Burnley FC - The London Clarets

The London Clarets
'Nothing to Write Home About' - our magazine

Join us!
Magazine - latest issue
Magazine - archive
Fixtures / results
Match reports
News archive
Travel to games
Match tickets
Player of the year
Meetings with Burnley FC
Social events
Firmo's view
Pub guide
Burnley Webring
Other Clarets groups
Burnley FC history
London Clarets history
About this site
Site map
Site search
E-mail us

Back to the last page



Quietly Making History

John Haworth

John Haworth and Burnley Football Club
Part One: 1903-1911


Political scientists are often tempted to make the distinction between authoritarianism and dictatorship. According to such scholars, authoritarianism implies a belief in government 'from above' with near total disregard for the idea of popular consent, whilst also allowing a range of economic, religious and other freedoms in the name of civil society. Dictatorship, on the other hand, refers to absolute and unchecked power in the hands of one individual who may act beyond constitutional constraints and who either ignores or manipulates popular opinion according to his need.

Odd to relate at first glance, but the British football club chairman could arguably be seen as a social position which translates well into this political lexicon. In the same way that dictators or leaders of authoritarian states are rarely elected with a popular mandate, chairmen too tend to lack democratic legitimacy. In the boardroom, status is purchased with the chairman usually being the board member with the most shares. Many chairmen also have the knack of alienating the public, and many demonstrably hang onto power in the face of mass opposition, which beyond physical measures can do little to remove the autocrat from his position.

As a young lad, I can remember Burnley's then chairman Bob Lord being interviewed on television at a time when his chairmanship had crumbled from immensely powerful authoritarian rule to discredited dictatorship. Rather cruelly, he had been the subject of that thing that all unpopular dictators fear and loathe - the democratic ballot - although this may be an overly generous description of the viewer’s poll organised by Granada TV. Nonetheless, the outcome of this poll was opposition to his chairmanship (then standing at 23 years) by a ratio of around 4 to 1. To his immense credit, Bob Lord, by this time a septuagenarian, stood his ground with all the arrogance and tenacity for which he was both famed and despised. It took his death to remove him from office: the mark of a true power-monger. He died in 1981, and it was no doubt an agony for him in his final days to see his beloved club suffer relegation from the Second Division for the first time.

Bob Lord’s trial by TV is one of my most vivid memories as an infant Claret. Early games are hard to visualise. I can recall flashes of action and the odd goal, but equally, if not more clearly, I can remember our beleaguered chairman on the TV, casting at the young Elton Welsby glares of sheer contempt that used to freeze the blood of hostile journalists and errant directors. If looks could kill, then Welsby would have withered on the spot. But how exciting it was to see my club the subject of a television programme! Although my sympathies probably lay with his opposition on the terraces, Bob Lord and his show of defiance that night was something to behold.

Therefore, my formative years as a Claret will always include that memory of Bob Lord on the TV, a deeply flawed man fiercely defending himself as his empire crumbled round his ears, and I dare say every fan can recall being witness to something extraordinary in their salad days of football supporting, something that shapes and defines everything that follows. For Bob Lord himself, this was particularly the case, and we are fortunate that he was given the opportunity to commit his experience to print. In the opening chapter of his autobiography, My Fight For Football, Bob Lord related what he could first remember about being a Claret:

Let us kick-off with the inspiration of it all. This was when I stood as a youngster amid the mighty mass of people assembled near the Town Hall of Burnley to cheer home our Cup winners of 1914. That vast crowd was there, together with the City Fathers, to welcome the Cup to Burnley for the first time. The team came out on the balcony, and there was Tommy Boyle, the captain, holding the Cup in triumph as high above his head as he could in order that all those people should see it. Even I, as a nipper of six, could see it. How I thrilled!

This, then, was the formative event in the mind’s eye of Bob Lord, and who can doubt the sincerity of his words? In a world without television or radio, the scene he described would indeed have been an immensely exciting spectacle.

On that balcony up to which Bob Lord gazed with wonder and delight would have been one of the men who had made it all happen. Perhaps more than most he deserved to take some of the acclaim, to hold that world-famous silver trophy up high and accept the congratulations of the people. I doubt if he did, as such a thing would seemingly have been wholly against his character. Even so, no one could have begrudged him his moment of public triumph if he had. His name was John Haworth. He was the manager who had guided Burnley to their first major trophy in their history, and this is the story of his managership.


It is the prerogative and privilege of the historian (amateur or otherwise) to suggest new perspectives on how to perceive an event and understand its link to both past and future. Under John Haworth, Burnley Football Club set itself new and previously unattained standards that are commemorated to this day. By the time his tenure came to an untimely end, John Haworth’s place in the history of the club was assured. From this perspective, looking back in time, the rise of the club from Second Division obscurity to League Champions has something of the rags to riches about it, but our view is unavoidably coloured by our knowledge of the more recent past. We know that Burnley is a club that has represented England in Europe and America; that pro-rata it has usually been able to call upon more of its townspeople for support than any other professional club. We know, in short, that there is something special about the place.

However, the specifics remain: what exactly is it that makes Burnley special? Is it something intangible, something in the air? Or have the traditions we cherish been built upon more concrete foundations? It remains fashionable to uphold the latter - the invention of tradition, the idea that at some point in the past all rituals (even holy or spiritual) were the result of rational human decisions motivated by matters of power and influence. I feel this is a somewhat stark thesis to apply to football, but it does contain an element of truth. Our belief that there is something uncommon about our club does rest in part on her achievements on the field of play. These material considerations form an important element because they intermittently empower and vitalise our other virtues: devotion, faith, sacrifice, passion and love.

It is in this context that we can begin to realise the importance of that great team constructed by John Haworth. It invented a tradition: the fine, attacking team roared on by the proud townspeople. But - and not a small irony, this - the invention of a tradition initially involves a dislocation of some kind: the breaking of a mould, the transgression upon new ground. The mould broken by John Haworth and his team, the new territory ventured upon, was the nature and scale of the success that they brought to Turf Moor. In every sense of the phrase, Burnley became a power in the land.

It is, I think, hard to underestimate how radical and courageous such a vision was when history provided no precedent. To grasp an insight into the sheer audacity of this aspiration, we focus our historical telescope the other way. Rather than just looking back in time, it's worth considering what faced the 34 year-old John Haworth, facing the future as the newly appointed manager of Burnley. What was the stature and rank of the club? What customs confronted and challenged him as he took his place within the Turf Moor hierarchy? These histories and mores, already established, were to prove stubborn obstacles to his dream of building an all-conquering Burnley Football Club.

In the end, John Haworth didn't just undermine the doubters and the pessimists - he converted them. In doing so he changed the entire history of the club, both past and future. He set in place the precious historical commodity of success. It was against his team's achievements that the great side of the sixties measured their progress, just as we Clarets today use the sixties and seventies as a reflection of our own hopes and aspirations. It is for not just being the best of his day, but for daring to want to be the best, that John Haworth ought to be saluted as a major figure in the annals of our history.

A Baptism in Church: Spen Whittaker

Spen WhittakerJohn Haworth successfully applied for the Turf Moor managership in June 1910, following an awful tragedy that befell incumbent manager Spen Whittaker (left). The lives of John Haworth and Spen Whittaker were crossed from an early stage, and it is certain that they were friends. Both were Accringtonians, born five years apart (Spen Whittaker in 1871, John Haworth in 1876) and both lent enormous enthusiasm and energy to amateur football. Indeed, a brief examination of Spen Whittaker’s role in the life of East Lancashire football takes us back almost to the very foundations of organised football.

It is said that Spen’s interest in the game was due to the geographical accident of living next to the ground of Church Football Club. Those not acquainted with Accrington may not have heard of Church, a small community on the outskirts of the town, but to a young Spen Whittaker (or, indeed, anyone interested in association football in the 1870s or 1880s), Church Football Club represented a dynamic focal point. Under the leadership of Bethel Robinson, Church took on all-comers from the North of England and were regular entrants in the F.A Cup throughout the 1880s, reaching the last eight in 1885.

With the onset of professionalism in the mid to late 1880's, small clubs like Darwen and Church found themselves outgunned by larger neighbours like Blackburn Rovers and Accrington. When the inaugural, professional Football League was formed it was the latter pair that secured participation, with the smaller clubs left to play in semi-professional or amateur non-league football. It is probable that Spen would have gone to Moorhead Park to watch his local League side at some point, and he would no doubt have admired the skills and leadership of George Haworth, uncle of John, who captained Accrington Football Club and who represented England on five occasions.

But it was those heroic FA Cup runs of Church that had first captured the imagination of the young Spen Whittaker and he soon became involved as a player, first with Accrington Borough, and then with Oswaldtwistle Rovers. In 1893, around the time that Spen moved to Oswaldtwistle Rovers, the town of Accrington lost Football League representation for the first time. That season, Accrington Football Club had finished second bottom of the First Division, which obliged them to face Sheffield United, runners-up of the newly-formed Second Division, in a ‘test match’, the original version of the play-offs. Accrington lost 1-0 and were relegated, but finances had become so bad that they decided to resign from the League altogether. This action incurred a financial penalty from the Football League which practically finished Accrington Football Club, and they wound up their activities altogether in January 1896.

The demise of Accrington FC meant that the local amateur teams playing in the Lancashire Combination and other minor leagues now represented the most senior sides in the area. Here, then, was truly an opportunity for the most ambitious young footballers and administrators to pick up the baton dropped by Accrington FC and once more seek to advance the game in their home town. Two men who picked up the standard with particular determination and marched with great distinction were Spen Whittaker and John Haworth.

Neither men were especially good players, but both discovered an aptitude for coaching and administration. In the case of Spen Whittaker, football administration clearly ran in the family. His elder brother Nat Whittaker was secretary of the Southern League, probably the strongest amateur league in the country at that time, and also held position on the FA Executive. Spen used his brother’s connections to arrange regular tours of the South of England. On one occasion, a London newspaper previewed the arrival of Oswaldtwistle Rovers by describing them as having previously played some of the prettiest football seen in the capital.

The energy that Spen invested in local football is demonstrably apparent when one looks at his commitments outside of his position at Oswaldtwistle Rovers. He was a member of the Accrington and District Charity Committee, and strove hard but unsuccessfully to revive the Accrington Charity Cup. Spen was also the secretary of the Burnley, Accrington and District Referees’ Association, and was an active referee. On one occasion, Spen refereed at Manchester United and was physically attacked for allowing a late opposition goal. (This, of course, compares favourably to the present day where referees are attacked for merely awarding the opposition a penalty.) Spen also represented his club on the committee of the Lancashire Combination, and shared the task of arranging fixtures.

It is clear from this laudable record that Spen loved the game and derived enormous satisfaction from his many activities within it. As an administrator, Spen’s principles were thrift and caution, and this allied well with his affable manner. Under his guidance, Oswaldtwistle Rovers earned a reputation for both financial rectitude and a homespun friendliness. They were never in debt and were always impeccably organised.

As advantageous as these factors were to the stability of his club, Spen’s prudence also indicated a limited sense of ambition: a good-natured and occasionally wise conservative habit of accepting one’s place in the scheme of things rather than attempting to subvert the underlying order. Perhaps this aspect of Spen’s character marked him out as essentially a devotee of the local, in which he inclined by instinct to place his faith and trust. This outlook led to a distinctive managerial style well suited to amateur football, but one that would lead to some disharmony at Turf Moor. Spen’s approach was not shared by his successor, John Haworth, who approached the game from an altogether different perspective.

Th'owd Reds and a young lad: John Haworth

Like Spen Whittaker, John Haworth received an Accringtonian education in the game, but his was illuminated with a sparkle of glamour, and within this fact there is perhaps an instructive lesson. On the touchline at little Church FC, Spen had seen first hand the harsh, carnivorous nature of football as his local team - once able to match the likes of Blackburn Rovers - began to be cruelly devoured by their larger and now far more powerful neighbours. Can one think of a better way to inculcate a young man's character with the virtue of accepting honourable limits?

This, however, was not the lot of John Haworth. Raised in a sporting family, his uncle was an England international and the much-respected captain of the town's League club, known locally as Th'owd Reds. Despite being by far the smallest town to foster a professional Football League club, the outlook seemed bright for George Haworth's Accrington FC as they finished their first couple of seasons comfortably cohabiting with big city clubs like Derby County, Aston Villa, Notts County, Everton, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Stoke City. With a leader like George Haworth in the family, one can imagine that the art of defeating odds, the refusal to be intimidated, the discipline to expect success - in a cliché, the courage to punch above one's weight - shaped the early outlook of the young John Haworth.

It was perhaps the financial chaos that engulfed and wrecked Accrington FC in 1893 that in part inspired the young John Haworth to begin his career in football management. It was clear by this time, although only in his teens, that he would not emulate his uncle on the field of play. Demonstrating a firm grasp of realpolitik that would always serve him well, John began instead to plan his path to pre-eminence as a manager. In 1894, at the sprightly age of eighteen, and just a year after Spen Whittaker had begun to manage Oswaldtwistle Rovers, John took over the managership of the amateur team for whom he was playing, Meadow Bank Rovers. However, his real target was far grander: to re-establish the professional game in his home town of Accrington.

While Spen was happy to guide Oswaldtwistle Rovers through many a season of local amateur football, within three years John had disbanded Meadow Bank Rovers and had merged his club with upwardly-mobile Accrington Stanley. This famous club, which had begun life as the team of a youth organisation located in Stanley Street, had grown from its adolescent genesis into a mature and robust outfit competing in the North East Lancashire League. In 1897, John began his time at Accrington Stanley on the committee, but within months was appointed the club's manager. From this position he could begin to make strides towards his ambition.

His first step was to secure a higher grade of football for the club. At this time, the Lancashire Combination served as the most senior amateur competition in the area, and was the league in which were entered the reserve sides of the county's professional teams. For an amateur team on the rise, the Lancashire Combination was the place to be, offering the chance to compete against the resources of big Football League clubs like Everton, Blackburn, Oldham and Preston North End.

John Haworth secured Accrington Stanley's invitation into this company in 1901, and success was almost immediate. In 1902-3, Stanley became the first non-league club to win the Lancashire Combination championship, and nearly won it the following season, finishing runners-up to Everton Reserves. They won the championship again in 1905-06, and as champions of one of the strongest non-league competitions in the North of England, Accrington Stanley was established as the senior semi-professional club in the area, and John Haworth, still only thirty years old, as one of the brightest managerial prospects.

The description of John Haworth's Accrington Stanley as 'semi-professional' rather than merely 'amateur' is not just apt, but highly important in understanding the impact of the man upon each of the football clubs that he managed. It was during his time as manager of Accrington Stanley that John first demonstrated an approach to the management and motivation of players that would go on to transform Burnley FC in an even more spectacular fashion than it did Accrington Stanley. For John Haworth believed in the power of money.

This is not to say that he necessarily held the pessimistic view that man was essentially greedy and self-seeking, and that money was merely the most effective way of securing compliance. Instead, one has to consider the social and economic impact of professional football - by this time hugely popular - upon communities of working class people in the North of England. Money was a primary factor in the development of football as soon as families realised that football could pay regular working wages. Moreover, the stadiums had sprouted organically at the very heart of the communities where those families lived, a green oasis of open space within grey deserts of factories and terraced housing.

The clubs had grown, drawing nourishment from the approval in those Victorian times of health, vigour and athleticism, as well as from a pride rooted in the welcome opportunity to identify with local achievement. In prosperous times the Saturday match was an entertaining diversion from the daily grind. In hard times the match became more than this, since there was no work from which to be relieved. By association with the local team, positive identity could be gleaned from a victory. To win felt like a personal success; to lose was just another familiar clout from life. In football writer Arthur Hopcraft's words, "Football was not so much an opiate of the people as a flag run up against the gaffer bolting his gates and the landlord armed with his bailiffs."

In this world, the local lad made good on the football pitch was a true working-class hero, for he came from the same streets as the spectators, blooded in the makeshift bouts of backstreet football. These were games of hungry urgency that betrayed a desire to escape to something better. Hopcraft has encapsulated what football meant to the families of the late-Victorian generation:

When there was no work to be had, and only the drudging kind when it was available, there was just a chance that a big lad could scrape into the police force; but suppose, God be good to us, he could make a footballer.

It was to the young men within these communities that John Haworth offered an avenue away. A playing contract was a treasured prize. It might not have led to middle-class affluence, but its credo probably transcended material matters. Its currency instead was a priceless social and cultural capital. While everyone else walked to the mill or the mine, the professional footballer took different cobbled streets, not exactly paved with gold, but still shining with the silver promise of honour, adulation and a fair wage.

Under John Haworth, the players of Accrington Stanley earned all three, but significantly it was the latter that taxed the journalists of the Burnley Express when they penned their greetings to him as the new Burnley manager in July 1910:

Since Mr. Haworth became its secretary, Accrington Stanley increased their weekly wage bill from 30 shillings to as many pounds.

At first glance, John Haworth seemed to have been a remarkably similar appointment to that of his predecessor. Both were Accringtonians who had immersed themselves in the amateur game of their home town. Prior to his appointment at Turf Moor, Spen had been at Oswaldtwistle Rovers for ten years. John had, by 1910, clocked up thirteen years as manager of Accrington Stanley. However, although buried amongst much Victorian diplomacy, this ambiguous remark on the part of the Burnley Express was calculated to both indicate the nature of John Haworth's managerial style and to hint of its contrast to that of Spen Whittaker.

It was clear that the people of Burnley were keen to see at least a meaningful change in the nature of their club's team manager. They had tired somewhat of Spen's homespun philosophies, and may have wished instead for something a bit more cosmopolitan, a little more daring. With this in mind, the good folk of Burnley may well have been a trifle underwhelmed at the appointment of John Haworth, but given the frustrations of the previous years, they can perhaps be forgiven for drawing hasty conclusions.

Spen Whittaker, 1903-1910

It is fair to say that Spen Whittaker did not walk into a rose garden when he accepted the managership of Burnley Football Club in September 1903, in the process becoming the youngest manager in the Football League. The means by which bad managers continue to find employment is one of the enduring mysteries of football, but nearly as enigmatic is how some managers can suddenly engineer success after years of failure.

In 1899, Burnley had appointed Ernest Mangnall, as team manager. Mangnall presided over not just relegatErnest Magnallion from the First Division but the disastrous campaign of 1902-03, when Burnley finished bottom of the Second Division and had to apply for re-election to the League.

It was at this point that Mangnall (the rather questionable looking character pictured on the right) successfully applied for the managership of Manchester United. He was clearly a persuasive man at interview. However, despite his atrocious record at Burnley, Mangnall went on to become one of the most successful managers of his day. By 1911, he had won two League Championships and one FA Cup, but when Spen Whittaker cleared out Mangnall's desk in 1903, success on that scale was absurd to even contemplate. Burnley were in a mess, with a poor squad of players, a tatty ground and a large debt at the local building society.

But Spen was not alone in his mission to turn the club around. Joining the club as a committee man that year was one Harry Windle, a man of vision, equally determined as Spen that the debacle of the previous season would not be repeated. The Board determined that the only way forward was to relieve the club of debt, but how to do this on meagre gates and with no major investor? The only immediate option was to reduce operating costs and pray for a good Cup run.

It was in this environment that Spen Whittaker shored up the declining fortunes of Burnley Football Club. Although he would undoubtedly have liked more resources at his disposal, Spen would have been sympathetic to the idea of financial caution, and a dab hand at the sort of reflexive ingenuity that comes with having to make the very most of what you had. At his disposal Spen had a sturdy backbone of loyal players - Hugh Moffat, Fred Barron, Jonathan Parker, Richard Smith, Jonathan Cretney - none especially distinguished, but all utterly reliable.

Alex LeakeAround these players Spen built a side of local lads and journeymen, and Burnley settled comfortably within her Second Division surroundings. Whilst never remotely threatening to put together a promotion challenge, neither did Burnley find herself haunted by the spectre of re-election. The long hoped for Cup run failed to materialise, but by 1907, with Harry Windle now a director, solvency was in sight. With the finances no longer threatening the survival of the club, Spen pulled off something of a coup with the signature of veteran England international Alex Leake (right). By this time Leake was 36 years old, but he still possessed the panache of a class player. His authority on the pitch led to his appointment as team captain, and the faithful on the terraces at Turf Moor purred their appreciation, taking an instant shine to their new centre-half.

One should not underestimate the psychological benefits of having a man there who had been at the top of his profession, a natural leader who could counsel and advise the youngsters from a position of experience. Two such youngsters who probably benefited from the presence of Leake were Jerry Dawson and Dick Lindley.

Jerry Dawson and Alex LeakeSpen signed Dawson, a goalkeeper from the village of Cliviger on the outskirts of Burnley, in 1907. Dick Lindley was a small but immensely skilful inside-right, born in Bolton but signed by Spen from his old club Oswaldtwistle Rovers in 1908. Both made the first team almost immediately, but while Dawson established his place, Lindley would have to wait for a regular berth.

Nonetheless, with these two signings Spen Whittaker had unwittingly put into place the first two pieces of a jigsaw that would bring fame and honour to Burnley both sides of the First World War. The photo on the left, dated 1908, shows a young Jerry Dawson (top left) standing with Alex Leake (top right). The players on the front row are Fred Barron and Richard Smith.

In 1909, Burnley at last put together a decent run in the FA Cup. Non-league sides Bristol Rovers and Crystal Palace were convincingly defeated, the latter by a 9-0 scoreline that has been equalled but never bettered by any Burnley team. In the next round Burnley faced Tottenham. Although Spurs would complete the double over Burnley that season, it was the Turfites who got the better of their two Cup encounters, Burnley defeating the Londoners 3-1 in a replay that attracted a crowd of around 30,000.

A dash of glamour came to Turf Moor in the last eight. Burnley drew Manchester United, reigning League Champions and managed, of course, by Spen's predecessor Ernest Mangnall. This was a tie that would be long remembered by generations of Burnley fans for the controversy it sparked. The game was played on a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon in early March, but the home crowd was warmed by an excellent display from Burnley. With just eighteen minutes remaining, Burnley held a 1-0 lead. At this point it began to snow, and the Manchester players complained to the referee that the conditions were becoming unplayable. Whether or not this claim had any merit, what infuriated both the Burnley crowd and players was the action of the referee, who, legend has it, couldn't agree fast enough. He abandoned the game, dashing Burnley's hopes of victory and their first ever FA Cup semi-final. United won the replay 3-2 and went on to win the Cup.

In the following weeks, dark conspiracy theories raged in the public houses of Burnley, and there seems to be little doubt that the club had been hard done by. However, there was a consolation. The Cup run had lasted seven ties, watched in total by well over 100,000 paying spectators. This additional income was hugely welcome, and at the end of the season Burnley succeeded in clearing their debt. Harry Windle, newly appointed as Burnley chairman, proudly announced that the club was in the black for the first time in many a year, and a cautious optimism began to permeate the air around Turf Moor.

The Cup run of 1909 had been a welcome distraction from the League, where Burnley were unable to make any headway. Season 1909-10 began with high hopes for a good campaign. The improved financial situation meant that the club was able to sign full-time reserves, and in the traditional pre-season Reds vs Greens trial game, three promising young lads emerged, prompting Alex Leake to comment to the Burnley Express that: "McLoughlin, Dollies and Watson form a trio of young halves who look like making us older members play for our positions."

All three did indeed play that season, but it was Willie Watson who was to stay and make his mark at Turf Moor. He played at first in the reserves, and his performances earned an enthusiastic review in the Burnley Express: "Watson was the most prominent of a capital middle line." Unfortunately, the first team suffered a disastrous start to the season. Three defeats and one draw forced Spen Whittaker into the transfer market, and he signed Ben Green from Birmingham City. Green turned out to be a good signing, scoring eighteen goals in his first season and helping to stabilise the team. Willie Watson

Willie Watson (right) made his first team debut in October against a Barnsley side that included Tommy Boyle, playing in a half-back line whom the Burnley Express described as: "…a class unto themselves." Before Christmas, Burnley managed seven straight wins at home, but these were punctuated by four away defeats. A small measure of revenge was gained on Manchester United when Burnley knocked them out of the Cup in January, but a poor run of New Year form in the League put paid to any remote chances of promotion.

By February 1910, Spen Whittaker had to face the frustrating fact that his Burnley side, with his beloved local lads, had once again failed to make an impression on the Second Division promotion race. With the Cup run of 1909 a fading memory, the folk on the terraces grew disillusioned. With the season as good as over by the end of February, gates dipped to 4,000 as Burnley played out their remaining fixtures.

With a spirit typical of his optimistic nature, Spen didn't waste time or opportunity in trying to strengthen his squad. Once more it was to a local prospect that he turned. Harry Swift was a promising centre-half with John Haworth's Accrington Stanley, and Spen offered him a contract. Swift readily agreed, but pen was put to paper too late in the day to register the player with the FA If Swift was to play the next day in a big game against league leaders Manchester City, Spen would have to travel to London on the overnight train. Obeying the call of duty, Spen duly set off on the evening of Friday 15th April 1910.

The events of that night are truly terrible. Although we will never know the precise details of the incident, it is thought that Spen, waking up in his compartment and probably still half-asleep, mistook the door of the compartment for the interior door opposite. Thinking he was stepping into the corridor, Spen actually stepped out of the train. Furthermore, this happened at Whitmore, halfway between Stafford and Crewe at a point in the journey when the train was travelling at its fastest, around 70 miles per hour. The alarm was raised at Stafford by the man who was sharing the compartment, who claimed that he had awoken in the station to find the door open and the window lowered. A search party was sent out from both Stafford and Crewe, and the driver of a northbound train about to depart Stafford was also instructed to look out for Spen. It was this driver who found the Burnley manager lying on the track.

Spen's injuries were horrific. His spine was badly damaged, four ribs and both arms were broken, his collar bone and shoulder blade were shattered and he had a deep, depressed fracture of the back of his skull. Incredibly, Spen was still alive and was taken to Crewe where he received the attentions of a surgeon. He regained semi-consciousness in the hospital and called for his wife, Bessy. A policeman present asked him how he came to fall from the train. "I don't know, I cannot tell," was Spen's reply. These were his last words. Despite a successful operation to relieve the pressure of a displaced bone at the base of his brain, Spen died at 2 o'clock on the afternoon of Saturday 16th April with his wife at his side.

It was a terrible, terrible tragedy and a wholly unbefitting end to a fine man, a loving husband and a loyal servant of Burnley Football Club. The game against Manchester City went ahead, the players aware only that their manager had been hospitalised with serious injuries. Raising their game, they forced a 3-3 draw with the eventual Second Division champions. Two days later, with the shocking death of Spen Whittaker now known throughout football, over 7,000 turned up for a home game against Glossop. By means of a poignant tribute, Harry Swift made his debut. It was perhaps the only way possible in the circumstances to salvage something positive and tangible from Spen's death.

The club immediately organised a memorial fund for Spen's wife and three young children, announcing in the Burnley Express that: "Mr Whittaker has not only been an ideal football secretary, but a devoted husband and father. When he came to Burnley, he was in receipt of £2 per week as wages, and has been a most loyal servant of the club, never seeking his own advancement or advantage, but doing all in his power to promote the well-being of the club and its players." The Burnley Express itself donated 100 shillings, and a benefit match with Manchester United was played on 27th April. Despite tension between the clubs, the game was played without malice and was regarded by all as a fitting tribute to the memory of Spen Whittaker.

John Haworth

As sad as Spen's death was, Burnley Football Club had to face the future and appoint a new manager. The Board sensitively waited until the end of the season before advertising, and received around sixty applications for the job. From this pack emerged John Haworth. He had no experience of League football, but had guided Accrington Stanley from amateur obscurity to powerful semi-professional status, picking up a number of trophies and championships along the way. It was perhaps his knowledge of and dedication to the game that swung the vote of the Burnley board his way. Indeed, the Burnley Express, perhaps sensing that the supporters were expecting a more glamorous appointment, sought to emphasise this aspect of John's career as it introduced the new Burnley manager to its readership:

Mr Haworth has had thirteen years' experience with Accrington Stanley, and one gentleman who knows him intimately feels quite sure none of the sixty applicants for the office held by the late Mr Spen Whittaker knew more about football than the Stanley secretary. Accrington Stanley have had their ups and downs during that period, and that is the sort of experience for making long-headed football officials, men who require nowadays the knowledge and cuteness of a lawyer, coupled with the address and finesse of a diplomat. All this Mr 'Jack' Haworth possesses. His personal experience with the football clubs of Lancashire during his long apprenticeship constitutes the best of all credentials. In the Accrington district, he was respected as a man of tact and talent, for he can manage players with the velvet gloves and conceal a will of iron.

This was a subtle piece of journalism that betrayed a truth that could not be spoken: John Haworth was cut from a different cloth than Spen Whittaker. This time Burnley had gone for a more sophisticated manager of men, a man of the head rather than of the heart, someone capable of motivating players with the stick as well as the carrot - moreover, someone who could use a combination of the two.

The Turf Moor that John Haworth found in July 1910 was certainly in a far healthier state than that which confronted Spen Whittaker in September 1903. However, the club was still in the Second Division and the finances were still precarious. Just as the Cup run of 1909 had lifted the club out of debt, the early Cup exit the following season, coupled with a poor League campaign and low attendances had dragged the club into the red once more. Burnley posted a financial deficit of £1974 for season 1909-10, and the Board decided to decrease the wages of the players.

At a time when there was perceived to be a problem with spiralling wage bills, this action by the Board provoked rebellion amongst some of the senior members of the squad, and a few refused to sign their new contracts, threatening instead to move South and play in the Southern League. It was, in fact, the Southern League who were part of the problem, forcing up wages by demanding high transfer fees from the Northern professional clubs whilst paying their players large appearance fees. This led to an eventual deal between the Football League and the Southern League and the imposition of a bonus system.

Eventually, Burnley came to an agreement with their players, but the episode did not go down well with a public hungry for success. The week after the team reported back for pre-season training, a letter appeared in the Burnley Express, signed "An Old Member", which expressed doubts about the team's ability to survive and which strongly berated the management: "I contend that the club has not been managed on the right lines for many years."

This letter provoked a reaction from both sides of the argument. In support of Old Member, another fan (under the less picturesque pseudonym of "Football Enthusiast") wrote:

I am very pleased to notice that someone else had mentioned about the way and manner of the directors. They don't seem to recognise the meaning of a first-class team and first-class football. It is very plain to see that the right kind of football is needed in Burnley, and when we do have it the club will prosper very rapidly and the supporters will benefit by seeing something worth seeing, as there are enough enthusiasts in this town to keep a First Division club well up in funds. If the Burnley club ever mean to rise to the top of the second ladder, the directors' own common sense might tell them they cannot do it with local players.

The question of whether young, local talent could get the club out of the Second Division was clearly the most salient topic of discussion amongst the supporters of the club. Given the state of the club's finances in 1903, the criticism of Old Member does appear a little harsh, a point made by the author of another letter:

The directors can never do right for some people. Last year there was trouble for spending money; this year it looks as if there will be trouble for not spending it. I think the directors have done the best thing they could do during the past twelve months, that is building up a team of young players. If the directors will keep to this policy of looking after and encouraging young players, letting the other clubs look after the old 'uns, I don't think we shall be long before we are back in Division I.

Old Member was unimpressed, writing again on the eve of the season:

I want my old team to regain its prestige, and it can only do this, in my opinion, by being composed of good men who will play for the honour of the club as well as for the pay they derive from the game.

John HaworthAt least no one could argue with that point, and once again the town readied itself for a new season. As a sartorially elegant John Haworth (left) lined up with his new team on the eve of the season, the Turfites were resplendent in their new strip of claret and blue. John Haworth's first game in charge saw the visit of Lincoln City on September 3rd, 1910, and the Imps were sent home pointless following a 3-1 defeat. This was followed by two home draws and an away win at Huddersfield. It was the best start for some time, but momentum was gradually lost through a combination of too many home draws and an inability to consistently find the net.

Nonetheless, John Haworth's first season in charge was generally satisfactory. In the previous two seasons, Burnley had made fourteenth position their own, both times losing eighteen of thirty-eight games. In 1910-11, Burnley had managed eighth position, losing only ten games, and although the team had scored considerably fewer goals, they had also conceded far fewer. Just as important was that Burnley managed to go some way to regaining the faith of the town's supporters. Attendances were up and stayed fairly buoyant, reaching 16,000 for the FA Cup visit of Exeter City.

With the benefit of hindsight, the season was particularly prescient for three reasons. Firstly, in October 1910 a famous Burnley name established himself in the first team. Willie Watson took over Hugh Moffat's No.6 shirt for the home game against Hull City, and wasn't to relinquish it until the closing weeks of 1923. Secondly, in January 1911, Burnley began to show some FA Cup form, emulating the run of 1909 by reaching the quarter finals where they again lost to the eventual winners, this time Bradford City. Finally, in April, John Haworth gave the first indication as to where his preferences lay with regard to the debate over Burnley's reliance on local players.

Thanks to that season's FA Cup run, John Haworth had some money in his pocket to try and alleviate the team's goal scoring problem. He caused a sensation by going to First Division Everton and returning with two forwards, one of them Bert Freeman, an England international only two years previously. Bert Freeman

Freeman (right) certainly did not possess the profile of the typical Burnley signing. Without necessarily being the restless type, Freeman was a footballing nomad, having plied his trade in all corners of the country - for Aston Villa, Woolwich Arsenal and Everton. His reputation was cemented in 1909 when he finished the season as the League's top goalscorer, scoring thirty-eight goals for the Everton side that achieved the runners-up position behind Newcastle United. His form earned him international honours, representing England against both Scotland and Wales, and he also played for the North against the South.

However, by 1911 Freeman had fallen out of favour at Goodison Park. He had made only eleven appearances for the Toffees that season and had spent most of his time playing in the reserves. This was clearly an unsatisfactory state of affairs for Freeman, but it was still quite a coup by John Haworth to persuade the Everton man to sign for Burnley. Perhaps this was the first indication of the "address and finesse of the diplomat" heralded by the Burnley Express upon his appointment. That said, he could point to signs of real progress at Turf Moor. The Board, boosted by a healthy operating profit, decided to construct a new stand along the Brunshaw Road side of the ground at a cost of £5,000. This would be completed in time for the start of the new season, 1911-12, which was to bring excitement and incident aplenty.

Phil Whalley
November 2000

Quietly Making History

Back Top Home E-mail us

The London Clarets
The Burnley FC London Supporters Club