The Varied Life Of Brian
Wolves-Mad Youngster Had To Go Elsewhere For His Big Chance
We wrote late last month about the extraordinary lengths to which Charles Bamforth will go in order to track down interviewees for this website. The story of his chase of Brian Thompson, which we posted on November 26, was a substantial read itself. Here, now, are the fruits of that pursuit, based on an interview with the late 1960s Molineux reserve.
I don’t know who ’74bus’ is on the wbaunofficial.org.uk website. It is obviously not a place I regularly migrate to but that’s where my search took me and this is what he or she wrote on there:
“I played for Brierley Hill, Sedgley and Tipton schoolboys against Leicester schoolboys many years ago. Our goalie was Phil Parkes and theirs was Peter Shilton. At centre-half, we had Steve James, who later played a lot of games for Manchester United. Our best player was a kid called Brian Thompson.”
How might things have developed if that young left-footed midfielder had not joined Wolves at a time when they were in considerable flux?
But there was only ever going to be one club for Brian. Talking to me in an accent that speaks far more of his 35 years living in New South Wales than of the native tongue of his roots in Mount Pleasant, Kingswinford, the 65-year-old was clear.
“I grew up a huge Wolves fan,” he said. “Peter Broadbent was my hero and I trained there on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
“When I was playing in the schools sides, scouts from other clubs would come up to me. Once, it was Don Dorman from Birmingham. George Noakes walked past, saying: ‘Don’t talk to him, he’s a Wolves man.’”
Brian Thompson attended Glynne Primary School, playing both football and cricket for the school teams. A family move meant that his secondary education was at Summerhill School, where his talents brought him recognition at all age levels with Brierley Hill schoolboys and he captained the under-15s, the team containing Parkes (the other one) and James.
Thompson was good enough to play for both the Birmingham and Staffordshire County FA teams and was in line for possible England honours when he broke his leg in a game at Round Oak in Brierley Hill. In one of his representative games for Birmingham, he encountered a future colleague, an event remembered by both parties.
“We were playing against Lancashire, I think in Bury, in 1964-1965,” he added. “In the changing rooms afterwards, the players from both sides were talking about which clubs they were joining. One of their lads said ‘Wolves’ and I was delighted. ‘Me too,’ I said. It was John McAlle.”
For ‘Scouse’, it was going to be a very new experience. Thompson, though, was no stranger to Wolves following two years of regular training at Molineux.
“We would run on the South Bank. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down. Then it would be to the drying room under the Waterloo Road Stand to lift weights.
“I loved the ball but we didn’t see too much of it. And I had already been doing my own training at the Oval after school before I made my way to Wolverhampton on those evenings.”
Thompson signed as an apprentice and committed to all the customary tasks that the youngsters were obliged to undertake, under the watchful eye of Jack Dowen. Brian recalls him fondly, working alongside the other main backroom staff, Bill Shorthouse and Joe Gardiner.
“As a kid of 13 or 14, I had the opportunity to meet Mr Cullis several times but he had gone when I signed,” he added. “Looking back, perhaps the fact that there were three managers in my time at Molineux was not especially good for my career there. Also, I was not the biggest.”
The News of The World Football Annual of 1968-69 lists him as 5ft 7¾in and 9st 13lbs. His buddy Alun Evans was only three-quarters of an inch taller but 11st 1lb. Perhaps Thompson was perceived as too skinny, although I certainly recall him as a player with considerable creative ability: good enough to earn a couple of England Youth caps. So how near did he get to the first team?
“I played more than once in the pre-season Colours v Whites showpiece and played a lot of games in the Central League. Ronnie Allen would say that I was on the fringe of the squad and Gerry Summers and Ron Bradley were great at encouraging me. But, to be honest, I don’t think I really got near.”
Brian had turned pro for the club on his 17th birthday in February, 1967 and counted Evans, Doug Griffiths, Alan Harris and Ian Wallace as his closest friends at the club.
“The visiting changing room opened directly out on to Waterloo Road and a favourite trick was to push a stark naked youngster out and lock the door! Welcome to Molineux!” he laughed.
Thompson was a capable cricketer and loved to take a Wolves team back to face the team he used to play for in Wall Heath, near Kingswinford.
“Lofty Parkes was a fine bowler,” he recalled. “Mike Bailey and Dave Wagstaffe, too, were good players.”
In due course, Brian realised that his chances were going to be better elsewhere, so he went on a free transfer in October, 1969 to join his old coach, Gerry Summers, who was now gaffer at Oxford.
“They were in the old Second Division and it was a great time, including the League Cup match in September, 1970, when we beat the Wolves 1-0. Mind you, I am not sure they took it seriously because Derek Dougan was at centre-half. Mike Bailey was kind enough to write afterwards that he didn’t know why Wolves had let me go.”
Thompson played 57 times for Oxford, scoring four goals alongside ex-Molineux colleagues such as Hughie Curran, Derek Clarke and Ray Gaston and future Wolves keeper Mick Kearns.
Having lost his place in March, 1973, he was persuaded by Malcolm Musgrove, who had been part of the England Youth set-up, to sign for Torquay on loan. “It was tough in the Fourth Division!” he said.
After nine games and one goal, it was back to the gleaming spires. before an unmemorable month on loan with Southend. Then he signed for Dave Bumpstead at Chelmsford in the Southern League – but not before he had wed.
“I met Lorraine, who was from North London, when Oxford were on tour in Spain. The wedding was planned for the Sunday after our game at West Ham, where Peter Eustace very kindly elbowed me in the face.
“I spent the night in hospital in London but had paid for the stag night which went on without me. The in-laws drove me up to Oxford next morning. There was a picture of the wedding on the front page of the Oxford Times, showing my beautiful black eye.
“My wife’s father was in the shoe trade and I took a job as a sales representative for the factory that was across the street from Irthlingborough Diamonds’ old ground.
“Living there meant I was close to Kettering, so I accepted my old Oxford skipper Ron Atkinson’s offer to go to play for him there. I then took the role of player-manager at Rushden Town for three seasons. I enjoyed that – Ian Wallace came to play for me.
“Things were going well before Derek Dougan, by now chief executive at Kettering, asked me to join as his assistant. They were interesting times – including the infamous sponsorship episode.”
In January, 1976, in a Southern League game against Bath, the Kettering shirts boasted the name ‘Kettering Tyres’. “The Football Association insisted that the wording be removed but Derek changed it to ‘Kettering T’, which still didn’t wash with them!”
It was a case of so near yet so far for the club when, in the last game of the season, they lost 1-0 at Wimbledon and the Dons moved up into the League while Kettering stayed put.
“The Doog moved on but recommended I continue as manager,” Brian added. “I did, for about three months, but then Dave Jones (not the Wolves and Southampton version) came in.
“My wife’s brother had lived in Australia for some years and urged us to think about going over there to live. We decided to give it a go for a few months and loved it so much that we bought a block of land, built a house and have been there ever since, now with a family of a son, a daughter and five grandchildren.
“I never played in Australia. I took myself down to Wollongong Wolves to take a look and they were just kicking lumps out of one another. No thanks!
“I went into the real estate business and only retired in 2014. These days, it’s tennis and golf – and we love our caravanning!”