Club Legend – Don Welsh

don welsh liverpool manager

George Kay was the manager that brought the First Division title back to Anfield in the wake of the Second World War, also seeing the club reach the final of the FA Cup for only the second time in Liverpool’s history. It is fair to say, therefore, that his were quite big boots to fill.

He retired in the January of 1951 because of health reasons, with the Reds moving to persuade Don Welsh to leave Brighton & Hove Albion in order to take over at Anfield, which they eventually succeeded in doing on the fifth of March 1951. Having been a guest player for Liverpool during the Second World War, it was hoped he knew the club and what was expected of him.

Sadly for Welsh, he took over a Liverpool team that had been less than impressive at the tail end of Kay’s time in the dugout, with the trip to Wembley Stadium being the exception rather than the rule. The team was far too dependent on Billy Liddell, meaning that if other sides were able to nullify his threat then the Reds were pretty blunt.

He struggled to get any sort of consistency into the team and in 1954 the unthinkable happened, with Liverpool being relegated for the first time in more than 50 years. To rub salt into the wounds, Everton were promoted back into the top-flight at the same time, meaning Welsh is unlikely to be one of the best-remembered of managers.

A Decent Player

Donald Welsh was born in Manchester in the 25th of February 1911. He began his playing career at Torquay United, doing enough to impress Charlton Athletic, who paid £3,250 to secure his signature in 1935. Standing at six foot he was a versatile player, managing equally well on the inside left as he did in the centre forward position.

The fact that he also played in the centre-half and centre-left position meant that he was seen as something if a Swiss Army knife of a player, being made Charlton captain. It was whilst he was the club’s captain that he oversaw the club’s promotion from the Third Division to the Second and then into the First Division.

In 1938, Welsh was given his first England cap in a match against Germany. He also played for the Three Lions against Switzerland and Romania, scoring against the latter in a game in 1939. On top of that, Welsh was also given eight unofficial caps during the Wartime period, which was also when he made what were known as guest appearances for both Charlton and Liverpool.

This is because the matches weren’t official ones and teams just used any players that were available to play during the Second World War. He ended up scoring 100 goals in 119 of these unofficial games for Charlton and 43 goals in 40 games for Liverpool.

During his time playing in the War, Welsh led Charlton to two War Cup finals, seeing them defeat Chelsea in the second successive one of these in 1944. In the nine games that he played for England during the War he scored 12 goals in nine games, which included all four goals in a 4-0 win over Wales in 1940.

When the War ended he went back to Charlton officially, captaining them as they played in the FA Cup final in both 1946 and 1947, with the latter seeing the club win the trophy thanks a victory over Burnley. Having made 199 official league appearances and scored 44 goals, Welsh left Charlton in 1947 in order to begin his managerial career.

Becoming a Manager

In the November of 1947, Don Welsh took up the manager’s position at Brighton & Hove Albion. A 36-year-old at the time, Brighton ended up bottom of the Third Division South at the end of that campaign, but the fact that there was no automatic relegation in place and the difficult of one club to be elected to the Football League in place of another meant that Brighton remained in the division.

Welsh’s management got going in the seasons that followed, leading Brighton to a sixth finish in his first full season as the gaffer before following that up with an eighth place the season after. It was enough to encourage Liverpool to try to persuade him to leave his life in the South of England and return back up North, close to his Manchester home.

In spite of the fact that Mancunians and Scousers don’t always mix well, Liverpool must have felt that the success of George Kay, who had also been born in Manchester, put paid to that idea. As a result, they gave him the job on the fifth of March 1951, although he remained Brighton & Hove Albion manager until the 21st of the month.

His contract was a three-page letter on headed note-paper, with copper-plate script doubled up providing his official letter of employment and confirming that he would be paid £1,500 a year for three years, with another £500 being put on top of that for any expenses he might incur in the job.

A New Liverpool Manager

Welsh hadn’t applied for the Liverpool job, instead being approached to take over the position and finding out the day after his interview that he’d got the role. His first aim was the make training less monotonous, looking to cut out the seemingly endless laps of the track at the training ground that they had been doing under Kay.

He wanted to make training more fun, with the players keeping fit thanks to recreational games such as tunnel ball and leap-frog. The team that he’s inherited couldn’t be described as the best Liverpool side that there had ever been, however. They had finished mid-table for several seasons, albeit with an FA Cup final appearance thrown in.

It wasn’t just on the pitch where the problems existed, either. The board was entirely unambitious, doing little to replace the goals of Jack Balmer and Albert Stubbins and instead depending on the mercurial talents of Billy Liddell. Even the Scotsman couldn’t do much to stop Liverpool’s decline, however, and signings in the December did little to stop the bleeding.

The Reds signed David Underwood from Watford, Frank Lock and John Evans from Charlton Athletic and Tommy McNulty from Manchester United all for around £45,000, but the only signing that would make a difference to the club in the long-term was Geoff Twentyman from Carlisle.

Relegation & Resignation

The season came to end with Liverpool having won just 28 points, resulting in the club being relegated out of the First Division for the first time in over 50 years. With Everton being promoted back to the top-flight at the same time, supporters weren’t happy. Welsh, though, was reasonably optimistic, saying,

“They were good signings, but they came in at a bad time. Things were bad and confidence was low. Now for a new start, with all the players pulling together. From the Chairman right down to the youngest member of the ground staff, we are all resolved to win promotion in one season.”

It might have been their resolve, but it didn’t happen.

The board allowed Welsh to keep his job, but a 9-1 loss to the eventual Second Division champions Birmingham City meant that confidence wasn’t high and the Reds finished the campaign in 11th place. Welsh looked to spend money in order to try to improve the club’s chance’s, but the money most went on players that were past their best.

Those that weren’t turned out to be not good enough for a club seeking promotion. The end result was that Liverpool ended the 1955-1956 season in third place, missing out on promotion for the second year running. The board decided that enough was enough, with Welsh claiming he handed in his notice.

Life After Liverpool

Upon leaving the club, Welsh said that he ‘may quit football’. That was exactly what happened for a short period, with the Mancunian heading to become a publican in the West Country. In the end, though, the excitement of football saw him return to the sport, this time as the manager of the Bournemouth side that was in the newly-formed non-regional Third Division.

That was just prior to the start of the 1958-1959 campaign, with Welsh taking them to 12th in his first campaign and 10th in his second, resulting in his dismissal in the February of 1961 after a number of poor results in succession for the Cherries.

Next up for Welsh was non-league Wycombe Wanderers, where he was the managed for a little over a year before he was given an administrative role at his former club Charlton Athletic. There is no question that Liverpool Football Club were not successful in the 1950s, with Don Welsh being a big part of that.

He might well have been the wrong man and the wrong time, but it is also the case that the Reds struggled in general. The decade began with an FA Cup appearance and ended with the appointment of a certain Bill Shankly, but what came in between was entirely forgettable and few will be keen to remember Don Welsh’s time in charge.

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