Born in Hetton-le-Hole, County Durham, as was another well-known name in football, Bob Paisley. The duo spent much of their childhood playing various sports, but it was football that Potts loved most. A promising young footballer as well as a good scholar, he was forced to choose between sport and studies, and he chose football as his career.
Potts joined Burnley, who had one of the first youth-development systems in football; however, his own development was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, which came before he could make his début for the club. He served for the [RAF] mainly in India as a PT instructor. Although playing for the club a few times in wartime fixtures, his first league action for Burnley came after its conclusion. He took time to return to the form that saw him regarded as a promising youngster, but he eventually became a success as a Burnley player.
He made his Burnley first-team début on 31 August 1946, in a position then referred to as "inside-left", which would now be considered as one of the striker positions. He wore the number 10 shirt associated with that position, and played in all but two of Burnley's 42 games in Division Two that season, becoming the club's leading goalscorer with fifteen goals. The Clarets finished second in the table and were promoted. They also reached the FA Cup Final at Wembley. Potts played all nine of Burnley's cup games, including the final, which Charlton Athletic won 1–0.
In the following season, the challenge of top-flight football did not seem to slow his progression. Burnley finished third, and Potts scored 14 goals in the 38-game season. Burnley settled into a mid-table position over the next few years, and Potts added to his tally of goals. He eventually got 47 from 165 matches, before moving to Everton in October 1950. His next Burnley match would have been a trip to his native Sunderland. In his stead, future Burnley star Jimmy McIlroy would make his début at inside-left.
Everton were relegated in his first season with the Liverpool-based club. They were promoted in 1954 and then spent two top-flight seasons in mid-table. He ended his career as a player at Everton in 1956, having scored 15 in 59 League games for the club.
After Potts left Everton, he was offered a coaching job at Leeds United but turned it down. After working for Wolves as chief scout, Potts took the more senior position of manager, albeit at a less prestigious club, Shrewsbury Town. He spent just over half a season at the Shropshire club before Burnley lured him back to become their manager in February 1958.
Burnley finished 1957–58 in sixth position and in his first full season in charge (1958–59) Burnley finished 7th. Potts made his first cash signing for the club, left back Alex Elder. His second cash signing was made eight years later.
1959–60 brought Burnley's their second league championship success (their first came in 1921). The following season the club represented England in the European Cup, reaching the quarter-finals. In 1962 Burnley were runners-up in both the FA Cup and First Division.
In 1963, when forced to sell Jimmy McIlroy to raise funds for the club, Potts's relationship with Burnley fans suffered. This dissipated, and Potts stayed on to steer the Clarets to European competition again, in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (now the UEFA Cup) in 1966–67.
21 February 1970, saw Burnley thrash Nottingham Forest 5–0 at Turf Moor. It was to be Potts's last game as manager. He moved into a more executive position of general manager. This was an unwanted and unhappy move for Potts, and he left Burnley just over two years later.
In December 1972, Potts became manager of Division Two side Blackpool. He guided the Seasiders to a seventh-placed finish in the league, while his former club, Burnley, won the championship. His first full season in charge, 1973–74, almost ended in success. After leading Sunderland 1–0 with only seven minutes to go in their final match of the season, the team lost 2–1 and missed out on the third promotion place, which was filled by Carlisle United. He was named the division's Manager of the Month for December, and was presented with the award prior to Blackpool's home game with Luton Town on 22 December.
Potts bought wisely but expensively, most notably on players such as John Evanson, Wyn Davies and Paul Hart. The club demanded an instant return of results, and Potts walked a tightrope for the remainder of his Bloomfield Road career.
By the end of the 1975–76 campaign, chants of "Potts out" began to be heard, and with the team managing to finish only tenth, the board sacked him in May. As of 2013, Potts is the joint-ninth (with Ian Holloway) longest serving Blackpool manager in terms of Football League games in charge.
Potts was re-hired by Burnley, becoming their chief scout in 1976. After a poor start to the season, the Burnley manager Joe Brown was sacked in February (1977) and Potts became manager for the second time.
1977 saw Burnley avoid relegation by five points. 1977–78 saw them finish mid-table and so did 1978–79, a season which saw them win the Anglo-Scottish Cup. The following season (1979–80) began badly, and Potts was sacked after 11 winless games. Burnley were relegated to Division Three at the end of the season.Correct as of May 2015
Potts died on 16 January 1996, aged 75, after a long illness. Before his illness got too restrictive, he was often seen watching Burnley as a fan. Burnley F.C. remembered him on his funeral day, as the 1959–60 Championship-winning side, plus many of his former players and colleagues (not to mention Burnley supporters) gathered at the Turf Moor stadium to pay their respect as his cortège stopped outside the stadium. The streets had been blocked to traffic for this occasion.
In 2001, a section of Brunshaw Road which runs past the stadium was renamed "Harry Potts Way" in his honour.
BurnleySecond Division runners-up (promoted): 1946–47
EvertonSecond Division runners-up (promoted): 1953–54
BurnleyFirst Division championship: 1959–60
Anglo-Scottish Cup winners: 1978–79
FA Cup finalists: 1962