Ray Of Hope Was Soon Snuffed Out
Molineux Cast-Off Made It Big In Non-League
We at Wolves Heroes have a talent-spotting team all of our own; those individuals who track down long-forgotten Wolves players. Leading our search – all the way from California – is Charlie Bamforth, who now tells the fascinating story of another Molineux man from yesteryear that he has somehow traced.
The Italian word aggio (pronounced adge-o with a soft g) means ‘premium.’ That would be a pretty good word to describe a bloke by the same name, Ray Aggio. Top man.
I wonder what might have happened if Stan Cullis had not been shown the door at Wolves in 1964. Perhaps then, Ray might have been able to look back on a Wolves career that had more than a handful of Central League games as its pinnacle.
Aggio was born in Edmonton, North London, and grew up a Spurs fanatic. In an instant, he rattled off for me the 1961 double side and said: “My hero was Dave Mackay.”
The young pretender played for his school team (Huxley Secondary Modern) and gained representative honours for the district, for London and for Middlesex Schoolboys.
“I was less than 5ft 8in but I played centre-forward. I trained at Tottenham for five years and, three times, my father and I turned up for me to be signed. Each time, there was an excuse. My father lost his rag, at which point Wolves and Crystal Palace came in for me. Dad reckoned Wolves would be a better bet – an environment of success.”
So Aggio signed apprentice forms at Molineux in March, 1962. “In the first year, an apprentice got ₤7, it was £8 in the second and £10 in the third. I had to pay ₤3.50 for my digs.”
He was housed with Bill Shorthouse’s mum, along with Peter Knowles. “I’d send ₤1 or ₤1 10s home to my mum and she saved it for me. We got lunches paid for – at a restaurant that we called The Civic in Wolverhampton.”
Most of the young players at Molineux were from the Midlands or the Yorkshire nursery at Wath and Ray confesses he was homesick for several months.
“We got to go home for a long weekend once a month. Freddie Kemp was the only other Southern lad at the club – he was from Exeter (although born in Italy).”
As an apprentice, Aggio was one of the first to appear at the club each morning. “We had to clean the corridors, the dressing rooms, the baths, the front door…all before the senior players arrived at 9.45. Mr Cullis, though, arrived at 9am.
“Every day, he would come and watch us youngsters play games for the A team and B team at Castlecroft. If he came in at half-time and took his hat off, we knew we were in for a hard time. But if he left his trilby on, we’d be all right!
“I cleaned the boots of all the players, but especially Peter Broadbent’s. His shoe size and mine were the same, so I tried to nick his boots when they got a bit worn!”
Ray was close to the young winger Roger Barton and other pals were Kemp, Knowles, John Farrington, Ray Hall (the England schoolboy international) and Les Wilson, who set us on the search for this latest interviewee.
“Phil Parkes, too. Lovely lad. I first met him when I played for Middlesex against his Staffordshire Boys team. He was an amateur, not an apprentice.”
Aggio’s first full season at Wolves saw the senior team start with a bang. They won their first game 8-1, against Manchester City, and remained unbeaten until October. “BBC’s Sportsnight, with Peter Dimmock, brought their cameras to Castlecroft to watch us training,” he recalls.
Alas, two seasons of decline in first-team fortunes followed, with the departure of the legendary Cullis and relegation in 1964-65. Ironically, that season was a highlight for Aggio as he signed as a full-time pro just before the change of manager and broke into the Central League side. His first game was a 2-0 defeat at Bolton in October in a side that read: Phil Parkes; Fred Goodwin, John Harris; John Kirkham, Graham Hawkins, Ken Knighton; David Thompson, Peter Knowles, John Galley, Ray Aggio, David Carrick. It was also ‘Lofty’ Parkes’ first reserve game.
Ray had already been part of some pretty successful sides. Wolves, despite their overall slide, reached the FA Youth Cup semi-finals and quarter-finals in successive years, in the latter losing to a Chelsea side including Peter Osgood and Jim McCalliog.
“There were more than 50 professionals at Wolves and I was simply devastated at the end of that season when I was one of just three to be let go,” he added. “The club were, of course, in turmoil. Andy Beattie was there and, in the last two or three weeks of the season, Ronnie Allen arrived as coach. I just couldn’t come to terms with the fact they were giving me a free transfer.”
Aggio went to Crystal Palace for a month’s trial, playing alongside the likes of David Burnside. They saw enough to offer him a second month but Romford stepped in.
“They were pulling crowds of 3,000-4,000 in the Southern League and were offering four times what I was getting at Wolves. I was there for four seasons. In my first two, I scored 66 goals. In the second, we won the championship. I was the youngest lad in the team, playing up front with the old West Ham player, Harry Obeney.”
Next came a disappointing season with Nuneaton and a period with Tamworth before the chance of a trial with Notts County.
“I had been recommended by one of Jimmy Sirrel’s directors, so I was not surprised when the manager took me to one side after a game and told me he wasn’t going to sign me. I reminded him that he took John Cozens from Hillingdon and I’d outscored him in non-League. But nothing I was going to do would change his mind.”
Then it was to Worcester City, alongside Gerry Hitchens (“a lovely lad”). “I was there for four years, scoring more than 40 goals from midfield. One of my best was against Telford. I put one in from 35 yards. Their manager, Ron Flowers, said he’d never seen a swerve like it. ‘Well,’ I told him, ‘I trained for you in the summer and you could have signed me.’”
From Worcester, it was to St Albans for a year and then to Barnet for four, in which he included among his team-mates Jimmy Greaves and Bob McNab.
For much of Ray Aggio’s early non-League career, he still lived near Castlecroft in Wolverhampton, making for a lot of commuting to the south-east. Ironically, it was Stanley Cullis who was instrumental in changing that particular lifestyle.
“It wasn’t too many years ago that I was at Birmingham City for a game with Fred Davies (Shrewsbury manager at the time) and there was Mr Cullis. He was beginning to lose his memory a bit, so I didn’t think he’d know me. ‘You don’t remember me, boss, do you?’ I asked. Stan replied: ‘Just remind me.’ I told him my name. Straightway, he said: ‘Yes, I spoke to Eddie Stuart and got you to Worcester City, didn’t I?’
“It was true. I had bumped into him once on a train to London. He was in first-class and I was on my way back through to second from getting something to eat. He basically told me it was such a waste travelling up and down to London and I’d be better served getting a club nearer my home. He called Eddie Stuart soon after.”
Barnet was Aggio’s last club. By now, he had set up a newsagent/tobacconist shop on Barnet High Street, later going into partnership in several shops in the likes of Peterborough, Welywn Garden City and Bedford. These days, he has the station shop at Hitchin.
After retiring as a player, he also worked as a scout until 2002-03. “I have been a good mate of Barry Fry ever since our time together at Romford,” he recalled. “When he went to Birmingham, I scouted for him and did the match report work. I followed him to Peterborough to do the same.
“But it’s such a hard slog when you are trying to run your own successful business – imagine heading up to somewhere like Wrexham for an evening game, then travelling back to get to bed in the early hours, only to be up again for the day job. I ended up having a triple bypass operation and stopped the scouting.”