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Football News: Former Liverpool Managers - Part 7 - The Clown Prince

Former Liverpool Managers - Part 7 - The Clown Prince
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Former Liverpool Managers - Part 7 - The Clown Prince



Donald 'Don' Welsh 23rd March 1951 - 4th May 1956



Donald Welsh was born in Manchester on 25th February 1911 and began his playing career with Torquay United in the far south of England's 'English Riviera'. In 1935 Charlton Athletic, then in Division 3 (modern day League One) paid £3,250 to take him to London, where he became their captain, leading them up to the top flight with successive promotions. His versatility was a big plus, with Welsh able to play inside left, centre forward, centre half and left half, he was able to lead the Addicks to second place in their first season in the top flight.


As a player he was well known enough to be given a role in a Pathe coaching film on how to head the ball and won 3 England caps prior to the outbreak of World War 2. The first one being against Germany in 1938. During the war he was made a sergeant-major in the British Army and served alongside fellow future North-West managers Joe Mercer and Matt Busby, the trio becoming close friends during the period. On the playing side he did make a number of wartime guest appearances for Liverpool, where he was extremely popular. Popular enough to be offered a job as coach but Charlton blocked the move.


don welsh 1939


After the war he returned to Charlton and lifted the FA Cup with them, before deciding to retire from playing and move into management. Welsh was one of ten men interviewed for the Newcastle United job in 1947, but George Martin was the man who was chosen ahead of him. Instead he ended up dropping down to Division 3 South with Brighton & Hove Albion where he took up the reins at the age of just 36. It was not a successful start though and his side finished bottom. Luckily for the Seagulls, in those days that did not mean an automatic relegation and they were voted back into the league for the following season.


Welsh did fare better afterwards, managing to finish 6th then 8th in the next two seasons, but he was still as surprised as anyone when he got the call to go to Liverpool for an interview. Especially as he had not even applied for the position! One man who did apply was a certain Bill Shankly, who had an interview and was told that he would not be picking the team if he got the job. Shanks asked "what am I manager of then?" This was a time that the manager's role in most teams was becoming closer to the modern idea of a manager, who would pick the team, set the tactics and oversee the coaching. Not at Liverpool though, where the board was still keeping a very hands on approach.


That became a significant problem, as the board of the time had little ambition and were more interested in keeping their cozy clique together and wanted someone who would not rock the boat or demand transfer funds to spend to rebuild a side that was in need of an overhaul. That is probably the main reason why Don Welsh was their chosen man to replace George Kay, as he was a yes man to a large degree. Shankly believed, and stated very publicly, that he believed Welsh was chosen due to him being a Freemason. However it is equally as likely that his willingness to present team choices to the board before each game for approval (and adjustment) was behind the choice.


Welsh said: "Liverpool asked me to go for an interview. The next day I was told that they had agreed to appoint me. It's a wonderful opportunity to put my ideas into practice." Welsh was seen as so unimportant that he was not included in team photos from the time. On the 5th March 1951 Liverpool FC appointed him on a 3 year contract worth £1500 per year plus £500 expenses, but he continued in charge of Brighton until the 21st. Welsh inherited a team stagnating in mid-table with unambitious directors who were more interested in profit margins than trophies.


LFC greats Jack Balmer and Albert Stubbins were nearing the end of their careers and the relied too heavily on the great Billy Liddell, which makes it all the more bizarre the choice to appoint a manager from the bottom tier with no track record of success to speak of. One problem that immediately arose was his antics, which were more akin to Jeremy Beadle than a top flight manager, as he would walk on his hands to celebrate a win and loved to dress up in fancy dress. Those antics alienated the older players, who found them disrespectful, though the younger players liked him.


However playing the clown was just a symptom of the lack of professionalism around at the time though, to be fair to Welsh, it was not just him at Liverpool that was not up to it. When directors reported to board meetings about players that had been scouted they would refer to them by their size, physique and weight of kick. One director, TV Williams, did have ambition and vision for the club and sorted out the purchase of a plot of land from a local school in West Derby but the rest of the board refused to spend much on facilities, other than putting a boundary wall around the land.


English clubs in general were well behind the times as other countries had moved on to more technique-based training, while English clubs focused purely on fitness and the lack of any tactical or technical advantage at the highest level is often suggested as the source of the many cup upsets. For instance training at Liverpool at the time consisted of Mondays off, while Tuesday was at Melwood on exercises and sometimes they would play a short training match. Wednesday and Thursday the players would usually be at Anfield working with Albert Shelley and Jimmy Seddon doing endless laps of the pitch. Then it was back to Melwood on Friday to do sprints and speed work with spikes on. If it was raining (which happens a lot in Liverpool!) the players would run up and down the covered terraces or some basic gym work.


don welsh 1939


There was very little in the way of creative or practical exercises with the ball and absolutely nothing was done on set pieces at all. Welsh came in with ideas of his own, as he wanted to put an end to the repetitive laps of the track that players found monotonous and boring. However his ideas were just bizarre, he wanted to keep the players fit with games such as leap frog and tunnel ball! To add to the lack of professionalism running through the club, which Welsh embodied, the team was stagnating in mid-table with unambitious directors unwilling to invest in replacing players such as Jack Balmer and Albert Stubbins, who were nearing the end of their careers.


This was a team which was heavily reliant on the greatness of Billy Liddell, throughout Welsh's time, as they never brought in quality to help him out and so Liddellpool became a reality. That was all in the future, as Welsh finished off the season with a 9th placed finish, which turned out to be the highpoint of his entire managerial career. With just two free signings to bolster the squad, one from Bromborough Pool and the other from Southport, Welsh was being asked to manage the team with his hands, in effect, tied behind his back.


The 1951/52 season was much the same, more midtable mediocrity with a lack of ambition and investment from the board hampering efforts to improve the situation. A mid-season 5 month run without a home league win saw Liverpool end the season in 11th place, with little sign of improvement. At the end of the season the team went on a continental tour to Austria, Spain and Germany, playing combined Vienna and Madrid sides while away. It was not a big success on the pitch as there was a clear gap in quality with the European teams having advanced while English clubs stagnated technically and tactically.


Back in league football and midtable mediocrity became something to aspire to, as Liverpool struggled while Welsh indulged himself, signing Alan A'Court on a free by impersonating a policeman. Welsh, dressed up in a full uniform, approached A'Court at the park he was playing in and pretended he needed to speak with him about a stolen bicycle. The word bizarre comes to mind. As well as A'Court on a free, Sammy Smyth was recruited from Stoke City for £12,000 as the directors dipped into their pockets a little more but it did not prevent a shock cup defeat to lower league Gateshead.


The cozy club of directors was also showing signs of being disrupted as on-pitch disappointment was being reflected behind the scenes, with some wanting to invest more in the team. It was in this period that the club ended the tradition of holding board meetings over an expensive multi-course lunch at the Adelphi Hotel and moved them to Anfield, or sometimes a director's workplace. This was in answer to Robert Lawson Martindale, who produced a list of director excesses, which included quaffing champagne, high lunch bills and poorly monitored expenses. His list had little other effect as LFC avoided relegation only by beating Chelsea on the final day of the season.


The pre-season began with a tour to the USA once more, similar to the one that set the club up for a league title a few years earlier, but this time it was different. Instead of the players being galvanised for the start of the season they came back drained and struggled right from the start. There was just one win in the first 12 games and the club were being left behind as others in the league began making tactical advances.


It sums up the club during this period when LFC had to pay out the princely sum of £22 to a Mrs Morris in November to have her false teeth repaired after she was hit by a stray football. Just after this, Welsh was given some license to spend, as Liverpool fell into the relegation places in mid-December. The spending spree brought 4 players into the club in December, two of which were signed on Christmas Day itself from Charlton Athletic, who had a match on that day. Welsh travelled down by train in the morning to try once more to sign the duo, Frank Lock and John Evans. Changing trains at Euston Station, Welsh found Lock sat in an empty carriage on the same train, also travelling in to Charlton, following a Christmas visit to his in-laws. Welsh convinced him to join Liverpool by the time they reached Charlton and promptly agreed a £7,500 deal for him and £12,500 for John Evans.


Also in that December a future club great was signed from Carlisle United for £10,000 in Geoff Twentyman, whose contribution as a scout would be integral during the club's later glory years of the 1970s and 80s. The club were panic buying, not just because of its drop into the relegation places, but also because Eddie Spicer had broken his leg in December, an injury that would force him to retire. More would have been spent but the club missed out on some of the other signings Welsh had earmarked.


Players such as John Atyeo, a centre-forward at 3rd Division Bristol City, were missed out on after his club asked for £20,000 for the 21 year old. That might have been a lucky escape as Atyeo disappeared without trace soon afterwards. The new signings did little to help the team and there was serious unrest on the terraces, which manifested itself in the New Year when a fan got onto the Anfield pitch and wrestled with Bolton Wanderers goalkeeper Stan Hanson after a goal mouth melee towards the end of the game. Hanson, ironically a local boy from Bootle, helped Bolton to a 2-1 victory despite receiving a cut lip in the incident. After the game he had to slip out of the back door as a section of the crowd waited outside the ground for him.


don welsh 1939


The season went so well that on the 5th March it was being reported that Liverpool were prepared to listen to offers for players in all positions, though it is highly unlikely that Liddell was included in that clearance sale. The team managed a mini revival in April, but it was too little too late, despite the team picking up 4 of their entire season's total of 9 wins during the month. A defeat to Cardiff confirmed relegation to the 2nd Division, after which Welsh went into the Anfield dressing room and said: "What a fucking day! The reserves lost as well."


Welsh's team finished bottom, conceding a club record 97 goals on the way and, just to make it sting a little bit more for LFC fans, Everton passed them on their way back into the top flight. Welsh had used 31 members of his 44 man squad but had been unable to do anything about saving the club from Liverpool's first relegation in over 50 years. Even worse, the club's top scorer Sammy Smyth quit football to go into business in his native Ireland, Welsh saying: "Sammy is quite rightly looking to his future and we accept that. We will miss him, but we'll get by without him."


With his 3 year contract at an end, it might be thought that he would be immediately replaced after taking the club down, instead he was given a new deal, even after he complained about the club having too many players growing old together. The board did nothing about Welsh's fears, though publicly Welsh said: "we are all resolved to win promotion in one season". However all he got was some free signings, though TV Williams did manage to take the club one giant step forward as he managed to get Bob Paisley appointed as reserve manager at the club.


The season began well with a 3-2 win over Doncaster Rovers courtesy of a Tony Rowley hat-trick, two of the goals coming in the final four minutes of the match. That was the high point of the season as they failed to win any of the next six games. There was a struggle to recruit quality players to improve matters too, with the board unwilling to invest big money which would reduce their profits. The main problem though was the refusal to make under the counter payments, which were commonplace at the time as the maximum wage limited football clubs ability to induce players to move. After all who wants to move for the same money you are already on?


Most clubs got round that problem by offering inducements on the sly, but, as the Liverpool Echo of the time put it: "Liverpool are determined not to take part in any 'under the counter' business." The board were shocked and appalled when Welsh was accused by the FA of offering a £100 inducement to a Droylsden centre half called Lomas in December. That same month the team went to Birmingham City, hoping to pick up their first away win of the season, only to lose 9-1 on a frost-bound pitch. It is the club's record defeat to this day.


The club put out an excuse, claiming that the defeat was purely the result of a club staff misreading the weather conditions and so providing the wrong footwear to the players. The directors said that "the result should not be taken too much at face value", and then named the exact same 11 for the next game. They duly lost 4-1 to Doncaster Rovers. The club splashed £5,000 on Brighton & Hove Albion defender Alex South in a bid to shore up the leaky defence but he struggled badly, making just 6 appearances in the season.


By the end of December Liverpool had 10 away defeats and not one away win as the team showed little sign of improvement in the lower level, which is why the fans feared the worst when they were drawn away against Everton in the FA Cup third round. They were in for a shock as the Reds ran out 4-0 winners over the Blues, though it was not due to good work on the training ground or tactical tweaks from the manager. In fact it was due to a phone call made to Anfield from a Kopite who had noticed how Everton always advanced upfield at free kicks to try and catch opponents offside. Liverpool used the info to spring the offside trap and pick up the victory.


It was business as normal in the next round as Huddersfield Town comfortably beat Liverpool to knock them out. The season continued on badly for Welsh's Liverpool, who ended the season in 11th conceding 96 goals, including another humiliation in the final game, which saw them lose 6-1 to Rotherham United. The summer saw a shift in power on the board as TV Williams and Sydney Reakes, two men that had ambition for the club and wished to see the profits the club made invested back into it, rather than into director's back pockets. There was also another change made ahead of the new season, as the club's shirts would now carry the Liverbird crest on them for the first time ever.


Welsh was allowed to have another crack at winning promotion, after telling the board that: "Players are money conscious instead of playing conscious. There are so many interests provided for them now that they do not practice as much as boys used to a generation or two ago." That refrain is a familiar recurring theme in football, along with complaints the new generation are not willing to work as hard as the previous one. Despite his misgivings, Welsh's team got themselves into the promotion battle for the second promotion place, as Sheffield Wednesday ran away with the league.


The club did take a huge step forward when Will Harrop sadly passed away. Harrop had given up the chance to step up and run the Football League but chose to stay at Liverpool, however his reign had not been a successful one for the club. His replacement was TV Williams, the former postman and lifelong LFC fan who had watched from the Kop as a youngster. He had been a shareholder in the club for a long time, rejecting the chance to become a director to concentrate on his growing business. Now retired Williams brought energy and and ambition, despite being in his late 60s, something that had been lacking at the club for a long time.


Williams' appointment was too late to change things and two defeats to Doncaster Rovers, in March and April almost ended their hopes of promotion back to the top flight. LFC went into the final day of the season needing Leeds United to lose to Hull City while beating Lincoln City to earn promotion. Liverpool failed to do their part, losing 2-0, though it did not matter as Leeds won 4-1 anyway to keep LFC stick in the second tier.


don welsh 1939


Then Welsh did the unthinkable and quit, on 4th May 1956, the Liverpool Echo reporting: "During his period at Anfield he has not had a free hand with the selection of the team and this, no doubt, is one of the reasons for his recent unhappiness with the club." Welsh himself said: "I came to a sudden decision and handed in my resignation. I may quit football." He had been in charge for 232 games in total, winning 81, drawing 58 and losing 93. His team scored 387 goals but conceded 423.


Welsh upset the board when he told the press: "As everybody knows, team selection at Liverpool has always been a board affair and there we have always regarded things in the same light." The board never even gave him the traditional note of thanks that departing managers got in the minute books. It is often claimed he was the first LFC manager to be sacked, despite him resigning, but he did leave the club in a worse state than he found it in. However a lot of that was down to directors that lacked ambition and allowed talent to drain away from the club. A lot of the problems were down to his personality, he alienated the older players and lacked professionalism. Billy Liddell barely even mentioned his name in his autobiography of 1960.


Ray Lambert said: "I don't think he took to the responsibility of the job that he was doing." While Jimmy Payne added: "He used to walk around the boardroom on his hands when we'd won a match. Do you know the steps at Anfield where you come off the ground? I don't think they're there now. He'd walk down them steps on his hands." Welsh had taken the club down and failed to get it back up, but he was managing with one hand tied behind his back and he lacked the ability to make the situation work. His signings either failed to perform or were past their best.


After leaving Liverpool, Welsh became a publican, the time-honoured ex-footballer's life in those days, but he was soon back in football when Bournemouth offered him a job as manager in 1958. The Cherries sacked him in 1961 and he went into teaching and football coaching in a North London school for a short period until non-league Wycombe Wanderers appointed him as their manager. He lasted until 1964 when he was once again sacked. His former club, Charlton, then brought him back as a member of their administrative staff, where he stayed up until his death at the age of 78 in 1990.


Sadly for Welsh, though a legend for the Addicks, he will not be remembered so fondly anywhere else. He is often called the worst manager in Liverpool's history and he did leave the club in a worse state than he found it, but he was not given the help he needed, nor given the freedom to operate that would give him any real chance of success. He did not help himself though, by alienating the older players in the squad with his antics, it only left him half of his squad giving him their full support. Unfortunately he was simply not suited to leadership.


To read Part 6 - Laying The Foundations please click HERE

Written by Ed001 January 20 2019 12:26:48


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