Obituary: Harry Potts

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The Independent Online
Harry Potts never enjoyed the fame of Busby, Shankly or a dozen other football managers of his era; nor did he court Clough-like controversy or attract headlines for matters unrelated to the game. Yet, arguably, the achievement of this gentle North-Easterner in leading unfashionable little Burnley to the League Championship in 1960 and maintaining the Clarets' stature as a leading power in the land for several seasons afterwards was more remarkable than the tumultuously trumpeted triumphs of his renowned peers.

That Potts garnered only limited kudos from the public - although soccer insiders were in no doubt as to his worth - was due partly to his own unassuming personality but also to the fact that Burnley had a fiery figurehead in its chairman, Bob Lord, who was ever ready to shout the odds on his club's behalf. Their complementary characters melded ideally.

There were two major strands to Potts's success. First, he was an exceptionally shrewd strategist - no one mentioned 4-4-2 in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but that was the system he often employed, enabling a team blessed with few stars to compete with, and frequently outdo, the big city battalions. Secondly, his sincerity and genuine concern for the young men in his charge turned Burnley into a family club and fostered a rare team spirit.

His was an enlightened regime, in which he would ask the opinions of players, though he could show steel and take unpopular decisions when he deemed them necessary, such as the 1963 sale of his brilliant but ageing schemer Jimmy McIlroy to Stoke City. Fans condemned him when the deal was mooted - indeed "Potts Out" graffiti survived on walls in the town for at least two decades after the event - but he did not waver.

Harry Potts had served Burnley as a player, too, arriving as a 17-year- old in 1937. He showed immense promise as a goal-scoring inside-left, only for his momentum to be interrupted by the Second World War, during which he served in the RAF and played in India. There was time, also, to guest for Fulham and Sunderland before resuming at Turf Moor in 1946.

In the first season after the conflict, Potts top-scored as Burnley gained promotion to the First Division and he almost won the FA Cup for them, shooting against the bar at Wembley before Charlton Athletic claimed the trophy in extra time. In 1950 he was sold to Everton for pounds 20,000, but didn't secure a regular place and retired in 1956.

Always a deep and impressive thinker, Potts took a coaching post with mighty Wolves later that year, before moving into management with Shrewsbury Town in the summer of 1957. Clearly he was in his element and, a mere seven months later, he accepted the boss's chair at Burnley.

The squad he inherited was sound rather than spectacular, though the two main creators, the wing-half Jimmy Adamson and the inside forward McIlroy, were outstanding. Potts was quick to recognise, too, the merits of his callow wing man John Connelly and he laid great emphasis on a youth system which was to pay rich dividends over the coming years.

After two creditable campaigns, Burnley scaled the heights in 1959/60, pipping Wolves for the Championship in the final match. Cynics suggested it would be a one-off achievement, and in terms of silverware they were right. But Burnley continued to excel, despite being straitened financially by the abolition of the players' maximum wage, which greatly favoured the rich clubs. In 1960/61 they reached the quarter finals of the European Cup, going out by a single goal in Hamburg after losing a 3-1 home advantage, they finished fourth in the League and were semi-finalists in both the FA Cup and League Cup.

The following season they could, probably should, have lifted the coveted League/FA Cup double, but squandered a Championship lead to let in Ipswich at the death, and lost at Wembley to Spurs. Then in 1962/63 they came third in the First Division.

Thereafter, sadly, money became increasingly short, the team broke up following the departure of McIlroy, and the rest of the Sixties - save for a third place in 1965-66 - brought mediocrity. Attendances fell, talented youngsters such as Willie Morgan were sold to survive, and in 1970 Potts was shifted "upstairs" to become general manager.

Weary at such a peripheral role, he left in 1972 to become boss of Second Division Blackpool, who missed promotion only narrowly in his first term. However, after two more cash-strapped seasons of respectable mundanity, he was sacked in May 1976. Soon Potts returned to Burnley (by then in the second flight) as chief scout, and took over as manager again in 1977, only to be dismissed after a poor start to 1979/80. It was a poignant exit for the most successful boss in the club's history.

In the 1980s Potts scouted for the non-league Colne Dynamos, but his activities were restricted increasingly by Parkinson's disease.

Harold Potts, footballer, manager: born Hetton-le-Hole, County Durham 22 October 1920; played for Burnley 1937-50, Everton 1950-56; coached Wolverhampton Wanderers 1956-57; Manager, Shrewsbury Town 1957-58; Manager, Burnley 1958-70 and 1977-79; Manager, Blackpool 1973-76; married (one daughter); died Burnley 15 January 1996.

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