Burnley accept photograph of former manager Spen Whittaker

Burnley Football Club has kindly accepted a framed photograph of former secretary/manager Spencer ‘Spen’ Whittaker, from family members.

Wednesday, 15th May 2013, 8:30 am
Mr Jeffrey Pomfret presents a framed photograph of his grandfather, former Burnley secretary/manager Spencer Spen Whittaker, to Clarets Historian Ray Simpson.

Mr Whittaker, who took charge of the Clarets in 1903, was tragically killed seven years later, aged 39, after falling from a train while travelling to London to sign a player.

Burnley Football Club is delighted to accept the framed photograph on behalf of the family. It will be displayed in a prominent position at Turf Moor.

Spen Whittaker was born in Oswaldtwistle in February 1871 and for many years played for his local club Oswaldtwistle Rovers, before become the club’s secretary and then chairman.

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He was just 32 when he was appointed as Burnley’s secretary/manager in October 1903, replacing Ernest Mangnall who had departed for Manchester United. Whittaker came from good footballing stock, his brother Nathan had been the secretary of the Southern League since 1894 and was also a member of the FA Council.

Spen Whittaker inherited a Burnley team who had finished rock-bottom of the League at the end of the previous season and had been re-elected by the narrowest of margins. At the time Burnley played in green shirts and had no reserve team, sharing Turf Moor with local amateur side Burnley Belvedere, a number of whose players were registered to play for Burnley as amateurs.

The 1903-04 campaign, his first, was to be Spen Whittaker’s most successful of his seven seasons in charge. Burnley finished in fifth position, ten points away from promotion, but a big improvement on the previous campaign.

In the main Whittaker’s tenure at Turf Moor was a time of mediocrity. Burnley FC’s halcyon days were still some way in the future, and most of the great players who would become household names would arrive much later. However Spen Whittaker did introduce three of the players who would bring glory to Turf Moor either side of the Great War, including inside forward Richard Lindley and full back Tom Bamford, both of whom earned FA Cup winners medals in 1914. Also, in February 1907, he signed a young apprentice blacksmith who would become a key figure in the successful times ahead and who would still be playing for his only club more than twenty years later at the age of 40. His name, of course, was Jerry Dawson.

Then, in April 1910 came the most appalling tragedy.

Spen Whittaker was on his way to London by overnight train to personally register a new player, Harry Swift of Accrington, thereby ensuring that he could play in an important match against Manchester City on the following day.

When the train stopped at Stafford in the early hours of the morning, a fellow passenger who had been travelling in the same carriage as Whittaker, awoke from his slumbers to discover the outer door swinging open, with no sign of the Burnley secretary.

The alarm was raised immediately, the railway line was searched, and Spen Whittaker was eventually found some miles along the track. He was still alive but terribly injured, and was taken to a local hospital where he died a few hours later. He was just 39 years old.

Two weeks later a benefit match was held at Turf Moor to raise funds for Spen’s widow Betsy and their three young daughters.

A Manchester United Xl took on a Football League Xl, which included Jerry Dawson and a number of other Burnley players.

The story of Spen Whittaker is a particularly poignant one and Burnley Football Club is grateful to Mr Pomfret and his family for providing the club with a permanent reminder of Spen and the contribution he made to the pages of Burnley FC history.

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