When Debut Days And Local Pride Collide
Raw Lads Who Stepped Into The Cauldron
Our piece three days ago about Graham Hawkins and the importance of the Black Country derby on his career has prompted us to dig deeper to find more players who made their Wolves debut in the fixture.
And the most eye-catching result of our search is that no fewer than four goalkeepers, in the post-war era, have faced Albion in their first Wanderers appearance.
Trying to coax out the answers would be a good quiz question – but they are Geoff Sidebottom, Fred Davies, Mick Kearns and Wayne Hennessey.
As we have written before, Davies was part of a trio of new boys on show in an FA Cup tie at home to the Baggies in January, 1962, Bobby Thomson and Fred Goodwin also being blooded on the same afternoon.
That is the only time more than one Wolves newcomer has been introduced in the game but it is easy to think the 21-year-old Sidebottom needed some ice in his veins when he took up his position at The Hawthorns in November, 1958. He was playing in front of a 49,000 crowd while Stan Cullis’s side were on the way to retaining their League Championship crown.
It was also in an away game against Monday’s opponents in which Kearns was introduced in April, 1980 – a 0-0 draw he highlighted by saving a second-half Peter Barnes penalty.
The 1950s was a busy decade for Black Country derby debutants – partly because the clubs were both in the First Division throughout it.
Defender Jack Short had a close-up of a match-winning Johnny Hancocks hat-trick when he was given his first chance in December, 1950 and there was something highly unusual about Eddie Stuart’s unveiling 16 months later. He played as a centre-forward, pierced Albion’s defence sufficiently to score but then became seen only as a defender.
The other 1950s debutant was Gwyn Jones, who lined up at Molineux in a 3-2 victory in December, 1955 and after the painful unveiling of Hawkins in October, 1964 came the first glimpse at senior level of two lads who were to enjoy magnificent Molineux careers.
Kenny Hibbitt went on as a substitute for John Farrington in the clash with Albion at Molineux in April, 1969 and John Richards was summoned almost a year later for a 3-3 draw at The Hawthorns. Between them, the duo and good mates went on to play in well over 1,000 games for the club.
The Wolves careers of Paul Dougherty and Robert Niestroj were much less spectacular but both were first seen in the first team in games against Albion in April, 1984 and November, 1998 respectively.
Hennessey’s debut was a more high-profile affair as he stepped in for shoulder injury victim Matt Murray for the two legs of the 2006-07 play-off semi-finals at the age of only 20.