Great Harwood Legends

Bryan Douglas


You could ask a hundred people to name their top Rovers team of all time and you’d get a hundred team sheets back with the name Bryan Douglas amongst the forward line. He was so good that the only way of stopping him was to foul him, and throughout his career he’s been kicked black and blue – retaliating just once at Huddersfield. He was so good that he played in two World Cup competitions. He was so good that he replaced Stanley Mathews in the England side. He was so good that he scored over one hundred goals for his beloved Blackburn Rovers. He was so good that if it had not been for Alf Ramsey’s obsession of playing Jimmy Greaves instead of the vastly superior ‘Duggie’ in the two years leading up to the ’66 World Cup – he would have played in the finals stages of three competitions. He was so good that since his last appearance for the national side, we’ve seen players make fifty international appearances who weren’t fit to make his half time cuppa!
Anyway, for any of you reading this who weren’t honoured enough to see him play, let me tell you this – I saw him and……he wasn’t bad!


Duggie was born in Blackburn and was football mad right from the start with his favourite players being Peter Doherty and Tom Finney, who many people have compared him with- a great compliment to both players. As a young teenager, he lived in Lower Darwen and played for Lower Darwen Boys, in the Blackburn Youth League. Already a cut above despite his lack of inches, he was soon attracting the scouts and was asked to attend Harrison’s Gym where the Rovers youngsters were playing. “We might give you ten minutes,” was the promise – but things turned out rather better than expected.
A young lad from Preston failed to turn up so Duggie played for the whole game and impressed enough to be asked to go to Rishton for the next game the following Saturday. Would you believe it - P.N.E. were at home, and with Finney playing, all the buses were being used to ferry the tens of thousands of fans to Deepdale, leaving the Preston lad frantically trying to make his way to Rishton!
Duggie started, impressed once again and was signed up. The lad from Preston turned up eventually; about ten minutes from the end of the game - surely he’d be shown the door? No, he was given another chance, which was fortunate for the Rovers, as he went on to become the captain of Blackburn Rovers and England… Ronnie Clayton.!
At the same time Duggie had to do his National Service and found that travelling from different RAF stations to play for Blackburn Rovers Reserves or Junior sides was a bit of a bind, but he was encouraged when manager Johnny Carey phoned. Irish International inside forward Eddie Crossan was unfit to play against Notts County in the Second Division at Meadow Lane, and Duggie, who’d signed professional forms a few months earlier, was going to be his replacement. Sadly it was more than a year before he made his next first team appearance after he’d finished his National Service.
September 17th 1955 saw Stoke City come to Ewood and a goal by our hero helped the Rovers to a 3-0 win. By his own admission he played “quite well”. In his next game at inside left he played “not so well”, in the third “I was awful”, and after his fourth consecutive game, “I was surprised I was picked at all!”
The next game saw Rovers travel to Bury, and with Crossan, Quigley and the up and coming Roy Vernon earmarked for the inside forward positions, Carey didn’t see Duggie in this spot. “He tried me at outside right at Bury on October 8th 1955, and it was a day I shall always remember. The fans and the critics were certainly on my side after that.”
“Before the match my father told me that my ability was to beat a man – and I wasn’t doing that! I was lacking in confidence. I thought, right, from now on I’m going to do it my way, and I was determined to beat the full back. Finding I was successful, I never looked back. It was the turning point of my career.”


This is how the press saw it;
‘ACCIDENT WON HIM A DREAM CHANCE’
Johnny Carey, the Blackburn Rovers manager, had a problem on his mind… who to fill in the right wing position. Frank Mooney signed from Manchester United – now with the United of Carlisle – had not quite made the grade, according to the Carey assessment. Eddie Quigley had been tried several times without looking very happy. In sheer desperation, for a match at Bury in October, Mr Carey picked reserve inside left Bryan Douglas for the job.
He scored two goals in a brilliant display that had Bury’s defence dizzy and started the rocket to fame that brought him England ‘B’ honours before the season had ended. Mr Carey, like every other loyal Rovers fan is confident that little Douglas – he is only 5’5”, has a great future. He joined the ground staff as a 15 year old schoolboy and it was his very lack of inches that induced Jackie Bestall (then manager) to put him at inside left although he was a right winger at school. He flitted in and out of the team with no suggestion of him being anything out of the ordinary. The lad himself felt that his soccer future lay on the wing. As with so many other schoolboys, his idol was Stanley Mathews, on whom he tried to model his play. So he took his chance eagerly. If young Bryan does follow Mathews into the England team, one thing is for sure, he will not need a larger size in caps. “I have got what I always wanted- a place in my home town team.” He says, and he’s the only player in the first eleven who can say that.’
So the maestro had arrived, and a series of tremendous displays helped the Rovers to climb up the second division.
Just a few weeks later, the whole country was talking about him after he inspired the Rovers to a 7-1 thrashing of Port Vale, whose defence was one of the strongest in the league.


‘Dazzling display by attack’
‘ Rovers ran riot against the Vale’
‘Blackburn Rovers hit Port Vale with everything except the trainer’s bucket in their most dazzling display of the season. They would have beaten most first Division sides on this form: that is no consolation for Port Vale of course. A defence that had surrendered only 12 goals in 14 games conceded seven- and was lucky it was not more. A 7-1 Rovers win still does not reflect the extent of their superiority. They could have gone into double figures and not have been flattered.’
Despite the great team display it was young Douglas who took the plaudits, especially after another scintillating display against leading team West Ham.
The Northern Daily Telegraph reported:
‘Bryan Douglas a Great Prospect’
‘Take a bow, Bryan Douglas, for providing one of the finest exhibitions of wing forward play I have seen since Stanley Mathews first dazzled my eyes years ago. To say that he is ready to step into the England side is just plain silly, if typical of the lengths to which the National press will go to build up a story.
Douglas CAN win an England cap; the potential is there, but he still has a lot to learn and being modest and unassuming, he knows it. If he continues to make progress, the Rovers will have a match-winner and an entertainer par excellence; he has everything a footballer should have, but it still needs developing to its fullest extent.’
Duggie’s brilliant displays continued throughout the 55/56 season with the press regularly calling for his inclusion in the England team. His big chance came on Wednesday March 21st 1956 when he won his first cap in the ‘B’ International against Switzerland ‘B’ at Southampton and this is what the Daily Express had to say about it; (don’t worry about putting any extra pressure on him lads!!)


‘STAN THE SECOND IS CAPPED’
‘A young soccer hopeful went shopping with his wife yesterday afternoon. He came home with an England cap. The young man – Bryan Douglas, Blackburn outside right. The cap-a ‘B’ sized one for Wednesday’s floodlit international against Switzerland ‘B’ at Southampton.’
The young couple were walking back to their new home at Lower Darwen, near the ground, when Blackburn boss Johnny Carey told them “Vic Groves is injured. You’re picked for England ‘B’ Bryan.” Shopping was forgotten as everyone joined an excited, gleeful celebration tea party.
A delighted, but not too surprised Carey said “Bryan’s really good. He has been playing well all the season. He has all the tricks.” And delighted but definitely not surprised, Blackburn fans were having great fun in pub, club and bus last night saying. “I told you so”- with no comeback.
They HAVE been telling everyone so. They have called young Bryan the second Stanley Mathews for a couple of years. He has been compared with the Rovers greats of the past. “Wait until you see Bryan Douglas,” has been the theme song of the Rovers’ fans I‘ve met in my soccer travels. “He’s got the lot.”
Full marks to Jackie Bestall, ex-Rovers Manager, who said of Bryan Douglas four years ago: “He’s only a kid. Just 17, 5’2 ½” but of all the players on my books, I pick him to become the greatest.”
The Express went on: ‘He comes in as a reward for some richly-entertaining wing play. Now he has the opportunity to follow Mathews and Finney. He was in tip-top form at West Ham last Saturday, “making” two goals and scoring a third.’
On December 8th 1956, Tommy Briggs broke Ted Harper’s Rovers goal-scoring record which stood at 123, with the first of his 2 goals against Bristol Rovers, and who do you think set up that goal?

After finishing fourth, the club was confident of making a big push for promotion. As well as having many experienced players like Dobing and Quigley, the latest crop of youngsters including Pickering, England, Clayton and Vernon to name but a few, were about to transform the club. Dougie was now not only the darling of the Ewood faithful, but also the player the whole country was raving about;
‘Bryan Douglas tops this all star Blackburn bill’
‘DOUGLAS TOOK THE BLACKBURN THUNDER’
‘Bryan a new Mathews’
‘More and more praise is heaped on him as he plays each match.’
Rovers spent the whole season in the upper reaches of the division but despite the obvious abundance of talent, they just failed to make it.
Attendances were excellent on the whole with many 30,000 + crowds although a game against Bristol City in February drew less than 9,000. It seems that he supporters were saving their money for the following week’s F.A. cup tie at Cardiff, as over 5,000 made the trip. After the replay was won, Liverpool came to Ewood for the Quarter Final, a game watched by a 51,000 crowd. Being such a skilful player, Duggie soon found himself to be a marked man, and marked he was, usually by the studs of a huge brutal defender!
In the 1950’s players could ‘kick lumps out of each other’ and maybe just receive a gentle ticking off from the ref, and in one game in particular, our young star felt the full force of some atrocious treatment from a bunch of thugs who arrived at Ewood Park disguised as Doncaster Rovers
SHAME DONCASTER! THIS ISN’T SOCCER’
‘’’ hands are trembling with rage as I write of the shameful things Doncaster’s desperate defence did to promotion hunting Blackburn. I like my soccer full bloodied, but this was about as fair as mob violence. Body checking, tripping, shirt pulling, knees in the back- they were all in the Yorkshire team’s repertoire. I have never seen Douglas so glad to get off the ball.’
Duggie’s performances during the season were so good that he won his first full International cap - a rare occurrence for a Second Division player, not that he’d be a Second Division player for long.
Surely the 1957 / 58 season would see them reach the top division.
In 1957, the young Duggie learned a lesson that he never forgot. “I was playing in a match at Huddersfield just after I’d first been picked for England…..anyway someone kicked me – REAL HARD ! I swung round and kicked the nearest man who happened to be Vic Metcalfe. I was booked right away.”
After the game former Rovers player Ron Suart, then Scunthorpe’s manager, spoke to Douglas. “Bryan, if you’re prepared to get up close and hold onto the ball, you’ve got to expect to be tackled rough. Behave in future as you did today and you’ll soon be in trouble.” Douglas promised it would be the first and last time and adds, “It’s never happened again.” Suart said: “I told him Mathews and Finney had been roughly treated all their careers…..but you never saw them retaliate.”
The 1957/58 season saw the Rovers riding high throughout and thanks in no small way to some inspired performances by Duggie, Ewood Park’s crowds rose from an average of 22,700 to over 34,000.
Our hero had by now, established himself as a regular England International and such was his popularity, not just with the Rovers fans, that many clubs recorded their best attendances when he was in town. To back this up, when Duggie was injured, Rovers opponents recorded crowds of up to 5,000 less than average.
The season ended at the Valley, Charlton, where the Football League saw one it’s greatest ever climaxes. Charlton needed just a point to secure promotion to the top flight whereas the Rovers needed a win.
Thousands travelled from the North West to help swell the attendance to 56,000. The game started disastrously as Leary gave the hosts the lead after only 5 minutes, but Rovers soon took complete control and two Dobing goals on 23 minutes (set up by Duggie) and 36 minutes put Rovers in the driving seat. A minute before half-time, another Great Harwood legend, Roy Vernon, made it 3-1. The Rovers continued to power forward after the break and Duggie converted a penalty after 62 minutes to surely make the game safe. By this stage, the score should have been at least 7-1 as Charlton were made to look third rate.
Duggie was having a stormer and there was no way back for sorry Charlton….or was there? Eddie Firmani pulled a consolation goal back, against the run of play after 76 minutes, as Charlton threw five up front in a last desperate attempt to salvage a point from the wreckage. With the huge crowd willing them on, Hewie made it 4-3 from the penalty spot with another 6 minutes still to play. It was a nail biting finale but surely the Rovers couldn’t let this one slip?
In the very last minute, Duggie was chopped down in the penalty area for a cast iron penalty kick – “Play on,” said the Ref ! Thankfully, the Blue and Whites held on, and as the final whistle blew, Duggie almost passed out after having worked so hard during the game.
A truly wonderful gesture was made by Charlton Athletic after the game, one which we could all learn from. They’d bought the Champagne ready for their own post-match promotion party, but instead of using it to drown their sorrows, they gave it to the Rovers players and officials.
Not surprisingly the Press put Duggie on a pedestal.
‘Every member of the team played magnificently but first honour to sturdy Bryan Douglas who showed the 56,000 crowd just why he has ended Stanley Mathews’ England career.’
‘Douglas treated the crowd to a grand exhibition of his skills.’
The following week saw a civic reception for the team but Duggie had to miss it because he was training with England.
Even after winning promotion, there was no time to rest for Duggie as he prepared for the World Cup finals in Sweden with the National side. Team mate Roy Vernon was also there with Wales who had one of their best ever teams.
In June ’58, England held the great Brazilian side, which included the 17 year-old Pele, to a 0-0 draw. A very strong Russian team were also held, this time 2-2, with England’s opponents conceding no fewer than 31 fouls during the game, a large percentage of them committed against the ever-dangerous Duggie.
Not surprisingly, Brazil went on to lift the Trophy, but England were now one of the best teams in the world and were described as ‘The greatest International side ever seen in Britain.’ That team was: Hopkinson (Bolton), Langley (Fulham), Howe (W.B.A.), Slater (Wolves), Wright (Wolves), Clayton (Rovers), Finney (P.N.E.), Haynes (Fulham), Kevan (W.B.A.), Charlton (Man. Utd.), Douglas (Rovers). The National press continued to shower our magnificent man with praise.
‘Douglas brilliant for England’ – ‘Douglas has magic of old master’ –‘Douglas shows Stan’s touch’
It wasn’t just the press and supporters who were singing his praises. Duggie must have been a proud man after reading this piece written by his hero Tom Finney:
‘Do be fair to Douglas’
‘For years people have been saying that there will never be another Stanley Mathews. They may be right. But I am happy to say English football has now produced a player closely resembling him – Bryan Douglas, of Blackburn Rovers. He is good enough to live down the unwanted tag ‘a second Mathews’. Praise indeed from one of the greatest players ever to set foot on a football pitch.
Season 1958/59 saw the Rovers back in the First Division and with players of Bryan Douglas’ calibre, the transition proved to be no problem for the men from Ewood. Duggie had graced the World Cup Finals in Sweden in 1958, and now he was about to grace the First Division. First up was a trip to St. James Park to face the mighty Newcastle United. Did I say mighty? The Geordies of Newcastle were about to find out for themselves just what all the fuss was about in the opening day fixture.
As the teams came out, Rovers colours were very prominent in the crowd and they received a bigger cheer than the Magpies, who were quickly put to the sword. Newcastle Utd 1 Blackburn Rovers 5
‘Douglas runs them dizzy’ read the headline.
‘Bryan Douglas mesmerised the Newcastle defenders by his dazzling ball play and attacking switches.’ Our hero also wrapped up the game with a penalty five minutes from time. Rovers held their own in the top flight, but on November 28th 1958, in a game against Leeds United, Duggie hurt his
knee and was missing from first team action for two months. On his comeback, he soon slipped into the old routine and an inspired performance in his next England game against Russia at Wembley, saw the highly rated visitors thrashed 5-0. Next up were Scotland, and Duggie set up the winner with a superb cross for Bobby Charlton to head home and send the Scots back home with their tails between their legs. In fact, Duggie almost scored himself with a shot against the post. Here’s how the Press saw it: ‘Douglas hit top form’ – ‘Douglas shows ‘em his heels’ – ‘Old Douglas sparkle’ – ‘Douglas wins his way back’ – ‘Douglas headed narrowly wide of the post then sped down the wing on his own, his cross was perfection-the type centre-forwards dream about.’
Things just got better for Duggie as defence after defence were torn to shreds by his wonderful skills.
The exciting young Rovers, who included many of the recent F.A. Youth Cup winning team, were afraid of no one and it showed as they took the First Division by storm.
Few teams could contain the fabulous forward line of the team from Ewood, and Duggie in particular was unstoppable.
EVERTON 2 ROVERS 2
‘Douglas was Rovers inspiration’ –
‘Demon Douglas is the star turn’
ROVERS 4 ARSENAL 2
‘Dynamo Douglas buzzes on’
‘Douglas nettled the Arsenal defence until it must have come out in a rash as red as its’ shirts’
ROVERS 4 P.N.E. 1
‘Brilliant Douglas’
‘Without Douglas the forwards would be average, blessed more with enthusiasm than craft, but Douglas chose this renewal of Rovers-Preston rivalry to turn in a match winning performance at International level. Douglas wriggled his way round 3 defenders and number one went in. Three minutes later with more wriggles, he went through again to present Vernon with number two.’
In the Preston side that day was Tom Finney. The England star was one of Duggie’s favourite players and he recalls an amusing incident in another game against P.N.E. Finney beat a defender and scored a great goal which was actually applauded by Matt Woods!
Roy Vernon barked: “Don’t applaud him, KICK HIM!”
Matt replied: “I would if I could catch him!”
The Rovers were now firmly established as one of the country’s leading teams and Ewood saw many crowds of over 40,000 with an average of 30,500.
Thanks to Duggie and his highly skilled team-mates, the Blue and Whites scored bags of goals and were rarely out of the top half of the table. In fact, the potential of the current side was probably the greatest since the end of the nineteenth century.
After the great success of the first season back in the top flight, it seemed that things couldn’t get any better for Duggie but they did, as our hero established himself as one of the best players in the world. Even the Scottish press, never ones to praise ‘the auld enemy’, were drooling over him. (Nowadays, just having a name like Douglas would entitle him to play for Scotland !)
‘A slight, serious faced lad with a name as Scottish as heather in full bloom is liable to make supporters of Caledonia stern and wild and sad when we meet England at Hampden in April.
Meet Bryan Douglas, the right wing wonder boy of Blackburn Rovers who has taken over Stanley Mathews’ place in the England team….almost before Mr. Great was ready to step out into his place in the sun. How good is the English winger? I saw him play for his club Blackburn Rovers against Cardiff City in the F.A. Cup replay on Thursday. Frankly, I thought I was watching Mathews all over again. Young Douglas not only looks like Stan, he plays like him as well. The deceptive build….the long body….the shrugging shoulders….the wee boy lost look….the magic footwork….the sparkling burst. That’s Mathews. That’s also Douglas. Pardon me if I talk at length about this player. I have an awful feeling that he’s going to be even better than Mathews. And that’s dismal news for Scotland. And the most fantastic thing of all: After the Cardiff v Blackburn match I was having a meal with Danny Malloy of Cardiff City and Douglas’ team mate Alistair McLeod. And both those Scottish stars told me without a blush, “Bryan didn’t have a good game today. The ground was against him. He doesn’t like the mud.” Golly….if that was Bryan on a bad day, heaven help the Scottish.’
Well that reporter certainly knew his football, for when the sides met at Hampden Park, Scotland were thrashed 4-0, with Duggie scoring yet another International goal.
The following season saw Rovers continue to grace the First Division with their brand of exciting attacking football. Spurs and Leicester were both hit for five, although the team did get the odd hiding themselves. In a game at Old Trafford, United won 6-1 in front of a sell-out crowd with thousands locked outside. Queues to get in had formed at 9 o’clock !
They were flying high in the First Division, spurred on by more superb displays by the great Duggie, but it was in the F.A.Cup that the team really hit the glory trail.
The third round tie was a bad tempered affair at Roker Park which ended one-all before Rovers won the replay 4-1. Blackpool came to Ewood in the fourth round and a huge crowd saw a late equaliser which kept Duggie and his team-mates in the competition.
With the country’s giants Tottenham awaiting the winners, queues for replay tickets started overnight and the Ewood faithful’s optimism was borne out when their heroes won 3-0. The great Spurs side of the turn of the decade were red-hot favourites but that didn’t stop thousands of fans travelling down to London and they came away in ecstatic mood after seeing the Rovers hammer Spurs 3-1.
In the quarter-final they were drawn against sworn enemies Burnley at Turf Moor where the Wembley dream was soon in tatters as the Clarets took a 3-0 lead, but Duggie and his team-mates refused to throw in the towel. Deep into the second-half our hero pulled one back from the penalty spot although this only appeared to be a consolation, but the team were having none of it. Further goals from Dobing and McGrath earned the Rovers a most unlikely replay and Cup fever hit East Lancashire like never before.
The following week saw 54,000 cram into Ewood Park with thousands locked out and the surrounding streets were packed when the ‘Ground Full’ signs went up.
Rovers won comfortably to set up a Semi-final tie against Sheffield Wednesday at Maine Road. Hands up if you can guess the name of the player who inspired the Blue and Whites to victory. A crowd of 74,000, many of whom got no further than the entrance steps, saw Duggie go through his full repertoire to leave the Yorkshire men in tears. Don’t take my word for it, this is what the press had to say:
‘Douglas sees Rovers into Final’
‘Twenty minutes of inspired football by Bryan Douglas was just enough to help Blackburn round the last corner to Wembley. Officially at inside left but in practice all over the field, Douglas had Wednesday’s strong defence going all ways.’
Wolverhampton Wanderers were the only obstacle in the way of Rovers first F.A.Cup win since 1928, but the midlanders were given a boost from an unlikely source.
Derek Dougan caused a storm by demanding a transfer on the eve of the game, to leave morale in the dressing room somewhat strained. Further controversy rang around the town as Rovers league form dipped with accusations of players not giving their all in case they suffered injury and missed the big day.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom in the Douglas household though, as Bryan’s wife Joyce gave birth to their second son Graham, who arrived three weeks early. He was the fourth member of the Douglas clan, joining Stephen who was now three years old.
The press were very confident of a Rovers victory, although the headlines were written before Dougan’s treachery.
‘Bryan looks our winner’ and ‘Blackburn will win cup’
Sadly, it all went wrong, before, during and after the game. Rumours spread that certain players and officials were selling tickets while many supporters were unable to get them through official means.
Dave Whelan broke his leg leaving the team with ten men, as no substitutes were allowed then, and Wolves ran out easy 3-0winners.
The whole sorry episode did the Football Club irreparable damage and the following season saw the attendances plummet from an average of 27,500 to less than 20,000, and this despite the Rovers being one of the most attractive sides in the country.
Thirty to forty years later, some fans had still not returned to Ewood.
The 1960/61 season had Duggie once again making the headlines as he tore apart the best First Division defences.
‘Douglas-inspired attack masters North End’
‘England hallmark on Douglas’
‘It was D for Douglas day’
‘Bryan Douglas is just about the most dangerous wingman in soccer’
Shockwaves reverberated around East Lancashire when a Sunday newspaper reported that he was considering asking for a transfer after he came back from injury.
“It’s just a lot of poppycock, just rubbish and bunkum. I’ve never even thought of asking for a move under any circumstances,” he replied, much to the relief of the Rovers supporters.
An operation on a knee injury kept him out for part of the season, it was a problem that would occur several more times during his career.
The early 1960’s were possibly the pinnacle of Bryan’s career with devastating performances at both club and International level. Of course that made him a marked man and in one particular game against Manchester United, Duggie had two teeth broken by a thug called Harry Gregg who was the visiting goalkeeper. Our hero wasn’t the only one to suffer in that match as Stephenson also lost a tooth and Vernon, McGrath and McLeod all left the field limping! Duggie had a great game and tormented the United defence throughout and despite Gregg apologising after the game, Duggie never forgave him for the unacceptable assault.
In October 1961, Italian giants Roma tried to lure him away from Ewood. The offer came out of the blue but the headlines read:
“Rovers are the only team for me!”
So says England star BRYAN DOUGLAS who’d rather have fish and chips than spaghetti! “I love Blackburn and I would never be quite so happy and content anywhere else.”
Later that month, he played a starring role as England beat Portugal 2-0 at Wembley to secure their place in the following year’s World Cup finals.
‘The Blackburn Rover looks as much at home on Wembley as he does at Ewood Park’
That season saw Duggie as a permanent fixture in the England team but his great performances were drawing the attention of all the leading clubs in the land.
In the summer Duggie played in all of England’s World Cup matches in Chile and was also instrumental in the 9-3 demolition of Scotland at Wembley, scoring one of the goals.
Off the field, things at Ewood hadn’t gone that well with the average gate down to just 15,900, and it appeared that their interest of other clubs had an unsettling effect on him, for at the beginning of the following season the unthinkable happened.
August 1962 will go down in history as the time when Bryan DID actually ask for a transfer. Needless to say the fans went mad at the thought of losing their favourite son but the request was turned down by the club and Bryan said that he wouldn’t ask again. Everton seemed to be the main instigators of the problem and they were reported to be lining up a £50,000 offer if his transfer had been granted
Incredibly, the following season saw Duggie actually dropped from the England team by new manager Alf Ramsay, but he was picked for the Football League v. the Italian League at inside left after a direct request from Walter Winterbottom.
Would this be the end of our hero’s International career ?
At the beginning of the season, Duggie was switched to inside forward, inspiring Rovers to score 22 times in the first 7 games. He was now at the top of his form but amazingly he was left out of the England squad named in November.
‘No selector has seen the new Douglas’ screamed the headline.
‘Midwinter madness has afflicted the England selectors when they can afford to ignore the claims of Bryan Douglas in his present form. He has never played better than in the last few weeks and I’ve seen Douglas in every game for Blackburn Rovers since he started,’ wrote Alf Thornton. Jack Marshall, the Blackburn Rovers manager said: “I thought he was a certainty. I’d have backed that judgement anytime. It beats me how England can afford to play Wales without him. His recent shows have been as near perfect as one could wish for.” Chairman Jim Wilkinson had this to say: “I think Douglas is the best inside forward in the country. Against Arsenal he was GREAT, at West Bromwich Albion he was uncanny, and we saw what he did to Rotherham when we won 4-1.”After Duggie had been overlooked for the National squad, Arsenal came to Ewood and after a remarkable 5-5 draw, with our hero scoring two of the goals, Duggie hit the headlines once again.
‘Magic of Bryan’ – Douglas inspires goal frolic’ – Douglas has Arsenal in a daze’ – ‘Duggie christened THE LITTLE PELE’
Sadly, the average attendances were still only 16,000 despite the superb attacking performances. Birmingham were put to the sword, 6-1 with the team that day: ELSE, BRAY, NEWTON, McGRATH, WOODS, ENGLAND, DOUGLAS, BYROM, PICKERING, FERGUSON, HARRISON.
Not surprisingly, Duggie was the Rovers player of the year and apart from his fantastic displays, he had also scored 15 goals. At the end of the season, the national press and footballing experts were calling for him to be included in the next England team. Both Jack Marshall and Matt Busby said that he should have been the footballer of the year, an award won by Stanley Mathews. On May 9th 1963, the best player in the country was once again selected for the England squad and early in June he played in Switzerland. As if anyone needed any more proof that he was indeed the number one player in England, the score proved it beyond all doubt.
Switzerland 1 England 8.
And Ramsay had the audacity to drop Duggie for the previous few Internationals! Our hero capped a devastating performance with a fine goal and things just kept on getting better. In his next game, Brazil came to Wembley hoping to be only the third foreign side to win on English soil but they hadn’t reckoned on Duggie spoiling the show. Not only did he equal Ronnie Clayton’s 35th cap, he also scored the equaliser. People kept on comparing him to Mathews which Duggie found unfair.
“In my opinion, nobody can compare with Stanley at his best, not even Garrincha,” he commented.
Mathews himself said: “Bryan is a brilliant ball player and one who can make the wheels go round.” Jack Marshall said: “Bryan’s an amazing player, he’s got so many ways of beating a man, and he absolutely thrives on work. I’ve seen him head straight into trouble, then before I know it, he’s beaten three men, jinking and turning like a ballet dancer. He’s got wonderful stamina for a little chap and although he gets bumped around a lot, he always comes back for more. I remember a goal against West Bromwich, he beat six men, left them lying and sprawling like skittles. I always think he’s like a trout…….you know, darting about, in and out.” That memorable goal was witnessed by only 11,500 at Ewood and was described by the press as a ‘Goal of a lifetime – perhaps the best goal ever seen at Ewood.’ The gate was so low thanks to a BBC announcement, which said that the second half would be broadcast live on the radio.
At the end of that season, and despite not being acclaimed as the official ‘Footballer of the year’, Duggie topped the player ratings for the First Division by a country mile with Greaves and Law next in line, a long way behind.
The 1963/64 season saw many highlights for Duggie and the Rovers including a 7-2 thrashing of the all-conquering Spurs who were replaced at the top of the table by the Ewood team after the game.
‘Dazzling Douglas hits Spurs’
‘Blackburn Rovers were superb-fantastic!’
‘They crushed the mighty Spurs with the greatest display of attacking football I have seen in years. They had everything, speed, shooting power that was out of this world, a tight defence, a wealth of ideas – and Douglas. Against the brilliance of the little inside left, Greaves looked like a spluttering candle.’ Duggie set up the first goal, scored the second then set up the third.
‘We want Douglas say Spurs’ read the headlines in the National press.
The London club made it quite clear that they wanted the Ewood star to move to White Hart Lane. ‘Tottenham haven’t a chance as the Rovers might as well think of selling their ground,’ said the Evening Telegraph. Chairman Jim Wilkinson commented: “Duggie is ‘beyond price’, I told Spurs what I told Everton, he’s not for sale at any price.”
Talking of Everton, after beating the Toffeemen at Goodison Park, there was a near riot as the home team lost the plot completely. Duggie was elbowed in the face by Kay who was sent off. Fred Else in goal was constantly showered with coins and the so-called champions kicked the Rovers players black and blue. ‘From the stands as well as the terraces came an ugly roar, the Rovers players, when they came within reach of the crowd behind both goals, were pelted with missiles. The last twenty minutes saw incident after incident with two more Everton players extremely lucky that they didn’t join Kay in the dressing room. At the end of the game, a mob gathered at the players entrance as the crowd reacted as we have come to expect from these Liverpool ‘minorities’ to use the official excuse,’ wrote Alf Thornton. The National press were just as scathing:
‘The team that lost it’s head’
‘Saturday must go down as Everton’s blackest day – blacker than the most depressing day of relegation; Blacker than the most dismal day of the heaviest defeat. For this was the team that lost its head. In a few reckless moments of frustration and anger, Everton threw away the right to be called champions. And on this day of disgrace, the Goodison fans lost their case against the people who have accused them of rowdyism. The Rovers won the game 4-2 to prove to everyone that they were genuine title contenders.
Astonishingly, the attendances continued to fall and by the end of the season, less than 10,000 saw each of the last two home games. This was despite being in the title hunt until six games from the end of the season when Everton were victorious in the return game. Liverpool eventually took the title with the Rovers slipping down to finish 10th.
The following campaign saw Ewood once again bottom of the ‘attendance table’ and that wasn’t the only thing causing concern. In late October, and with the Rovers having dropped just three home points, they entertained 4th Division Workington Town in the League Cup. Unlike recent times, the Rovers put out their strongest team, a side containing no less than EIGHT Internationals. Workington, managed by future Rovers boss Ken Furphy, produced one of the biggest League Cup shocks in the history of the competition by routing the home side 5-1 with another future Rover, Kit Napier, running the defence ragged. A meagre crowd of just 6,282 witnessed the embarrassment.
Despite Duggie and the Rovers continuing to entertain, the Blackburn public appeared to be very apathetic towards the town’s football team.
By this stage, Alf Ramsay had once again given Duggie the cold shoulder and chose to include every half-rate forward ahead of him. The supporters, players and press all joined together in calling for his re-inclusion.
Season 1964/65 ended with another mid-table finish and more poor crowds, but the entertainment value remained sky-high. Towards the end of that campaign, Spurs came to Ewood and were hammered 3-1 with Duggie still making the headlines;
‘Douglas wonder goal brings crowd to their feet’
‘A superb Douglas special put the Rovers two up in 52 minutes. Picking up the ball left of the centre circle, Douglas weaved his way past six defenders before confusing Bill Brown with a clever flick which saw the ball go in off the foot of the post.’
An even more exciting game took place on the penultimate game of the season at St. Andrews. Rovers were soon two up through McEvoy and Ferguson but by half time Birmingham had dragged themselves level. An own goal and a gem from Duggie made it 4-2 but within a minute it was
4-3. A wonderful solo effort from the maestro then looked to have secured the two points. He picked up the ball in the centre circle and embarked on a mesmerising run that took him past four defenders before he finally squeezed an exquisite finish beyond Beel in the City goal. The fireworks didn’t end there though as two late goals from Beard ensured that the game ended all square at 5-5.
By the season’s end, Andy McEvoy and Jimmy Greaves topped the scoring charts in the top division hitting 29 apiece, with John Byrom just behind on 25. Those two Rovers players hit 59 goals in all competitions, but defensive frailties stopped Rovers from making a serious Championship challenge. Not surprisingly with the size of Ewood attendances, the board were very reluctant to spend money in the transfer market, even though a couple of defenders would almost certainly have seen them qualifying for Europe.
Duggie then played in the Stanley Mathews testimonial game at Stoke, and despite the presence of the great Mathews, Puskas and Di Stefano, our hero was without question the best player on the field. There was still no way back into the England side for the country’s leading player.
Tom Finney, one of the greatest players of all time was another man who could not figure out Ramsay’s thinking. “Bryan Douglas screams out for inclusion in the International team at inside forward, but he has been strangely neglected for twelve months. There was no better inside forward in England last season.”
The 1965/66 season began with a pre-season tour of Holland but Duggie was missing after jarring the ligaments in his right knee. The injury also kept him out of the start of the campaign, which went badly right from the kick-off. A polio epidemic meant that home games were postponed leaving Rovers at the bottom of the table having played so few games, and when the action did begin, people were reluctant to mix with a crowd, making 10,000 attendances the ‘norm’.
The first home game took place on September 1st when a 3-2 win over Fulham lifted them to third from bottom. Just 10,497 saw the action, and in the next Ewood game against Aston Villa, a similar number attended. If that was bad news, then there was worse to come. As Duggie was getting ready to return to the first team, his damaged knee flared up again causing another delay to his comeback, just as the Rovers were desperate for his inspirational skills.
He did return a few weeks later for a League Cup tie against Northampton Town when a crowd of 8,800 (3,000 more than expected) saw the Blue and Whites go down 1-0.
After ten league games Rovers were bottom but on Duggie’s return to League action, things began to improve with draws against Sheffield United and Everton. Duggie setting up both goals in the latter fixture.
A draw followed at leaders Manchester United in a game which ended in chaos as United players and supporters caused trouble – so some things never change !
‘Hooligan hotheads disgraced the Old Trafford club, as the Rovers team coach was smashed on its way home. Missiles rained onto the pitch in the 1st half and the officials and players had to clear them from the playing area,’ reported the Evening Telegraph. With a third of the season gone, just seven points were on the board, and things were to become even more desperate as Duggie required surgery on his cartilage in October, an injury that would keep him out of action for months.
On October 9th the management made a bold move by switching centre half Mike England to centre forward for an away game at Burnley and it certainly paid dividends as the Ewood men won 4-1 to move away from the foot of the table.
Would things improve enough to save the team from relegation or would Duggie’s lengthy absence be too big an obstacle to overcome ?
The 65/66 season was going from bad to worse as the Rovers continued to struggle near the foot of the table and Duggie was sidelined for more than four months with his cartilage trouble.
He finally made his comeback in a home game with Liverpool and although he played the full 90 minutes, the Rovers lost 4-1. The referee had threatened to abandon the game because of missiles and bottles being constantly thrown onto the pitch by Scouse hooligans in a season’s best attendance of 30,414.
Next up was an FA Cup 4th round tie at Upton Park. The Rovers had seen off Arsenal 3-0 at Ewood in the 3rd round and were hoping that a good cup run would rub off on their league form. Although they lived to fight another day after a 3-3 draw, Duggie was injured after a knock just below his knee.
In another of the day’s ties, non-league Bedford lost narrowly at home to Everton 2-0, in front of 18,500. Rovers hammered the Hammers 4-1 in the replay to set up an away game at 2nd Division Norwich. Only a scandalous last minute penalty prevented the Rovers from reaching the quarter final but a 3-2 replay victory meant that Wembley was once again in their sights. Sadly, Sheffield Wednesday proved too strong at Ewood, winning 2-0, to leave Duggie and the Rovers free to concentrate on their survival battle.
The cup run failed to have the desired effect on the league results and after 28 games they had just 16 points, leaving them next to bottom and 4 points from safety.
The next seven games, with Duggie still injured, the Blue and Whites won just two points, and with the other two strugglers, Northampton Town and Fulham winning games regularly, they found themselves 12 points adrift in a hopeless situation.
Duggie returned before the end of the season and regained his form inspiring the Rovers to a strong finish. Nottingham Forest were thrashed 3-0 at the City Ground and despite some big wins, the team were relegated in April. Throughout the campaign, Duggie played in just a dozen games and this was obviously the deciding factor in the club’s demise, although the polio outbreak and the transferring of some of the star players also did the cause great harm.
At the start of the 1966/67 season, Duggie said: “I have never stuck my neck out until now, but I say confidently that Blackburn will be back in the 1st Division inside a season.”
But he was soon out injured after being kicked on the left knee, an injury that kept him out for three games. He returned in time for the derby against Preston North End and scored the winner that meant Rovers had made their best start to a season for seven years. A milestone was reached in October as he made his 400th appearance for the club at Birmingham. But at 31 and after suffering several injuries during the previous couple of years, was his time coming to an end ? Don’t you believe it, there was plenty of life in our hero yet
Tom Finney had this to say in his newspaper column.
‘Douglas still key man at Ewood’
‘Bryan Douglas masterminds Blackburn win’
‘Hull City were unfortunate to meet former England star Bryan Douglas in his finest and most elusive form yesterday, and their defeat was due almost entirely to his skill, superb control and fine ball distribution. Douglas now a veteran, made a mockery of the present day soccer gospel of method play, setting up two of the goals and scoring one himself.’
Next to be put to the sword were Plymouth Argyle who were soundly beaten 3-0. Once again the headlines screamed out his name;
‘Bryan Douglas turns mediocrity into magic’
‘Is this the re-birth of Duggie’ ‘Douglas made it so simple’
Unfortunately the reporters weren’t the only ones taking note of his return to top form, some uncompromising defenders reckoned they’d be able to stop his wizardry. A disgraceful tackle by an ungifted defender saw Duggie carried off in the next game and it also saw the Rovers beaten.
The team hovered around eighth place up until Christmas when a holiday ‘double’ over Carlisle United had them rising to fourth, two points behind leaders Wolves. ‘Douglas’ subtle touches and adept control stood out like rare gems,’ reported the local press. Next to feel the force were Cardiff City. ‘Douglas was the classiest player on the field. The 2nd Division has few players as talented as Douglas who caused Cardiff’s defenders trouble every time he gained possession. It was quick thinking Douglas who split Cardiff’s defence wide open for Connelly’s first half goal. The Welshmen knew exactly how to stop our hero and a ‘crudely violent’ tackle had him out injured once again.
By March, Rovers were third yet only 14,900 turned up at Ewood for the game with Birmingham when Duggie set up the only goal of the game. Next time out he scored one and made the other as Huddersfield Town were despatched 2-0. Hull City arrived at Ewood the following week and Rovers completed the double with a 4-1 win as Duggie reached top form at a crucial time of the season.
‘Douglas dazzles defence’
‘One vintage run left five Hull defenders in a bemused jumble and had the 11,000 fans hopping with excitement. Douglas summoning up all his old tricks to shake off the tight marking of Alan Jarvis, the Welsh International, thrusting at fresh air or sitting in the mud as he ghosted out of tackles.’
Duggie’s great form had the Rovers on the brink of a quick return to the 1st Division, and with the team lying in 3rd place, a tricky derby game at Burnden Park awaited. The game provided yet another milestone in the amazing career of Bryan Douglas. In a tough, closely fought encounter, the only goal was scored by, yes, him again, and it was also Duggie’s 100th league strike. ‘After pouncing on a loose ball, he dummied past Hill and then moved forward to score with a firm right-footed drive from fully 25 yards.’ This put our hero in a very selective club as the only the second post-war Rover to hit the century-The first being the legendary Tommy Briggs.
Next up was another derby game, this time at Gigg Lane, and once again the Rovers triumphed, beating Bury 2-1 – and guess who scored. Despite those two victories, the Rovers were still two points behind Wolves. Unfortunately they couldn’t keep up the winning run and several draws saw them fade from the promotion race.
The final game summed up the run-in when Rotherham United forced a draw with Duggie once again on the scoresheet. Rovers finished in 3rd spot but the statistics told exactly where the problem lay. Just 56 goals scored from 42 games. Top marksman was John Connelly with 11. Just behind was Duggie with 8.
The following season was personal disaster for Duggie as injuries and sickness, including a poisoned arm, kept him out of almost the whole campaign. He made only 6 appearances and failed to score. The Rovers themselves hit just 56 goals for the 2nd season running, and for the first time in memory, not a single player hit double figures. Mike Ferguson topped the charts with 8, and he was sold at the end of the season. William Westall wrote: ‘It would have been so very different had Douglas been fit and well. He made Pickering’s name, likewise McEvoy’s and Byrom’s, with his through passes they had only to belt into the net…..but even if he came back they would kick him to death. Which seems also to be a commentary on Second Division football today.’
Season 68/69 started no better for Duggie but although injuries had kept him out of first team action, no one could have predicted what manager Eddie Quigley had up his sleeve.
For the first time in 15 years, he was dropped.
Bad move Eddie !!
The Rovers played Millwall, who duly wiped the floor with them and as the game finished, just a few hundred people were left in the ground, the visitors recovering from two down to win four–two.
The headlines read:
‘Skill gives way to power’.
The manager himself had this to say: “We have too much skill in our team, I want a more direct approach.”
So a world class player was demoted to the reserves. Did he moan ? Did he sulk ? Did he ask for a transfer ? No, he knuckled down and ran riot against the reserve sides in the Central League. First up Barnsley, Duggie has a field day as the Rovers win 9 (nine) –2. He scored in that game, then against Stoke, and against Villa, and Manchester City. Next up were Newcastle where amazingly he didn’t score – but he did set up all three goals ! Bring on Sheffield Wednesday Reserves where ‘A scintillating display of soccer artistry helped Rovers to a 1-0 win.’ Quigley was suitably embarrassed and brought the great man back.
On October the 4th his name appeared on the first eleven team sheet. This was his first game since the previous February but he inspired the Rovers to a draw. Three days later he was back to best and the club’s first ever league win at Blackpool had the Blue and Whites leading the table.
Although now 34, Duggie was proving that he was still more than a match for Second Division defenders and the next game against Preston North End proved the point perfectly.
The headline writers went berserk:
‘Blackburn owe it to Douglas’ – ‘Douglas the magician turns the tide’ – ‘Duggie shows old style touches’ – ‘Douglas has not lost his magic’ – Douglas back in the old routine’ – ‘Bryan made a happy return’
Tragically another knee injury put him out and by the turn of the year he’d played just 5 first team games. He returned for a game against Rotherham, once more leading the team to a win, this time 3-1. Duggie was, as usual the star man earning 9 out of ten in the match ratings, but sadly a crowd of just 10,028 witnessed his tremendous display.
It was around this time that Duggie made his first appearance at the Showground.
‘Big crowd for lights switch on’
‘GREAT HARWOOD celebrated the opening of their £5,550 floodlights at the Showground last night, with a two-minute opening goal against Blackburn Rovers which surprised and delighted the near 3,000 crowd.
Dave Freeman scored for Harwood but Jim Beardall promptly replied with two goals in three minutes for the Rovers and full-back Gary Coxon made it three after 12 minutes.
Bryan Douglas delighted the crowd with football as brilliant as the lights and crowned it with a 25-yard goal before going off mid-way through the second half. Full back Nick Bailey pulled one back for Harwood before Dave Whelan made it 5-2 for the Rovers.’
By the end of the season, Rovers were just also-rans in the promotion race but worse was to come for the club when some shock news hit the headlines.
‘Bryan Douglas decides it’s time to quit soccer’
Bryan Douglas hangs up his magical boots’
“I’ve had a good innings. I have given this long and serious thought and have decided the time has come to hang up my boots. I am no longer a recognised first team player, and even in the reserves I am keeping up and coming youngsters out of a place. I hope to continue with Rovers in some capacity.”
What did the press think? ‘He was not only the complete master, but also the complete servant. His immeasurable skill only compared with his unshiftable loyalty to the cause.’
Manager Eddie Quigley admitted. “The sad thing is that players of his kind are not encouraged today.” – WHO DROPPED HIM FROM THE TEAM EDDIE ?
So this was finally the end of the master’s playing career, wasn’t it ?
NOT A CHANCE ! His boots wouldn’t be seeing a box in the attic for quite a while yet.
Although Duggie decided to hang up his boots after a glittering career at Ewood Park, before he’d had time to put them away, Great Harwood Football Club made the most astonishing announcement that non-league football had ever heard…
THURSDAY JULY 3RD 1969
‘Duggie signs for Harwood’
‘Ambitious Great Harwood, who will be playing in the Northern Premier League next season, last night completed the signing of former Blackburn Rovers and England star Bryan Douglas. ‘Duggie’ will make his debut for Harwood when they travel to Boston United for the first game of the season on August 9, writes Ken Adcroft.
The Showground club face a tough baptism in the Premier League. Four of their first six league matches are away and they also travel to Wigan Athletic in the preliminary round of the League Cup. At the moment, improvements are being carried out at the Showground. The bottom end of the ground is being enclosed by a 12ft high fence and terracing is being built behind the goal at that end. There are also plans for a new social club and dressing rooms. In the new national knock out competition for non-league clubs, Great Harwood, thanks to their record of winning the Combination championship and the LFA Floodlit Cup last season, have been exempted until the first round proper.’ Duggie wouldn’t just be going through the motions with the area’s top non-league club, he’d be using his mercurial skills to help transform them into one of the top non-league sides in the country.
‘Bryan takes his magic down the road’
‘Bryan Douglas one of football’s most faithful servants, will become the highest paid player in Northern non-league football next season. And he will still be able to thrill Blackburn Rovers public he served so well for 18 years,’ wrote the Daily Mirror. ‘For the 34 year-old forward yesterday agreed to sign a contract for next season with Great Harwood, the part-timers who have been recording their own success story barely five miles from Blackburn’s Ewood Park ground. Harwood chairman Derek Keighley, wealthy road haulage boss who has just seen his team promoted to the Northern Premier League, said yesterday: “This will be no gimmick. Bryan will add a lot of class to the team. He will be a big asset for the future. I was a Blackburn supporter before I joined the Harwood board in 1963, and I always admired Douglas. He was a fantastic player, one of the few immortals I have seen.” Douglas, capped 36 times by England, after his debut in the 1954/55 season, will link up with an ex-Ewood team-mate in Harwood manager John Bray, a former full back. But another of his ex-colleagues, centre half Matt Woods will be disappointed. For Woods, now boss of Altrincham, also wanted Douglas.’
The club had won the Lancashire Combination League the previous season and Keighley hoped that the magic of Duggie’s name would still have an attraction to Blackburn football followers. The club averaged 800 in their Championship winning season and Keighley commented: “If we double our crowds then I will be happy, though there is much more to his signing than this. It’s true that Bryan will probably be the best paid player in the league next season but the Premier competition is going to be very difficult for us to compete in.”
As the pre-season friendly games began, it was surely no surprise to see who was once again ‘hogging’ the headlines.
‘Douglas shines in friendlies’
‘AN ENCOURAGING display by Harwood at the Showground on Monday night saw them hand out a 4-0 footballing lesson to Lancaster City in a pre-season friendly. The most impressive thing about the side was the way Douglas and Atherton have stamped their authority on midfield. The long high ball from defence, for one of the forwards to chase, which was a common feature of Harwood’s play last season, has almost completely disappeared.’
Although it was a successful start to Duggie’s Harwood career, the Northern Premier League would be a different kettle of fish to the Lancashire Combination.
The squad for the opening game was:
B.Baldwin, G.Atherton, N.Bailey, R.Jones, J.Kirk, B.Redhead, C.Sims, J.Bray, M.Connelly, G.Shaw, D.Freeman, B.Douglas, I.Hope, and F.Aspinall. That first league game of the season saw Harwood go to the team that was widely acknowledged as the finest in non-league football, Boston United, who were managed by Jim Smith. The game proved to be a real culture shock for Duggie and Harwood as the home team ran out easy 3-0 winners. Undeterred, Harwood went into their first home game against Bangor City full of confidence and a great display by Duggie led the team to a 4-1 win. The game brought about a happy re-union for many of the Harwood players with Mick McGrath who was managing the Welshmen at the time. McGrath was part of the Rovers Cup Final side from 1960 and although he’d hung up his boots, he had transformed City into one of the leading NPL sides. Of course they hadn’t come up against anyone with the quality of Bryan Douglas during the previous season and he put them to the sword showing no mercy to his old team-mate.
‘Douglas stars in tonic win for Great Harwood’
‘A GREAT display of skill and artistry by Bryan Douglas inspired Great Harwood to victory in the NPL when they defeated Bangor 4-1. Harwood, with Douglas showing all his old magic outplayed Bangor for most of the game and this victory should give them confidence.’
Ian Hope put them in front and added the second from the spot after a handling offence had deprived Duggie of his first goal for Harwood. Jackson pulled one back soon after the interval but further goals by Geoff Shaw and Dave Freeman gave Harwood a handsome victory.
‘Douglas is Gt. Harwood’s inspiration’
‘GREAT HARWOOD’S refreshing 4-1 victory over Bangor City at the Showground on Saturday signalled the arrival of Bryan Douglas as a force to be reckoned with in the Northern Premier League.
The little general really turned on the heat and gave some indication of what can be expected from him when his team-mates become fully adjusted to his style.
Before Saturday, the Harwood players seemed wary of playing to Douglas, as if he was something to be admired and shown off but not used. And there was a distinct gap between his train of thought and that of his colleagues. He seemed at times to be two moves ahead of most of them. Against Bangor, however, it was as though the Harwood forwards had suddenly seen the light. They plied Douglas with passes and then set off in search of the gaps in the Bangor defence; knowing that if they found space, the ball would reach them.’
They soon adjusted to life in the Northern Premier League where they were crossing swords with some of the leading non-league teams in the country, Wigan Athletic, Boston United and Altrincham to name just three.
The next game saw them travel to Goole Town, where Duggie scored both goals in a 2-1 win, and had the Reds looking towards the top of the table. With Derrick Keighley, the Chairman, putting plenty of his own money into the club, and with the vastly increased attendances, things were really on the up for Harwood. In the Floodlit Cup, they put paid to Chorley’s chances after a 2-0 win at the Showground.
‘Douglas goal clinches it for Harwood’
‘Harwood were never sure of getting in to the second round until Douglas clinched it in the last minute with a terrific 30 yarder which flew through the keeper’s hands and into the back of the net. The home side had very few chances, but Ian Hope made the most of one when he hammered in Harwood’s first, only eight minutes from time.’
Things were going great for Duggie at the beginning of his non-league career with Harwood but there was also the small matter of his testimonial game at Ewood to sort out. This took place on October 20th 1969 when Duggie’s team took on an International X1 at Ewood.
By this stage the attendances at Ewood rarely reached five figures but the public turned out in force to see our hero’s boys come from 6-3 down to win 10-6. The crowd of 16,851 not only ended up as the highest of the season, it was over 1,000 more than the next best, and they were treated to a festival of great football from players such as Tom Finney, Jimmy McIlroy, Geoff Hurst, Franny Lee and Colin Bell.
The testimonial fund eventually made £3,300 for Duggie, which was quite a tidy sum in the late ‘60’s. Even so, in those days, 35 to 40 year-old footballers retired from top class football, not from working altogether, and immediately after ‘retiring’, he took a stall on Blackburn market but his love for the club diminished not one iota.
The gradual decline of the Rovers was something that saddened him greatly and he had this to say about the grave situation at Ewood. “The future scares me. Everything looks black and that hurts me because I left part of my life with that club. The main reason I am worried is because the town is completely silent these days. Nobody talks about football any more – not about Rovers anyway. The whole thing has died. It’s tragic but people in these parts have waited so long for success. Now many people have given up hope of it ever returning. I have no regrets about spending my time with one club. It didn’t matter that I was missing European football or most of the glamour.”
He believed that Blackburn hopes of being a real force were dashed when their stars at the beginning of the ‘60’s failed to fulfil their promises, before moving on for more glory and bigger fortunes. “The lure of the big money was too great for them to refuse. All I can hope is that Blackburn have seen the warning signs. Other great clubs have been sunk without trace and Rovers have to fight to avoid that.”
Back at the Showground, things were looking decidedly rosy with our hero pulling most of the strings.
‘Opportunism’
‘A disputed goal from GREAT HARWOOD’S left winger, Hope, after 64 minutes following which Netherfield inside right Kershaw was sent off, apparently for arguing, settled a tough, exciting tussle at the Showground (writes Peter White). Two magnificent pieces of opportunism by Bryan Douglas gave Harwood a 2-0 lead but shortly before the interval, Parry reduced the arrears from the penalty spot. Netherfield fought hard to get on level terms but after Hope had made it 3-1 the result was never in doubt.’
‘Harwood make it three in a row’
‘Bryan Douglas was once again the architect of another Great Harwood victory. In the 24th and 29th minute, he was on the spot to head Harwood into a two-goal lead, then he teased and taunted Netherfield into total submission.’
Duggie continued to put as much effort and dedication into his Northern Premier League performances as he had done when playing for England, endearing him to the fans of not just Harwood, but everyone who had the pleasure of seeing him.
An early season fixture brought together another ex-Ewood reunion for ‘the showdown at the Showground’ in 1969 when Ronnie Clayton brought his Morecambe team to Harwood. Five former Rovers players were on show, Bob Jones, Chris Sims, Glyn Barker, Ronnie Clayton and Duggie contested the game but it was Harwood who finished on top thanks in no small way to the ‘one-and-only’.
‘Bryan and Ron both shine at Showground’
‘BUT IT’S HARWOOD WHO TAKE THE POINTS’
‘Two first half goals by Ian Hope gave a well-shuffled Great Harwood side victory over Morecambe on Saturday. But the visitors applied so much second half pressure that Harwood never seemed absolutely certain of grasping both points until the final whistle.
Although Harwood, masterminded by the dazzling Bryan Douglas, held strict control for the first half, it was the visitors who dominated the game after the interval with Clayton, now Morecambe’s player-manager reigning supreme in midfield. Douglas drew gasps of admiration of the 1,361 crowd (the second largest of the season) with the vintage footwork and the openings he created; two of which brought on the Harwood goals.’
The first came after 15 minutes when “Duggie”-drafted in for the first time this season on to the right wing-came into the middle, only to be viciously hacked down by Mitchell.
‘Atherton lobbed the free kick into the goalmouth where Barker, making his debut for Harwood, headed the ball onto Hope who leaped to hook the ball home.’
Hope scored a second before Lea pulled one back for the Shrimps and although Duggie was injured late on and had to be substituted, Harwood held on for the win. The win took the Reds up into 10th place having scored an impressive 14 goals in their 5 home games. Wigan Athletic were leading the table at the time, despite the setback of a 5-0 thrashing at Matlock Town in front of a superb crowd of over 3,000. This followed on from Wigan's previous away game at South Shields when almost 3,500 saw the game.
If the Latics were the team that everyone wanted to see, then Duggie was the player that the crowds turned up for, and many clubs recorded their best attendances of the season when Harwood were in town.
The Reds were settled nicely in the middle of the table after a quarter of the season but would they be able to put pressure on Wigan and Macclesfield at the top? Well, maybe some people were expecting a little too much in Harwood’s first season in the top flight and Scarborough in particular proved to be a bogey side, recording the ‘double’ with a goal aggregate of 13-1!
After 18 games, Harwood’s record was: 6 wins, 2 draws, and 10 defeats, leaving them in 16th place.
Without ‘breaking any pots’, the Reds were doing O.K. in their first season in the country’s leading non-league competition, the Northern Premier League, strong at home but weak away.
One such game where they showed their frailties was at Hyde United in the Cup when the Tigers won 7-1, but just a few weeks later, improved form saw Harwood seven places above them in the league table.
Next up were high-flying Macclesfield Town at the Showground and a season’s best of 1,596 turned up to see the clash. After a great game, Duggie and Harwood lost out narrowly.
‘Costly slips in Harwood thriller’
‘ON FOOTBALL merit alone, Great Harwood deserved at least a point from their thrilling five goal tussle with Macclesfield Town on Saturday. But instead, they were given a lesson on the facts of Premier League life, which they still do not seem to have grasped.
You cannot give a side like Macclesfield two gift goals and expect to win. And that is exactly what Harwood did.
A tremendous start, with Douglas, Hope and Barker weaving weaving wonderful patterns around the visitor’s defence saw Harwood storm into a two goal lead and set the Showground alight.
Hope, always on the alert for a half chance, seized on a rebound from a Macclesfield defender and drove the ball into the net for the first.
Then Barker, an intelligent thrusting leader, forced the second over the line after an inswinging from Hope had hit the bar.
The visitors were visibly shaken by the enthusiasm and skill of the Harwood side but kept their heads and were rewarded with two quick goals before the break. Keeper Jones misjudged a narrow angled cross shot from Fiddler for the first, then failed to hold on to a long shot from Roberts and Corfield, following up, rammed the ball gleefully into the net.
It was Macclesfield’s turn to call the tune.’
After the interval, a demoralised Harwood side fought bravely but Macclesfield got the winner midway through the second half through Lyon. Connelly hit the bar then Barker put the ball past the keeper only to see it rebound from the post. It was just not their day.
Next up was a 2nd Round Lancashire Senior Cup game at home to the mighty Wigan Athletic and what a significant game it turned out to be.
‘Almost 24 hours of continuous rain meant that the Showground pitch was treacherous on top and courage was worth nearly as much as skill. Harwood provided both in abundance.
It was a night made for heroes and none covered himself more in glory than John Woods, deputy for the injured Jones.
Several times, particularly in the second half when Wigan fought desperately to equalise Freeman’s early goal, he was called upon to dash from his goal and fling himself at the feet of the visiting forwards.
But Harwood had other heroes as well. Bryan Douglas played a commanding role both as an inspiring captain and a brilliant individualist. He kept his feet while his opponents floundered.
With Harwood hanging on to their narrow one goal lead midway through the second half, Duggie began to exert his influence and slow down the pace of the game to the tempo he wanted.
It was a nail-biting period for the Harwood supporters. But in fact it need never have been so.
Freeman missed two simple chances in the opening 15 minutes when he had only the goalkeeper to beat. In between however, he scored the first goal when Barker chased a long ball from defence and beat the Wigan keeper to it. Freeman merely had to put the ball into the empty net.
After the interval the defence came into their own with Redhead, Jackson and Sims in great form. When Wigan found a way past them, Woods was there.
Eight minutes from the end, however, a huge roar of relief signalled the second goal. Douglas took a quick free kick on the left wing to Hope, who immediately moved inside. He put the ball low and hard into the penalty area where Barker turned it back to Connelly. The winger made no mistake with a low shot from the edge of the penalty area that flew through a crowd of players before nestling in the corner of the net.’ And their reward?
‘United at Showground !’
‘OH WHAT A PLUM FOR HARWOOD’
‘THAT tremendous cup-fighting spirit that took Great Harwood on their FA Cup run two seasons ago, carried them through to another chance of glory on Monday night when they earned the right to a third round tie in the Lancashire Senior Cup with Manchester United.’
In the late sixties, things were very different from nowadays and United would take the game very seriously.
After the draw, football fever hit the town.
‘Great Harwood are naturally overjoyed at their home pairing with Manchester United in the next round and Chairman Derrick Keighley said: “It’s the kind of thing you often joke about with the lads but never dream that it will happen. Now it has, it’s wonderful.” ’
The game attracted a record attendance of 5,397 and they weren’t disappointed as Harwood took on a team brimming with household names who just eighteen months earlier had lifted the European Cup. Kidd, Sadler, Morgan, Givens, Gowling, Crerand, Rimmer, Satori and co. helped United win the game 8-1, as their superior fitness saw them pull away in the second half. Ian Hope’s equalising goal was the highlight of the evening for the Harwood faithful. United’s goals were scored by Morgan, Givens and Gowling, who all hit two, Satori and Watson.
Throughout the 69/70 campaign Duggie and Harwood continued to thrill and entertain the crowds at places as far away as Morecambe, South Shields, Boston and Bangor with our own superstar being the biggest ‘draw’ in non-league football.
A mid table finish was achieved despite many long term injuries being suffered by key players, most notably, brilliant keeper Bob Jones, who broke his thumb making a great save. Player/Manager John Bray was replaced during the season as Harwood struggled to keep away from the ‘re-election’ zone. In fact, it was only a late rally during the final ten games of the season, which saved them from that embarrassing situation. Chairman Derrick Keighley refused to settle for anything other than a team challenging for honours, and never one to rest on his laurels, wanted to do even better the following season in an effort to gain glory for his ‘unfashionable’ Harwood. In July, manager Tom Cummings made a great effort to sign former Burnley, Blackpool and Barnsley player Jimmy Robson, but the ex-Claret opted to stay in the Football League by signing for Bury.
Accrington Stanley, risen from the ashes a couple of years earlier, were on their way back and were now competing in the Lancashire Combination League, but Harwood triumphed 2-1 in a pre-season friendly although the local press were still rather nervous about the prospects.
‘Great Harwood will face financial disaster if they can not improve on last season’
‘No new faces at the club but everyone is confident’
The Accrington Observer had this to say:
‘Great Harwood Football Club is at the crossroads. While loyal supporters greet the new season with the attitude that the team can’t do much worse and therefore there will be an improvement, it should be pointed out that Harwood could do worse-they could be relegated!’
Harwood were going into the season with 16 semi-professionals but with Accrington Stanley now competing in the Lancashire Combination, crowds
were expected to fall. Many people from Accrington had travelled to Harwood the previous season as the Reds competed with the cream of English non-league football, but now with their ‘own’ team on the up, they had a viable alternative.
Duggie had suffered at the hands of some uncompromising defenders during the previous campaign and a few people were sceptical about his determination to succeed at NPL level. The critics were soon made to eat their words.
‘Any doubts about the fitness or stamina of former England international Bryan Douglas were dispelled on Monday in a pre-season friendly match with Rossendale which Harwood won 4-1.’
Season 1970/71 began with Harwood competing in no less than 9 competitions and would play over 60 games even if they failed to progress in any of the cup campaigns. The defence was one area which needed to be tightened up as the club didn’t want a start to the campaign like the previous one where they conceded ten goals in their first three games. The first day of the season proved to Harwood that they would have to excel if they were to keep the Showground attendances above the 1,000 mark. Accrington Stanley drew over 800 spectators to their opening home game on the same day as Harwood recorded a 2-1 victory over Lancaster City, Shaw bagging both goals. The next game, three days later, saw Harwood thrashed 4-1 at Netherfield, despite taking the lead through Morris. Four days later the Reds travel to highly rated Stafford Rangers knowing that a similar performance would mean another heavy defeat-enter the ‘Genius’!
A great Duggie inspired performance saw Harwood come away with a morale boosting 1-1 draw with Hope scoring the goal. Here’s what the Accrington Observer had to say: ‘The team is at last responding to the promptings of Bryan Douglas.’ ‘A free kick was awarded on the edge of the box and Douglas bent the ball round the wall in true Pele style only to hit the post with the keeper having no chance.’
There was still a need to tighten up the defence so Derrick Keighley just signed up an ex-England captain. The Harwood Chairman produced an amazing coup when the great Duggie was joined at the Showground by another of the greatest players that had ever played for England – never mind Rovers and Harwood! Ronnie Clayton, ex-Blackburn Rovers and England captain, who had been managing Morecambe the previous season, had found the travelling to the North of the County almost every day, together with the running of his newsagents shop in Darwen, too much to cope with, and welcomed a move ‘back home’. Now the team was full of ex-Rovers players who still possessed the hunger to succeed wherever they played and success was just around the corner. Harwood enjoyed a reasonable start to their
League campaign but it was the F.A.Cup where the team really hit the headlines that season. In the 1st qualifying round, Leyland Motors came to the Showground and were despatched without too many problems. The programme notes reminisced about the excellent F.A.Cup run, which the club enjoyed two seasons previously.
‘Today’s game rekindles memories of our successful and record breaking run in this competition, when we went into the hat for the draw for the first round proper for the first time. In 1967 we played Leyland at home and won 3-0 before winning at Netherfield 2-1, and beating Lancaster City 3-1 at home, before losing to Altrincham on a Tuesday afternoon 1-0, in front of over 3,500 spectators.’
The victory set up a 2nd round clash with Lancaster City in an amazing repetition of that earlier cup run. Before that though, there was important NPL business to take care of. In Ronnie Clayton’s first game, the defence did indeed tighten up and the Reds came from behind to win 2-1 at Northwich Victoria, Duggie setting up the
equaliser for Hart. Goole Town were then despatched back to Lincolnshire after suffering a 6-2 mid-week thrashing at the Showground. Goals from Hope (3), Beardall, Shaw and Huddleston put Harwood into the top four. Saturday saw Bradford Park Avenue visit the Showground for the first time after they had been relegated from the Football League the previous season. The visitors line-up included Terry Dolan who went on to become a successful Football League manager with Huddersfield Town amongst others. In the Harwood line-up was their latest signing…….Roy Vernon, yet another ‘superstar’, ex-Rovers, Everton and Wales legend.
The Great Harwood public must have been rubbing their eyes in disbelief. Beardall put Harwood on their way before Duggie set up Vernon for a debut goal, but incredibly, Bradford hit back with three goals in the final nine minutes. Harwood enjoyed their record NPL gate with 1,733 turning up to see a great game.
The next game in the F.A.Cup was the 2nd qualifying round game at Lancaster City who had been anxious to sign Harwood’s latest recruit, Roy Vernon, themselves. That game ended in a draw with the Harwood team of: Jones, Bright, Jackson, Huddleston, Proctor, Sims, Douglas, Shaw, Beardall, Vernon, Hope. Ronnie Clayton was missing after being carried off at Scarborough with a back injury during a League Cup tie. Sims was the Harwood hero after hitting their only goal.
The replay took place on the following Thursday as Harwood were already involved in a County Cup game on the Tuesday. Lancaster were duly beaten as the skilful home forwards tore the visitors defence to shreds. The victory was achieved even without Duggie who was out injured. A crowd of 1,504 witnessed a 3-0 win thanks to a brace form Beardall and one from Vernon. There were some rather ‘fishy’ goings on at the Showground that night as Lancaster had a Haddock, Herring and Roach in their line-up!! The next game saw Harwood take on….Lancaster City at the Giant Axe where a single Hope strike was enough to secure both points. Despite that rare clean sheet, Harwood’s defensive frailties continued to show. Goals from Hope and Beardall weren’t enough to beat lowly Kirkby Town as the team had to settle for a point at the Showground. Leading scorer Hope was again on target at Matlock Town but the Reds went down 3-1.
Penrith were next to feel the full force of the Harwood attack when they visited in the next round of the FA Cup, and they were brushed aside with consummate ease, despite the 3-2 scoreline. Over 1,000 saw Jackson, Beardall and Hope hit the goals. A home draw with Netherfield and a 3-1 defeat at Scarboro followed, Shaw scoring both gaols, and he was on target again in the next game at bottom of the table Kirkby Town. His goal after just 75 seconds looked like being enough until the home side equalised in the fourth minute of injury time. A cup game against Leyland Motors saw Duggie once again hitting the headlines. ‘Then Douglas mesmerised the entire Leyland defence, sending them one way and then the other before touching it into the net. He also missed a penalty but it didn’t matter as Harwood won 5-2. Back to the League, and Morecambe provided entertaining opposition at the Showground where another excellent attendance of 1,634 saw the teams share four goals. Proctor and Vernon scored the goals but some cynical play by the visitors saw Duggie fouled repeatedly. The goals kept going in both ends with a 4-2 defeat at Altrincham coming next. Vernon and Beardall scored but the Welshman missed a penalty with the score at 3-2.
With plenty of goals to see at Harwood games, plus the array of World class talent, the crowds continued to flock to the Showground, and cup fever was descending in the town.
If the coincidence of playing both Leyland and Lancaster in the F.A.Cup wasn’t enough, the final qualifying round saw the Reds pitched against Altrincham in a repeat of the cup run from two years previous. This time though, Harwood were drawn away from home, and with the home side’s great reputation for cup football, they faced a mountain to climb. The clubs had met four times previously and ‘Alty’ had won the lot.
Chairman Derrick Keighley was making the same kind of plea that a certain programme editor would be making 35 years on. “We will again be running coaches, as the demand requires, for the Altincham cup-tie – but please book NOW. Let’s have plenty of support for our lads, and let yourselves be heard and seen – we can tell you that the players really appreciate your encouragement.” Altrincham had ended Harwood’s previous best run in the FA Cup but this time the Reds were a team full of players well used to the big occasion and they were backed by hundreds of travelling supporters.
The game ended in a 1-1 draw, Beardall again on target, with goalkeeper Bob Jones taking the plaudits. ‘Improved Harwood go into 1st Round draw’ ‘Concussed Jones gives great display’ Jones had been injured making one of a number of great saves and despite being concussed and seeing double for much of the second half, he stayed on the field to see the Reds hold on. Harwood won the replay two days later 2-1. 1,865 witnessed Shaw, with his 100th Harwood goal, and Beardall put them through to a 1st Round tie at home to 3rd Division Rotherham United.
‘Geoff ‘ton-up’ Shaw rocked the Robins (Altrincham)’ screamed the headlines.
Ronnie Clayton was now back from injury and the Reds were going from strength to strength. For the first time in the club’s history, they had reached the 1st Round proper of the F.A.Cup, thanks in no small way to Duggie, Clayton and Vernon.
The games came fast and furious. In the Floodlit League, Milnethorpe were beaten 7-1 and 1-0, and goals from McDowell, Hope and Bright put paid to Northwich Victoria’s chances of progressing in the competition. Goals from Vernon(2), McDowell and Beardall helped them to a 4-2 win at home to Runcorn and the next evening saw them lose 5-0 to Cheshire League Rossendale United in the Lancs. Combination Floodlit League!
One of the most remarkable weeks in the club’s history was about to take place, and it wasn’t the FA Cup game!
With the ridiculous number of games taking place, the odd ‘freak’ result was bound to happen, but no one could have foreseen the week which saw Harwood travel to Oldham Athletic in midweek, before taking on Stafford Rangers the following Saturday.
At Boundary Park, the Reds had played some good football in the 1st half and McDowell was unfortunate with a good effort after having been put through by Duggie. Bright had also shot just wide and Beardall had had two good efforts. With a blank scoreline at the break, hopes were high of pulling off a shock result- and a shock is exactly what happened in the 2nd period! Oldham opened the scoring in the 51st minute and proceeded to score another eight times to leave the Harwood players and supporters shell-shocked.
With a tough home game against Stafford Rangers next on the agenda, things weren’t about to get any easier, and the fireworks started after just three minutes. Bailey put the visitors ahead before two goals in two minutes from Jones and Williams seemed to put the game beyond doubt with only 11 minutes on the clock! Before 20 minutes of the game had passed, Bailey had completed his hat-trick to leave Harwood 5 down. The free scoring Beardall pulled back a consolation after 29 minutes, and Hope missed a good chance before Duggie put Jackson through only for the Harwood player to shoot wide. With only 34 minutes gone, Williams scored his second and Stafford’s sixth, and completed his hat-trick just a minute into the second half.
The team was now looking at a bigger thrashing than they’d received at Oldham as the defence was ‘caught napping time after time.’ Roy Vernon scored Harwood’s second with 22 minutes remaining, and 7 minutes later Jim Beardall made it 7-3. Five minutes on and Freeman hit Harwood’s fourth. Vernon then scored his second of the game to leave Harwood trailing by just two goals with 7 minutes left. It was now like the ‘Alamo’ as Harwood swarmed all over the visitors and only two goal line clearances stopped the Reds from salvaging a point.

‘Great revival after seven goal pounding’
‘HARWOOD’S SECOND HALF FIGHT BACK ALMOST EARNS MIRACLE POINT’
‘I doubt if there are sufficient adjectives in the English language to describe this Premier League game on Saturday. To say it have everything would perhaps be an understatement.’
A similar defensive performance in the FA Cup tie against Rotherham would surely spell disaster.
Duggie was now looking forward to the biggest game since he joined Harwood from the Rovers, and he wasn’t alone. Jones, Jackson, Sims, Clayton, Douglas and Vernon were all ex-Ewood players who were expected to line up against the Millers. Not too long ago, Harwood were struggling in the Lancs Combination and were lucky if they attracted fifty spectators, yet now they were a team full of ex-Internationals expecting a 5,500 record attendance.
The weather leading up to the game had been awful with heavy rain falling regularly.
Mr. Dave Richardson, who was on the Football League supplementary list of referees, was called in to make an early morning inspection of the pitch and he passed it fit to play. With a forecast of sun and wind, there appeared to be no problem, but when the match referee arrived, he called the game off at 1-20. The many supporters who turned up were far from happy, especially the 700 from Rotherham.
The Harwood officials and local press also gave the referee some stick, which appeared to be quite justified as not a single game in the Accrington Combination was postponed. Worse was to come though as the Rotherham manager cast doubts about the quality of the Showground’s floodlights and insisted that the replay take place on the following Tuesday afternoon. The Harwood players were all part time and would have to get time off work, as would the supporters. Needless to say, there was nothing like 5,500 at the re-arranged game although the official attendance isn’t known.
Before the game, the Observer had warned Harwood about the Rotherham danger man, Dave Watson-soon to become a Manchester City legend. Although playing at centre half, he was the Yorkshire club’s leading scorer and was almost unbeatable in the air. The game started at a furious pace and after only 6 minutes the Showground erupted when leading scorer Beardall put the Reds in front. Bentley equalised 10 minutes later before Fantham put Rotherham in front 60 seconds on. With Harwood’s strong attack always looking dangerous, it was no surprise when Duggie set up Vernon to make it 2-2. Four minutes later, the powerful Dave Watson headed United back in front and in the second half the skill and superior fitness of the full timers took it’s toll. A Watson drive, Fantham’s second, and a sixth scored by future Burnley manager Jimmy Mullen was the least that the visitors deserved as they outclassed their non-league opponents. Watson was the undoubted man of the match as Duggie had one of his quieter games.
‘Outclassed, outplayed, and out of the cup’
‘BUT GALLANT HARWOOD GO DOWN FIGHTING’
The Harwood line up was:
Jones, Bright, Sims, Clayton, Proctor, Freeman, Douglas, McDowell, Beardall, Vernon and Hope.
After the great FA Cup run of 1970 had ended, Duggie and the boys settled down to the bread and butter of the Northern Premier League.
A goal from Beardall gave the Reds a fine 1-1 draw at home to Scarboro, a team who’d put thirteen goals past hapless Harwood in the two league games during the previous season. In the many cup competitions that Harwood competed in, Chorley beat them 2-0 at Victory Park, and Buxton won 3-2 in Derbyshire. The last eight NPL games had yielded just four points and the good FA Cup run, coupled together with a wet winter meant that a huge backlog of fixtures was building up.
For the second time in a couple of weeks, a game at the Showground was called off around an hour before kick off. Bangor City’s players and supporters had already made the long journey, and a large crowd had gathered by the time the game was called off. Not only that, as the Chairman explained, there was also the not so small matter of 500 unsold pies, money which the club could ill afford with the high wage bill. Two days later, Buxton travelled to the Showground and with another large crowd already in the ground, it was thrown into darkness when a power workers ‘work to rule’ caused a power cut just minutes before kick off. At least the away games were going ahead but despite a brace apiece from the prolific duo Hope and Beardall, Harwood could only manage a point at South Liverpool.
Just before Christmas, high flying Boston United came to the Showground, and although well below their best, won 4-0. The attendance was the lowest NPL crowd of the season at the Showground, just over 500, which had Chairman Keighley both angry and worried. Neighbours Accrington Stanley who had started the season in a blaze of glory, had also seen their crowds drop drastically, from almost 1,000 to only 220 against Clitheroe on the same afternoon.
Next up was the LFA Floodlit Cup and finally Harwood managed a home win. Vernon(2), Morris and Beardall scored in a 4-1 win. Duggie was switched to the right wing and it paid dividends as he enjoyed his best performance of the season.
The final game of the year saw the Reds travel to Boston where they must have feared the worse after the previous week’s debacle. The pitch was covered in a fairly deep layer of snow but thankfully the game went ahead, and they produced their best defensive display of the campaign to draw 0-0. The result was all the more remarkable as Shaw was sent off for retaliation after 63 minutes.
By early January, Harwood had already played 43 games, with goals flying in at both ends. As well as the 9-0 defeat at Oldham, the Reds had also enjoyed a 9-1 win in one of the minor cup competitions. But the Great Harwood public only seemed to be interested in a winning team and the attendances continued to drop.
Would the fabulous attacking play of Duggie, Vernon , Beardall & Co. be enough to change the club’s fortunes?
Despite the great entertainment, Harwood’s poor results continued and they found themselves rather too close to the relegation zone for comfort. Derrick Keighley had this to say in the Accrington Observer: “These low attendances are the road to bankruptcy.” He warned that continuing low ‘gates’ at NPL games could spell the end for the club. “The affairs of the club could not be run if the low ‘gates’ of the last two matches were repeated in the future.” ‘Only 567 turned up at the Showground on December 19th when attractive visitors Boston United were the opposition,’ reported the Observer. ‘Unfortunately Great Harwood chose this day to put on possibly their worst display of the season and were well beaten four goals to nil. On the following Thursday only half of those (260) returned to watch the side take on Morecambe in the Lancashire FA Floodlit Cup. Although Harwood gave a much-improved performance in beating the Seasiders 4-1, less than a thousand people turned up last Monday when Macclesfield Town – one of the most attractive teams in the Premier League – were the visitors. Mr. Keighley blames the apathy on the 1st Round FA Cup defeat by Rotherham in November. Boston was the first home game for a month and receipts were £72, a far cry from the early season crowds of 1,500.’
January 16th gave Duggie and his colleagues a chance to re-kindle the season when they took on Burscough in the FA Trophy. The previous season had seen Harwood enter the competition for the 1st time. Then, they drew 2-2 at Denaby, before goals from McDowell, Hope and Duggie saw them triumph 3-2 in the replay. The next round saw them lose 3-1 at home to Grantham Town. This season they had a great chance of progressing against a team well below them in the non-league world. But once again, the defence let them down.
Great Harwood 2 Burscough 3.
‘A sad day as Harwood throw away a needed win’
‘CONSEQUENCES COULD BE FAR REACHING’
‘There have been plenty of unhappy moments in Great Harwood’s 96 year
history, but Saturday’s defeat at the hands of Burscough in the FA Challenge Trophy must be one of the worst of the lot. Not only did the Showgrounders throw the game away, but they lost the invaluable chance of a money-spinning run in the competition.’ Vernon and Beardall were both missing through injury, but the Reds still came from behind to lead. Yet even after the West Lancs side had had a player sent off, they allowed them to score twice in 5 minutes to win the game.’
The supporters were not impressed and ‘hundreds were streaming out of the ground before the end.’
On a slightly lighter note, the same afternoon produced a fantastic score in the local league, proving that the Showground wasn’t the only place to see plenty of goals. Howard & Bulloughs 1 Oswaldtwistle Rovers 25.
With the defence leaking faster than the Titanic, it looked bleak for Duggie and the boys.
Towards the bottom of the NPL, out of the FA Cup and FA Trophy, and attendances falling away badly. The opening fixture of 1971 saw Harwood face the daunting task of a trip to Springfield Park to take on the mighty Wigan Athletic. A goal from Duggie wasn’t enough and the Latics ran out easy 3-1 winners. Now the press were beginning to turn on the manager and players, and with the team not having won a league game since October 17th, it wasn’t too surprising. Manager Tom Cummings was accused of not picking the best side after the defence and midfield had let the team down consistently yet still found themselves in the starting line up. Another loss, this time at Northwich did nothing to stop the critics as Harwood players resorted to petty squabbles on the pitch, with individuals blaming each other. By the end of the month, it seemed as though things could only get better, and they did, at least for one game! The Reds travelled to highly placed Fleetwood, and defied all the odds by winning 6-1, with Duggie pulling all the strings.
‘This was more like the real Harwood in six-goal display at Fleetwood’
‘The architects of this fine win were former internationals Bryan Douglas and Roy Vernon. Douglas never put a foot wrong, beating his man with consummate ease. He tormented the home defence so much that they must have groaned every time he got the ball. Vernon stroked the ball about over the mud and set up numerous chances with great through passes. And the third Great Harwood ex-international, Ronnie Clayton, marshalled his defence superbly to contain the Fleetwood forwards. And the man who finished things off-Ian Hope-who grabbed four goals-came right back to form. Peter Jackson opened the scoring after 21 minutes with a great 30-yarder and that’s the way it stayed until 4 minutes after the break. Then, Hope received the ball in his own half before embarking upon a wonderful solo run to put Harwood two up. After an hours play, he set off on a similar run which was ended when he was fouled in the box. Hope himself tucked away the spot kick before Fleetwood retaliated in the 76th minute. The prolific Jim Beardall made it 4-1 a minute later to end any ideas that the home side might have had about a comeback. Three minutes from time, Hope completed his hat trick, and after Duggie had been scythed down in the box, Hope made it 6-1 in the final minute. Despite the victory, Harwood’s first NPL win for three months, manager Bob Cummings was feeling the pressure and quit as boss the following week. The official explanation was that he ‘relinquished his post due to pressure of business’ but he would surely have been replaced sooner rather than later due to the team’s indifferent form..
Two days after Cumming’s resignation, Bob Jones took over as manager but the next game at Altrincham produced another poor performance and another defeat. Good news was just around the corner though as the NPL announced that no club would be relegated at the end of the season. A trip to bottom side Runcorn gave the Reds the chance to get things moving, but yet another disappointing display ended with Runcorn enjoying a rare win, by two goals to one. The ‘Observer’ didn’t hold back in its criticism of the players:
‘NOW HARWOOD MUST MAKE CHANGES ON THE PLAYING SIDE’
‘After this Harwood display at Runcorn on Saturday, the sooner changes on the playing side are made the better. If the ball wasn’t put on their toes then they didn’t want to know. Another fault was the slap happy way Harwood attempted to pass the ball. For most of the match it seemed as though players were closing their eyes before kicking the ball.’ Duggie was missing from the line –up.
Typifying the season, the next game saw Harwood gain a tremendous 2-1 home victory over Altrincham in one of the cup competitions, before losing the next game 2-0 to Wigan. Draws at Goole and South Liverpool gave the team something to build on, and a 6-2 win over Goole, plus a fine 2-2 home draw with Wigan meant that Bob Jones appeared to be weaving his magic. But the ridiculous number of competitions that Harwood were competing in finally took its toll at Morecambe. With their fourth game in seven days, the Reds lost 2-0 and according to the Accrington Observer,
‘The team could hardly raise a canter’.
Lowly Kirkby Town were the next visitors to the Showground and with heavy rain and a freezing wind, the game was abandoned after 73 minutes with the score at 1-1. A 2-1 defeat at South Shields followed with Duggie setting up the Harwood goal for Shaw. If results had been indifferent so far, March was to bring a new crisis to the club as first they lost 5-0 at Gainsborough Trinity, and followed that up with a 5-0 home defeat by Fleetwood, a side which they had beaten 6-1 just a few weeks earlier. The middle of the month arrived with Harwood having gone 6 months without a home NPL win, but bottom of the league Runcorn came to the Showground giving Duggie and the boys the perfect opportunity to give the home supporters something to cheer. A Vernon goal looked like being a mere consolation for the Reds until a late Duggie penalty saved a point for Harwood.
A Floodlit Cup match against struggling Kirkby at the Showground saw Harwood race into a two goal lead within 8 minutes though goals from Beardall and Vernon, but as usual, the defence and midfield collapsed as Harwood were beaten 4-2.
Despite scoring plenty of goals, the defence stumbled from one disastrous performance to the next.
Towards the end of the March 1971, Harwood finally managed their first home win in the NPL for over six months as Matlock Town were beaten 2-0, and no prizes for guessing who was the architect of the victory.
‘A good run and shot by Bryan Douglas was pushed away for a corner by the Matlock keeper. Douglas was in action again shortly afterwards with a shot, which beat Hawley in the Matlock goal all the way and flashed an inch the wrong side of the post. Douglas jinked his way through before giving it to McDowell who neatly brought the ball down and slammed it into the back of the net.’
Thanks in no small way to the great play of Duggie, Vernon and Beardall had amassed fifty goals between them in all competitions, and with Hope and Shaw also scoring freely, it was obvious which part of the team was letting the side down, evident again in the next game at home to South Shields.
Bright gave Harwood the lead but the North Easterners hit back with three goals for an easy victory.
A Hope goal at Bradford Park Avenue was a mere consolation as Harwood lost again, this time 2-1. A Huddleston goal helped the Reds to a draw 1-1 at home to Altrincham before a fantastic win at NPL leaders and current FA Trophy holders Macclesfield Town. Showing their usual attacking ability, coupled together with a rare fine defensive performance, Malone, Beardall and Huddleston scored the goals that secured a great 3-2 victory.
Despite Duggie and Vernon being absent for the following game, Harwood gained their second consecutive victory with a 2-1 win over Gainsborough Trinity. Sadly, the lowest league crowd of the season witnessed the victory; just 383 saw Beardall and Shaw score the goals. At this point there was no stopping Beardall and five days later he hit a hat trick in a home game against Bangor City, but even this wasn’t enough to bring Harwood any points as the visitors won 4-3, to end a season of disappointment for Great Harwood FC.
A fine start, plenty of goals, international stars on show and the best FA Cup run in the club’s history should have spelt success, but the public were far from impressed with the inconsistency of the team, and voted with their feet. A miserly total of 29 points was all that the team could muster throughout the season.
A high wage bill and dwindling attendances meant that changes would inevitably have to be made, but no one could have foreseen the massive changes that would take place at the end of the season.
Shock waves struck the Showground when it was announced that;
‘Harwood release ex-international players’
‘Former internationals Bryan Douglas and Ronnie Clayton have been released by Great Harwood FC. Manager Bob Jones is hanging up his boots although he will remain in charge of team affairs. Douglas, I understand, is hoping to remain in football, possibly with a league club. Mr. Jones said that he was very sorry that Douglas, Clayton and Sims were leaving the Showground. “They have given valuable service to the club,” he said. “Roy Vernon-the third member of the ex-international trio-will be playing for Great Harwood next season.”
Despite the newspaper report, Duggie decided that after spending the whole of his full time career at Ewood with the club he loved, a move to another league club would not be advantageous to him or his family, and there was no way that he would leave the area to pursue a career which may only have lasted another couple of years.
Duggie’s two-season stint at the Showground was at an end. A massive blow not only to the Harwood fans, but also to the supporters of all the other Northern Premier League clubs who came out in droves when Harwood were the visitors. The decision to release him certainly seemed a strange one, as it had been perfectly clear for the previous two years that the forward line was the only area of the team which didn’t need changing. Duggie did in fact retire from the game, and with the incredible number of games that Harwood played in those two seasons, he would now finally be able to spend much more time with Joyce, Stephen, now 13, and Graham 10.
In a fabulous career lasting 17 years, he had travelled all over the world, played against and beaten some of the greatest players and teams of the time, played for his beloved Blackburn Rovers for the whole of his full time professional career, played in World Cups….well, it just goes on and on. A legend and household name not just in East Lancs, but throughout the world. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever see such a fantastic player stay at one club for so long, and even more unlikely that a World Superstar will ever play for Harwood again.
After football, he worked on a market stall, although the emergence of supermarkets did him no favours. He then spent a couple of years on a business venture that bore no fruits, worked for Dave Whelan for a while, before spending 18 years at the Star Paper Mill in Feniscowles, a time which he enjoyed immensely.
Duggie still lives in Darwen and is a regular at Ewood Park, along with his very good friend Ronnie Clayton. His greatest moments in the game were:
Winning promotion with the Rovers in 1958, his international debut, playing in the final stages of two world cups, and each time the Rovers beat Burnley. The low points were the FA Cup final defeat in 1960, and each time the Rovers lost at Burnley. His favourite other team is Manchester City and current players who excite him are Paul Scholes and Michael Owen. The best ground that Duggie’s played on has to be Wembley Stadium and his favourite all time players are Tom Finney and Peter Doherty.
There are plenty of things in the modern game that really get on our hero’s nerves, and I’m sure that there’ll be plenty of you nodding in agreement. Seeing current footballers dying their hair (Book me into the salon Pierre!). Wearing vests under their shirts (Ooh, isn’t it cold!). Taking drinks during the game (Can’t wait until the half time cuppa), and kissing their shirts (seven days before leaving for another club!) Many of the players are hypocrites.
Duggie has many happy memories of his time at the Showground. Reaching the first round of the F.A. Cup was a great landmark. The team spirit and general friendliness of all the players and staff during his two years at Harwood. “I enjoyed every minute there and am still friends with many of the former players from that time.” The best opponent that he crossed swords with whilst playing for Harwood was Dave Watson, the Rotherham United and future England centre half. During his entire career, he obviously has some great memories.
The most embarrassing moment was when he scored an own goal against arch-enemies Burnley at the Darwen End, but it all ended in smiles as the Rovers triumphed 3-2.
He remembers the Rovers first game back in the top division in 1958 when they travelled to Newcastle and wiped the floor with the home team, winning 5-1.
Jimmy Scholar was an uncompromising defender who you only got past once-the next time you tried it; you were likely to wake up in a hospital bed! Duggie remembers Roy Vernon running circles round the Magpie’s top man before finally being ‘kicked into orbit’. “Try that again and I’ll make you look so bad that you won’t be in the reserves next week,” shouted the Welsh wizard. In the return game a few weeks later, Scholar was gunning for Roy and at the first opportunity, kicked him senseless. A dazed Vernon finally got to his feet and walked over to the ‘Rottweiller’ in the black and white striped shirt and said, “You might be an old b******, but there’s nothing wrong with your memory!”

Nowadays, Duggie enjoys DIY, bowls, and watching all sports. He also likes travel and holidays, the last ten of which have been spent cruising. Bryan and Joyce love this type of holiday, as they’re able to visit so many places during the one vacation. Long may the Douglas family enjoy their football and holidays - they’ve deserved it. It’s been an absolute joy researching the career of Bryan Douglas and I hope that everyone has enjoyed reading the story.

BRYAN DOUGLAS

BLACKBURN ROVERS
GREAT HARWOOD
& ENGLAND

Great Harwood ‘legend’

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