Full-Back Offered Insight Into Pay Row
Thankfully the current wave of industrial action around the UK does not include any threat of footballers casting aside their boots but older fans might remember when the prospect of a players’ strike was very real.
Just after the end of what we recognise as Wolves’ halcyon 1949-60 period, a bitter dispute over wages brought the British game to the brink of a standstill before talks cleared the air and led to the abolition of the frequently-aired maximum wage.
One of the stalwarts to provide insight on pay levels at the time was the former Wolves defender Lawrence Kelly, by then in non-League football after following up his Molineux stint with a substantial, successful spell at Huddersfield.
He played 239 games for the Terriers from 1950 to 1956 and, had the distinction of being part of a defence who played en bloc in every single match of their 1952-53 Second Division promotion-winning season. But newspaper readers a few years later learned that he never became a rich man from the sport.
In an interview in the autumn of 1960, he was quoted as saying: “You go from the roars of the crowd and a regular pay packet to wondering what you are going to do for a living – knowing you have never done anything apart from football but you can play no more.”
The man better known as Larry went on to give a potted personal history while speaking of the ever-present insecurities of his profession.
“I joined Wolves during the war….what a chance! Many of the stars were away and I found myself in the first team at 15. My hero was Stan Cullis and it was my ambition to get to the top.
“When the stars came home on leave, I played with them – Cyril Sidlow, Tom Galley, Joe Gardiner, Dennis Westcott among them. At 30 shillings (£1.50) a game, my foot was on the ladder. But, soon, football was to deal me its first blow.
“After a time in the Fleet Air Arm, I came home to find a new manager (Ted Vizard) who didn’t know me and wanted me to move elsewhere. That’s the sort of thing that can happen in football.
“I managed to stay on in the reserves. That was when I first signed professional forms, starting at a flat rate of £7 a week.
“In 1947, when the young stars of the Wolves were really breaking through, I made my (League) debut against Liverpool at Molineux and felt I was on my way.”
Kelly played a further 20 games in that 1947-48 season after being introduced against the League champions in place of Angus McLean and made a further 26 first-team appearances the following season as he became a sad part of club folklore.
That substantial stretch in Stan Cullis’s senior line-up included duty throughout the 1948-49 FA Cup run, up to and including the first game in the epic semi-final against Manchester United. Then he was so heartbroken at being left out of the team at Wembley that he got off the coach at Oxford and made his own way back to Wolverhampton, the town of his birth.
How much that action and its aftermath affected his relationship with the manager is hard to establish all these decades on but Kelly played second fiddle to McLean in 1949-50 and was frustrated at appearing only 19 times across some half century of first-team fixtures.
“After a time in the reserves, I thought I could do better elsewhere and asked for a transfer,” he continued in the 1960 article. “My request was turned down and that is one of the things I believe is wrong. It is not right that a club should have a hold on a player for life.”
Kelly, who went on to be player-manager of Nuneaton in the second half of the 1950s, played the last of his 70 Wolves senior games in early 1950 and moved to Leeds Road for around £11,500 in the following autumn.
Another member of the Yorkshire club’s ever-present 1952-53 defence was Staffordshire-born right-half Bill McGarry, who had been signed from Port Vale soon after Kelly’s arrival.