Poignant Insight Into Friendships Of The Lasting Kind
Ted Farmer has paid further emotional tribute to John Harris at today’s funeral of his friend of the last 67 years.
The long-time Molineux and Walsall full-back died early last month aged 84 and we promised to chat to the football man who knew him best for this follow-up feature.
Look back to where and how their paths started to cross in the mid-1950s and it’s easy to see why the former England under-23 forward was asked to deliver a eulogy this morning.
They were opponents in a Wolves fifth-team game, pals on building sites, colleagues in the club’s junior teams, team-mates for one match in the First Division and fellow travellers on tour of America and Canada – thrilling foundations for an association as strong as this.
“And that’s just part of the story,” Farmer said. “We were so close that my wife and me are still Auntie Vicky and Uncle Ted to their kids, who are now in their 50s or 60s. We became very used to the Harris family’s pram arriving on Christmas morning!
“I was at college and John was working as a bricklayer when we first met. It was on the pitch – I was playing for Wednesbury Youth Club and he was inside-forward for the Wolves’ fifth team and scored a hat-trick to make sure they beat us.
“He kept his trade going in the close season to earn some extra money and had a gang of us from Wolves helping him when it was possible. I remember us working on a big steel structure and he was in charge, with me on the pulley, Johnny Kirkham mixing the cement, Alan Hinton wheeling the barrows and David ‘Slipper’ Read and one of the amateur lads joining in as well.
“As a player, John was very adaptable and had to be because Wolves realised he was going to struggle to break through among all the excellent inside-forwards they had.
“They put the work in with him to convert him to a full-back and, although he played only three League games in the first team, you have to remember he spent six years getting to that point and played a huge number of matches in the youth and reserve teams, which meant much more then than they do now.
“We talk about Manchester City having players on their bench these days worth tens of millions but there was such strength in depth at Wolves, with talented lads like John learning the game on the pitches of Castlecroft and Mitchells & Butlers, as well as at Molineux.
“Players in every team were pushing the ones above them and we started out by training on Tuesday and Thursday nights. We were so exhaused after some sessions that we’d fall asleep on the trolley bus going home and were grateful that the conductor knew where we got off and woke John at Upper Gornal and me at Dudley.”
Harris signed on as a junior in 1955 and turned pro at the height of the club’s glory years. After a national service stint served largely at Bridgnorth and Cosford and despite the presence of George Showell, Bobby Thomson, Eddie Stuart, Gerry Harris, Gwyn Jones and others, he forced his way through to the first team for the visit of West Ham on August 26, 1961.
“His debut was as good as any one you could hope to see,” Farmer said. “I remember Bobby Mason saying afterwards: ‘We’ve got another good one here’.
“John and I used to talk about playing in the first team together and I was very disappointed that I missed that 3-2 win because of a groin injury. The extra couple of days of recovery time afterwards, though, meant I was fit for the home game against Villa on the Monday night and we were all so gutted for him when he suffered a badly broken leg in a tackle by Vic Crowe.
“He got stuck into his rehab at Patshull, worked his way back to fitness and played his third and final match in the team at Manchester City a season and a half later.
“He then went on the tour of America and Canada in the summer of 1963 and loved that experience. I thought we’d be rooming together but I was paired with Fred Davies, who was great, and John was one of the lads who didn’t play so much and therefore had plenty of time to take in shows in New York and San Francisco. He was a keen tourist.
“The bones of his leg healed and were probably as strong as ever but your mind doesn’t always heal and you tend to have a fear after all that time about being right and as good as before.
“It’s such a shame he had this huge setback. Being 90 per cent fit wasn’t good enough at Wolves and Stan Cullis turned him into a centre-half. John was a terrific player and showed it by moving from position to position.
“Thankfully, he went on to have a very good career at Walsall, where he played 80-odd games or so, quite a few of them as captain, and eventually served as a coach, I think as assistant manager, and as a scout.”
We are grateful to Ted for bringing us more up-to-date by informing us John subsequently had a double heart bypass and spent his final weeks in a care home after suffering both from covid and then dementia.
We also resend our condolences to the Harris family and their close friends.