From Office Hand To Marking Bobby Charlton
There can hardly have been a story like it in post-war Molineux history – the tale of how an accountant took a phone call at his office one Thursday and was asked if he fancied a game for Wolves the following Saturday.
It wasn’t any old match either but a senior debut 41 years ago this week in front of more than 53,000 against the reigning League champions and the side who would lift the European Cup five months later.
Wolves v Manchester United was a big deal in anybody’s language; spectacularly so on that occasion for Stewart Ross as his training was restricted to a couple of nights a week with Joe Gardiner and Jack Dowen by the demands of his full-time job a few hundred yards along Waterloo Road.
The former Wolverhampton Grammar School lad nevertheless went in against Matt Busby’s men, Best, Charlton, Law and Co, deputising at inside-forward for Dave Burnside as Wolves sought revenge for the 4-0 Boxing Day hiding they had received at Old Trafford four days earlier.
“I didn’t go to the game at United but Ronnie Allen and Harry Marshall were always keen that I should sign as a pro and I had the call to say I was in for the return match,” Ross said.
“The Press came along to take some pictures of me at the ground and I was told to report to the hotel on the Saturday lunchtime for our pre-match meal.
“I wasn’t too nervous and enjoyed the first half, although I was marking Bobby Charlton and obviously had my hands full. We scored through Paddy Buckley and I think it was 1-1 at half-time but Bobby played a one-two behind me to score soon afterwards and we lost 3-2. Mike Bailey scored our other goal.
“Graham Hawkins was injured later on and I went into defence, which was my more usual position because I was always a centre-half as a lad. And at the end, Ronnie Allen came in and said I’d done better than he thought I would!”
Ross, 22 at the time and now 63, might well have lined up in the League fixture at home to Everton a week later as well but had to be content with going on for skipper Bailey. There was a logical explanation for his demotion to the no 12 shirt – Wolves had signed Frank Munro from Aberdeen in the meantime and fielded him instead.
Opportunity did fleetingly knock again, though. He was introduced for the injured Dave Wagstaffe early in the following season’s 0-0 draw at Albion and included a trip to Southampton among the several other matches in which he warmed the bench.
Ross, born in Woking but brought up in the West Midlands after his father’s job in the civil service brought the family north, subsequently spent six happy years at Telford, where Ron Flowers and Jimmy Murray were familiar faces from Molineux.
He is now resident in Codsall and still works in his chosen field, as a partner at Muras Baker Jones near Wolverhampton’s Central Baths, having previously spent 38 years at the company that became known as BDO Stoy Hayward.
So how does he look back at a six-year Molineux career that was confined largely to the Central League?
“I regret not giving it more of a go but feel that I’ve had the best of both worlds,” he added. “I thoroughly enjoyed my football and didn’t have to rely on it for an income.
“I joined Wolves at 19 purely as an amateur, then they asked me to go part-time pro, which I did. I worked full-time in accountancy and often studied at the weekends as well, so I was never seen on the pre-season team pictures. It was a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’
“Fortunately, there is this one picture taken before a game at Southampton to prove I was a Wolves player!”