Obituary: Roy Lambert (1933-2022)

Lee Morris

Lee Morris

7 min read

HTSA was saddened to hear of Roy Lambert’s death on Saturday night. He held the youth team coach post at Town from 1967 until 1968, before changing roles and becoming Ian Greaves’ chief scout from 1968 to 1975. 

 

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Early Life and the Army

Born in Hoyland Common in July 1933, Roy Lambert was educated at High Green Secondary School in Warren, Sheffield, leaving at the age of 15. Beffiting of the era, Lambert went down the pit to become a miner. After three years in the job, he joined the Army, serving in Egypt in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. While doing his National Service, Lambert played for the Army in games against the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Egyptian Olympic XI.

 

Playing in South Yorkshire

Upon demobbing from the forces, Lambert signed part-time forms with Rotherham United as a 19-year-old. He eventually signed his first professional contract in 1953 and played as a wing-half for the Millers. Lambert quickly endeared himself to the supporters with his committed performances, earning a fine reputation as a strong, aggressive and tireless wing-half.

 

Lambert is regarded as a legend at Rotherham, having spent 12 years at Millmoor, playing 419 first team games in the process. One of those games was the 1961 Football League Cup Final against Aston Villa. Rotherham lost 3-2 on aggregate after extra time. Lambert captained them on the day and received a runners-up tankard.

 

After a short spell as player-coach, he eventually left the club in 1965 and signed for neighbours Barnsley. He had barely got going at Oakwell before he suffered a spinal injury in training. He was sent to a specialist in Harley Street but couldn’t carry on playing. After making just three appearances for the Tykes, he hung up his boots in 1966.

 

Coaching at Town

Lambert’s former manager, Tom Johnston, who had managed him at Rotherham between 1958 and 1962, brought him to Leeds Road in 1967 in the role of Youth Team Coach. He spoke about this in a 2006 interview with Doug Thomson for the Examiner:


“I was only in my early thirties, and was thinking about having to get what you might term a normal job when I got a phone call from Huddersfield's manager Tom Johnston. He had been my manager at Rotherham for four years, and we had always got on well.

 

"I didn't know it until later on, but my wife Mavis had rung Tom and asked if he could offer me any kind of football work. He fetched me over to Leeds Road, and even though I didn't have any coaching badges, gave me a job on the staff."


Thomson added that Lambert quickly gained his F.A. qualifications and was tutored by a certain Bobby Robson. Lambert later acknowledged that Town saved his football career.

 

Chief Scout at Town

At the end of the 1967-68 season, Tom Johnston was sacked and replaced by the Town coach Ian Greaves. This appointment also had ramifications for Lambert as Greaves appointed him as the club’s new Chief Scout:


“Tom was a good bloke, but he was old school. Ian had lots of fresh and exciting ideas, one of which was expanding the youth system at the club. He brought in Henry Cockburn, who he had played with at Manchester United, as his assistant, and we also had Roy McLaren, who had been a goalkeeper for Bury and Sheffield Wednesday, and Robin Wray, a local teacher, on the coaching staff.

 

“It was a terrific bunch of people and I really enjoyed my role, which involved working with Robin on the youth side of things, preparing reports on forthcoming opponents and scouting for transfer targets.”


Town achieved promotion at the end of the 1969-70 season, winning the Second Division title and gaining promotion to the First Division. And while Ian Greaves quite rightly gets the plaudits, Lambert also played a part in the success, with at least two members of the winning team in Terry Poole and Jimmy Lawson being brought to the club by him. He also spotted David Lawson, who eventually became the country’s most expensive goalkeeper in 1972 when Everton paid £80,000 for his services. 


A Proud Legacy at Youth Level

Sadly, after two seasons in the topflight, Town embarked on a downward spiral, suffering back-to-back relegations. By 1973, they found themselves in the Third Division for the first time in their history. One of the shining lights during this dark period was the youth team reaching the FA Youth Cup Final in 1974, still the only Town side to achieve such a feat. Most of the team had been scouted by Lambert or his staff. 


“It was a great achievement for a club of our standing because we were on the slide and down in Division Three by then. But we were reaping what we had sowed, because Ian, together with chairman Frank Drabble, had put a lot of resources into the youngsters.

 

“At one stage I had a full-time scout working under me and we had 16 apprentices, the most allowed at one club. It wasn't just about signing them, because we made sure their digs were right, that they were being looked after properly and that they ate correctly.

 

“The result was a really happy club, and that Youth Cup final experience was memorable. We beat Manchester United and West Brom on the way and got a great 1-1 draw in the first leg of the final down at Tottenham, where Bob Newton scored our goal.

 

“Interest in the second leg really took off, and we had to put the kick-off back because so many people were trying to get in through the limited number of turnstiles that were opened. More than 15,000 turned up, which was far higher than our first-team crowds, and we played really well to take the tie to extra time, only for Spurs to score the winner with five minutes left.”


Following Lambert’s death on Saturday, a number of the players from that team expressed their sadness at the news and had nothing but good words to say about him. Some of those players have even been to visit him in recent years, highlighting the level of respect that they had for the man who helped them at the beginning of their professional careers. 

 

Later Career and Retirement

At the end of the 1973-74 season, Ian Greaves resigned and vacated the post he’d held for six years. He was replaced by the former Leeds United and Scotland midfielder, Bobby Collins. Lambert remained in his post under Collins for the 1974-75 season but left at the end of it. He later teamed up with Ian Greaves once again at Bolton Wanderers, who won the Second Division title under Greaves in 1978, where he worked part time. He later worked as a machinist at Gerrard Industries at Kilnhurst before retirement. 

 

Lambert was still held in high regard at Rotherham United, often being invited to games at Millmoor and The New York Stadium. In 2006, he was involved in a campaign to save the club as the threat of liquidation loomed. Lambert and other former Rotherham players toured the pubs and clubs of the area taking part in fundraising events to try and raise much needed funds to try to save The Millers.

 

In 2013, Rotherham drew Aston Villa in the League Cup for the first time since that 1961 final and Lambert posed with former teammates and current Rotherham players for a special team photo.

 

Lambert passed away on Saturday night at the age of 88. We’d like to pass on our condolences to Roy’s family and friends at this sad time. 

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