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The 83-year-old who has been a football manager since 1953


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Media captionLarry started managing a football team in the year of the Queen’s Coronation

It is Sunday lunchtime, and match day for Chaplins against Belleaire in the Greenock and District Welfare League.

Larry Barilli is in the Chaplins dressing room, dishing out the strips to his players.

He is pretty angry – his only reserve for the match is the back-up goalkeeper.

Larry’s task of managing Chaplins to victory just got a little harder. At least he has his experience to fall back on – Larry is 83, and has been a football manager for almost 66 years.

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Larry Barilli started managing football teams in the year Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Mount Everest

On one side of the pitch are Belleaire’s management team and their subs, looking confident.

A few fans are also here to support their friends. One young man defies the bitterly cold Greenock wind and watches the game in a T-shirt with a bottle of beer in hand.

After a brief team talk, where Larry encourages his players to enjoy themselves and respect the referee, he takes his position on the opposite side of the pitch from Belleaire’s coaches.

He is a lone figure, walking up and down the touchline wearing all black apart from his “No Fear” cap.

The game kicks off, and the great-grandfather doesn’t hold back – he shouts encouragement and occasional abuse at his players, he gives the referee a piece of his mind on foul throws and he constantly demands that his players play the ball forward.

As you may expect from a Sunday league amateur game, the language is somewhat colourful.

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Larry was overjoyed when his team Chaplins won 8-2 against rivals Belleaire.

Maybe it was the presence of the BBC cameras, maybe it was Larry’s lucky day, but Chaplins take the game to a lacklustre Belleaire and win the match 8-2.

The joy of victory is written across Larry’s face. After punching his arms in the air, he gasps: “I feel as if we have won the league with that result. I didn’t expect it before the game.”

Paul Bryson, the captain of Chaplins, takes a moment away from the celebrations to speak about his manager.

“The guy is a legend. You know what they say – a leopard can’t change its spots. Hats off to him, he is out here every week come rain or shine. He is great to have along.”

William Collins, the Chairman of the Greenock and District Welfare League, was also there to watch Larry’s team win.

“The amount of teams that he has had, the amount of players he has coached throughout the years, you can’t count that.

“Everybody has got a respect for Larry. He is a character. You think nice, elderly gentleman – no. He is giving as good as he is getting out there.”

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Barnhill Rovers, the team Larry started and the first he managed. Larry is seen here in the front row, second from the right.

Larry started managing in 1953 – the year the Queen was crowned, Joseph Stalin died, and Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

In the world of football, Blackpool won the FA Cup and the Scotland national team was being managed by a “selection committee”.

After Larry turned 18 in late May of that year, he decided to become the player-manager of his own football team so he could lead them in the local amateur league.

“I just wanted to start my own team where I stayed in Barnhill Street,” he recalls.

“We called the team Barnhill Rovers. We got a few tankings at the start.

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One of Larry’s favourite managers is Nottingham Forrest legend Brian Clough

“We’ve had a lot of great teams, and some poor teams as well,” he says.

“We have had quite a lot of success – we have won 11 league titles in the different leagues we were in, and we won 23 out of 36 cup finals.”

Larry has managed seven teams in the Greenock area over the years and estimates to have missed only seven games since 1953 through illness.

His longevity in football is hard to match. It is thought only one man in Scottish football history has managed for a longer time, and Larry will match that record later this year.

Larry is believed to have managed about 2,000 games, and the Scottish Amateur Football Association is not aware of a football manager in Scotland who is older than him.

Scotland’s longest-serving football managers:

  • James Black (Forfar manager/club secretary for 66 years)
  • Bob McGlashan (Arbroath manager/club secretary for 43 years)
  • Willie Maley (Celtic’s manager for 43 years)
  • Jock Finlayson (40 years with Hill Of Beath Hawthorn)
  • John Hunter (35 years at Motherwell)
  • Bill Struth (34 years as Rangers boss)

Source – Scottish Football Museum

Notable others:

  • Ivor Powell, who is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest working football coach, aged 93. He worked as a coach for 58 years.
  • Fred Everiss (manager and club Secretary at West Brom for 46 years)
  • Guy Roux (44 years at Auxerre)
  • Roly Howard (35 years at non-league Merseyside club Marine)

For Larry’s family, they understand – although don’t necessarily always agree – with his football obsession.

“I felt embarrassed one time,” said Larry. “My oldest boy’s granddaughter was getting christened on the Sunday. I went to the football.

“He was my goalkeeper for a long time. I think he knows how much football means to me. I felt rotten after it though.”

For the past few years, Larry’s senior players have taken training while he concentrates on leading Chaplins on match days.

As well as manager, Larry is Chaplins’ kit man and washes all the strips after every game.

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Larry says he has missed only seven games since 1953

When he is not loading his washing machine with muddy tops, or planning his team for the next match, Larry works as a taxi driver two days a week.

He is not a fan of the modern game.

“I think the football years ago was better,” he says. “In my time, you attacked to win games. Now they are passing the ball back an awful lot. It is kind of boring.”

Larry’s living room is full of awards and trophies from his football successes. One award, however, is missing and he wants to have it – an honour from the Queen.

“A great footballer for me, who I thought was absolutely brilliant, got an OBE. Frank Lampard – for services to football. Football made him a multi-millionaire. I’m doing this for the true love of football.”

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The Greenock great-grandfather, who also works as a taxi driver, has no plans to stop managing football teams

For now, Larry savours his side’s victory. He celebrates at home by watching some more football on TV with a glass of cola in his hand.

As any coach will tell you, including one who has been managing for almost 66 years, the most important game is the next one. For Larry, he hopes to have many more to come.

Additional Reporting – Zara Weir



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