Lol - a true legend in Darlington FC's history

First published in News

Two bob in proper money, the same at the time as a pint of the new fangled Watney's Red Barrel, Northern Football magazine kicked about in the mid-1960s.

Like an abandoned baby, a bundle has been left, gently, on the doorstep.

There's a report on the £42,500 transfer - "a vast fee" - of 19-year-old full back Cyril Knowles from Middlesbrough to Spurs; comment on Burnley chairman Bob Lord's attack on naughty Newcastle - "they should be in a menagerie, not on a football field" - and in March 1966 ("Free autographed photo of John McGrath inside") a cover suggesting that Lol Morgan was the North-East's only successful manager in recent history.

Remember Lol Morgan? At the time he hadn't achieved a thing.

Rotherham lad, he'd begun his professional career with Huddersfield Town and made over 300 left back appearances for his home town club before becoming Darlington's player manager.

Throughout a 15 year career he never once scored a goal, a zero tolerance with which he is given to teasing his grandchildren.

"I remember one of them giving it a few moments consideration," he says, "then all bright eyed asking if I'd ever taken a corner."

He'd been appointed in June 1964 to succeed Eddie Carr, though obliged at first to share a desk with his predecessor. "The board wouldn't pay off his contract so Eddie kept on coming to work," says Lol. "I'm afraid it used to get a bit crowded."

It may also have been a bit crowded at the home of club secretary Charles Brand, upon whom Lol and his his wife Pauline were initially billeted. Brand was 75, a former town clerk who still rode to Feethams on his bike and addressed the entire staff by their surnames.

"Throughout my time there he never once called me Lol, or even Lawrence, just Morgan. He was a nice enough chap, just old fashioned. You couldn't get close to him at all."

Quakers hadn't won promotion for 40 years; nothing in his first season - cash strapped and too late to pillage the free transfer lists - suggested that fortune's wheel was about to go through the gears.

"I'm no financial expert but I do remember reading that Manchester United made more selling programmes, even then, than we made on gate receipts," says Lol.

"We'd always been the poor relations, among the Accrington Stanleys, always struggling. I just don't know how we existed."

The following summer, however, he and right hand man Jack Watson - then still working as chief security officer at Shildon wagon works - began looking in earnest for something for nothing.

Brian Keeble arrived from Grimsby, Joe Jacques from Lincoln City, goalkeeper Tony Moor for £100 from York Reserves. "A mixture of remarkable free transfer discoveries and big money buys" Northern Football had observed, though the biggest of the money was £3,000 spent on centre forward Bobby Cummings, from Newcastle United.

"We'd assembled a close knit squad, good team spirit, not a bit of bad in any of them," says Lol. "If they could walk, they'd play football for me."

There were, however, mild embarrassments with goalkeepers Jimmy O'Neill, forever skint, and John Hope, who refused to get his hair cut. Lance Robson, the dentist who played centre forward, caused a rather greater headache by being arrested at the La Bamba night club.

"I remember us looking at the rules to see what we could do. Unfortunately there wasn't anything about getting locked up at the La Bamba," says Lol - but dear old Lance never again played under his management.

By April 1966 they were pushing strongly for promotion from the fourth division and average gates had increased from 3,000 to 7,000 despite an admission increase to four shillings.

On April 22, however, Morgan - already the League's lowest paid manager - resigned in protest after club chairman Harry Robinson, still alive, offered him just £10 a week pay rise if they went up.

"I'd cost them nothing, worked for next to nothing and never hammered the expenses. I wasn't a greedy person, never have been, but that was ridiculous. It just flattened me."

The local press reflected the town's anger - "a furore of criticism the like of which has probably never been known in Feethams history," stormed the Northern Despatch.

"The Quakers' pin up manager is the man whose success has rescued them from the brink of bankruptcy," said the Echo.

Reports a week later claimed that he had signed a new agreement. Though Lol denies it, his initial contract ran until June 30. In the season's final game, watched by a crowd of 16,469 ("I still feel like I'm making that bit up") a 0-0 draw with Torquay United ensured that Quakers were second, United third, both promoted.

If not quite Roy of the Rovers stuff, it was certainly Morgan the Mighty. "One of the lads even threw his shirt into the crowd," he recalls. "I played hell with him; we hadn't the money to buy any more."

There was even a civic reception - and afterwards, unofficially, at La Bamba.

On June 22, however, he succeeded Ron Ashman as manager of Norwich City after days of almost MI5 secrecy.

The first caller had refused even to identify the club he represented; the first clandestine meeting was in a hotel near Doncaster. When finally he arrived by train at Norwich, he left the station on the floor of the secretary's car - Lol knew he was coming; Ron Ashman didn't know he was going.

He was sacked early in 1970, became a work study officer - "I hated it, going through those factory gates every day was like going to Wakefield jail" - turned down the chance to return to Darlington, and to Bradford City, because both clubs insisted he move from Rotherham.

Apart from a brief spell scouting for Spurs, and a £72 a year pension from the League, he has had no football connection since.

He is 70, fit but for footballer's knees, much involved in both playing and administrating golf. With Pauline, who describes her husband as "unbelievably kind", he has lived for 28 years in the attractive detached house near Rotherham where we met on Wednesday. Another grandchild had been born the previous day.

(Pauline had made the youth team sandwiches, scrubbed the floor at newcomers' houses, helped with the secretarial. "There wasn't much glamour," she says, "in being the manager's wife at Darlington.")

Now 80, Jack Watson had driven down, too, helped stir nostalgia's stock pot, become excited at the idea of a larger reunion of the other heroes of '66.

"Lol was what you called a footballers' full-back," said Jack. "We sometimes had to convince him that winning was more important than simply playing attractively."

They remembered great old campaigners like Big Pev, Brian Henderson, Ray Yeoman, stalwart centre-half Ron Greener - "you couldn't fall out wth Ronnie but you couldn't make him cross the half way line, either. He'd say he'd get them when they came in the penalty box" - and Barry Hutchinson, signed in February 1966 to add goals to the promotion push.

There was the snow covered match, they recalled, when Hutchy had demanded that trainer Dickie Deacon replace his rubber boots with the studded sort. "I'm kicking them and they're not falling over," he said.

They remembered George McGeachie ("the Flyer"), amateur goalkeeper Ray Snowball from Crook Town who deputised so dependably when Jimmy O'Neill's pockets finally developed too many holes, George Tait, a director who became an unforgettable club chairman.

Tait had drawn up a framework for scouting reports, divided into sections - heading, passing, what have you - with a maximum three points in each.

"We applied it to Stanley Matthews - no pace, couldn't head, moderate left foot - and decided we wouldn't sign him after all."

Quakers did, however, try to sign John and Mel Charles, and with little regard to the fact that they were approaching 40.

We'd been there three hours, fed and watered, before he had to go out, buy some flowers, visit the new baby, bag another game of golf.

Though he had a successful career with the Bass Group, Lol - lovely man - regrets that he'd left football so soon. "It was only because of moving that I didn't go back to Darlington; we'd just arrived back in Rotherham and there was the family to think about.

"After getting the sack at Norwich it was like getting my arm cut off really, that's why I took up golf, to give myself a big interest."

He hopes there'll be a reunion, looks forward to seeing the new stadium, might even buy Harry Robinson a drink. "I never fell out with him," says Morgan the Mighty, "he just knew bugger all about football."

the three founder members of the Football League who were also in the inaugural Premiership (Backtrack, September 18) were Blackburn Rovers, Everton and Aston Villa.

After Ray Yeoman was sacked in May 1970, Quakers had ten different managers in that decade. Readers are today invited to remember them - and may award themselves several bonus points for the correct order.

The sack race line up on Tuesday.

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