Remembering Wolf Cub Who Died Far Too Early
Our more observant readers will have spotted the recent reference we made to our role in a birthday surprise for the son of a former Wolves player.
And now the big day has passed, we can say much more about it, in particular concerning a name we have fleetingly mentioned on here from time to time.
Alan Attwood was part of the Wolves squad who reached the final of the 1961-62 FA Youth Cup and played in the first leg of the home-and-away decider against Newcastle.
In recognition of the fact he passed away in 1999, he was among the absent friends toasted when many of the surviving squad members had a 50th anniversary get-together eight years ago.
We played a small part in the organising of that two-day event, which we then also attended, and it was our subsequent write-ups that caught the eye of Liverpool fan Chris Gillespie earlier this summer.
Chris is originally from the Kidderminster area and is best mates with Alan’s son Richard, who had a birthday on July 30 – a date every football supporter of a certain age will recognise as the one on which England won the World Cup in 1966.
With lockdown dictating that anything beyond a small family get-together was inadvisable, Chris racked his brains as to what he might do to prevent the occasion from falling flat and made contact with us after a Google search had located our past stories.
As well as helping set him up with the purchase of a replica Wolves shirt from the era, he wondered whether we could obtain any comments or memories from a couple of team-mates of Alan’s from Molineux, so we contacted Ken Knighton, Jim Barron and the 2012 reunion host John Doughty.
Chris immediately expressed his gratitude at our efforts and returned the favour by showing us some of Alan’s football keepsakes that Rich had shared with him via email a few months earlier.
They include line-ups from printed match-day team-sheets, one of which shows Attwood at no 6 for the team of young hopefuls in the 1963 staging of the annual Colours v Whites pre-season match at Molineux, another having him at inside-right in a Central League game later in the same year against a Manchester United side including the names of Brennan, Stiles and Sadler.
And the souvenirs were a good start in the piece we have long wanted to write about a player we were sadly never able to meet.
Newspaper cuttings help show that Alan arrived at the club via the familiar route of impressing in schoolboy football in the West Midlands, in his case near his Brierley Hill roots.
He joined Wolves as an amateur while pursuing an apprenticeship as a draughtsman and was with Bromsgrove at the time he scored a superb winning goal in front of the watching Stan Cullis when appearing for Worcestershire against Staffordshire in an age-group fixture at The Hawthorns.
Scouts from other clubs were present, too, and the 16-year-old was on a diet of three pints of milk a day to build up his strength as discussions went on as to whether he made a better inside-forward, wing-half or even centre-forward.
Soon after his vital contribution to that FA County Youth Cup second-round tie, it was announced that Attwood would not be returning to Bromsgrove and was expected to sign for Wolves instead on his 17th birthday.
While at Molineux, he was invited to England youth training at Bournville in Birmingham in the autumn of 1962.
The highlight of his Wolves career was playing in the drawn home leg of the Youth Cup final against Newcastle, having also appeared in the side who completed a 4-0 aggregate victory over Chelsea in the semi-final.
“A good, tidy player,” was how Barron described him almost 60 years on, reflecting on how his colleague would have been up against Peter Knowles in trying to forge a path to the first team.
Knighton said he was ‘really surprised’ when the club let Attwood go while Doughty, another inside-right, recalled him joining the squad quite late and being good friends with Laurie Calloway.
With the help of Southport-based Chris Gillespie, we were delighted to make contact a few days ago with Alan’s son, Rich, who was willing and able to fill in the many other blanks we had.
“The first thing you should know is that our family are a long, long line of Wolves fans,” he told us. “Probably back to the First World War.
“I know it was a big deal for my dad to play for them, even if he didn’t get as far as the first team. And he passed his love of the club on to me.”
Rich, 41, went on: “I had had it in mind that Stan Cullis had gone to my grandparents’ house to sign him but my nan is still alive at the age of 93, still with it and tells me they had their meeting in a room at a ground somewhere.
“The Oxford manager did go to the house to unsuccessfully try to sign him some time later but he went non-League around here instead and combined that with jobs outside the game.
“I saw how hard he worked and assume he tried very hard to make it at Wolves. I’m sure he put all the practice in – he was passionate, if a little shy, because he was a man of simple pleasures really – there was work to support his family and then there was football.
“After Wolves, he was with Hereford (1964), Kidderminster Harriers (1966-67) and Lockheed Leamington (1969). I believe he played for Alvechurch, too.
“I missed all this as I was born at the end of the 1970s but there is a photo of him facing Stan Matthews in what is probably a charity game and I went to watch him in a testimonial once as well, maybe at Stourport Swifts.
“I have a sister and a half-sister, so he was delighted to have a son who loved football and there were loads of kickabouts in the park in Northfield, where I spent some of my early years, and after we moved to Kidderminster in 1988.
“I didn’t get past doing well in schools football as a right-back but I remember being taken to a Villa v Liverpool game and not being too excited by it . Then he took me to an awful match at Molineux in the dark days of the 1980s. We stood among the handful of visiting fans on the South Bank and Dad thought there was a danger I would be put off – but I loved it.
“I think my grandparents went to the 1949 Cup Final after camping out to make sure they got tickets but Dad was only three or four then and missed out. I didn’t get to the Sherpa Van final but he took me to plenty of games and I have stayed a big fan, although I’m sad to say that work stops me from going now.
“I work seven days a week really – as a carer and also as a singer and multi-instrumentalist by the name of King Rich. In a different field, I have had the same experience of playing in front of an audience that he had.”
Rich has visited his nan in the last couple of days to check facts and prompt him on what he could tell us. His mother also still lives in Kidderminster and the family have great pride, as well as sadness, in talking about a man who would have been 75 this year.
“Nan still has a Wolves calendar on her wall and listens to all their matches on the radio,” he added. “She’s an incredible talker and has so many memories.
“I was 19 when Dad passed away on June 30, 1999. We lived above a newsagent’s he ran in Coates Road, Kidderminster, on the Greenhill estate but he also worked as a gasman, having obtained his certificates. As I said, he believed in hard work!
“He was decorating my room and I was the last person to speak to him. As I left, he laughed at something I said and, five minutes later, Mom heard a bump while we were working downstairs. He had collapsed and died at the age of 54.”