The Real Losers
Cullis Selflessness Struck Poignant Note
Wolves were already more than a month into their latest reign as FA Cup holders 60 years ago.
Their League season was over – very nearly a double-winning one as it happens – and their players, if not going off on international tours, were probably thinking of heading with their families to Devon, Weston-Super-Mare or Clacton.
So what would the likes of Malcolm Finlayson, two-goal final hero Norman Deeley and triple League title winners Ron Flowers, Peter Broadbent and Wembley captain Bill Slater have made of the mayhem engulfing the game now?
Into the second week of June, we still haven’t even seen the Cup quarter-finals played and we are almost a fortnight away from Wolves resuming a League campaign that has nine games to run, plus a thrilling Europa League challenge that has them in the last 16.
But the team who beat Blackburn 3-0 on May 7, 1960, had an extra dimension that the present generation happily lack.
All of Stan Cullis’s winning line-up, even 21-year-old Barry Stobart, would have remembered at least some of the war years and been familiar with how the game as a whole was decimated by it.
In case we need a reminder, League football was not held up for three or four months like it is now. It went into shutdown for seven long years, with the consolation for some of wartime leagues, for which player selection was much more random and the underlying aim was to raise public morale.
Cullis, like Matt Busby, Joe Mercer and others, even made trips to coach the troops during the conflict and the Molineux legend told me when I visited and interviewed him in 1990 for my Wolverhampton Wanderers Greats book that he didn’t brood for one moment over missing out on hundreds of games and possibly some more honours and caps through the war carving a big hole in his playing career.
His sole regret was all the lives, especially the young ones, that were lost in the conflict – a selfless reaction that he is bound to have expressed in the Molineux dressing room, as both a player and a manager.
Just as football recovered then from the ravages, so we must hope and trust that it does the same in the coming months.
Sadly, there will be no immediate dip-stick with which to gauge the appetite to have it back. Wolves’ first League game after the war, with Cullis at centre-half, was a 6-1 crushing of Arsenal at Molineux in front of 50,845 fans.
This time, when Bournemouth arrive on the patch in just over a fortnight, a mere few hundred will be present.
How we look forward to that day, though – even if it’s at a time of year when Stan and his contemporaries might instead have been holidaying in Bournemouth rather than contemplating facing their team.