ADAMSON: TEAM OF THE SEVENTIES
THE ROAD TO THE TOP
Where did it all go wrong for Jimmy Adamson? At the end of season ‘73/74 his earlier prediction that Burnley would become the team of the seventies was still a possibility after a season of wonderful football, an FA Cup semi-final, and just missing out on a place in Europe. In March of the following season Burnley were second in the table behind Everton. But by January 1976, his hopes and dreams had all ended following a defeat in an FA Cup tie at Blackpool, ironically to a team managed by Harry Potts, when Chairman Bob Lord asked for Adamson’s resignation.
There are two schools of thought: one that saw and still sees Jimmy Adamson as one of Burnley’s great managers who should never have been sacked. The second one sees him in a less kindly light. Whilst most if not all of his 1970s team admired and would have run through brick walls for him, he was less than loved by many other players that he alienated both as a coach and then manager, and to whom he presented an image that was the opposite of the amiable, kind-hearted Harry Potts. Nor do the history books of Sunderland and Leeds United pay him many compliments. But, there is no argument that he was a truly great player and coach. After all, he was a supremely elegant and influential as a player; Player of the Year in fact in 1962. He was hugely respected then and was invited to become England team manager after being the assistant to Winterbottom in Chile. Bobby Charlton sings his praises in the second volume of his autobiography The International Years.
In 1963 he respected and admired Harry Potts and made it clear in a newspaper piece he wrote. He suggested that the new manager, Alf Ramsey, needed regional advisers to assist him. He named Bill Nicholson in the south, Stan Cullis in the Midlands, Alan Brown in the far north-east and Harry Potts in the north-west. “Potts: Burnley’s ex-player who now manages the club so well. To run a First Division club on a tight purse is a task in itself, but to do it and still keep the club among the best in the land says a lot for his shrewdness and judgement.”
But, slowly, from the moment he became coach under the managership of Harry Potts, and then manager himself with Harry as General Manager, that relationship changed. There was unease and a less than cordial relationship between them. Years later, it is not an unreasonable assumption that Harry was ‘forced’ out and lacked the guile and hardness to resist. Maybe Harry being replaced was inevitable. He was the old face of football management with minimal tactical ideas and reluctant to change his teams; whilst Adamson represented the new, where individual skills and flair had to be subjugated to the team ethic, Brian O Neil being the perfect example.
If Adamson had once been innovative; after the Blackpool game in spells at Sunderland and Leeds United, he was a declining figure in football. His bitterness towards Bob Lord remained for years. Personal tragedies marred his later years. He refused to return to Turf Moor for any function until at last his former players Colin Waldron and Paul Fletcher persuaded him to attend a Cup-tie against Liverpool. Even that went wrong - it was rained off. His story is one of broken dreams.
Only he has the answers to so many issues but for years after he finished with football he has avoided interviews. Without his answers, we can only surmise and guess as intelligently as we can as to exactly what went wrong and why. There are so many questions that will probably never be answered. What were his opinions of managers Frank Hill and Harry Potts? What was the relationship between himself and Harry Potts and how did it change over time? Exactly when did Bob Lord first promise him the manager’s job? Was he comfortable with Harry Potts remaining at the club as General Manager? Why was season ‘75/76 so disastrous? When did the relationship between him and Bob Lord turn so sour and why? From where did such intense bitterness come? And how did Bob Lord come to owe Adamson money and why? Legend and hero he may be, but there are undercurrents to the story of Jimmy Adamson at Burnley as coach and then manager.
From the Clarets Collection Ray Simpson: Born on the 4th of April 1929, Jimmy Adamson was one of Turf Moor’s very favourite sons whose overall career at Burnley spanned four decades. He is arguably the best uncapped player in English football during the post-war period. He was born in the mining community of Ashington, the sixth child of a colliery worker. Like thousands of football-mad youngsters in the north-east of the 30s, the narrow, ill-lit alleys forming murky corridors between the terraced rows were the first football pitches the young Adamson knew. His ball skills were finely honed during endless hours of constant practice on the uneven cobbled surface.
At school he was a centre half and his ability and undoubted class would have won him many honours at schoolboy level but for the war. After leaving school he joined Ashington YMCA and switched from the centre-half position to inside forward. It was while playing for East Chevington Juniors that he was spotted by Turf Moor scout Jackie Dryden, an ex-Claret who was as shrewd a judge of natural talent as they came and the young Adamson was soon on his way to East Lancashire.
After joining the ground staff, Adamson’s career at Turf Moor was carefully mapped out.However, after only two weeks he became homesick and caught the train back to Ashington. He was soon back in the fold and signed his first professional contract in January 1947, still only 17 years of age. His early years at Turf Moor were something of a struggle. Still playing as an inside-forward he graduated through the junior teams and the reserve team but it was only after his conversion to wing-half that his true potential started to be realised.Even then he was almost 22 years old when he made his League debut at Bolton in February 1951. He replaced the great Reg Attwell at right-half and performed well enough to keep Attwell out for the reminder of the season. Adamson had arrived in earnest and along with Tommy Cummings and Jimmy McIlroy was even then laying the foundation for the League Championship triumph almost a decade away.
He had been a revelation since moving to the right-half position and although never the fastest of players, his lovely control and his superb reading of the game eventually brought recognition by the International selectors. In March 1953 he was chosen to represent England B in the first ever meeting with Scotland B in Edinburgh. Tommy Cummings and Bill Holden were also in the England side with Jock Aird in opposition.
In 1955 Bobby Seith staked his claim for a regular place in the Burnley side at right-half and Jimmy Adamson was happy enough to accommodate him, moving to centre-half in place of the injured Tommy Cummings. Adamson only rarely wore the number 4 shirt from then on until the Championship was almost secured in 1960. John Angus had made the right-back position his own, Alex Elder made the breakthrough during the title-winning season and Brian Miller had also made his presence felt. Tommy Cummings re-established himself early in 1960 and, with Adamson moving back to the right-half position for which he is best remembered, it was the unfortunate Bobby Seith that missed out on the triumphant run-in which ended at Maine Road, Manchester in May 1960.
In October that year Adamson, by now 31 years old, received another belated honour when he was chosen for the Football League side to play the Irish League in Blackpool. Team-mates Jimmy McIlroy and John Connelly were also in the line-up that beat the Irish 5 – 2.
1961/62 of course was the season when Burnley were on course to win the League and Cup Double, a feat that would have meant immortality for this small-town club. But, the Clarets were pipped at the post by Ipswich for the League Championship and beaten by Tottenham at Wembley in the FA Cup Final. In recognition of Burnley’s magnificent achievement, Captain Jimmy Adamson was voted “Footballer of the Year” with Jimmy McIlroy the runner-up. At 33, Adamson was then included in the England Squad for the 1962 World Cup in Chile and was appointed assistant manager to manager Walter Winterbottom.When Winterbottom resigned, Jimmy Adamson was offered the position of England manager, but although he was a fully qualified FA Coach, he felt he could not accept the position because of managerial inexperience. Alf Ramsey stepped in and went on to mastermind England’s World Cup win in 1966.
During 1962/63 Adamson’s place in the Burnley team came under more and more pressure with Walter Joyce, David Walker and later Brian O’ Neil getting the nod. He was the man back in possession at the start of the following campaign but, in February 1964, played his final game for the Clarets in a 1 – 1 draw at Blackpool. He joined the Turf Moor coaching staff and was seen as the natural successor to manager Harry Potts, taking over the reins in 1970. His “team of the seventies” was relegated in 1971 but Adamson plotted a triumphant return to the top flight in 1973 and all seemed set for a return to the glory days after two good years back in the First Division.
1975/76 was a season of struggle however and just as Bloomfield Road had been the scene of his final game as a Burnley player back in 1964, it also marked his last game as Burnley manager when the Clarets were dispatched from the FA Cup by the Seasiders at the Third Round stage in January 1976.
After a coaching spell in Holland, he replaced FA Cup hero Bob Stokoe as manager of Sunderland in 1976, but failed to prevent their relegation from Division One. He took over from Jock Stein as Leeds manager in 1978 and in two years at Elland Road guided them to a place in the UEFA Cup. It was a short-lived success story however, and after a poor start to the 1980/81 season he resigned, and left the game for good. He then lived quietly in Burnley with no involvement in football at all. As the last Burnley player to captain a First Division Championship side as well as the last Claret to lead an FA Cup Final team out at Wembley, he undoubtedly ranks along with Tommy Boyle, as the club’s most influential captain of all time. He stands sixth in the all-time list of Burnley League appearances. He also played in 52 FA Cup games, more than any other Burnley player. (Courtesy of Ray Simpson)
FROM THE CLARETS’s COLLECTION: Ray Simpson 1996
Adamson penned a few thoughts of his own in 1988. With Burnley on the brink of financial disaster following the period where John Bond managed the club for a year, John Benson then took it down a Division, and ‘86/87 ended with the Orient game; money was desperately needed. Paul Fletcher invited several ex players to contribute to a paperback book that generated much needed income for the club. What Adamson wrote was brief but it is the messages between the lines that are significant.
When I joined Burnley in the late 40s I had no idea I would be spending 27 years with the club. Those years contained incredible happiness and periods of great sadness both as player and manager. The downfall of this great club began with whoever made the decision to sell Jimmy McIlroy. There is no doubt in my mind that the disastrous decision was made by Chairman Bob Lord, the club’s megalomaniac dictator of the day. I do not want to say anything that sounds like sour grapes because the club has given me too much pleasure for that. But I think it is fair to say that Bob Lord helped to build up one of the finest club set-ups in British football; AND THEN DESTROYED IT.
I joined the club before the Lord era just after the war when I was signed by Cliff Britton. He got the club on the road to success and was followed by the best manager the club has ever had in Alan Brown. He did more for the club as both a player and manager than any other individual. He was the instigator of the Gawthorpe Hall training centre and was the inventive mind behind all the early coaching techniques which encouraged players to exploit their individual skills instead of stifling them.
And then came Jimmy McIlroy. He was the finest player I have ever seen wearing a Burnley shirt. The whole club in those days was geared for success which eventually led us into the European Cup. The commercial side was under the guidance of Jack Butterfield with the scouting system under the eagle-eye of Dave Blakey. Young players started to come through the reserve side like Andy Lochhead and Willie Irvine.
Whilst I was manager we had success in the early 70s getting promotion to the 1st Division in 1973 built on a team of both ability and team spirit. A tragic injury to Frank Casper against Leeds United only a week before the FA Cup semi-final against Newwcastle United could have been the reason why we didn’t get all the way to Wembley. But the game itself when we thrashed Leds United 4 – 1 at Elland Road whilst they were well clear at the top of the 1st Division I remember as a great victory with Collins, Nulty, Waldron and captain Martin Dobson all outstanding.
I have had many wonderful experiences with Burnley Football Club. Looking back along the road I may have done s few things differently… but the trip itself… I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Jimmy Adamson 1988
In that short piece there is not one mention for Harry Potts, the man who is acknowledged to have taken the club to the First Division title, to Wembley and into Europe – the latter not once but twice. The omission of Potts’ name and the praise heaped on Brown is significant. Journalist Brian Glanville who had almost unlimited access to the team whenever they were in London is adamant that the success at Burnley FC was less to do with Potts, than the foundations laid by Alan Brown, and the outstanding presence of Jimmy Adamson and Jimmy McIlroy. As the years went by, Jimmy Adamson, especially when he became manager in 1970, had little time for Harry Potts. Whilst Potts remained manager until 1970 and Adamson was coach, there was certainly an undercurrent that players noticed. The more time that passed by, the more Adamson wanted full control of the team. Potts was from the old era, tactically limited, and Adamson was from the new with a visionary mind brimming with thoughts and ideas. Adamson eventually got his way and in 1972 Potts was removed altogether and paid off. For Potts the years between 70 and 72 were intensely lonely at the club where he was marginalised and not even welcomed at Gawthorpe.
Adamson’s opinions of Bob Lord, the man who made him manager, are clear enough from the piece he wrote (a megalomaniac dicatator who destroyed the club). Theirs’ eventually became a deeply unhappy and bitter relationship. Lord admitted to Margaret Potts, one day, when he met her out walking and tild her that he had made wrong choices. He commented to former player Les Latcham, when they met at the Masonic Lodge, that Adamson was a problem. When Adamson brought his Sunderland side to Turf Moor there was a near public slanging match between them. The game itself was a kicking match. And the mystery of how and why Lord came to owe money to Adamson has never been explained.
It was in 1962 that the universal respect in which Adamson was held as a player was at its peak. Respect as a coach would follow. He was Footballer of the Year, man of the match at the Wembley Cup Final, assistant England manager in Chile, and no less a person than Bobby Charlton was an Adamson disciple.
On the ‘plane home from Chile they sat together and talked football for most of the journey. Charlton regarded Adamson as a fine and intelligent professional and word had got round that he was a favourite to succeeed Winterbottom. Not only did they talk on that journey home but Charlton also visited Adamson in Burnley driving over the moors to see him. Even then he saw in Adamson a man with the capability to impose a new style of professionalism on the England team, and improvements in the way they were selected and trained. Talking to Adamson, Charlton realised that a new and stronger form of leadership was needed if England was to progress. Winterbottom was almost the ‘amateur’ in his approach, donnish and schoolmasterish; Adamson convinced Charlton that an altogether different approach was needed. Had he accepted the post, Charlton thought it would have been a brilliant choice. Adamson talked about responsibility, teamwork, professionalism, togetherness, expectations, effort and that performance was the only guide, not potential. Charlton saw him as a realist, grounded in what life was really like, and the practicalities of day to day earning a living. In Chile one of Adamson’s roles was to drill into the players what their capabilities and strengths were and how to take these onto the field of play. As the years went by, they went their different ways, but it is clear that Charlton was deeply influenced by Adamson whom he described as a “visionary.” The basis of Adamson’s philosophy he saw as being the requirement that every player should have specific responsibilities within the team ethic. It would be from 1973 to 1975 that this was best illustrated by his beautiful ‘passing’ team, a team that was the sum of its different individual parts, and each individual had to fit into the group need. It was for this reason that an individually gifted player like the mercurial winger Dave Thomas could be sold at a stage when the team was emerging. Thomas did not fit the Adamson mould and was not what Adamson wanted. And this, the player that Don Revie described as having the potential to be the greatest player in Europe, after the 5 – 1 demolition of Leeds United at Turf Moor. Nor were Steve Kindon or the outstanding Brian O’ Neil retained, both jettisoned very early on.
There is very little on record from Adamson himself to explain why he turned down the England job but one newspaper he did write for was the Times of Malta. On Tuesday October 9th, 1962, he gave an insight into the invitation he received, and also the need for any footballer to be adaptible and be able to play in any position in which he found himself during a game. In this respect he was envisaging ‘total football’ long before the Dutch and manager Rinus Michels received acclaim and admiration for ‘inventing’ it in the 70s.
I went to Chile in the summer with the England World Cup party as assistant to Mr Walter Winterbottom. When he relinquished the post from January to take over as secretary to the Council of Physical Recreation it was only natural for many to assume that I would be among the applicants for the vacant job.I want to make it clear that I did not apply. It is my belief that I have a couple of seasons or so still in me as a footballer, and taking part in the game means very much to me. Every footballer reaching maturity in playing years knows how hard it is to hang up his boots.The first official indication that I was being considered for the England team-manager’s job came via my own chairman, Mr Bob Lord, who was asked by the Football Association to sound me out as to whether I wished to be considered for the job. It was a great honour to know that they wanted to do so. But I felt that perhaps I was not yet equipped for such an exacting role, and I politely declined.
Conjecture is easy but it is not unreasonable to surmise that on hearing this they would have discussed the situation at some length, and Bob Lord would have encouraged Adamson to continue his playing career for as long as he wanted, and then assured him that when the time came there would be a position for him at the club. Among Lord’s gifts was the ability to see and plan ahead, although as the 70s went by, his critics would have justifiably argued he had totally lost the ability to see what was needed as he clung to his position. But back in ’62, at the peak of his powers, Lord realised that Adamson was a man to keep hold of.
In November of 1962 in another of his newspaper pieces he referred again to continuing his playing career.
It seems that the favourite pastime today when administrative soccer vacancies are around, is to link the name of Jimmy Adamson with them.The FA’s enquiry as to whether I wished to be considered for the England managership has now been followed by speculation concerning the future management of Ipswich Town when Alf Ramsey leaves, and the immediate vacant role as boss, at go-ahead Norwich City. Naturally I have felt highly honoured to be even considered for such positions, but at this moment I am just not interested in team-management. I’ve still got a lot of life left as a player. And on top of that I feel my future is with Burnley Football Club. I have been at Turf Moor for 17 years now. I started my professional career there – and I would not mind finishing it there, either.My wife, our children and I, like Burnley. We like the locality, we have a fine circle of friends, and here is where our future lies.
From the Cup Final onwards, injuries and back problems meant that Adamson’s appearances dwindled until his last game in February 1964. Having assured him that he had a permanent future at Burnley, Lord appointed him to the coaching staff. But if Lord thought that this would be the dream partnership, he was sadly mistaken. The Potts/Adamson relationship was similar to that of Mercer and Allison in later years at Manchester City. The new man, filled with ideas and tactical knowledge saw the older as both a hindrance and anachronism. There is no way of knowing if and when Lord assured Adamson that one day the manager’s job would be his. There is no way of knowing if Adamson came to demand the position, or if he deliberately undermined Potts; or of how and when Lord came to decide that the time was right in 1970 to make Adamson manager and move the heartbroken Potts to the post of General Manager, which in truth gave him little, if any, real responsibility.
“When Jimmy Adamson became coach things changed a bit,” remembers player Arthur Bellamy. “Harry was never a great tactician but Jimmy introduced new routines, moves and free kicks. The way Burnley played could depend on who they were playing and team selections began to be made on the basis of who was the best man for a particular role. Jimmy was perhaps one of the first of the new tacticians, the first of the modern day coaches and talkers. Harry was a great man and a great manager, but he was not a great coach in my opinion. He was a smoother of troubles and he gave players confidence. But Jimmy Adamson taught me to do things I didn’t know I could do like playing sweeper. Gradually Jimmy became more and more responsible for the training. Things became more planned and technical under Jimmy. The man from the next era was replacing the man of the old.”
In September of 1965 Potts was given a new five-year contract at a salary of £5,500 a year. Lord still clearly had full faith in Potts at that stage and had no immediate plans to hand the post to Adamson. It is reasonable to surmise, perhaps, that at this point he felt that Potts and Adamson could work together and that Adamson would spend the five years almost as an apprentice manager. As those five years passed by Adamson became more and more frustrated and one cannot be critical of him for wanting the manager’s post. He was a superb coach and had a football mind brimming with ideas. But, if Arthur Bellamy thought at first that Potts and Adamson seemed to work well together, another ex-player, Les Latcham, had a different slant on things and remembers feeling that Adamson seemed to be manouevring for the post of manager and would make remarks about Harry to the other players.
It became increasingly clear that the partnership was not working and that Adamson wanted sole control. This was not an unnatural ambition. He had his own theories, tactics and aspirations. It meant however that there was growing confusion about exactly who was in charge and if there is one thing that footballers want it is clarity. But this was becoming blurred and the happy club was becoming split into pro Adamson and pro Potts camps as loyalities were being divided. Ralph Coates tells the story of how he came in for a game in his early days, played really well, and was told by Adamson he would start the next game. Potts over-ruled this. Willie Irvine tells the story that it was Adamson who decided he would not feature in one of the Fairs Cup games. It was Potts who informed him though and when Irvine asked why he was not playing, Potts replied it was Adamson’s decision and it was nothing to do with him.
There was a game at Sunderland where Burnley went into a 3 – 1 lead. Potts was away in Zurich for the Fairs Cup draw. Adamson at 3 – 1 shut up shop. The tactic failed and Sunderland won 4 – 3. In the next home programme notes Potts was critical, albeit tactfully, but the criticism was certainly there.
Opinions were expressed by supporters in the local newspapers. They accused Adamson of tinkering too much, results were inconsistent, they criticised his tactics and formations. Adamson as 1970 approached was seen as the dominant figure. Gone were the days when Burnley had a fabled attack and there was no thought of playing defensively. Players had come through from the victorious 1968 Youth Team and Adamson had spent a great deal of time with them on the training ground. There were opposing philosophies at work – the freestyle approach of Harry Potts, and the more technical, studious and tactical approach of Adamson. One international player previously sold was asked to come back by Bob Lord. The player turned down the offer because of the situation at the club. Another player, who asks not to be named, says it had got to the stage where Adamson asked Bob Lord to keep Harry away from the training ground and the players. The uncertainty dragged on but something had to give. Letters to the newspapers asked what was Bob Lord doing about it all as the club drifted and “there was a grand harvest of mediocrity.”
In 1970, quite out of the blue, the change was made. Lord made Adamson manager and Potts the General Manager. Margaret Potts remembers in her memoirs that her husband was heartbroken and in tears at home. She certainly felt that Harry had been stabbed in the back and that he was too good-natured to know what was going on. He was as good as banished from Gawthorpe and had no further contact with the players and the teams.
The town was rocked by the news that Jimmy Adamson would replace Harry Potts as manager, and that Potts would move into a new role as General Manager. It was very much a surprise even to hardened club reporter Keith McNee when the announcement was made on February 23rd. Both men had signed new five-year contracts. Players and staff assembled at Gawthorpe after a training session where Lord made the announcement to them all. Player Arthur Bellamy remembers Harry Potts standing at the back of the crowd and looking very unhappy. He would no longer be involved with the team and that any players should now take their problems to Jimmy Adamson. Potts made a little thankyou speech praising Lord and Adamson saying, “I could not hand over to a better fellow.” Adamson responded saying that Harry could now concentrate on matters “away from the team.” What those vague matters were was never made clear.
Margaret Potts was both deeply hurt and furious. She writes about it in her book “Margaret’s Story.” She recollects how Harry was unsuspecting even though she had heard the rumours and there had been visitors to the house warning them of the situation, and what was coming. Harry had just shrugged them off. Feeling stabbed in the back, Margaret stood up at the next Club Dinner to make the ‘ladies response’ and took everyone aback when she announced that what had taken place was not in the best interests of the club. On arrival they had found that they were no longer seated at the top table but were on a table near the door. How appalling she thought to do this to the man who had served the club in such distinguished fashion. The silence after her speech was ominous, she recalls that you could have heard a pin drop, but then there was polite applause. They left the dinner early.
Within two years Potts’ position was untenable. He was a relic of the past. He was dismissed with a substantial pay-off. Board meetings had always been attended during the two year period by both Adamson and Potts. At the 1972 meeting when Harry was informed of his dismissal, Adamson was discreetly absent.
Adamson was now the top man without the irration of Potts’ presence at the club.