Goodbye To An Unsung Hero
By David Instone
Behind the sort of genius that occasionally lights up the world of football, any number of class back-up acts are required to make it all work.
Put in a slightly crass way, there are those who can play the piano and those needed to carry it on stage.
Bill Shorthouse isn’t often mentioned in the very top echelons of Wolverhampton Wanderers greats because he wasn’t hugely gifted, nor possessing of the charisma of some around him. He was a defender who did, quite brilliantly as it happens, what he was paid to do.
The Molineux legend, who has died at the age of 86, was one of the rocks on which the more sublime talents of team-mates like Broadbent, Mullen and even Wright could be built – and you won’t hear a bad word against him from any of those with whom he played.
Stan Cullis didn’t want to see frills from his centre-half or full-backs – the two departments in which Shorthouse was equally adept – and thought so highly of this tough, robust individual that he continued to have him working at his side for many years when time finally caught up with him at the age of 34. The Iron Manager knew it when he had found a player and man he could depend on.
A look at the Legends area of this site will confirm this particular personal niche in Wolves history. Not bad figures, are they, for a lad from Bradley in Bilston! What the stats don’t show is that he was never dropped at Molineux or that he was frequently made captain when Billy Wright was away with England.
Cullis wasted no time in naming Shorthouse as his first-choice no 5 and putting him in the side he inherited in 1948. He would select him a further 342 times to be exact, increasingly so at right-back or left-back as the years rolled by. The final appearance tally was actually 376 in League and cups alone – there was no League Cup or even European knock-out competition back then – but Ted Vizard was in charge for the first 33 of them, in 1947-48.
It was a wonderful journey, illuminated by the winning of the FA Cup in 1949, trail-blazing end-of-season tours across the world, breathless, prestige nights under Molineux’s magical floodlights and the lifting of the League Championship in 1954 for the first time in the club’s history.
In nine years from October, 1947 to his farewell outing, Shorthouse missed games at the rate of only around four a season. And there was a very heavy case ball to be headed in those days – and no substitutes.
The man who was known to his colleagues as ‘The Baron’ after a stage character spotted during a squad visit to the theatre, was utterly consistent, efficient and respected; quite proud, too, of the goal he scored against this weekend’s opponents, Charlton, on November 12, 1955. It was the only one he ever managed for the club in competitive games.
It was during the following autumn that wear-and-tear problems with his ankle convinced him his playing career was drawing towards a close, sadly shortly before Wolves’ back-to-back title triumphs.
Another regret was his continued overlooking by England. Many at Molineux believed him more than worthy of such a step-up but the national selectors clearly disagreed and, even when selected in the Football League squad to face the Irish League, Shorthouse was ultimately left out of the X1.
He did nevertheless serve his country with rare distinction – stepping off one of the first boats in the Normandy Landings. A bullet struck him in the horrific aftermath but fortunately had a softish landing of its own, going through his buttock and travelling with less force by the time it reached his arm.
A football career which kicked off when he joined Wolves as an amateur in 1941 was saved, even if he didn’t know at the time that he would live long enough to resume it.
Bill Shorthouse, who later worked for the England youth set-up as well as Aston Villa and Birmingham, is another of that Molineux breed who gave absolutely magnificent service but nevertheless had no fortune and therefore no choice other than to lead a normal life at his home just outside Wolverhampton until the final whistle beckoned.
Wolves are still striving to regain the top-flight place he knew throughout his playing career but it was fitting that they were at least heading the table when he joined that great Wanderers team in the sky.
* In extending our condolences to the family and friends of Bill Shorthouse, we also apologise to www.wolvesheroes.com readers for the short delay in posting a fitting tribute on this site.
While club football went through its early-season two-week gap in fixtures, we, too, were on a mini international break.