Harry Potts never shared the fame of his managerial contemporaries, but in sustaining Burnley as a major First Division force throughout the 1960s he arguably outshone the achievements of other more revered managers. His time at Everton as a player in the first half of the 1950s, however, can mostly be categorised as a failure, as he struggled to play a meaningful part in the lowest ebb in the club’s history.
Born in Hetton-le-Hole, County Durham, Potts was a contemporary of Bob Paisley, and their careers would share many parallels – particularly in their latter stages. He joined Burnley in 1937 as a 17-year-old, showing vast promise as an inside left. He combined pace and trickery with a prolific record in front of goal. Nor was Potts above gamesmanship. As one Burnley fan recorded years later in When Saturday Comes, ‘As a player he was the diver of his day, tumbling forward unlikely yardages to claim to have been felled in the penalty box.’
War, however, intervened and cut off his prime. In 1946/47, the first season back, he was top scorer as Burnley won promotion to the First Division, also reaching the FA Cup Final, in which he struck the crossbar before Charlton Athletic emerged victorious in extra time.
His £20,000 arrival at Goodison in October 1950 was a staggering piece of business and represented a club record transfer fee. Potts was a good First Division player, but fell short of international standard and there was a definite sense that his best days lay behind him – after all, his Everton debut came just a day before his 30th birthday. But Goodison was a peculiar place in those days: T.G. Jones had been allowed to leave for nothing earlier in the year, while vast sums were frittered on players like Albert Juliussen, who were below standard and had seemingly been bought with the minimum of scouting.
Potts was better than that and was one of the few bright lights in a dire 1950/51 season, which Everton spent mostly lurching around the relegation places. In their penultimate game, away at Derby County, he scored the only goal, lifting them out of trouble. It meant Everton travelled to Sheffield Wednesday, who were rooted to the bottom, needing a single point for survival. Yet Wednesday annihilated Everton 6-0, still tumbling down to the Second Division with their vanquished opponents.
Although he would remain an Everton player for another five years, Potts’ part in this dismal season witnessed the bulk of his Everton appearances. At the start of the 1951/52 campaign he lost his place to John-Willie Parker and was thereafter seen only intermittently prior to his retirement in 1956.
Despite his playing career fizzling out disappointingly, Potts had garnered a reputation as one of the game’s thinkers. On leaving Goodison, he joined Wolves – then one of the strongest teams in England – as coach, before becoming Shrewsbury Town manager in 1957. A year later he returned to Turf Moor as manager, and oversaw one of the great miracles of modern football – Burnley’s First Division championship win in 1959/60. They remained a top-four side for the next three years, also finishing third in 1965/66.
In 1970 Potts was shifted ‘upstairs’ as general manager, but perhaps only then the club and fans realised the true value of his achievements, for they were relegated in 1971. He later managed Blackpool, returning to Turf Moor for a second stint later in the 1970s.