Hibby Among Grateful Admirers Of Gentleman Jack
Anxious as he is that those who worked brilliantly out of the public eye are fully recognised on this site, Charles Bamforth makes another excursion behind the Molineux scenes.
It is a proud Stan Cullis sitting front and centre of the young Wolves squad that had clinched the FA Youth Cup in 1958.
On the Iron Man’s left after that sensational 6-1 second leg Molineux victory over Chelsea are three players who would do much good work in the Wolves first team in years to come – Cliff Durandt, Des Horne and Ted Farmer.
Standing on the far right, and doubtless just as happy as the boss, is head coach Bill Shorthouse, who is next to another player who became a stalwart with the Wolves, John Kirkham.
However, we need to look to the back row and to the far left for the official who was closest to the young Wolf pack. This was their trainer, Jack Screen.
In those days, a collection of dedicated men looked after the well-being of the Wanderers players, from the Billy Wrights and Jimmy Mullens in the first team, right down to the youngest of eager but nervous triallists who would pitch up in their hundreds for a chance to get a place at a club rated among the best in the world.
Phil Parkes spells out the hierarchy: “Joe Gardiner was trainer for the first team, Jack Dowen had the second team, Bill Crook the Midland Intermediate League team, Jack Screen the Worcestershire Combination side and Dave Lapworth the Wolverhampton Amateur League team.
“When I first went as a triallist on a Wednesday evening, Jack Screen would be one of the trainers. After I left school and was working for a steel construction firm, I would go on Tuesdays and Thursday evenings and again he would be one of those training the amateurs and part-timers.
“After I turned full-time professional, I did not see him much because he was not at Molineux or Castlecroft during the day. But I know he was one of the nicest blokes you could wish to meet.”
Vic Povey, one of the many talented 1960s youngsters who had to move elsewhere to forge a career in first-team football, adds: “Jack was very quiet.
“I had very little to do with him but can see him now, in his windcheater. I had more to do with Dave Lapworth. Billy Crook was something else. I believe he was an architect. I certainly remember him in his tailored suits and great shoes. His brother, Alf, was very different!”
To find the essence of Jack Screen, I turned to his son-in-law, Reg Lyons, a former Molineux season ticket holder who is still resident near the club’s old training ground.
“Jack was born on January 3, 1915 in Oldbury,” he told me. “His father was a steel roller. I have the English international cap Jack won in 1934.”
The Dudley Chronicle of August 16, 1934 summarised West Bromwich Albion’s annual report, listing J. Screen among the players for the coming season after arriving from Smethwick Highfield. The club’s report stated: “Congratulations to S. Swinden, N.J. Whitehead and J. Screen, who took part in junior international games.”
The records show that Jack’s first game for the Baggies was a friendly between West Brom Colts and Cheltenham from the Birmingham Combination at The Hawthorns on Boxing Day, 1933. The Gloucestershire men, billed as giant-killers by the Sports Argus, were warming up for an FA Cup game at Blackpool (which they lost 3-1). Scheduled to make his debut at centre-forward alongside Screen was Tom Dollery, who would go on to play cricket for Warwickshire and England and who was professional at Smethwick at the time.
Perusal of the Birmingham Daily Gazette of February 16, 1934 finds all three of these chaps (Screen at right-back) listed in the West Brom reserve side for a Central League fixture against Wolves.
Of particular note is that the Wolves side featured Jack Dowen at left-back and the legendary Wath Wanderers manager Mark Crook on the right wing; two more men who would play wonderful roles in developing young players for Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Reg picks up the story: “Throughout his playing career, Jack kept up his trade as an electrician. After the Baggies, he joined Wrexham and then went non-League with Bromsgrove Rovers and (in 1946) Banbury Spencer.”
A snippet in The People on July 9th, 1939 says “Fitness is almost a religion with Jack Screen, Wrexham’s new back from West Bromwich. He has his own private gymnasium at home and six o’clock every morning finds him doing his training.”
Screen’s playing career was one of so many that fell foul of World War Two. He had played a solitary game in Albion’s first team (a 6-3 home win over Middlesbrough in 1934-35) and then in the first three games of Wrexham’s Division Three (North) season in 1939-40, after which the season was abandoned.
He went on to play in 14 of the club’s War League season that term, one in 1943-44 and guested seven times for Walsall in 1945-46.
Reg Lyons continues: “After Banbury, Jack gave up because there was too much travelling. He joined Wolves in the early 1950s when Joe Gardiner, whom he had befriended, was first-team trainer.
“When he was at Wolves, Jack was works manager for a steel stockholders in Pelsall. Not long before he retired, they invited him to become a director but he declined. He wanted to concentrate on his garden and scouting for the Wolves, which he did after he had finished as a trainer and coach.
“When he was looking after the youngsters, they came in at half-time once and he roasted them for letting a goal in. ‘But, boss, we scored nine,’ they replied. He told them that was irrelevant: if the opposition thought they could score past you, it was a weakness.
“Over the years, he developed bad arthritis and took to scouting. I would go with him on some missions, which were to watch sides the Wolves first team would be soon be facing.
“He had a little book and would write down how they took corners and the like. Folks would have recognised Joe Gardiner, who was now chief scout at Molineux, but not my father-in-law, so he was under cover!
“We went to Chesterfield once to check out a young goalkeeper. Pretty quickly, he let in two goals and Jack said: ‘We’re off. He’s no bloody good’. I believe it was Gordon Banks!”
Screen was with Wolves when Castlecroft was opened in 1954. He appears on photos in the Sports Argus of July 2, 1955 alongside an article extolling the virtues of an amenity which was the dream of the club’s then chief scout, the legendary George Noakes.
“Joe Gardiner was a very close friend of Jack’s,” Reg added. “Every Saturday night, Joe would come to Jack and Vera’s home in Castlecroft Gardens to play cards. On Christmas Day, he would visit for lunch.
“When Vera died (at 63 in the mid-1980s), Joe would come to my late wife Wendy and my house. Joe was a prodigious walker. He set off once and found himself 14 miles away in Bridgnorth. He caught the bus home!
“Jack and Vera took two lodgers at a time from the Wolves. Sometimes they were senior players like Mike O’Grady and Paul Bradshaw. When Paul was there, Emlyn Hughes would come round because he preferred Vera’s food to that at the Mount Hotel in Tettenhall.”
Maurice Daly, the young Irishman, was another lodger and recalls: “What a lovely man Jack was!
“I always remember him as rather quiet and introverted. However, he had a habit of taking me aside and giving me tips. These words of advice were seldom regarding my play but more about being a professional player.
“I was very fond of him and always enjoyed his company. He spoke highly of Kenny Hibbitt and Mike O’Grady, who had stayed with the Screens.”
Kenny Hibbitt speaks fondly of those days, too: “I lodged with Jack, his wife Vera and their daughter Wendy in 1968, when I first joined Wolves.
“Joe Gardiner played a big part in me signing and was very friendly with Jack. I stayed with the Screens for almost two and a half years. Jim McCalliog and Mike O’Grady were with me at different times.
“The family looked after me like their own son. They played a big part in me settling down quite quickly as I was only 17. It felt like home. They had a small dog called Suzie, who had the bite of a tiger. I tried to get up the stairs without her noticing me but she was quick off the mark and grabbed me on the ankle several times.
“One night, she caught me on the ankle bone with her teeth and it bloody hurt. I shook my leg to get her off and Suzie fell down the stairs, yelping. Mrs Screen came running out of the lounge wondering what had happened and I told her she had fallen down the stairs. I dared not tell the truth.
“We used to play cards on Saturday night after a reserve game as I was not old enough to go out with the older players. Mrs Screen invited some friends and Wendy’s boyfriend, Reg. We played 2s and 8s. It was hilarious and the stick and looks going around the table were brilliant but everyone was so serious about trying to win. The Screens were so good to me and played a massive part in my development by being supportive and very caring.”
Another Yorkshire youngster ‘adopted’ by the Screens was Stuart Darfield, who said: “I went to Wolves in the 1966-67 season and for the first six weeks lived next door to them close to the Castlecroft training ground. Fortunately for me, my first digs did not work out, so I lived instead with Jack and Vera and their lovely daughter Wendy.
“It was perfect for me, as it was such a lovely family environment and I was treated like an adopted son. Discipline was not lax and I was looked after brilliantly but could not step out of line. Family standards had to be upheld and I admit I was very happy to comply.
“Jack was one of the nicest, most regimented and dedicated family men I have ever met. He was quiet, studious and seemed in control of any situation. I believe he was held in high esteem by the hierarchy at Molineux.
“By day, he was a works manager in Brownhills and took me to his works once where I could see his staff thought a lot of him. On Saturdays, he attended Molineux with all his skills and procedures which, to me, always exuded the utter conviction and quiet calmness of a man who was totally at ease with himself. It rubbed off on anyone involved with him in the teams he looked after.
“I particularly remember one Saturday when Jack was going through his routine. They brought into the club a young fan who had been stabbed by some Chelsea fans in Molineux Alley at the side of the ground. Jack took control of everything, taking the young lad into the physio room and treating him and calming everyone down until the medics arrived.
“I know he played for West Bromwich and he would show me his old team photos and talk about his day. He said you were lucky to get into the first team before you got to your mid to late 20s and you were expected to learn your trade in the reserves for six or seven years.
“Even when I was released by Wolves in 1968, Jack and Vera travelled up to Yorkshire to see me at my Mum and Dad’s pub. And when I got married in 1973, they invited myself and my wife Janice to visit and stay with them. I was very fortunate to have met Jack and his family and become part of them. To this day, I correspond with their son-in-law, Reg.”
Reg, in turn, has happy memories of Stuart Darfield, pointing out he was rather more outgoing than his room-mate from Leicester, Bob Aldwinckle.
“I think Jack packed in just after Joe Gardiner retired,” he added. “After Castlecroft Gardens, Jack and Vera bought a bungalow in Finchfield. Jack died on January 17, 2004 in Wolverhampton, 62 years to the day after he got married in West Bromwich to Vera (Porter), whose father was a licensed victualler.”