Posthumous Tales Of Brave POW
Star At Sixteen Who Went On The Run
It has to be a career like no other……a scorer on his League debut against Manchester United at 16, shot down and captured during the Second World War and never again seen in Wolves’ senior team in First Division or cup football.
Alan Steen, who has died at the age of 90, has an indelible place in Molineux history.
He is believed to have become the youngest-ever top-flight scorer when he netted at 16 years 265 days in that remarkable game against United in the spring of 1939.
More than 70 years on, he remains the club’s all-time youngest marksman and, as a fellow lodger of Billy Wright and Jimmy Mullen in Wolverhampton’s most famous digs, had quite a tell to tell.
But the football in his life was only part of the story.
“I was fortunate enough to get to know Alan fairly well and was enthralled by the things he told me,” said Wolves fan and former Express & Star head librarian Frances Cartwright.
“I just happened to pick up the phone when he rang the paper from his home on The Wirral 12 or so years ago, asking if he could pop in and look at the old cuttings from when he was playing.
“He gave his name and I said: ‘It’s not THE Alan Steen, is it?’ He was so thrilled that he was speaking to not only a lifelong supporter but someone who had heard of him and his career.
“He repeatedly said to me over the years how lucky he felt he was to find someone who was so keen interested in the former players. He came here at least twice and I remember introducing him to John Richards and Graham Hughes at Molineux.
“We did a nice picture story of him in the paper and photographed him looking at the old bound volumes, including the one that carried the report of his debut.
“He was a lovely, lovely man and we exchanged Christmas and birthday cards as well as having some wonderful chats on the phone.”
Crewe-born Steen went in on the right wing against United, fellow 16-year-old Mullen switching to the left as youth had its fling in a quite spectacular way.
If anyone needed reminding as to where the Buckley Babes tag came from in the annals of pre-war Molineux folklore, they should consider that Mullen had made his debut against Leeds four weeks earlier and 18-year-old half-back Ray Goddard was also playing for the first time at that level when United came to town.
A third debutant was inside-forward Gerry McAloon – signed from Brentford a few days earlier.
Steen marked his big day with the 80th minute third goal and was thrilled to be greeted after the game by his parents, having not known they were present.
But he missed out on what would have been a dramatic follow-up appearance at Old Trafford.
Stan Burton recovered from injury and played in Wolves’ 5-0 FA Cup semi-final victory over Grimsby in front of what is still the record attendance for any game at United’s ground, 76,962.
And with football, as we know it, ceasing a few months later because of the hostilities, Steen became one of the unavoidably wasted talents of the game.
He played 29 times for the club in wartime football but had much bigger callings that led to his eventual departure.
He served for Bomber Command and did well over 20 ‘runs,’ as he called them, over Germany. Crew were stood down after 29 missions.
“Eventually, the Halifax Dad was flying in was hit near Hanover in October, 1943, and those who survived parachuted out,” said Alan’s daughter Pam.
“He was a wireless operator and was on the run for three weeks on his own. He used to tell us how he laid low in the daytimes, sleeping in barns, and moved around at night.
“He was finally picked up walking through a forest and ended up a prisoner-in-war in Stalag 1VB. He escaped twice when he was a part of work teams outside the camp but was recaptured very quickly.
“He was placed in solitary confinement and, each time he escaped, it was for longer.
“I have a team photo at home with the words ‘England 1944′ on the back. It was when he played for the English prisoners’ team in the camp!
“He used to help organise the matches in there but the experience obviously took something from him and he didn’t get on as well with Ted Vizard at Wolves after the war as he had with Major Buckley.
“We used to say when he told us all these stories: ‘Dad, write it all down.’ But he preferred to make light of the ordeal of being imprisoned.”
Alan went on to play for Luton, Aldershot (where Pam was born), Rochdale and Carlisle, totalling more than 80 League appearances. He then had a major heart attack in his 40s, as well as two more in later life.
By coincidence, he worked for Goodyear when he returned to his native Merseyside, arranging some of his visits to the Wolverhampton plant to coincide with games at Molineux.
He also worked as a warehouse manager for a company who made tin cans but he took early retirement on health grounds.
Alan’s funeral was yesterday. He also leaves a son, eight grandchildren, 13 great grandchildren and one great, great grandchild.