Douglas: Whelan's FA Cup win felt so great after our Wembley pain
FOR decades Bryan Douglas always left his living room at the end of the FA Cup final. Not until pal Dave Whelan lifted the trophy were the painful memories wiped away.
Douglas and Whelan suffered together in 1960, when Blackburn Rovers were beaten 3-0 by Wolves in the final at Wembley.
Both were in the Rovers team that day but Whelan famously ended up in hospital, after cruelly breaking his leg during the match.
Douglas never got another chance to play in the FA Cup final, but he was back at the national stadium last May to watch Dave Whelan’s Wigan Athletic face Manchester City.
Against all odds, a Ben Watson goal gave Wigan and their owner a 1-0 victory.
"I was there as his guest in a private box, and I was over the moon for him," Douglas says.
"When the FA Cup final is over and someone has won, I always buzz off and go outside.
"I always felt sorry for the losers, but the day Wigan won I didn’t."
Whelan was not the only one in hospital on cup final day in 1960.
So too was Douglas’ wife Joyce, after giving birth to their son Graham the night beforehand.
"She was in hospital near Euston and Dave was near Wembley," he remembers.
"On the Monday I had to go to Portugal with England, so for five days they were on the phone to one another asking how each other were."
Douglas will never forget the events of the day of the final. They illustrated just how different football was back then.
"The day before the match we were already down in London at Hendon Hall," he says.
"My wife was about seven months’ pregnant and the officials were coming down on the Friday.
"She started with pains but Val Clayton said, ‘It might be a false alarm, you’ll never forgive yourself, go to the game’.
"So they set off on the Friday morning and it went worse. Fortunately the club doctor was on the train with all the directors.
"Val went to them and said, ‘Will you come and look at Mrs Douglas?’ "They managed to get to London, it could have been born in Crewe or Rugby!
"They whipped her into University College Hospital in London, but I knew nothing about this.
"In the meantime I’m at Hendon Hall and we went to the pictures after tea.
"When I got back to the hotel I had a message to ring a number and it was the Lancashire Telegraph reporter Alf Thornton saying congratulations.
"I said, ‘What on?’ He said, ‘Oh, do you not know? Your wife Joyce has had a little boy’.
"I said, ‘Oh, where?’ and he told me she was in London.
"The following morning I went to see the manager Dally Duncan.
"I told him about my wife, he said, ‘I know, well done Bryan’.
"I said, ‘Look, I want to see her, I want to go down now and see her’.
"He said, ‘What, now?’ I said, ‘Aye, now!’.
"If it were now they’d have a helicopter or something with a TV crew. But I had to go out of the hotel, get a bus to Golders Green where the nearest Tube was, get the Tube into Euston, get off at Euston, find out where this hospital was about half a mile from Euston, get into the hospital and then find where she was after 10 minutes.
"I was told the team were leaving at 12.30pm for Wembley and I had to be back by then.
"I had about four or five minutes with her and our Graham, just to say well done and then I had to leave her in hospital to go and play the game.
"At night after the game the team all went to another hotel in the centre of town, they’d put a turn on for them, but it was a bit damp because we’d lost.
"I didn’t go there, I went to the hospital and didn’t get there until about 9.45pm, then stayed the night.
"Today there would be television cameras all over.
"But that’s how it was then."
Whelan and Douglas remain firm friends.
"When my wife died he invited me over to his place in Barbados," Douglas says.
"I go now to watch a lot of Wigan games. If Blackburn are away and Wigan are at home, I go there.
"Also through him really, even though he’s no longer involved with it, I go to the rugby."
If Whelan is one of English football’s more popular owners, the same has not always been the case for Venky’s at Rovers.
But even in his playing days, Douglas remembers that the Rovers board had their moments.
"Now in football there are millionaires and multi-millionaires, and then there are Russians," he said of the modern Premier League.
"Back then it was tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor.
"I remember we were going on pre-season tour to Holland and the manager said, ‘Don’t dash off lads, the chairman wants to have a word with you before we go’.
"He came in and I’ll not tell you his name but, ‘He said right lads, we’re flying tomorrow to Amsterdam, don’t forget that we’re not just representing Blackburn Rovers, we’re representing England as well so we want you on your behaviour etc etc’.
"We all said, ‘All right, chairman’.
"The following day we go to Manchester Airport, our directors are in the bar, then on the plane they’re topping it down.
"When we arrived at Amsterdam Airport, what was so embarrassing was some of the officials from one of the Dutch teams met us and they had a cheese each for us.
"I’m not telling you lies, two of our directors - the chairman and the vice chairman - we had to put them on the truck with the luggage, they were absolutely hammered!
"These were the blokes who had been telling us!"
Douglas’ life has been one of incredible tales.
"I’ve had a wonderful life through football, and I’m still enjoying life now," he said.
"I’ve been a lucky lad."