Rejection Heartbreak

But Jim Prospered Despite Wolves Release

For several years, Charles Bamforth had been keen to track down his latest interviewee. He somehow dug out a postal address and things eventually dropped into place from there. When they finally conversed, he thoroughly enjoyed the long and rewarding exchanges….

There is an American mass media company called Condé Nast. I mention it simply to draw attention to the first word, pronounced (note the acute accent) Con-day. It means Count in Iberia, which is relevant in every sense of the word when it comes to the subject of this article.

Jim Conde in the early 1960s.

That is whether it refers to goal-scoring nobility in non-League circles, accountability in terms of loyalty and devotion or his total of senior appearances for Wolverhampton Wanderers (a count of zero).

Jim Conde (pronounced Condee) was born in July, 1944 in Creswell, near Worksop, and was raised attending the village schools. “I played centre-forward for the school team and for East Derbyshire and Derbyshire Schoolboys,” he said. “In opposition were the likes of Ken Wagstaff, Peter Morris and Mike Stringfellow.

“I played for the team at Creswell Colliery in the Central Alliance League – Division 1 North against the reserve teams of clubs like Ilkeston, Heanor and Alfreton. They were semi-pro but I was only 14, so I didn’t get paid.

“Mansfield were interested. The manager of the colliery team, Mr Pickering, wanted me to go to Sheffield Wednesday. I desperately wanted to play football at a high level but I wanted it to be right.

“Perhaps I didn’t fancy Wednesday because I was a Sheffield United supporter! I idolised Joe Shaw, Alan Hodgkinson, Colin Grainger and Jimmy Hagan. We’d catch the bus into Sheffield as I didn’t play on Saturdays in those days.

“I played for the youth club but my dad was very careful about who I played with and against, strength-wise. He was also adamant I would not go down the coal-mine.

“I got an office job with the CWS glassworks facility in Worksop and started playing football for them on a Saturday. John Galley was from the next village, Clowne. His dad did some scouting for Wath Wanderers and recommended me to Mark Crook. I can’t remember his name but Mark’s sidekick came to watch me.

Mark Crook during his Wolves playing days.

“After the game, I was going out with my pal, dancing or whatever. But this chap from Wath, knowing that Wednesday were sniffing around, insisted on coming back to Creswell on the bus with me from Worksop. My mother made him tea and my parents got chatting with him.

“There’s me thinking “he’s never going to go” – I wanted a night out! Eventually, he did leave but not before he had my Dad’s word I would sign for Wath.

“I went to play in their next game, at the Cortonwood Miners Welfare Ground. It was not at all what I had expected, changing as we did in the cricket pavilion.

“I am pretty sure it was the autumn of 1960 because it was soon after that someone who has become my best friend scored for Wolves in the FA Cup final – Mick McGrath, with that own goal!

“I was at Wath longer than most, 18 months or so. It was a strange but wonderful time. Only four or five of us were regulars, the rest were boys you would never see again.

“Loads of lads were tried out. They came for two or three weeks at most and that would be it. We played in the Northern Intermediate League against the youth teams of clubs like Newcastle, Leeds and the Sheffield clubs. One of the regulars was Bobby Saxton, who later played for and managed Blackburn.

“I remember Cyril Knowles coming to play for Wath. We became friends. He was a very good rugby player and said he was giving up on Wath because he had been offered a trial with a rugby league club.

“I urged him to hang on and keep trying. I told him he had to give it a shot or he would regret it. Of course he stayed and he went on to Spurs and England. Smashing lad, died far too young.

“I would go down to Wolverhampton about once a month and play in the Midland Intermediate League side. Then I got a game in the Central League at Preston in October, 1961 and scored twice.

“Later that season, Mark Crook told me Wolves were going to sign me and I needed to go to Wolverhampton with my dad. But he said I had to hand my notice in at work. I was sad to do that. I was a wages clerk and enjoying the work but also the sport. As well as football, there was cricket, tennis and table tennis. The chap I worked for was very sports-minded and he was wonderful in giving me time off to play for Wath and Wolves.

“I played in the Worcestershire Combination team in midfield. Wolves had loads of centre-forwards and I’m pretty sure they didn’t want another. Mark had told them I could play in midfield as well, so I did. Nothing was said about me signing. I was so disappointed.

“We didn’t have a phone at home then. Mark would ring the shop at the end of the road and they would come down to our house and fetch me! When he heard Wolves had not signed me, Mark said he would fix it. He told them Wednesday were back in for me – and so I signed.

“It was May, 1962, two months before I turned 18. We started pre-season training on my birthday. My pay was £10 a week, with an extra £2 if I played in the A team and £5 if I played in the reserves. Jack Dowen said: ‘Don’t worry about what you would get for the first team, you won’t be getting that’! It wasn’t a lot of money, was it? But my dad worked nights down the pit for £2 less in terms of basic pay.​

Jack Dowen

“That season, I played in the fourth team in the Worcestershire Combination but also in the third team in the Midland Intermediate League. I mostly played at half-back, in midfield.

“I remember one particularly nasty Worcestershire Combination game when we had a lot of kids playing. Mr Cullis asked me to deal with one of their players, which I did. I was quite tall and I worked hard. I was not afraid of much.

“I shared a double room with Peter Knowles at Mrs. Southwick’s (or Mrs S, as we called her) on Newhampton Road East. Peter was mad that I played in the Central League team before him!

“Others in there were centre-forward Kevin McMahon (from Tantobie, the same north-east place as Jim Barron) and then David Clements, the Irish lad. We couldn’t understand a word he said, if he spoke at all. He was so lonely. Lovely lad, though – and all he drank was milk!

“I absolutely idolised Stan Cullis. He scared me to death, of course. The kids would be cleaning the changing room and I would be in there with them. Then we’d hear those shoes coming down the marble corridor: steel heel caps, I think they were called segs. Everyone was in a panic!

“I remember playing in the reserves, I think against Barnsley. I completely screwed up a volley. Stan Cullis singled me out next day, telling me I had messed it up because I had poor balance. There he was, stood stock still on one leg. I was stood on two legs, shaking.

“I remember Chris Crowe effing and blinding one time in the dressing room. That was a complete no-no with Cullis, who was not at all happy. He loved tough play but not bad language. Nobody was allowed to swear.

“Bill Shorthouse, who could still dish it out when tackling on the training ground, Joe Gardiner, Jack Dowen…..I would run through a brick wall for all of them.

“My closest friends were Terry Wharton and John Doughty but I also spent a lot of time with Peter Knowles. We would kick a ball about together in the park and have long chats about our future careers.

“I would go with Terry and his mum and dad on holiday to Cornwall. So would John Doughty and a friend of Terry’s who played for Burnley, called Dennis Crompton, together with our wives.

“Later in that 1962-1963 season, Wolves converted me to right-back. They played me there in a Midland Intermediate League game against Aston Villa so I could mark a promising winger called John Martin. I must have had a good game as I was soon playing in a no 2 shirt for the Central League side.

“I had played once before in the Central League when I came down from Wath the previous season but well remember the first time I played in it as a professional. Someone came to our digs and told me to report to the ground because I was going on the coach to Sheffield Wednesday. I should be prepared to play but was not necessarily going to be in the team.

“On the coach, I was called to the front to see the trainer, Jack Dowen, and Bill Slater, who was the old head in the second team that season. Bill said: ‘Are you nervous?’ I replied that I was more excited than nervous and that I loved being in this atmosphere. He looked me in the eye. ‘Do you want to play?’ I emphatically replied: ‘Yes!’ He told me I was in. We won 3-1 and I marked Howard Wilkinson, who would later be my manager.”

Conde obviously did fine. He kept his place at home to Barnsley’s reserves the following Monday, when Wolves won 2-1 through goals from Gerry Harris and Peter Knowles. The team read: Malcolm Finlayson, Jim Conde, Gerry Harris, Fred Goodwin, John Harris, Ken Knighton, David Thompson, Peter Knowles, Ted Farmer, John Galley, Clive Ford. One assumes that if Bill Slater had not liked what young Conde had said on the bus, he himself would have played that day at centre-half with John Harris at right-back.

Peter Knowles – goal-scoring pal.

“I only got close to the first team once,” he added. “One Friday, when the team sheets went up, I could not see my name in any side. I was so disappointed. I didn’t know what to do. Jack Dowen was behind me and I told him why I was looking so miserable. ‘That’s your whole problem. You always look from the bottom up’, said Jack. I looked again and there I was as travelling reserve for the first team.

“There were no substitutes in those days and I was only going to be carrying the skip. But you never know, do you? Somebody might have been taken ill on the train.”

The game was Wolves’ 5-0 win at Fulham on December 8, 1962. It was fellow Derbyshire man John Galley’s debut for the first team and he scored, alongside Alan Hinton’s hat-trick and a goal from Barry Stobart.

“The problem was that I didn’t have any smart clothes to travel in. At that time, the players went to an outfitters in town called Lesters and bought clothes ‘on tick’.

“There were two jackets I liked, one that fitted me perfectly and one that didn’t. The first was much better quality and way beyond my price range and I said I just couldn’t afford it.

“They urged me to choose it but I knew what I could pay and this was too much. So they agreed to alter the other one and said I should go back at five. When I returned, they put this jacket on me and I said I knew full well that it was the more expensive one and said again: ‘I can’t afford it’. The chap just looked at me and said: ‘Don’t tell anyone, but someone has paid the difference for you’. I am 99 per cent certain it was Ron Flowers and Norman Deeley, who had been in the shop earlier.”

Jim Conde said he had never previously told anyone that story but I urged him to let me use it because it says much about the wonderful camaraderie at Molineux, extending to ex-players like Deeley, who by then was playing for Leyton Orient.

Actually, Jim did play for Wolves’ first team once in the deep freeze of 1962-63. Stourbridge managed to make their Amblecote ground playable and Culls took a side there to play in three inches of snow. John and Gerry Harris were both injured, so Conde had his chance.

“I used to send all my press cuttings to my dad and I know there was one that day in the Sporting Star that referred to me as the next one who was going to progress,” he added. “But, really, I wasn’t the best.

“There were so many players at Wolves, so many youngsters coming through like Fred Kemp, Ray Aggio, David Thompson and plenty of others. But it was wonderful to have been part of it all.”

David Thompson as a Molineux youngster.

Conde was devastated to be given a free transfer in the summer of 1963. “It broke my heart. Mansfield were interested again but Mark Crook called the shop at the end of the road and along I went to hear him say his friend, Dick Duckworth, wanted me at Scunthorpe. Mark told me he was the man for me and said the plan was to play me up front.

“It seemed like a reasonable move. They were in the old Second Division and had a brand new cantilever stand. I enjoyed it. I was there for two years, although I only played four League games and scored one goal.

“Next stop was Tranmere, where my colleagues included a young Roy McFarland. I was miserable in my digs and Roy Parnell, the former Everton full-back, was my only friend as there were not many other local young players in the club.

“Then Bangor City came in. Their manager, Tommy TG Jones, was obsessed with the Welsh Cup and wanted a striker. I went on loan for a month and scored quite a few. He pushed the boat out for me to go permanently….in 1966, my girlfriend, Diana, and I married and moved to Bangor.

“I was part-time, working in the stores for Ferranti. Then we bought a house on Anglesey and I joined another engineering firm that taught me tool setting.

“Things were going well at Bangor. Harry Gregg wanted to take me to Swansea but I was happy. Then Blackburn bid £6,000 for me, which was a lot for a non-Leaguer.

“I made a stupid mistake. Someone in the crowd had been having a real go at me, so I flashed him two fingers. The board suspended me for two weeks without consulting Mick McGrath, the player-manager. He resigned.

“I only played one more game. The pleasure had gone out of it. I did stay one more year, out of loyalty to Mick McGrath, who had managed to get a job with the same company as me. I wanted to stay around for that reason.

“Then Jim Smith came in to take me to Boston United in 1972. I scored a lot of goals. It was probably the period in which I played my best football. I was top scorer in 1972-73 and 1973-74 in the Northern Premier League.

“Off the field, I worked for a plasterer, who was also our sponge man. It was always the football that drove me – and I earned more doing it.

“Howard Wilkinson took over from Jim and we played Derby in the FA Cup in 1973-74. We drew 0-0 at the Baseball Ground but went down 6-1 in the replay at York Street, where I scored our goal.

“McFarland had played in the first game but Peter Daniel marked me in the second match. Alan Hinton was on Derby’s left wing. That was probably the best team I ever played in, partnering John Froggatt up front. We won the league a couple of times and had some good cup runs.”

Alan Hinton, pictured in Wolves’ 3-3 draw at Burnley in November, 1961. He was a familiar face at Molineux – and then an FA Cup opponent.

All told, Jim Conde played 98 first-team games for Boston, scoring 45 goals. Not a bad return for a one-time full-back.

If we can back-track for a moment, we might dwell on a friendly between Bangor and First Division Coventry in May, 1971, when a Sky Blues team including Ernie Hunt, Willie Carr and Billy Rafferty lost 4-2 to a side including guests Emlyn Hughes, Jimmy Armfield, Shay Brennan, Tony Book and Ron Yeats. Armfield, Brennan and Book: right-backs all! But Jim Conde was, of course, up front and scored one of the goals. Carr and Hunt used the game to show off the famous donkey kick.

Back to Boston….“We played Kettering over two legs in the game that pitched the champions of the Northern Premier League against the champions of the Southern League,” the 74-year-old recalls. “We beat them 4-1 at home and then 2-1 at Kettering and I scored two.

“A year later, Ron Atkinson came in for me. I think the fee was £3,000. I went for two years – and we still live in the area. Derek Dougan came in and he was very good to me. I remember we were headed to Ireland for pre-season training. The builder I worked for told me he wouldn’t give me time off, so I called Derek’s assistant, another former Wolves man, Brian Thompson.

“Dougan was good as gold and gave me a job on the commercial side at Kettering. He also urged me to go to Desborough as player-coach, saying he would have me back after 12 months to manage the reserves. He was true to his word.”

​Jim made 75 appearances for Kettering and scored 42 goals. “I went on to manage Kettering after Colin Clarke,” he added. “Let’s be honest, they couldn’t afford anybody else. I played a lot of kids…..the average age was 22.

“After the sack, I took a part-time job in a camping shop. A customer then made me an offer I could not refuse with City Electrical Factors. I rose to become group manager, running 12 branches.

“I’d come a long way from the financial uncertainties of my lifestyle as a player, with a wife and two children (Paula and Gareth) and a mortgage. Now I was comfortable at last.

“Gareth was in the system at Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest alongside the sons of Barry Stobart and John Galley. Paula played for the England Schools under-18 netball team, which kept Diana and I busy driving around the country.”

Jim Conde and wife Diana in much more recent times.

Some years ago, Jim Conde found himself chatting with George Graham in the Caribbean. “We got to talking about me living in Northants and he said: ‘Oh, one of my lads comes from Corby’. I said: ‘Yes, Eddie McGoldrick. I gave him his chance at Kettering!’ I remember saying to Eddie in his early days at Kettering: ‘There are going to be more scouts here today than at Baden-Powell’s funeral’. But I don’t think he got it!”