with the outbreak of war and instead of playing football for Burnley he served with the RAF in India.
On 31st August 1946, now just under two months away from his 26th birthday, he was one of six debutants in the Burnley team that played Coventry on the opening day of the season as league football resumed.
He was in the team that won an immediate promotion and also played in the FA Cup FInal against Charlton and for over four years he was a first choice in the team going on to make 165 league appearances in which he scored 47 goals. Playing at inside-left, he formed a brilliant partnership with Billy Morris who was on the right, Potts being the more defensive minded of the pair.
A schemer, and that’s an old term, he was known as the general of the team as we established ourselves as a top flight club again and it has to be said he won quite a few penalties for us over that period.
Early in the 1950/51 season things changed. Manager Cliff Britton had been his mentor but Britton had moved to Everton and Potts, who had become unsettled, wanted to join him. He did, for a record £20,000 fee and his place in the Burnley team was taken by a young teenager from Northern Ireland by the name of Jimmy McIlroy.
Players come, players go, and it was time for Potts to go and as is the case for so many players it was thought that was the end of his Burnley career, but this really was only the beginning for him.
Things were never quite the same for him at Goodison Park; it wasn’t the most successful of moves for a player who was by now moving into his thirties, and by the time he got into his second season he wasn’t a regular in the team. He was now helping out by coaching some of the young players. When he was released after nearly six years there, he’d made just 59 league appearances although he had scored fifteen goals.
His playing career, one cut short by the way, was over and he moved to Wolves as a coach (or trainer as they were called then) in the summer of 1956 and was there for a year before moving into management for the first time at Shrewsbury where he replaced Walter Rowley.
From the summer of 1957 until February 1958 it has to be said that his record at Shrewsbury was pretty average and by the start of the second month of 1958 they were 11th in a 24 team Division Three South. It was nothing to get excited about so I’m sure Shrewsbury were stunned when they were approached by a First Division club who wanted him as their manager.
Potts was to return to Burnley, to replace Billy Dougall who had stood down due to ill health. It was because of a healthy relationship he had with the then Burnley chairman Bob Lord and this proved to be a decision that could not have gone better.
Just over two years later, Potts led Burnley to the title. For only the second time in the club’s history we were champions of England. Back then, managers were not quite so high profile as they are now and Potts did go under the radar although that was very much not the case with the players.
He might not have been a tactical genius but he was a great man manager. The players had so much respect for him although not always sharing is enthusiasm. Harry loved to join in the 5-a-sides; Harry just loved to get out on the training pitch. Sometimes, on a bitterly cold day with snow on Pendle, some of the players, shall we say, might not have been overly keen to get out there. Harry would rub his hands together and in an excited voice tell them: “It’s just like Switzerland.”
He remained as manager until February 1970 but things had become more difficult. Life had got tougher for Burnley Football Club in many ways and alongside that he was undermined by Jimmy Adamson, his title winning captain, who eventually replaced him. It’s not many managers who will lose their jobs after a 5-0 win as Potts did; we’d just beaten Nottingham Forest by that score.
For over two years he remained at Burnley with the title of general manager but it was a nothing job, he was not involved and even told he couldn’t visit the training ground before finally being forced out altogether in the summer of 1972.
Burnley had been relegated under Adamson but were about to go back up while Potts, during the 1972/73 season, took over at Blackpool. By the summer of 1976, Burnley had been relegated again, Potts had left Blackpool, Adamson had been sacked at Burnley with Joe Brown taking over. Bob Lord, who had supported Adamson, now welcomed Potts back into the club as Brown’s chief scout and when things didn’t go well, restored him to the position of manager.
We were not in a good place as a club but he helped keep us in the Second Division that season and again a year later after a shocking start. The 1978/79 season saw him win his last trophy as Burnley manager, the Anglo Scottish Cup and there has to be mention of the away game at Blackburn that season. We won 2-1 and it proved to be Harry Potts’ final win as Burnley manager.
A truly awful start to the 1979/80 season saw him leave Turf Moor for the final time. It was, undoubtedly, the correct decision but such a sad, sad day. He’d served our club with great distinction as player and manager and deserved to go out in a much better way. I’m not sure when his illness started but I’ve spoken to players from that era who suggested he was no longer really up to the job. “He was such a nice man, we played for him out of respect,” one of those players once told me.
I’d never met Harry Potts at this time but I did on numerous occasions afterwards. He did work for Colne Dynamoes for a while but really his days in football were over although his enthusiasm and his love for Burnley Football Club remained.
The last time I saw him proved to be a magical time for me. I’d travelled over from Manchester to attend the funeral of Granville Shackleton, the former sports writer for the Lancashire Evening Telegraph and Burnley Express. I’d given myself plenty of time and had arrived very early. Harry was there just a couple of minutes later; he’d got the times wrong. For what seemed an age, he sat in my car and we chatted about football and about the club we both loved. I knew him well enough by then so I wouldn’t say I was star struck but it is around forty minutes in my life that I will never forget.
Just over four years later, I was at work on 16th January 1996. There was a television on in the next office and someone was checking Ceefax. There I saw it – “Former Burnley manager Harry Potts has died aged 75” – I couldn’t take it in. It’s 25 years ago today; he’d have celebrated his 100th birthday last October, but the sadness of that day remains.
I ensured I wasn’t in work on the day of the funeral. I took my place on Brunshaw Road to see the funeral cortege pass. It was like a who’s who of our club with all but two of his championship side, along with many other former players, lined up to pay their final respects. It was surreal almost; I stood next to John Connelly and Brian Miller but on this day we were all as one.
At the time, Burnley Football Club were building the new North Stand, the Longside. If they’d shown any decency whatsoever they would have named it the Harry Potts Longside in his memory. They didn’t, they wouldn’t. When Barry Kilby joined the board and became chairman he tried to correct that. He was successful with the naming of the Jimmy McIlroy Stand but he was unable to get Harry’s name on because of the sponsorship.
An inspired idea was to come with London Clarets involved. That was to rename the stretch of road from the Wellington to the club shop corner from Brunshaw Road. It needed approval from all residents, and that was just Burnley FC and the bookies, so on 10th February 2001it became Harry Potts Way. It’s a fitting way to remember one of the great names of Burnley Football Club.
I’ve chosen the photographs for a reason. I felt there had to be one of him as a player and I’ve selected the one that is now prominent on Harry Potts Way to the left of the main entrance to the ground.
I wasn’t so sure about a photograph of Bob Lord but these two photographs are significant. The first is the day Harry became Burnley manager. The second of them was on the wall in the old Centre Spot. When I first spoke to Sean Dyche we were stood next to it. He told me he wanted to know about the history of the club. I pointed at that photograph and said if you do a quarter as well as this man did, you will be fine.
Finally, Harry’s wife Margaret, a lovely lady who left us in 2009, pictured with her family back in 2001 at the naming of Harry Potts Way. Through some superb times that’s exactly how we did it, the Harry Potts way.Share this page :