A Big Friday Night Out

Lengthy Wolves Cast List At Forgotten Fixture

Molineux’s international double-header is approaching and we will be concentrating our posts over the coming days on England matters. We start today with one that takes in more than a dozen former Wolves figures.

Jimmy Melia (centre) performing the captaincy duties on Wolves’ tour of the Caribbean in 1964. On the right is Johnny Kirkham, another man who faced England on the eve of an FA Cup final.

Nigel Sims, Ron Flowers, Harry Hooper, Billy Wright, Bill Slater, Eddie Clamp, Peter Broadbent, Johnny Kirkham, John Barnwell, Alan Hinton, Jimmy Melia, Bobby Thomson, Mike Bailey, Bob McNab and Bobby Gould have something in common apart from the obvious fact that they all played for or managed Wolves.

They also turned out in the 1950s or 1960s in a long-discontinued fixture that used to be part of the English football calendar….one dreamt up as much as anything to give fans a secondary attraction when they poured into London for the FA Cup final.

Even many supporters old enough to have lived through this era may well have forgotten that an England v Young England match used to be played the night before the Wembley showpiece – always at Arsenal or Chelsea.

We are indebted once more to the excellence of Backpass and in particular writer David Hewitt on this occasion for reminding us of the ups and downs of an occasion first played on April 30, 1954.

That was the staging in which Nigel Sims stepped out of the giant Molineux shadow of Bert Williams and lined up in a Young side who were beaten 2-1 in front of a 43,000 crowd at Highbury. Among his team-mates was Harry Hooper, the West Ham winger who Stan Cullis would sign a couple of years later.

Hooper and Flowers played for the same (beaten) team at Highbury in 1955 and there is no surprise over the identity of the first Wolves man to play for the senior England side in the fixture. The honour went to Billy Wright, who apparently had a bit of a chasing from Brian Clough at Highbury in 1957 as the Young side won for the first time. Billy’s discomfort was probably all the more pronounced as the second half of the game was shown live on BBC TV.

Molineux representation was considerably greater when the match moved to Stamford Bridge for the first time in 1958. No doubt Wolves’ second League title triumph, coupled with the Munich disaster, influenced the selectors, who had Wright and Bill Slater on one side and Peter Broadbent and Eddie Clamp on the other.

Although Clough impressed again by scoring in that one, the outcome went as the pecking order suggested it should have done but, in 1959 back at Highbury, a senior side containing Wright, Flowers and Broadbent were pegged back in a 3-3 draw after leading 3-0.

Broadbent was the only Wolves man to play for both sides in the fixture, others from around the country who did the same being Bobby Tambling, Johnny Byrne, Johnny Haynes, Peter Bonetti and Jimmy Armfield.

The 1960 fixture had no Molineux favourites in it, for the simple reason that Stan Cullis’s side were in the Cup final with Blackburn the following day.

But representation from the club continued at a healthy rate in the subsequent seasons despite the gradual slide.

Flowers and Johnny Kirkham were on opposite sides in 1961, Flowers and John Barnwell in 1962 and Alan Hinton’s place in the senior side the following year came on the Highbury night on which Flowers and Jimmy Melia featured in a new set of opponents, namely the Football League.

With Young England reinstalled in the fixture in 1964, two men with strong Molineux connections played against a senior side once more containing Flowers. Bobby Thomson and Mike Bailey, the latter then still of Charlton, were next to each other on the team-sheet and Flowers and Thomson were then on opposing sides in the spring of Wolves’ relegation.

Flowers stood alone, though, in 1966, his eighth and last appearance in the showpiece match coming a few weeks before he signed off with England in the best possible fashion with World Cup glory.

Bob McNab in action for Arsenal against Wolves.

Friday nights before the Cup final continued to be busy for Thomson until 1967, the year of Wolves’ return to the top flight, then after the Wolf-free staging the year after, came the fixture’s demise in 1969.

This was the match that featured Arsenal duo Bob McNab and Bobby Gould (both later of Wolves) but perhaps the organisers got the message about the indifference to the occasion when there was booing during a 0-0 draw among an 18,000 crowd at Stamford Bridge.

The fact that a third Gunners player, George Armstrong, reportedly acted as substitutes for both teams spoke volumes of the number of pull-outs, Liverpool’s Emlyn Hughes included.

As the fixture became a thing of the past, we are further indebted to Backpass for reminding us it was replaced by a third and fourth-place play-off in the FA Cup – a game that would feature Wolves in 1973.

Thomas Publications