A Club Packed With Title Winners
Strength In Depth Gave Cullis Some Welcome Headaches
Never one to overlook those serving as back-up to Wolves’ senior teams, Charles Bamforth does some digging on a rich seam of Molineux names we may have forgotten…..he does love a good rummage through the old newspaper files!
The end of the 1958-59 season was approaching….Wolves were about to clinch their second successive First Division title.
At the same time, the second team had long since run away with the Central League and the Birmingham League title was soon to be won for the second year running by the A team.
Alas, the fourth team let the side down by finishing only third in the Worcestershire Combination, missing out to Shelfield Athletic by just two points. So the remarkable record of the previous season, when all four of Wolves’ main teams won their competitions was not repeated.
The goal totals of the first, second, third and fourth teams in their leagues in this season in question makes good reading – 110, 131, 91 and 110.
For a glimpse at the strength in depth, let us peek at the games the club played between April 8 and April 18, starting with the A team at Bromsgrove.
In the line-up who played out a goalless draw, Cliff Durandt and Des Horne had both played for the first team that season and Colin Tether had appeared for the senior side two years earlier.
The Birmingham Post reported that Wolves attracted one of the best crowds of the season to Bromsgrove and that they brought the best out of Rovers, who had gone nine games unbeaten.
An interesting last sentence was: “Cullen, the Wolves goalkeeper, also impressed, particularly in a second half in which he was almost continually in action”. John “Paddy” Cullen? The Wolves programme from shortly afterwards says it was Fred Davies who played, so maybe the Post correspondent missed a team change from the programme.
On to the next Saturday – and all bar Fred Davies, David “Slipper” Read, Ted Farmer, Brian Perry and Des Horne were promoted to the Central League side. It seems that the third team had been boosted for that Bromsgrove game.
There was no place for Durandt, simply because the legend that was Jimmy Mullen was playing one of his last games in a gold shirt. But that third team facing Villa at Castlecroft could hardly be said to be slouches. Witness at inside-left Alan Jackson, who had led the first-team line earlier in the season, including against Bolton at Molineux in the reverse fixture to that being played here in April.
In October of 1959, the Sunday Independent in Dublin was speculating about who would feature for Northern Ireland in an upcoming B international against France. One player was ‘Robert Allen, an 18-year- old serviceman stationed in Gloucestershire and a professional with Wolves’.
There he is at right-half for the third team on April 11. He had come to Wolves from Denbigh Town, signing as a professional in September, 1957. So, by the time we see him in this A team, he had been pro at Molineux for over 18 months.
It is intriguing that the demands of national service were another reason for the sizeable Molineux squads, with their chopping and changing. Allen would go to Coventry two months later and play 25 League games for them between 1960 and 1962.
At left-half was England schoolboy international Graham Jones and, at left-back, we had future England youth international Vic Cockcroft. Another highly-rated youngster was at the heart of the defence, Tony Corbett.
In May of that season, the Sports Argus said: “George Noakes, the Wolves chief scout, is very pleased with Corbett, the club’s junior centre-half, who is likely to turn professional soon. Last Saturday, Tony received his first England youth cap against Ireland at Liverpool. On Monday, he captained the Birmingham County FA in their County Youth Cup final over London and, on Tuesday, he skippered Wolves to a youth win against Stoke at Bilston. Tony works in the drawing office of a Wolverhampton lock and safe company.”
Corbett did indeed sign pro that month but, in July of 1960, was one of so many that had to move on to get a look in on even second-team football. He joined Shrewsbury and made a handful of Football League appearances.
Most intriguing of all in that Birmingham League side was Neil. That would be Pat Neil, the amateur who had played a few games on the Wolves left wing in Division One in 1956-57. It seems incongruous in these wealth-laden days of football that there were still players who featured at the highest level for the sheer love of playing, although I assume they received their travel expenses.
In the case of Neil, it was certainly a strange few weeks in his life. The Norwood News reported on March 6 that the player was back from Malta and would be on the left wing for his regular side, the famous amateur club Corinthian-Casuals, for the next day’s fixture with Woking.
Only a week later in the same paper, a headline read “Neil, the surprise choice for England”, with Alan Hubbard, who would go on to the national stage as a writer, telling us that he had played only one game for Corinthian-Casuals since returning from army service in Cyprus and Malta.
It would be the 21-year-old’s third amateur cap and he said: “I certainly didn’t expect anything like this.” He was speaking from his home in Portsmouth, where he was ‘on 28 days leave from the Royal Berks.’
And so, to the Sports Argus of April 4, telling us that he “checked in at Molineux last weekend and had a spin with the fourth team”. An England amateur international playing in front of a partisan Scottish crowd at Dumfries and then, a couple of weeks later, turning out in the Wanderers’ B team.
The Argus continued: “The slightly built left-winger will go to Cambridge University in September to study modern languages and will be able to make only rare appearances for Wolves. Not that Pat is soccer-starved. While he was in Cyprus, he ran the battalion team and he is to tour Uganda with Middlesex Wanderers in June.” (Middlesex Wanderers was established as a touring side intent on spreading the game across the globe.)
Neil is mentioned again when appearing in the Worcestershire Combination side at home to Lower Gornal on April 14, partnering the 16-year-old Terry Wharton on the right.
At centre-forward in the same side was Tony Bridges, erstwhile head boy of St James Choir School in Grimsby and on the left wing was another 16-year-old, Graham Newton. At right-back was Alex Royle, who had signed the previous September as a 17-year-old amateur from Acton Bridge, which you might recognise as a stop on the main railway line near Northwich. He would go on to sign professional forms but was released to Southern League Wellington Town (who would become Telford United) in the summer of 1960.
Royle was part of the Youth Cup side that season and can be seen to be in the team that played the very next day in the Staffordshire County Youth Cup final. Keeper was Garry Brown, a six-footer who had come from Greets Green Prims as a 16-year-old. The Sports Argus in December, 1958 said he was 13 stone and ‘a bit on the spectacular side’. He, too, went to Wellington and later Kidderminster Harriers.
At right-half was David Oliphant, a Carlisle lad who would sign professional in the June, but sign for his hometown club in December, 1960 and serve them well for several seasons. (Vic Povey remembers him as ‘a really, really lovely man who could run and run forever’.)
Centre-half was an interesting player, Maurice Donaghy, who would feature in the Wolves third and fourth teams as an amateur right up until the end of 1962-63. At the start of 1958-59, Alan Lake was writing in the Argus that Stan Cullis had a major headache because he had such an enormous list of players to choose from. “I’ve every confidence in our young players. The problem is not who to put in but who to leave out”, the great man is quoted as saying.
Lake used the centre-half position to illustrate the point. Observing that Billy Wright remained undisputed first-choice, the writer pointed out that George Showell, Granville Palin and Maurice Kyle were lining up behind him.
Lake went on: “Then, John Greenwood, last season’s England schools skipper, is on the amateur strength, while chief scout George Noakes tells me that he has another winner in Maurice Donaghy, another young no 5 from Nechells”. In May, 1960, Donaghy was in the Birmingham County FA side to play at Hounslow in the final of the FA County Youth Cup competition alongside David Woodfield and Barry Clark, his colleague here in the Youth team. Three years later, Donaghy was still in the Wolves A and B teams while ‘Duggie’ was the club’s first-choice centre-half.
Isn’t it remarkable how fortunes fluctuate? Come January, 1963, Donaghy was still representing the Birmingham FA in the Southern Counties Amateur Championship, against Oxfordshire. One of his team-mates was Arthur Hodgetts, a former colleague at Wolves but who was now at Walsall, although he would give up that for a university career. Clearly, Maurice Donaghy adhered to the amateur imperative – I presume he had a promising career outside the game. In due course, he joined Highgate United, the prominent amateur side from Shirley who were in the Worcestershire Combination.
And so to that awful day in February, 1967, when lightning struck during their FA Amateur Cup quarter-final against Enfield, killing centre-half Tony Allden. The match was replayed at Villa Park on March 7, with Villa giving their strip to Highgate to play in. There were 31,570 people present to see a 6-0 win for an Enfield side loaded with internationals from the unpaid ranks. Another ex-Wolves player, Trevor Quiggin, was in the Highgate side.
In the Birmingham Post, Colin Malam (another journalist who found fame nationally) concluded his report by writing “After the final whistle, the Highgate players saluted the sympathetic crowd from the centre of the pitch, and Maurice Donaghy, Allden’s replacement at centre-half, ran off in tears.”
Back to April, 1959, and there at centre-forward for the Wolves third team we find Harry Middleton, who had made his only appearance in the club’s first team three seasons earlier. Now he was confined to A team duty. Feeding him from the left was another 16-year-old who would become one of the game’s greats, Alan Hinton.
And to illustrate the strength in depth that Wolves had up front, the B team had another exiting young prospect leading the line in Sid Nicholls. Within a month, he would be another finding himself in the Birmingham County FA youth side, to play the second leg of the final against London.
Tony Corbett and Alan Hinton were with him in that line-up, as was another front-runner from Wolves, Ted Patten (who would soon join a very small club in Cheshire called Norley United). Malcolm Beard from Birmingham was another prominent name in the side, while a certain Terry Venables from Chelsea was in the London team. Nicholls was on his way to Headington United (soon to be Oxford United) a year later and had a prolific goal-scoring career with the likes of Worcester, Stafford, Hednesford, Stourbridge, Dudley and Halesowen. Sid was still getting hauls of around six goals a game for Woodlands in the Walsall Minor League in 1974.
All in all, a wealth of talent……and who knows who was in those two Wolverhampton Amateur League sides the programme also referred to? The publishers never reported that information.