Full-Back Who Turned The Wirral A Little More Golden
Many a fine player was confined largely to the Molineux shadows during Wolves’ halcyon years and Len Gibbons was no doubt one of those.
Good enough to be given 29 games in the club’s first team by Stan Cullis, the full-back was nevertheless generally behind Roy Pritchard and Bill Shorthouse in the pecking order and might have played many more matches had gold and black standards not been sky-high at the time.
We were pleased with ourselves for tracking down members of Len’s family through Facebook, especially as daughter Judith is in Australia and son Glenn is almost as far-flung in Singapore.
Through their kind support, we have pieced together the story of the life and career of a player whose Wolverhampton-born wife Olive is also now living Down Under.
We knew that Len had been born, like Cullis, in Ellesmere Port, and moved down from the Wirral when Wolves went calling.
Signing initially as an amateur in 1946, he graduated to professional status and made his senior debut in a 3-2 top-flight win at Portsmouth in September, 1951.
It was the first of 25 appearances he made that season in the no 3 role that was normally Pritchard’s, including an unbroken post-Christmas run of nearly four months that took in big FA Cup ties against Manchester City twice and Liverpool.
Given his upbringing in the north-west, it is easy to imagine the 2-1 defeat at Anfield being painful for him but a League trip to the venue a few weeks earlier brought he and his colleagues the satisfaction of a 1-1 draw.
But son Glenn, who was born in 1954, sheds a surprise light on family loyalties. “His playing for Wolves had an impact on the wider Gibbons clan, of which there were many members,” he says. “Prior to Dad pulling on the gold and black shirt, they were nearly all Baggies fans but the younger generation switched mostly to Wolves as a result of his time there.”
It would have been nice to report that the relatives had plenty of other sightings of Gibbons in Cullis’s first team.
Sadly, though, he was confined to three appearances the following season, then one in the historic 1953-54 title-winning campaign – at right-back in a 4-3 home win over Pompey in mid-September. And that was that.
“I think he was somewhat in awe of the players around him and spoke very positively of them,” Glenn added.
“I guess going to Wolves at a young age, working your way through the various leagues and age-groups to end up playing with international players in the best team in England would have had a profound impact on anyone.
“My father did have a strong personality and I think his relationship with Stan Cullis was a bit up and down.”
Experienced readers of Wolves literature may recall a quote from Nigel Sims about how he reportedly broke Gibbons’s leg when diving on him to keep out an effort at goal.
There were other fitness problems that the family remember, such as a bad knee injury in 1953, and they presumably contributed to the fact that Len dropped into non-League football with Salisbury, Hastings and Tonbridge after his release from Molineux.
One of those highly respected team-mates of his was Bill Slater, whose passing will reach its first anniversary in just over a week.
We had briefly hoped to learn that Len, who was born in November, 1930, had succeeded the legendary 1960 Cup-winning captain as Wolves’ oldest surviving player. Alas, the connection we established with the family quickly led to the discovery that he was no longer with us.
“Dad passed away in April, 2011 in the small Cheshire village of Childer Thornton,” Judith told us. “He was 80 and had motor neurone disease.
“I was born in Wolverhampton but lived in Brewood and then grew up in Chester. I came to Australia aged 24 but have had many trips back to England, especially when Dad was alive. I was in England in the summer and paid a visit to the Molineux.
“Dad came regularly to Australia until he was diagnosed with MND. He loved it but never had a desire to live here. Mum is a Wolverhampton girl and she now lives in Melbourne, not far from me.”
Glenn describes himself as a Wolves fan since the age of five and fondly recalls trips back to England – initially during his 25-year stay in Melbourne and then over the last decade and a half from Singapore – in which his dad accompanied him to games. Not surprisingly, Tranmere was one such venue.
“In Singapore, it’s generally all Liverpool and Manchester United but there is an awareness that a few clubs are threatening the old order,” he added.
“My favourite (football) bar, the Queens Inglish, is frequented mostly by Liverpool supporters but the owner kindly always finds a spare screen for me to watch Wolves. I am an avid follower of what I regard as the one team!
“Dad’s memories and feelings towards Wolves were always positive. My step-brother Neil (from Dad’s second marriage) visited him in hospital earlier in the day that he passed away and all he wanted to know was what the Wolves result was.”