Rolando Ugolini was fun – and he was a very fine goalkeeper, certainly one of the most entertaining English football has known since the war. Born in Italy but raised in Scotland, where he arrived as a toddler in the mid-1920s, he starred for Middlesbrough for eight seasons from 1948, six of them in the top flight, and he earned renown and affection in equal measure for his flamboyant, even theatrical, style.
Variously known as Ugo, ’Lando and “The Cat”, he cut a dashing figure with his darkly handsome looks topped by impeccably slicked hair and, though he was a generally reliable performer, utterly fearless when hurling himself into the path of onrushing attackers, there is no denying that he relished his flamboyant acrobatics and playing to the gallery.
He loved a laugh, too, an effervescent prankster in the dressing room and aboard the team bus, and in his early days at Celtic he enthusiastically embraced the role of his team-mates’ personal turf agent, an appropriate forerunner to his later management of betting shops.
After leaving school in Bathgate to work in his family’s fish and chip shop in nearby Armadale, he shone so brightly with the local junior club, Armadale Thistle, that he was given a trial by Hearts then signed by Celtic in 1944. Restricted to a handful of appearances for the Bhoys by the brilliance of the Scottish international Willie Miller, Ugolini moved to Middlesbrough for £7,000 in May 1948 and, despite conceding seven goals in his first practice match, graduated straight to the Teessiders’ first team.
The lithe, immaculately turned-out newcomer struck up an immediate rapport with colleagues – including the opulently gifted inside-forward Wilf Mannion and the former England captain George Hardwick – and fans, totalling more than 300 League and FA Cup appearances as Boro yo-yoed up and down the First Division. In 1951 they reached a high of sixth place but three years later, despite Ugolini’s continued excellence, they were relegated. He spent two more seasons at Ayresome Park, welcoming the precocious rookie Brian Clough into the side in 1955-56, at the end of which he was dropped in favour of Peter Taylor, Clough’s future managerial partner.
A season in the reserves followed before he joined third-tier Wrexham as a 33-year-old in 1957, serving the Robins splendidly for nearly three terms before being ousted by Charlie Hughes. Next came two seasons back in the Scottish top grade with Dundee United before the irrepressible ’keeper signed off his professional playing days with a single outing for little Berwick Rangers. A successful career in the betting industry awaited.
Rolando Ugolini, footballer; born Lucca, Italy 4 June 1924; died Edinburgh 10 April 2014.Reuse content