In March, 1951 Liverpool persuaded Don Welsh to move north from the south coast town of Brighton to replace George Kay, who had retired for health reasons the previous month. Don already had links to Merseyside because he had been a popular guest for Liverpool F.C. during the Second World War and had also been keen to join Liverpool as a coach, a move his then employers Charlton Athletic refused to allow. It was at The Valley in the mid-1930’s that Don Welsh enjoyed his most successful time as a player. He was the inspiration behind a meteoric rise that saw the South London club top the Third Division (South) in 1935, be again promoted as runners-up to Second Division champions Manchester United in 1936 and then finish as runners-up to United’s neighbours City in the top division just a year later. It was no fluke either because Charlton finished 4th & 3rd in the two seasons that preceded the Second World War. After the war, Charlton’s league form faltered but Don Welsh helped them reach the F.A. cup final in both 1946 & 1947 and he took a winners’ medal home after the 1-0 extra-time victory over Burnley in 1947.
With his playing days over, Welsh started his managerial career at Brighton & Hove Albion in November, 1947. He was then 36 years old. It wasn’t a great start. Brighton finished bottom of the Third Division (South) at the end of the 1947-48 season but there was no automatic relegation in those days and it was very hard for a club to enter the Football League at the expense of another that had been established there for a while, however poor their results were. Brighton recovered to finish 6th and 8th in the next two years before Liverpool came calling for Welsh’s services.
Unfortunately, Don inherited a Liverpool team that had been stagnating in mid-table for a few seasons and a Board of Directors that didn’t seem particularly ambitious. The Balmer/Stubbins era would shortly come to an end and the team relied too much on the mercurial Billy Liddell, who had become so important and influential that some supporters nicknamed the club ‘œLiddellpool’ in his honour. But even Liddell couldn’t stop the team’s slide down the table and in 1954 they finished bottom of the pile with only 9 victories and just 28 points. Managers were more likely to survive relegation then and Welsh kept his job but the writing was on the wall when the club could only manage an 11th place finish in 1955 during a season that included a terrible 9-1 humiliation at the hands of eventual champions Birmingham City. Don spent a lot of money for the time but a lot of it was on players who were either past their best or didn’t show the form they had been deemed capable of. A 3rd place finish was achieved in 1956 but the Directors believed that a change was needed and Welsh was dismissed and not given another chance to take Liverpool back into the top division.
After leaving Liverpool, Don became a publican for a while in the West Country before the lure of football brought him back into club management again, this time at Bournemouth in the newly-formed and non-regional Third Division just before the start of the 1958-59 season. After two average seasons (they finished 12th and 10th), he was dismissed in February, 1961 following a string of poor results. He managed non-League Wycombe Wanderers for a brief spell between July 1963 and November 1964 before returning to the club where he had enjoyed such success as a player (Charlton Athletic) to become a member of their administrative staff.
Don Welsh was not a success as Liverpool manager, however much he wanted to join the club following his popularity as a war-time guest player and however hard he tried to turn things around after succeeding George Kay. The 1950’s was not a good decade for Liverpool Football Club, apart from reaching a cup final at the start and appointing Bill Shankly at the end. Maybe Don Welsh was the wrong man at the wrong time ? Unfortunately, the club was in a worse state when he departed than when he arrived and the next appointment would be crucial. Liverpool decided to keep things ‘˜in the family’ and turned to former skipper Phil Taylor, who had retired as a player after the relegation of 1954 but had stayed with the club on the coaching staff.
Profile by Chris Wood, January 2005