Massive Pool Of Players Was Central To Talent Development
California-based Charles Bamforth takes another dip into his huge reservoir of Wolves match reports and presents a detailed article looking behind Stan Cullis’s senior team the small matter of 60-plus years ago. We express our particular thanks to him on this occasion as he and his family have had private grief to contend with. His father Jock, a Wolves fan born in nearby Swindon, died two days after King George VI passed away in 1952 and now he has lost his mother Edith, three days after Queen Elizabeth II, at the remarkable age of 102.
I often tune into You Tube over here to watch Wolves’ under-21 games. There’s some significant talent there, with much more out and about on loan, of course.
The last time I checked, there were 20 lads from Molineux playing for a diversity of other clubs, including four goalkeepers! I can’t help but feel, though, that it is much less demanding for the youngsters in the various academy sides than it was for the reserves and up-and-coming talent when I first started watching in the 1960s.
Competition then centred on the Central League for the second side, with many senior players featuring in it Saturday after Saturday. I still can’t imagine how a current top-flight player who is not getting a first-team game can keep sharp.
The reserves would attract sizeable crowds, sometimes several thousand, while Wolves’ third team switched in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s between the Birmingham League (later the West Midlands League) and the Midland Intermediate League.
The latter was not a million miles from what we have today, with the younger element (mostly) from Midlands clubs competing against one another week in, week out. But the West Midlands League was a tough training ground and the Worcestershire Combination, in which the Wolves fourth team played, no less so. That later became the Midland Combination.
I have trodden this path before on Wolves Heroes but think it is educational to look in detail at another couple of weeks in the club’s history, this time in March, 1962.
On the 19th, there was a resounding 4-1 win for the FA Youth Cup side at Villa Park. That was a cracking Wolves team, who went all the way to the final before succumbing to Newcastle over two legs. The presence of Lew Chatterley and George Graham in Villa’s side presented little obstacle to these youngsters: Jim BARRON, Paddy RICKERBY, Bobby THOMSON, Fred GOODWIN, David WOODFIELD, Ken KNIGHTON, Vic POVEY, Alan ATTWOOD, John GALLEY, Peter KNOWLES, Laurie CALLOWAY. Knowles (2), Attwood and Povey were the scorers. Barron had saved a penalty at 0-0 in a tie watched by 8,000.
Perhaps the absence of the injured John Sleeuwenhoek made a difference to Villa but we shouldn’t forget that three of that Wolves team began the following season as first-teamers (Thomson, Goodwin, and Woodfield) while Galley also featured in 1962-1963, with Barron, Knighton and of course Knowles appearing in subsequent seasons.
Our good friend Vic Povey will like the description by Birmingham Post correspondent Cyril Chapman, who wrote: “Povey galloped in from the right wing to shoot past Wyatt with a power that a fully-fledged senior would have envied.”
So where were these lads playing five days later? Thomson was in the first team in a 1-1 home draw with Leicester, the entire half-back line was in the Central League side beaten 2-1 at Burnley, Barron, Povey, Knowles and Galley figured in the 6-0 Midland Intermediate League slaughter of Notts County at Castlecroft, where Galley hit five of the goals, and Rickerby and Calloway were in the fourth team defeated 2-0 at Blakenall.
Imagine that. A highly successful full-back pairing at Villa Park of the Geordie Rickerby and Smethwick’s own Thomson and then, the following Saturday, they are three grades apart!
So, who else was in action that weekend? Fred Davies, who had played a blinder in a 2-2 draw at Manchester City the Saturday before, was unavailable for the Leicester game on March 24, so Malcolm Finlayson was back in goal. This meant an opening for 20-year-old Bob Wilson in the reserves. He was always listed as Wilson (R) to mark his amateur status. The team in front of him was a mix of youth and experience – Irishman Phil Kelly and England under-23 international Gerry Harris at full-back, the wily Bobby Mason and Barry Stobart at inside-forward, flanked by ‘Slipper’ Read on the right and the 18-year-old signed from Gateshead in July, 1961, Paul Durrant, on the left. Leading the line was Ted Farmer, who scored Wolves’ only goal to make it 16 from 19 appearances to add to the four he had from nine first-team games.
The third team had quality, too. At left-back was John Harris, soon to turn 23, who had made his first-team debut earlier in the season before breaking a leg against Villa. He was on his way back. At right-half was 15-year-old Leicestershire schoolboy Terry Thompson, who had just signed as an apprentice. He remained at Wolves for four years and made a handful of second-team appearances in that time before heading to Notts County.
The other wing-half was Maurice Donaghy, a long-serving amateur from Nechells who was in his fourth season at Molineux, during which he represented Birmingham FA. Freddie Kemp, the Italian inside-forward, was there as well and on the left wing was Meirion Jones, who had come on trial to the club in October, 1961 from Borough United – the same stable as Fred Davies. Jones hit the other goal in the 6-1 win but was soon back in North Wales football, where he was a Welsh youth international. Stoke were interested in him a couple of years later but he remained an amateur alongside professionals at Llandudno Junction and later served Penmaenmawr.
Bob Knight was in goal for the fourth team, who had John Southall, yet another long-serving amateur, at left-back. A good friend of Wolves Heroes, John Doughty, was at right-half while another 15-year-old, Roger Barton, was inside-left. Centre-forward was a man with a famous Molineux name, 18-year-old Roger Parkin from Washwood Heath.
Moving forward to Wednesday, March 28, Wolves had a miserable Molineux night, losing 5-1 to Albion in Division One. The only player from the derby nightmare not to appear the following Saturday in the 3-2 defeat at Ipswich, though, was Bobby Thomson, because he was needed in the FA Youth Cup semi-final first leg at Chelsea, George Showell stepping into an unfamiliar position on the left.
In that youth team, there was just one change from the previous round, with 16-year-old Clive Ford replacing Calloway, who was the same age. Wolves secured an aggregate 4-0 triumph by winning the second leg 3-0 at Molineux, with an identical team. Peter Knowles scored the first, then the Daily Herald reported: “Vic Povey cut in along the line to hammer the second when all he could see of the goal was the near post.” A 35-yarder from Goodwin completed the scoring.
The Birmingham Post reported a bizarre observation: “The game was interrupted for a couple of minutes just before the interval when, to the astonishment of a crowd of nearly 10,000, a spectator walked on to the pitch to protest that he could not see.”
In the fourth team on March 31, the left-wing slot was taken by Kemp, who turned 16 the previous month. He would replace Alan Attwood in the second leg of the Youth Cup final against Newcastle, which was lost 1-0 after the sharing of two goals in the Molineux fixture. For both legs, Calloway was back on the wing.
Paul Durrant might have been in the Central League side the previous Saturday but now he was in the B team, with others in the front-line including new apprentice Dave Thompson, the lad from Knaresborough in North Yorkshire who was another to have just turned 16, and Les Packer, a Birmingham kid who, alongside Parkin (not related to Derek), would join Moor Green early the following season.
Another Birmingham youngster, Dennis Brassington, was at left-half and he remained on the scene for another year before going on a loan under what was referred to as “a nursery scheme” to Sutton Town. So, there’s nothing knew about what is happening now! Brassington went on to Atherstone before returning to Sutton.
But let us turn to the Central League side for the Molineux fixture at Huddersfield. What to do with all your reserve full-backs? Make them your back and middle lines. So, the unavailability of the Youth Cup team’s half-backs meant Phil Kelly, John Harris and Gwyn Jones stepped in. Alan Hinton was out of the first team and playing on the left flank against the club he had made his first-team debut against more than a year earlier. There was also another amateur, Bell (T). That would be Tommy, a player who was clearly in two minds about whether he really wanted to be a Wanderer.
It was only in October, 1961 that Bell had joined Bilston Town from Bradley Ex-Service. And it was not until December 9 that he got a first-team chance for them against Darlaston in a 9-1 win. There were no goal heroics from him at inside-right. It was Dennis Hickman who struck six times. Indeed, Bell was out of the team for the next game.
But, early in 1962, the 6ft Tommy was moved to centre-forward for the last ten minutes of a game against Hednesford and scored twice. He suddenly clicked. By February, the chase for Bell was on. It seems that two other clubs were just behind Wolves in registering their interest. But a Molineux scout had seen Bell hit three against Stourbridge in the Birmingham League and they duly gave the required seven days’ notice of approach.
Bilston secretary Bert Richards said: “As Bell is an amateur, there is nothing Bilston can do to stop Wolves. We tried to sign him on professional forms but he is happy with things as they are. He thinks Bilston are the best club he has played for.” On March 3, 1962, Bell, who had scored 18 goals in eight games, arrived at Wolves. He was not another 15- or 16-year-old hopeful. He was 22 and would turn 23 in the middle of the month. As a much younger player, he had been on amateur forms with Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa. Indeed, Forest were keen to sign him professional but Bell wanted to remain as a fitter in Wolverhampton.
The Sports Argus reported: “Tommy has seized his chance with Wolves but if he doesn’t show any signs of making the grade within a few weeks, he plans to leave”, which hardly sounds like someone desperate to make the senior grade. He played in the Midland Intermediate League and the Worcestershire Combination side but, by April 7, 1962, was back with Bilston and determined to stay.
It seems he had promised to return to Bilston if he failed to make the grade at Molineux. The Argus said: “Last Saturday, he turned out for the Central League side but, on Wednesday, he was told he was free to leave. On Thursday, he was back training at Queen Street. ‘I didn’t really want to leave Bilston in the first place, but it was worth trying my luck with Wolves,’”.
All in all, he scored 32 goals in 17 games for Bilston in 1961-62 and that would most probably have been more if he had not spent a month on loan at Wolves. It seems he was a Bilston player through and through. In February of 1965, he and the rest of the Queen Street players took a pay cut to help the club and he turned out against Tamworth hours after getting married. In August 1966, by now converted to left-half, he was appearing against Wolves’ third team in the West Midland League.
It seems the love affair between Bell and Bilston faded. By July of 1967, he was refusing to re-sign with them and was soon with Brierley Hill Alliance. In April, 1970, he was in their side for the West Midlands League games against Wolves A. Perhaps it is salutary to recognise the kids that Tommy (aged 31) was now facing: Rod ARNOLD, Gerry FARRELL, John RUTTER, Doug DEVLIN, Phil NICHOLLS, Dave MOLYNEUX, Ian McDONALD, Eddie GOULD, Peter EASTOE, Mick COLLINS, David JONES. Sub Graeme WHITEHOUSE. There were no goals.