Obituary: Harold Shepherdson

Click to follow
As the confidant and foil of Alf Ramsey, Harold Shepherdson played an integral part in English football's finest hour, the lifting of the World Cup in 1966. He served the national side longer than any player or manager, being team trainer from 1957 to 1974, and worked under three bosses: first Walter Winterbottom, then Ramsey and finally Joe Mercer.

During an era of dramatic change which stretched from the twilight of Tom Finney's international career to the dawn of Kevin Keegan's, Shepherdson applied cold sponges and tended strained groins through a record 171 matches, including four World Cup tournaments.

The equable Shepherdson was the ideal aide for the rather aloof Ramsey, in particular, and their contrasting personalities were illustrated aptly at their moment of supreme triumph. When the final whistle signalled that it was all over against West Germany at Wembley in 1966, "Shep" leapt from his seat to cavort in joy while the manager sat stone-faced and, at least outwardly, emotionless.

After rising through the ranks of local junior football, Shepherdson had joined Middlesbrough as an amateur in 1932, turning professional four years later. A burly centre-half, he made his senior debut at West Bromwich in May 1937 but found the Scottish international stopper Bob Baxter too classy a performer to oust permanently from the first team, and he remained on the fringe of the side until the outbreak of the Second World War.

After serving as an army physical training instructor during the conflict, Shepherdson found it no easier to claim a regular place and was transferred to Southend United in 1947. Sadly, his playing days were ended abruptly by a knee injury before he had made a league appearance for the Shrimpers.

But within a few months he had returned to Ayrsome Park as assistant trainer. Exhibiting a winning mixture of shrewdness and approachability, he rose to become chief trainer two years later and was recruited to do the same job for England (while retaining his Middlesbrough post) in 1957. Thereafter Shepherdson helped Winterbottom prepare his teams for World Cup final tournaments in Sweden (1958) and Chile (1962), then slotted smoothly into the Ramsey regime, which began in 1963.

The affable Teessider was just what Ramsey needed: an old-style trainer who would not concern himself too much with tactics, but who could look after the players' fitness expertly while bringing to his work a natural humour, easy diplomacy and appealing accessibility, none of which was the manager's forte.

Shepherdson stayed for the rest of Ramsey's reign, which encompassed the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico and ended when England failed to qualify for the 1974 tournament. After that, Shepherdson assisted Joe Mercer through his seven-match stint as caretaker, stepping aside when Don Revie took over later that year.

Through all this, Shepherdson had been busy at Middlesbrough, too, first in his capacity as trainer, then in four spells as caretaker-manager - after the departures of Raich Carter in 1966, Stan Anderson in 1973, Jack Charlton in 1977 and Bobby Murdoch in 1982 - and finally as chief executive (football) until his retirement in 1983.

Subsequently, he remained on the football scene by covering matches for BBC Radio Cleveland, and never lost his sense of humour. When one national newspaper mistakenly announced that he was dead, in 1993, he laughed: "Like Mark Twain before me, reports of my death have been exaggerated."

Ivan Ponting

Harold Shepherdson, footballer, coach: born Middlesbrough 28 October 1918; played for Middlesbrough 1932-47, Southend United 1947; assistant trainer, trainer, caretaker-manager and chief executive (football), Middlesbrough 1949-83; trainer, England 1957-74; MBE 1969; married (three daughters); died Marton, Cleveland 13 September 1995.