Crafty Plot That Must Have Had Stan Seeing Red
Our recent mention on here of long-time Sunderland defender Len Ashurst has smoked out an interesting additional Molineux angle.
We have previously stated that the veteran former left-back served Wolves as an amateur – what we can now add is the remarkable story of how he came to leave.
The 81-year-old Merseysider initially had designs only on a career with his beloved Liverpool, so his world needed tilting back the right way after he was released from the Anfield groundstaff in 1957 despite a brilliant teenage career in which he helped the city win the English Schools Trophy and collected seven England youth caps.
Bill Shankly, who was appointed after the player was released, later said: “Len Ashurst was the one that got away. He should have been a Liverpool player.”
Maybe Stan Cullis said, or at least thought, the same from Wolves’ point of view following the left-back’s brief interlude in the West Midlands.
And he must have been furious if and when he learned the full story behind the counter-offer from elsewhere in the top flight.
Over to Sunderland historian Rob Mason to explain what happened: “Len was at Molineux on August 31, 1957, waiting to travel to a game at Bilston Rovers with the third team when he met George Curtis.
“Not the Coventry one but a former Arsenal and Southampton player who was first-team coach at Sunderland. He had been coach of the England youth team when Len had played for them.
“Sunderland were arriving at Molineux to play a first-team game and Curtis was unaware that Liverpool had released Len, who had signed for Wolves a few weeks earlier.
“It was arranged that Stan Cullis would be told that Len was homesick and he was released in order to sign for Prescot Cables.”
Some reports also say that Ashurst made a case for wanting to go back to a printing apprenticeship while playing in the Lancashire Combination.
But he is reported to have signed for Sunderland a week later and then wrote in his autobiography ‘Left Back in Time’ decades later: “Through all this subterfuge, I understood very early in my soccer career that collusion was a bed-mate of football, especially at the club I was about to join.”
Ashurst made history at Roker Park by playing more games for the club than any other outfield player and later managed them as well as Cardiff, Sheffield Wednesday and several others. He eventually became the 23rd manager to reach the 1,000-game mark in his career in the dug-out.
At Wolves, though, he would have had to find a way past Gerry Harris and Bobby Thomson to secure a lasting place in the first team.