Fondly Remembered: Ray Chatham
Popular Wulfrunian Who Refused To Be Pigeon-Holed
Discussion about Wolves utility men often homes in on Les Wilson, who – including a match on tour with the club in America – filled every gold shirt from number two to number 12.
Chat on this subject should also take in Alan Sunderland, who was only a couple of jerseys short of a full outfield set as well by the time he departed to Arsenal a few months before scoring against John Barnwell’s Wanderers in the 1979 FA Cup semi-final.
But there is another player we should not overlook when using the ‘play anywhere’ term that is reserved for those who possess a high degree of flexibility.
Certainly, popular late former Express & Star correspondent Phil Morgan was impressed with the versatility of a figure from the Molineux playing staff during and after the war.
In the mid-1960s, the paper’s Molineux man wrote: “When you think of post-war Wolves utility men, you think of George Showell or local boy Tom Smalley, the latter of whom would willingly switch from right wing to centre-half or even to full-back or wing-half.
“But Ray Chatham was also in the play-anywhere category. He played in every department bar goalkeeper in his first-team Wolves career.
“He preferred centre-half but made light of filling other roles on demand and finished his career as a full-back with Notts County.”
It was in the final season of wartime football that the Wulfrunian first came to the fore in Wolves’ senior side, his tally of 14 goals making him their leading scorer.
And his first four games in what we regard as normal competitive football – peacetime League combat or senior cups – were all in the centre-forward jersey.
His debut was in a 5-2 defeat at Charlton in a 1945-46 FA Cup tie in which he netted twice and his only two games of 1946-47 were in the same role, against Villa and Arsenal.
He then had the frustration of spending a season and a half outside the team, presumably not helped by the fact he was only a part-timer at Molineux while also working as a rep.
And when he finally returned to favour, late in 1947-48, it was as a centre-half – a role he alternated with that of wing-half as his senior opportunities remained scarce over the next two seasons.
It was in the shirts numbered four and five that he flourished in a much bigger way in the early 1950s, the first two full seasons of the decade each being marked by an individual appearances total in the 20s.
Sadly, he had retreated to the very fringes again by 1953-54 and played only once as Wolves pipped Albion and won the League Championship for the first time.
He was described by Eddie Stuart in Steve Gordos’s 2003 Old Gold Glory book as ‘a very capable player’ while Bill Shorthouse went further in saying: “He was a good back-up player who would have walked into the first team at another club.”
From Bert Williams, who knew him as a centre-forward as well as a centre-half or wing-half, came the comment: “Ray was a part-timer and Stan Cullis did not like part-time players.”
Chatham, who spent much of his childhood in Coventry before returning to his birthplace to sign for Oxley and then Wolves, was much more of a regular in his five and a half years at Notts County, where his 130 games dwarfed the total of 86 he managed at Wolves.
Curiously, he then moved from Meadow Lane to Margate in the summers of both 1958 and 1959, his first transfer being reversed after County sacked manager Tommy Lawton and their directors asked the player back, tempting him with the £850 benefit cheque he was due there.
Chatham, described in other Molineux literature, as a humorous and lively dressing-room character, later settled in London but retired as a player at the end of 1959-60 and went into a coaching role at Crawley on top of his commercial traveller duties.
He died in June, 1999, aged 74.
Phil Morgan found himself writing about him when he dropped in on an Ipswich v Wolves game in 1963-64 to catch up with his former team-mates Bill Shorthouse and Peter Broadbent.