Cyril Lello was a model of consistency and commitment through one of Everton’s most difficult periods. A late developer who did not make his top flight debut until the age of 28, Lello was considered one of the finest uncapped wing halves of his generation. As a steady head in a dismal side, his important contribution to the Everton cause was underlined when absent through injury for the entirety of the 1950/51 season, his club suffered the indignity of relegation.
Lello was born in Ludlow, Shropshire, an area which produced two of Wolves great post-war players, Billy Wright and Johnny Hancocks. Whilst serving in the RAF during the war, he made appearances for Millwall, Norwich and Lincoln. At the latter club, in December 1943, Lello scored seven goals in a League North fixture against Notts County. His reputation in the wartime leagues prompted Shrewsbury Town to make a move for him when he left the armed forces at the wars end.
At Gay Meadow, Lello continued to build a reputation as a consistent inside forward. He attracted the notice of the Everton director, W. R. Williams, who watched him on a number of occasions. With Wolves also interested, in September 1947 Everton made their move, paying £2,500 for the forward. He was given his debut in a Central League fixture against Wolves a few days later, and the Everton board – who had expected to pay substantially more for the player – were delighted to hear ‘completely favourable’ reports of his play.
His arrival was nevertheless low key, and Theo Kelly tried to suppress his age – Lello was 27 when he first signed and 28 when he made his debut – from the local press, who pointedly referred to him as a ‘youngster’ for several years. His full debut came against Wolves at a snow covered Molineux in February 1948. He was, concluded a local journalist, ‘the Everton type, good ball control, a nice passer of the ball and one with a fighting quality.’ A week later Lello capped his home debut against Middlesbrough with both goals in a 2-1 victory.
Chances were nevertheless initially difficult for the inside forward to come by. Wally Fielding was first choice in the number 10 shirt, and a veteran Alex Stevenson was usually preferred ahead of him as well. Lello’s career changed when Cliff Britton succeeded Theo Kelly as manager from the start of the 1948/49 season. The new manager converted Lello into a wing half and by the end of the 1948/49 season he had built up a good partnership with Peter Farrell.
In a largely dire team that hung onto its First Division life by a thread, Lello and Farrell provided some solidity and experience in a team sorely lacking it. Yet on 4 February, 1950 disaster struck: Lello limped off 27 minutes into a league game at Aston Villa with a serious knee injury. This eventually necessitated a cartilage operation and Lello was largely absent for the next 18 months.
By the time of his next appearance in an Everton shirt, on the opening day of the 1951/52 season, Everton were a Second Division side. Progress after his lay off was slow and Lello had to vie with Don Donavon and Jackie Grant for his old berth. But midway through the 1952/53 season he finally reclaimed the number 6 shirt as his own and would retain it for the next three years. In so doing he became the first Everton player to make 150 consecutive league and cup appearances.
During this time, Lello, now in the veteran stage of his career, was an important part of the team that secured promotion in 1954 and subsequently re-established itself as a top-flight force. ‘I am as sure now as I was then that I could not have picked a better team,’ he said in 1970. ‘The atmosphere among the players was terrific. There were no small cliques like you might find in other clubs and Peter Farrell was a great skipper and a tremendous organiser. I could sum it up as “One for all – all for one.”’
Cliff Britton’s departure in February 1956, however, marked uncertain times for Lello. The managerial sub committee instructed to succeed him until the end of the 1955/56 season and subsequently Ian Buchan preferred to give Ken Birch and Ken Rea a chance to partner Farrell at wing half in his place.
But his value, even at the age of 36, was still recognised, and in November 1956 his former team mate, Harry Catterick, now manager of Rochdale, paid £750 to bring the veteran to the Lancashire moors.
Lello spent less than a year at Spotland before becoming player-manager of Runcorn. After leaving football he worked for Bootle Corporation, but continued to follow Everton, a stone’s throw from his old club house on Goodison Road, where he lived until his death in 1997.
Ridgway, Barbara, From Dinham Mill to Goodison: The Story of Cyril Lello – A Craftsman Footballer, Scenesetters, 2001