In The Presence Of Greatness
Fly-On-The-Wall Privilege Of Our No 1 Contributor
At the start of a week in which we count down to Bruno Lage’s first Premier League home game in charge of Wolves and await the Molineux return of one Nuno Espirito Santo, Charles Bamforth reflects on a special meeting round the table with two managerial legends from distant decades….
“Would you like to meet Stan Cullis?” My friend, Tim Ward, might just as easily have said: “Would you like a million pounds?”
The beam in my eyes will have shown exactly how exciting I found the prospect being laid before me.
Tim was a neighbour when we lived in Barton-under-Needwood, close to the border between Staffordshire and Derbyshire. He was like a grandfather to our children and introduced me to so many legends; men he knew well from his own marvellous career as a player with Derby and England and as a manager, most notably as the incumbent prior to Brian Clough at the Baseball Ground and the man who signed Kevin Hector.
He ran the ex-Rams team that played charity matches, so, for example, I subsequently found myself at a urinal adjacent to Bruce Rioch (we didn’t shake hands) and, on another occasion, watching Roy McFarland tickle the toes of the infant daughter I had in my arms.
Memorably, at Keele University, I got to meet Stanley Matthews, the Middlesbrough legend George Hardwick and, even more special for me, Bert Williams. Tim was heavily involved, as I was, in the Bass Charity Vase, an annual pre-season tournament that featured Midlands clubs competing at grounds in and around Burton-on-Trent, with proceeds going to charities.
One year, we persuaded Graham Turner to field a team and I recall Stan Collymore leading the Wolves attack in the final. Tim was the guy who reached out to contacts to get famous names in to present the trophy, which was one of the most valuable pieces of silverware about, to the winning skipper.
In turn, I would write articles about them for the competition’s programme. This was usually after I had the thrill of sitting down with them. Thus, I had the privilege of meeting Billy Wright – the interview for that one appearing in three successive issues of the Wolves programme as well as a magazine called Football Today.
I was lucky enough to visit Joe Mercer at his home. There was also Dennis Tueart. And Kevin Hector. And Arthur Rowley. And the occasion when I took Tom Finney to lunch at the Tickled Trout, just off the M6 near Preston. It was like accompanying royalty as all eyes were trained on us. Well, on the Preston Plumber, actually.
Then came the never-to-be-forgotten day when Tim Ward pushed a can of Tennent’s Super Lager into my hand (he may have known a lot about football but he knew nothing about the alcoholic strength of beer!) and asked me about the two of us heading down to meet up with the legendary former Wolves manager.
As a memento of that afternoon (May 10, 1985), I have the lunch receipt. (Tim most definitely paid!). We met the great man at The Cottage in the Wood in Malvern Wells, close to his home. I see we had a litre of wine and the bill came to £36.50, which would be around £115 today.
I have no idea what I ate. Probably steak. What I do recall is that, for the most part, I just sat and listened, although Mr Cullis was very interested in my background, in particular my education.
Bob Wilson, for one, told me that Stan admired a university man – perhaps that’s why Bill Slater was high on the list of players he favoured.
It was fascinating to listen to the two greats reminisce. I will not mention too many names. Suffice to say that Stan gave me an honest opinion of the many I quizzed him about.
I recall him sighing when he remembered one wing-half from the late 1940s and early 1950s who caused him much frustration. And I remember laughing uproariously when he spoke of a famous Wolves man from after his days at Molineux who said to him: “Stan, my biggest regret is that I didn’t play for Wolves when you were the manager.” To which Cullis said he replied: “But, *****, I would NEVER have signed you.”
Perhaps there is no harm done, though, in spilling the beans about one interchange Messrs Cullis and Ward had…..
“Do you remember, Stan, phoning me and asking me to bid for Cliff Durandt?” Stan: “I do. I asked for £19,000.” Tim: “And I told you I didn’t want him.” Stan: “To which I replied: ‘I know, but Charlton Athletic do and if you bid £19,000, I know I can get them to come up with £20,000’. Which they did!”
Stan Cullis even signed my season ticket, which cost £75 in the wings of the Waterloo Road Stand.