A Midsummer Night’s Player Dream – Burnley legend Jimmy Adamson.
Jimmy Adamson captained the Clarets for much of the late 1950s and early 60s and was skipper in the Burnley Championship winning season, when he was an ever present. He played a total of 486 games for Burnley, including appearances in the European Cup, an FA Cup Final and accumulated the sixth highest number of games on the all-time Clarets’ player list.
He played for the team from Turf Moor for 17 seasons, was club coach for 6 years and team manager for 6 more, yet he sadly missed out on the limelight and fell out with the club until just before he died. His personal life was filled with unhappiness too, so we begin a rather sad tale for someone who did so much for the famous old East Lancashire club.
17 years with the same club as a player is some achievement and he was a key player in all of my time watching the Clarets. Adamson was tall and slender, a great header of the ball, truly elegant with the ball on the floor, blessed with long legs and a good stride that made it difficult for him to be passed or out run when off the ball.
Adamson was a disciplinarian, a true leader on the field and was hugely responsible for much of the Clarets’ best years. He often fed the ball to his partner in crime, Northern Ireland’s iconic Claret Jimmy McIlroy to create goals. He was not perhaps as charismatic or high profile as some of the others in the side, though he scored many important goals to grab himself a few headlines, every now and then.
Whether Adamson was playing as a commanding centre or right half, he became an astute tactician at a time when tactics were planned for a game and rarely changed during it. Jimmy Adamson was able to improvise and make key changes in a game and was considered to be way ahead of his time regarding tactical acumen.
He was deemed good enough to make the roll call for the World Cup in Chile 1962 as one of the full England squad, which coincided with his much deserved award as “Footballer of the Year”.
In Chile he became England manager Walter Winterbottom’s coaching assistant and impressed many with his ideas and responsive and ability to change tactics. Bobby Charlton was a great fan, to such an extent that when Winterbottom resigned after yet another dismal England World Cup, he was immediately offered the England manager’s job.
Jimmy surprisingly refused and said he didn’t have enough managerial experience, but he also refused because he wanted to carry on playing and also as his wife didn’t want to leave Burnley. He also thought he had a job for life at Burnley with Bob Lord with whom he got on well.
Ultimately the England job was presented to Ipswich Town manager Alf Ramsay, the team that had just clawed back Burnley’s 6 point lead (as fatigue and a backlog of games hit them), to win the title and the rest is history.
He might well have subsequently regretted that he didn’t take it because the fates seemed to be unkind to him Had he gone we might well have seen a few more Clarets getting their rightful place, but would he have won the 1966 World Cup?
Jimmy was born in Ashington, Northumberland in April 1929 and became yet another North East find for the club. Adamson joined the club in 1947 but national service intervened and he didn’t play for the first team till 1951. His playing career finished in 1964 before joining the coaching staff and eventually taking over as manager in 1970.
In his career as captain we won the league in 59-60, reached the Quarter final of the then European Cup in 1961, came second in the league in 1962 and losing Cup finalists in the same year, when the team ran out of steam with 12 games having to be played in April. Surprisingly he never got a full England cap despite being Footballer of the Year.
Bob Lord’s action moving Harry Potts upstairs to bring Jimmy in as manager in 1970 was not popular with many players or fans, nor was it an easy job as Potts was still in the club in a role he didn’t like either. There were regular clashes between them and they fell out. McIlroy blamed the move on Burnley losing their way subsequently.
Adamson’s style was modern and tactical, whereas Harry Potts was an old fashioned motivator who offered little during the game though he developed many dead ball innovations like short corners that brought many goals.
Jimmy spent six years as manager, and expected his young side to be the team of the seventies, but Bob Lord had to sell some players and they fell apart so he lead them to relegation in 1971 instead.
Paul Fletcher said Jimmy wanted to build a team, Bob Lord wanted to build a ground and Bob won. While promotion followed two years later from Division Two in 1973, he was eventually sacked by Bob Lord after a cup loss in 1976.after he had given three decades of magnificent service to the Clarets.
He went briefly to manage Sparta Rotterdam for 6 weeks or so, coming back quickly and later that year took charge of Sunderland but they were relegated. When Jock Stein left he went to Leeds in 1978 to be nearer Burnley at a club Brian Glanville described as the “Sargasso sea of Football” with some success but again some players didn’t take to him, and in a transitional situation the crowd wanted him out. Peter Lorimer was scathing.
His coach was Dave Merrington another ex-Claret and some Leeds players expected Jimmy to be more hands on. They complained sometimes Jimmy’s tactics didn’t fit with their coaching.
Jimmy left in 1980 and fell out of love with the game and with Burnley FC, but he returned to live there. It was said he would never set foot in the ground again and it was only a couple of years before he died that he returned to see his name given to a lounge in the club.
I find it all rather sad. He was a person who achieved so much and seemed to have it all in the 1960s but somehow things turned sour after his England decision. He was one who some liked and some didn’t and was perhaps partly let down by Bob Lord’s need to sell his best players to try to compete at the top of the Division.
Martin Dobson said on his death that playing under Jimmy Adamson was an honour. He made me a better player. Many others said the same.
Jimmy’s personal life wasn’t the best either, he sadly lost his wife and two daughters before he passed away in Nelson in 2011. Bobby Charlton was one who came to say goodbye. He was survived by three granddaughters and two grandsons.
The prominent writer on all things Claret related, Dave Thomas published a book about the great man in 2012. For those who want to know the full story read, “Jimmy Adamson: the man who said no to England”.
This appreciation of Jimmy Adamson was written by regular Clarets Mad contributor “oldcolner”. (TEC)