A Heart Of Gold
Hard Man Defender Committed Himself To The Improvement Of Others
Once more, we are indebted to one of our staunchest supporters, Charles Bamforth, for throwing himself with great enthusiasm into the task of uncovering some of the anecdotes of old. From his home near San Francisco, the lifelong Wolves fan insisted it was time due homage was paid to a true Molineux stalwart. Here is his latest extended piece.
To even the most studious of Wolverhampton Wanderers supporters, it will perhaps come as a surprise that one man was part of the widely disparate Molineux regimes of Major Frank Buckley and Bill McGarry, with the eras of Ted Vizard, Stan Cullis, Andy Beattie and Ronnie Allen betwixt and between. That man was Jack Dowen. And no-one contributed so broadly and so thoroughly.
In seeking to ‘discover’ Jack, who died in 1994, I heard from players from several of those generations, who all remember him with affection. We’ll let Les Wilson kick off….
“Jack Dowen did the job of three to four people at the Wolves,” he said. “I observed this on a daily and weekly basis from 1964 to 1972.
“When my Uncle Frank drove me down from Manchester to Wolverhampton for the first time in July, 1964, I was met by Stan Cullis, Joe Gardiner and Jack Dowen. They showed me round the boardroom and all the trophies that spoke of a great history. I knew then that this was the club for me.
“Then Jack took me to the first-team dressing room and there was training kit hanging up ready for me. He and Joe were going to put me through my paces. They had me doing long and short sprints before some full laps of the cinder track around Molineux. Jack said: ‘You’re an excellent runner and you’re obviously an athlete. Now let’s see if you can play.’”
Dowen was reserve-team trainer/coach at the time, having served in the role since 1957. John Doughty, a youth player at the club in the early 1960s, explains the structure that was in place when he arrived at the start of that decade:
“Jack was a lovely man. He was one of the original ‘bootroom boys’ and was around long before Bill Shankly and his team at Anfield. Under Stan Cullis, there were Joe Gardiner, Bill Shorthouse, Jimmy Mullen and the Crook brothers, as well as Jack. Then there was Jack Davies, the kit man, and George Palmer, the physio. That to me was the secret – all those years of Wolves experience and dedication.
“Whereas Cullis was a very threatening type of individual, people like Jack Dowen and Joe Gardiner were the absolute salt of the earth and absolutely loved.”
To one and all, Jack Dowen was ‘Chopper’. “But we never called him that to his face!” says Alan Hinton. “We had too much respect for him to do that. He and Joe and Bill were great to be around – when you weren’t working, that is! They never talked about the past, about themselves as players. It was always about you and trying to get the best out of you.”
Hinton, like several of the others I spoke to, had no idea of the man’s past, which I am now happy to enlarge upon.
John Stewart Dowen was born in Wolverhampton in November, 1914. He represented Walsall Schoolboys and won two caps for England Schoolboys in 1929. He also represented a Birmingham FA side in a fixture against Scotland in 1934.
After playing for Courtaulds, he signed as an amateur for the Wolves in March, 1931, turning professional in August of the following year, shortly after Wolves’ promotion back to the top division under the revolutionary leadership of Frank Buckley.
Dowen was a reserve full-back and had to wait until Boxing Day in 1934 to get his initial first-team chance – at right-back in a 2-0 defeat at Derby in front of 36,229.
He made seven appearances that season, all in the no 2 shirt. The next season, it was one game, and, in 1936-37, there were five appearances for him, with three games in 1937-38, now at left-back. They included the 10-1 slaughter of Leicester on April 15, which remains Wolves’ all-time record League victory.
Jack had briefly departed Molineux in October, 1935, for a one-year stint with Second Division West Ham, although he made a solitary first-team appearance for them – at right-half in a 4-2 defeat at Sheffield United eight months later.
He left Wolves again in June, 1938, this time for Hull in Division 3 (N). He played 39 games and was still on the Tigers’ books when the hostilities arrived, although he played only once for them in the War Leagues, guesting for his beloved Wolves with 57 appearances spread between 1939 and 1945.
He was part of the Wanderers side who defeated Sunderland over two legs in the 1942 War Cup final, playing left-back in the first game and right-back in the second. He made one appearance for Leeds in 1943-44 and guested 15 times for Darlington that same term.
Come the end of the war, though, Jack was firmly ensconced at Molineux as part of the remarkable backroom staff who would contribute immensely to the glory years under Stan Cullis.
John Doughty picks up the story: “Bill Shorthouse, Joe Gardiner and Jack Dowen loved playing one and two-touch football and getting involved in the practice sessions.
“Jack was very competitive, even at the age of 50. He didn’t want to lose and would take people out. Hence the nickname, Chopper. Mind you, the real hard man was Bill Shorthouse. I was shadowing him one day and was right behind him trying to get the ball. He nutted me backwards! There’s me with a bloody nose. At the end of the session, he came up to me and said: ‘Son, you are now nearly 18. If you had done that to me in a match, that is what I would have done to you. I hope you learn by it.’
“But this was Wolves’ absolute secret: all this experience from such longevity of association. There was tremendous camaraderie between Joe, Bill, Jack and the others. And, for us youngsters learning from them, it was the best time of our lives. Probably Jack’s greatest strength was this determination never to be beaten. He did not have a super analytical football brain. Bill Crook was a far more football-orientated individual. Jack was a man of strength, power and no messing about. Underneath, he was good class.
“Jack lived in Fordhouses. His son was John, who played for Fordhouses and came to Molineux on Wednesday evenings to train. I got to know the family quite well – nice people.
“The nearest I got to Jack was Christmas, 1961, when I was 12th man for the Central League side at Aston Villa and George Graham had the same role for Villa. It was wonderful to sit on the bench alongside Jack – he very much made me feel part of the team.”
Alan Hinton concurs with this assessment of Jack Dowen. “They were different times,” he said. “There was a lot of running; a big contrast to today, when the players are all wired up and monitored for this and that.
“We would run on Cannock Chase. I can see Jack now, down at the bottom, with a big smile. We all had to run round him before we made our way back. We had some conversations with him, I can tell you!
“There were no softies. Jack and the others made you into men. I remember an 11-a-side practice match at Molineux, when the other team were missing a right-back, so Jack played there.
“He couldn’t run as he had a really bad knee but I never got past him once. He wouldn’t engage me. He held back every time. It was all part of me growing up – he and the others made me into a winger.
“To this day, I cringe when I see forwards being caught offside. I always think of Jack. I used to get caught out as a youngster and they would give me hell. ‘Start using your brains or we’ll find someone who does’ was the shout. That scares you when you’re 17 and makes you think.
“And Jack couldn’t have been paid much. At the end of the week, we would all collect our brown envelopes containing our pay. Imagine that! Wayne Rooney wouldn’t be able to get his pay into a brown envelope.”
Fred Goodwin was another young Wolf at the time and recalls: “Jack was Wolves through and through. He was a typical Wolves man from that era.
“When I joined the groundstaff, we lads were looked after by Jack Davies but Jack Dowen, Bill Shorthouse and Joe Gardiner were all involved. When I got to the Central League side, Jack was the trainer, so I played a lot for him.
“He put Wolves before anything. There was no messing about with him. The various coaches obviously got on well and worked well as a group. But Jack, like the rest, was stern with the lads. He had been a full-back – the steady, take-no-prisoners type.”
Goodwin, Bobby Thomson and Fred Davies made their first-team debuts on the same day, against Albion in an FA Cup home tie in January, 1962, and the keeper told me: “Jack didn’t tolerate fools gladly.
“He believed in a hard day’s work for a hard day’s pay. He brought the Jack the Lads down a peg. Stan and Joe were with the first team but he ran the reserves and also supervised all the other coaches (A team, B team and so on).
“I remember when I got called into the first team, Jack took me aside quietly and said: ‘Hey, now don’t let this go to your head. There are disappointments as well’. He lived around the corner from where my wife’s family were, on Sandon Road, Fordhouses.”
Vic Povey didn’t break through to Wolves’ senior side but recalls Dowen as ‘helpful, kind and always trying to give good advice.’ He remembers fondly several examples of Jack’s eagerness to get things right.
“My earliest memory of him was at Manchester City,” he said. “I was sitting next to him in the dug-out and he had instructed our wingers to track back on their wingers. Anyway, Terry Wharton didn’t seem to be doing that.
“Jack was shouting from the dug-out and Terry chased their winger right back into our own penalty box and then slid in from behind to concede a penalty. I remember Jack muttering, with a low sigh…he was not happy at all. We lost by the odd goal and, as we were both near the top of the table, it was a real ‘four-pointer.’
“In another game in the Central League (I forget who we were playing), we won 3-1 and should have had six. In the dressing room after, Jack appeared to be unhappy. He was having a dig at anyone whose eyes met his. He had a right go at ‘Slipper’ Read. Dave barked back ‘I’d rather play shit and win, than great and lose’. All was quiet.
“In an evening game near the end of the season in the Central League, we played the Albion and walloped them 6-0 or 6-1. Every time I played the ball inside for a ‘push and go’ in the second half, it seemed to go straight to Gerry Howshall, their left-half. After the game, Jack muttered: ‘I should have turned you around at half-time to show you which way you were supposed to be kicking.’
“He had a funny side. I was down on my own in the shooting pen under the stand once and he was putting some shirts in the drying room. I’d heard him and Bill Shorthouse discussing ‘fast wingers’ the day before, so I asked him: ‘Who was the fastest you saw?’ He said he once saw a bloke take a corner, which he banged high in the air, then he met it and headed it in. He looked quite serious as he said it, then a grin came over his face and I realised he was taking the mickey out of me.”
Les Wilson continues the tributes to this remarkable Wolves servant: “Jack had a magnificent work ethic and true dedication. No-one worked harder than him. He was always the first to open the doors at the club, seven days a week. Even on Sunday, he would be there first thing before going to church.
“He was first-team coach from 1965-68, including the time we won the first North American Soccer Championship as Los Angeles Wolves. He loved that trip. At Molineux, he had to worry about the laundry but that was all taken care of in LA, so he could relax a bit – although I really can’t remember Ronnie Allen leading any of the training. Jack would do that in the park across from where we were staying at the Sheraton Hotel.
“Jack and Joe Gardiner were great colleagues. Jack was devastated when Ronnie Allen let Joe go, especially as he took Joe’s place with the first team. That was very hard for Jack to come to terms with and made him very uncomfortable.
“Both men were absolutely fabulous – I learned so much from them. Jack Dowen was a great believer in team-work. And he was so trustworthy. If he said he’d do something, he would. He loved the Wolves. And he was straight and honest. If you’d had a bad game, you would get to hear from him. He encouraged the youngsters all the time but he was honest with them.
“I sat beside him on the bench many times and his knowledge was encyclopaedic. And, remember, he was trainer as well as coach, so he would be on the pitch treating injuries.
“He was in charge of all the laundry for all the teams. He was responsible, aided by the youngsters of course, for packing the skips for the first and second teams; all the kit and the boots. And he would triple-check everything to ensure that there were no mistakes. As players, we just had to worry about the game.
“Jack supervised all the youngsters with the cleaning-up of Molineux in the days after a game. He was a jewel. He had a good head but did things as much from the heart. He was such a good judge of a player: he looked into people’s character. When I left Wolves for Bristol City, he was the last man to come up and wish me the very best. He was a nice, nice man.”
Wilson and Phil Parkes signed professional forms for Wolves on the same day in September, 1964, and Lofty recalls: “Jack was one of the blokes who looked after us amateurs when we were training on a Tuesday and Thursday evening. The others were Bill Shorthouse, Joe Gardiner and Billy Crook.
“I’d been to my family’s club, the Albion, and they had one bloke looking after 30 kids. Here I was at Wolves with all these. My Dad said: ‘So who were the trainers?’ When I told him all these household names, he was astonished and, despite being Albion through and through, said: ‘You stay there, son.’
“By the time I got to the first team, Jack was the first-team trainer. He was a disciplinarian – but they all were, weren’t they? It was the way they were brought up.
“When Bill McGarry and Sammy Chung came, Jack was in charge of the kit. The training gear didn’t get washed during the week – it just got thrown into a big drier. You can imagine what it was like and mine was probably worse after I’d been diving around for a couple of hours in the mud.
“Jack smoked a pipe, so, whenever the team were travelling, I would bring him back some tobacco. He made sure I got the pick of the training kit. The other lads couldn’t understand why I seemed to be getting preferential treatment. I never told them!
“He lived near the Three Tuns pub but used to drink at the Dowty, Boulton and Paul social club. He liked the one-arm bandit.”
Ray Aggio was in the same youth side as Wilson and Parkes and recalls: “On my first morning at Molineux, I was introduced to two Jacks, Dowen and Davies. Both were responsible for delegating jobs to us apprentices.
“Jack Dowen was a devout Catholic who stood no nonsense and me, a cheeky Londoner, was always being put in my place. If he had a sense of humour, he never showed it!
“He used to get tongue-tied whenever he was trying to coach or give tactics in a game. I’ll never forget when John Galley was playing centre-forward and Jack said to the rest of us: ‘When you get the ball, put it up the galley to Gully’. Everybody cracked up. The gully was the area between centre-half and full-back.
“Swearing was never allowed at Wolves. The worst word Jack used was ‘flopping’, like Stan Cullis. I only played a handful of games for him but he did give me one of my best reports, so I must have done something right. However, as an apprentice, we had to deal with him every day and he was a hard task-master, very meticulous and difficult to please. He inspected how the chores had been done.”
Alan Hinton added: “Jack Dowen, Joe Gardiner and Bill Shorthouse were so loyal to the club, so unselfish. They were blunt – they’d get done for abuse these days. But their job was to get us to play for the Wolves – and, when I joined in 1957, there was no doubt they were the best club in the country and one of the very best in the world.
”When I left to join Nottingham Forest in 1964, Jack and the others told Stan Cullis: ‘Don’t do this, Stan, it’s a bad trade.’ I will never forget what they tried to do for me.”
Several youngsters from a later era, who didn’t make it as far as the first team, also remember Dowen well.
Gerry Farrell said: “I appreciated the time he spent trying to keep us all on the straight and narrow. He hated bad language. He was honest, with high values and discipline.
“He encouraged us all to do our best in the right way. He was not happy when he caught you not doing the apprentice jobs correctly or not putting 100 per cent into training. His standards were very high. He was a lovely man who I should have taken a lot more notice of.”
Stuart Darfield told me: “I first met Jack in 1966-67. He was employed as kit-man/trainer but I think his main remit was making sure the club ran well on a day-to-day basis, making sure all the training kit was ready – balls, cones etc – and all the track-suits tops, shorts and socks were cleaned, dried and laid out ready for use.
“To assist him in his duties were the groundstaff, ie apprentices and amateurs, who he ran with military precision. Additional duties were the cleaning of all floors, baths, sinks and changing rooms, packing and provision of all kit for away games, arranging laundry in and out of the club, sweeping all the terraces and even painting the ground in summer.
“On match days, Jack travelled with the reserves to assist Jack Screen (who I lodged with). Jack Dowen had a very noticeable limp, presumably from a bad injury which could not be rectified as it would be today.
“He was very old school and fastidious in all he did. I liked him immensely. In the time I was at the club, I never heard him swear once. He was an integral part of the inner circle. Very little got past him and, if it did, somebody else was aware.
“I will never forget having an altercation with another apprentice who was physically superior to me and it became on-going. We were playing five-a-side in the gym and this individual attacked me again. Jack shot across and grabbed him by the throat and nearly throttled him. He would not stand for any injustice.
“All the kit was laundered by Mrs. Clamp, Eddie’s mother. She lived about 200 yards from the club down Waterloo Road and must have worked seven days a week to keep up with all the cleaning and ironing. One of the perks for us was taking the skip down the street for her to load up. It was a job you could draw out.
“Once a week, the cobbler came in and Jack knew every spec required for the players’ boots and relayed this to him. They would spend hours in the boot-room smoking their pipes and chewing the fat. At the end of the day, Jack used to shower and change and go home on the bus, so smart in his shirt and tie, suit and overcoat. You could have mistaken him for a bank manager.”
Ian Wallace adds: “Jack was very old school and I can remember him taking us for a training session one morning when he thought everybody knew his terms like ‘oogy me flips’, which left us all standing there totally in the dark.
“He was a character but a good man with good intent, who served the club well. I never heard him refer to his own career.
“I would not class him as quiet and he could be grumpy but in a comical way. He appeared to get on with Ronnie Allen and other members of staff and first-teamers.
“On the day I went on as a very late sub for the first team against Blackburn in 1966, I was on a high but Jack brought me down to earth when he instructed me to take the kit basket across the car park to Mrs Clamp’s house.”
John Black continues the tributes. “As apprentices, we all had jobs to do on a daily basis and, on a Friday afternoon, Jack would check and make sure they were done properly,” he said.
“He helped instil discipline around the place but was well respected by all. He basically kept the off-field stuff ticking over and running smoothly.
“He’d sit at home matches in the box by the tunnel with his pipe; a proud man – Wolves through and through. He was a man who never passed much comment on performances but, if he said ‘well done,’ you knew you had done well. He was a guy who always seemed to be working any time you were at the ground.”
Chris Dangerfield adds the final tribute: “When you joined a club like Wolves in those days as a young professional or apprentice professional, you were given a set of responsibilities or chores to complete each day in addition to your training and playing.
“All those chores were supervised very closely by Jack Dowen. So, in many ways, he was the person young players interfaced with, spoke to, argued with and had fun with in their initial year or two at the club.
“He actually became a very integral part of our daily routine and therefore made a big impact upon us all that we remember fondly. He was a lovely man who was always available to share a word of advice or wisdom with the next generation – the ones who thought they knew it all.
“Looking back, because we rarely interacted with the first-team coaches, especially Bill McGarry at that time, Jack became as close to a father figure as we had. He was a wonderful man who literally gave everything he had to Wolverhampton Wanderers and bled gold and black.”