Remembering Harry Haslam

Keith Burkinshaw, the manager of Tottenham Hotspur, was sitting in his office at White Hart Lane a few days after the 1978 World Cup Final. He had less than two months to prepare for the start of the new season. Spurs were returning to the First Division after a year away.

Bill Nicholson, Burkinshaw’s most eminent predecessor, the man who’d overseen Spurs’s glory days of the early 1960s, had joined him for a chat. There was plenty to discuss.

While they were talking, the phone rang. Nicholson answered it.

“Hello Bill, it’s Harry Haslam.”

Haslam, a friend of Burkinshaw, was the manager of Sheffield United.

“Hello Harry, what can we do for you? “ asked Nicholson.

“Would Keith be interested in signing Osvaldo Ardiles?” said Haslam.

Nicholson turned around to Burkinshaw.

“Harry Haslam’s on the phone and he wants to know if you’re interested in signing Osvaldo Ardiles,” he said.

“Is he pulling your leg or what?” said Burkinshaw.

(Adapted from the Nick Harris book ‘The Foreign Revolution’ and sampled from Sporting Intelligence.com)

Haslam’s playing career, and the Barry Town years

“Happy” Harry Haslam was a hugely popular character at Jenner Park and had previously played for Rochdale as an amateur, before moving to Oldham Athletic in the 1946-47 season for whom he made a handful of League appearances.

After a short spell with Brighton & Hove Albion, Haslam moved to Leyton Orient for the 1948-49 season, with whom he made 7 League appearances, before joining Guildford City.

Haslam joined Barry Town in the summer of 1956 replacing previous Linnets’ manager, Maurice Lindley, who later became well known as Assistant Manager to one Don Revie during Leeds United’s glory years.

With Barry Town struggling for money, he worked closely with the Chairman John Cecil Bailey and will always be remembered for being a man who managed Barry’s international superstars such as Bengt ‘Fölet’ Berndtsson (who would play almost 600 appearances for IFK Goteborg) and Sven Lindberg of the 1950s.

Bengt Berndtsson celebrating for IFK Gothenburg

Bengt Berndtsson celebrating for IFK Gothenburg. Photo courtesy of www.ifkgoteborg.se

Indeed, I’m struggling to find knowledge of any non-League manager who signed players who had featured just months before in a squad that went to a World Cup Final.

But Harry did, signing – amongst many others – Swedish internationals Bengt Berdntsson and goalkeeper Sven Lindberg. He was closely familiar with staff at Manchester United, having been an apprentice at the club and was deeply affected by the Munich Air Crash in 1958 where he lost several old friends. Other Scandinavian players that played for the club during this exciting, if unrewarding, period in Barry Town’s history were Karl Lindberg, Bjorn Andersonn, and the extremely popular Finnish international player Hannu Kankonnen.

However, despite the glamour of Haslam bringing in overseas international stars into the club, it did little to stem the slide in fortunes for the club. The successes of the early and mid 1950s were now firmly behind the club, and attendances had fallen off dramatically. From being disappointed at the club averaging at 3,000 for home attendances, by the 1959-60 season rarely did these attendances surpass the 1,000 mark.

Haslem letter

Harry Haslam’s letter sent to his squad and acting manager Albert Gardner while away at Wisbech in 1960.

Ultimately, Harry’s team lost 4-1 in the Welsh Cup to Merthyr Tydfil on January 2nd, 1960, and he was unceremoniously sacked by one of the Barry Directors rather than being given the grim news by the club’s Chairman John Bailey, a fact that the press at the time found very distasteful. As the Barry Town circus rolled into Wisbech with Albert Gardner acting as manager, Haslam still had time to send them this note of good luck.

The truth was that Harry had become a victim of a number of colliding and conflicting interests. His tenure at the club was marked by a bitter and prolonged fight between the Supporters Club, the Board of Directors and its own supporters organisation (very much similar to the failed organisation once infamously proposed by Stuart Lovering and which caused similar discord between owner and supporters).

Money as ever was the root cause of the argument, notably the supporters money and the house the supporters owned and used to house the manager. That house is now the Beeches care home on Barry Road adjacent to Neal Street. And eventually, a cowed supporters club signed over the house to the Board for free, and in doing so weakened itself mortally.

Leaving the club with Haslam and Manning was his right hand man and manager of the club’s Barry League Eddie Ambury.

He managed Barry’s Southern League rivals Tonbridge after leaving Jenner Park, winning the Kent Senior Cup in 1964-65 and went on to manage the club on a record 552 occasions.

Happy Haslam becomes manager at Luton Town

Happy Haslam becomes manager at Luton Town. Photo discovered via Twitter @coxchat

Haslam then became manager of Luton Town in 1972 and he led them to promotion to the Football League First Division in 1975.

Joining Sheffield United in 1978, some 20 years after signing Swedish internationals following the 1958 World Cup, Haslam was at it again. Admittedely, Haslam had his eyes set on a young lad that would make more of a mark on the world stage than the overseas signings he’d brought to Barry two decades earlier, but there’s little doubt that memories of his time managing internationals at Barry Town must have filled him with confidence.

Haslam was now in Argentina following the World Cup that summer and on behalf of Sheffield United attempted to sign a 17 year old Diego Maradona for £200,000. This was a sizeable amount. Gordon McQueen had recently become the UK’s most expensive signing when Leeds United sold him to Manchester United for £500,000. £200,000 for an unheard of teenager from South America was too much risk for Sheffield United.

They denied Haslam the funds to purchase Maradona, but allowed him the £160,000 needed to buy the more established Alex Sabella. Sabella flopped at Sheffield United, but is currently Argentina’s international coach. It was while out in Argentina that Haslam contacted Tottenham Hotspur’s manager Keith Burkinshaw about Spurs possibly signing Ardiles. Burkinshaw flew out to Buenos Aires and the deal was done with Ardiles who also suggested to Burkinshaw that Spurs also sign Ricardo Villa.

Haslam remained with the Blades until 1980 after a pretty disappointing tenure for both the man and the club, but Haslam was not out of football yet. Haslam was to join Bobby Robson’s staff as Robson prepared England for – you guessed it – the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

Harry Haslam died in 1986.

From signing Swedish international Bengt Berndtsson and a host of others in the Scandinavian invasion of Barry Town in the 1950s, to bringing Sabella, Ardiles and Villa from Argentina to England in the 1970s, ‘Happy’ Harry Haslam was certainly a revolutionary when it came to looking outside the ‘four walls’ of the British Isles when it came to spotting talent. It’s a privilege to list him here as part of the development of football in Barry.

(Jason Pawlin and Jeff McInery)

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One Comment on “Remembering Harry Haslam”

  1. twmowen says:

    Great post – with almost as many nuggets of info as there are grains of sand on Barry Island, however that Sheffield United turned down the chance to sign Maradona is an amazing football fact.


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