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7 Of The Best Players To Ever Play For Burnley

Podcast Blog Post 15

7: Harry Potts 

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.

6: Paul Gascoigne    

If one were to ask a random member of the general public to name a famous English footballer, you wouldn't be surprised to hear the name Paul Gascoigne.

Gazza is famous for being a brilliant, yet controversial football player showing outstanding skill on the international stage, scoring great goals and being as daft as a brush. He is one of the few footballers to book a referee, receive death threats from the IRA, having his nuts grabbed by Vinnie Jones… and then sign for Burnley!

Walter Smith left Goodison Park and was replaced by Preston's David Moyes, and it was inevitable that Gazza was going to leave too, so Burnley manager Stan Ternent brought him to Turf Moor.

Burnley, although being inconsistent results wise, were pushing for a play-off place in the First Division, but unlike the signing of Ian Wright two years earlier, Clarets fans seemed a bit split on the signing of the 34-year-old, it was certainly a gamble by Ternent and the Burnley board.

Was Gazza in the right form physically and mentally to pull on the Claret and Blue shirt?

The documents were not signed in time for him to make his debut against Preston North End, but he was introduced to the crowd before the game. Watching from the Bob Lord Stand, Gazza had the pleasure of witnessing David Johnson playing his socks off in his Burnley debut as The Clarets brushed aside their local rivals. 

Wearing the 34 shirt, Gascoigne eventually made his debut in a 1-1 draw against Bradford City at Turf Moor. As with the signing of Wright, Burnley's attendances increased and the Gazza merchandise sold like hotcakes - but on the whole, his spell at Burnley was an uneventful one.

5: Ralph Coates   

He is quite certain that it was his family's neighbourly connection with the Potts family in Hetton le Hole that gave him the confidence to come to Burnley for a trial and his mother the peace of mind that enabled her to let him go. 

His mother knew Harry’s parents and this allowed her to overcome her reluctance to let the very young Ralph leave the village. A job as an electrician at the local pit seemed a certainty on leaving school until his mother gave the go-ahead for him to attend the trial at Burnley. If he failed, they both reasoned, there was a job back home waiting for him.

“I’m sure that if it had been any other club she would have been reluctant for me to go but she would not have stood in my way. The fact that it was Harry Potts at Burnley meant that she knew that I would be in good hands and was the major factor in my leaving Hetton”.

As a young lad, Coates had never set foot outside of County Durham and nearby Northumberland. It made Burnley seem half a world away. It was his half-brother Bob, as well, who also encouraged him to make the journey to Burnley. 

Coates was capped four times by England and scored the winner for Spurs in the 1973 League Cup final victory over Norwich. He had started his career at Burnley and also played for Leyton Orient. 

4: Brian Miller     

He'd joined the club in the 1950s to start off his Burnley career and when he retired in 1996 he'd spent all but just over three years, between 1983 and 1986, at Turf Moor as office boy, player, captain, coach, manager on two occasions and finally chief scout. 

It's an understatement to say that Brian saw the highs and lows of the club. In 1960 he was the left half in the title-winning team. He played in all 42 games that season, scoring three goals, and in total made 455 league and cup appearance, scoring a total of 37 goals.

3: Leighton James  

I would think many Burnley supporters who started watching the club in the early 1970s would consider Leighton James as one of their favourite ever Burnley players as he played a starring role in the Clarets winning promotion back to, and then establishing themselves in, the first division.

It was a good time to be watching Burnley, over a three year period from spring 1972 to spring 1975 and there is no doubt that James (or Taffy to most Burnley fans) showed some fantastic form during that time. Incredibly he was still a young player and as the 1974/75 season drew to a close he was still only 22.

He played nearly 280 games for the Clarets over 2 spells and scored nearly 60 top-flight goals in the process.

He might be back in his native Wales now, but there's still a bit of Burnley in Leighton James and there's still a great memory of him for all of us who saw him turn it on so often in a claret and blue shirt and I'm sure many of us would have him in our all-time Burnley 7otb.

2: Jimmy Adamson     

In 1962, the footballer Jimmy Adamson had his finest individual season as a player. He was voted English Footballer of the Year, captained Burnley to an FA Cup final they lost to Spurs, and was selected for the England squad that Walter Winterbottom took to Chile for that summer's World Cup finals.

Adamson, who also acted as assistant coach, was not selected to play in the tournament – indeed, he never won a senior England cap – and was disgusted when a fellow player sat on his suitcase on arriving at the team's base and announced: "I'm homesick already." It was a dismal portent for a team who never really clicked into gear, though they did reach the quarter-finals, losing 3-1 to Brazil, the competition's eventual winners.

That year, too, Adamson was offered the opportunity of succeeding Winterbottom, but turned the job down, feeling that he lacked experience. The position went instead to Alf Ramsey, who went on to make England winners of the 1966 World Cup. Adamson played on for his beloved Burnley for two further seasons before retiring in 1964.

Though 1962 was a landmark year for Adamson, he will be best remembered as the ever-present captain of the Burnley team, which won the League Championship in the 1959-60 season. This was a tremendous achievement for a small, unfashionable club that lived on its wits, the generosity of its pork butcher chairman, Bob Lord, and the skill of its scouts and coaches.

Competing in the European Cup the following season, Burnley were not disgraced. They eliminated Reims, twice previously beaten finalists against the mighty Real Madrid, and looked set for the semi-finals after defeating Hamburg 3-1 in the first leg at Turf Moor. But having reached the semi-finals of both the League and FA Cups, Burnley paid the penalty for their success, being obliged to play five matches in 14 days before the return leg in Hamburg. They went down, and out, 4-1 – to give an aggregate of 5-4 – with Uwe Seeler, Hamburg and West Germany's prolific centre-forward, scoring twice. 

Never a spectacular player, he was, however, a consummate wing-half, winning the ball with firm tackles, using it economically, and competing strongly in the air. He seldom missed a game but seldom scored either, netting just 17 goals in 486 games over 17 years.

Burnley's greatest ever player: Jimmy McIlroy

Jimmy McIlroy, or just Jimmy Mac to most Burnley fans who saw him play, is now President James McIlroy MBE Freeman of the Borough of Burnley.

It's a fancy title for a modest man but every part of it is so well deserved. He received the freedom of the borough in late 2008. He can walk sheep down St. James' Street now, something no one else is permitted to do, but as Willie Irvine told a Burnley paper: "He's such a lazy bugger that if he wanted to he'd probably get me to do it for him." 

In March 1950 when manager Frank Hill parted with £8,000 to sign him from Irish League club Glentoran. The 18-year-old quickly settled into life at Turf Moor and by October, just days before his 19th birthday, he made his first-team debut at Sunderland after the sale of Harry Potts to Everton.

The reviews from those who had been watching the reserve team suggested that once this lad was in the first team it would be impossible to dislodge him, and so it proved. From that day until his shock transfer to Stoke in February 1963 he was just about the first name on the team sheet.

No player has bettered his 439 post-war league appearances for Burnley, a figure he shares with John Angus. Only Ray Pointer has bettered his 116 league goals, and that is some return for a player who today would be considered a midfield player even though he did take the penalties.

He won 55 caps for Northern Ireland and played for them in the World Cup Finals in 1958 in Sweden. Of those, 51 were won whilst with Burnley, a club record.

Jimmy Mac wasn't just about records; he was about how good a player he was. He really was the star. The fans said it, and the players said it. Brian Miller spoke about him and he just simply said: "The best player I've ever seen in a claret and blue shirt."

He is 7OTB and The Football Hours greatest clarets player.

If you do not agree with any of my picks and wish to create your own seven of the best Burnley players tweet @thefootballhour using the #7OTBCLARETS with your selections.