Talented Lads For Whom Football Wasn’t The Be-All-And-End-All
When some delving deep into the 1950s and 1960s archives is required, there’s only one man for the job. So we sent once more for Charles Bamforth, who is just back from a brewery-industry speaking trip to Argentina….
Birmingham’s Sports Argus for July 17, 1965 informed us that Wolves had attracted some exciting new names.
They included England schoolboy international Alun Evans (although they had an ‘a’ for a ‘u’ in his first name) and Lancashire schoolboy John McAlle (they really butchered that one and had the legendary ‘Scouse’ down as Ian McCall).
There were plenty of other youngsters named who I don’t recall playing for any of the sides at Wolves, let alone reaching the dizzy heights of Evans and McAlle. These included William Coulthard (from Birmingham Schools), Alan Hepley (Mansfield), and Alan Davis (also from Birmingham).
Most intriguing of all is the name Dennis Marsh, who the paper made particular reference to. It seems the 16-year-old, skipper of the school football team in his native St Helens, was the target for several League clubs.
It so happened, though, that Marsh also represented the town at rugby league and it was his performances in that sport that drew the attention of the mighty Wigan RLFC. They had offered him a trial but the 5ft 10in lad, who weighed 11st, opted instead to head for Molineux to try his hand with a round ball.
He didn’t make it here and returned home to sign for Wigan’s deadly rivals, St Helens, where he managed a solitary first-team appearance as a prop forward in March, 1970. As far as I know, he is the only lad with aspirations at Wolves who embraced rugby league. But there are several who were pulled in other directions.
Let’s start with David Oliphant, a young wing-half who players like Alan Hinton and Vic Povey speak of so fondly as ‘a lovely lad’. Back to the Argus, this time of January 17, 1959 and a glowing piece about the Carlisle-born groundstaff boy…..
In it, Oliphant is quoted as saying: “I played soccer at the junior school but moved to a rugby union-playing school.” He skippered the team and, year after year, played rugby in the morning and football in the afternoon.
He had a trial for Cumberland’s under-15 rugby team and it’s quite clear he was a natural sportsman. He was a cross country champion, a miler, a sprinter, a swimmer and a table tennis player. It seems he played rugby on one Saturday morning and then beat 300 others to win an afternoon cross-country event. He played cricket for his county and would have run the mile in an All-England event had he not been attending his brother’s wedding that day.
But football clearly appealed the most and serendipity took a hand. “I went along to watch Carlisle Schoolboys one day and one of the players didn’t turn up, so I stepped in,” he is reported to have said.
Oliphant emulated his brother, John, by going on to captain the town team and had trials for England Schoolboys but the wing-half positions were taken by future Wolves man Graham Jones (see www.wolvesheroes.com/2019/06/26/school-of-hard-knocks/) and one Norbert Stiles.
It was Carlisle-based ex-Wolves keeper Ted Elliot (see www.wolvesheroes.com/2022/07/07/playing-the-
waiting-game/) who spotted Oliphant and recommended him to Wolves, who he was keen to join despite the interest of Huddersfield and Manchester United.
Oliphant signed professional forms a few months after this Argus article was published but didn’t make the first-team cut. He joined his home-town club in December, 1960 and went on to play 109 games for them (with 11 goals) over five seasons.
Oliphant was clearly a gifted rugby player but Wolves at one time had on their books a lad who had played for England Schoolboys in union. That was Bob Aldwinckle (left), who signed professional forms at Molineux as a 17-year-old in December, 1966 after a two-month trial.
He came from Ashley, near Market Harborough, and, as well as playing rugby for his country, had skippered Leicestershire Young Amateurs cricket team.
The Sports Argus of January 13, 1968 gave us some insight on him in Mike Bailey’s column. The Wolves captain referred to Bob (‘one of our most promising youngsters’) as having broken his leg in the last game of 1966-67. It seems the leg didn’t heal as well as expected and now the club skipper wrote that Aldwinckle had been told he needed six months’ rest from football.
“He is going to work in an office and hopes to return to the game after this period,” Bailey wrote. There is no evidence that Aldwinckle did come back, although he certainly went on to play cricket for his home-town team.
Another youngster torn between football and rugby union was Richard Dams, who, as an amateur full-back and stand-in centre-half, was good enough to be part of the squad who reached the semi-final of the FA Youth Cup in 1970-71 before losing to Arsenal. His team-mates included Steve Daley and Peter Eastoe.
That season, Dams, from Wolverhampton Municipal Grammar School, was also playing as a ‘powerful centre’ for Staffordshire Under-19s rugby team. He also represented his county at football.
The Birmingham Post of December 31, 1970 referred to Dams’ quandary: he preferred to play football as part of Wolves’ third team. Perhaps it was consideration of his long-term prospects that swayed him to head to Loughborough Colleges, where he studied PE and geography. He also played for the university’s rugger team and would play plenty of non-League football in the Wolverhampton area, notably for Willenhall.
In March, 1977, Stafford-born David Field, an 18-year-old goalkeeper for Graham Balfour High School, but also for South End on Saturdays and Tillington Hall on Sundays, was selected for England Under-19s. By then, he had been back-up keeper for the Wolves team who were beaten finalists in the 1975-76 FA Youth Cup (see www.wolvesheroes.com/2014/03/16/wolf-cubs-who-made-up-an-odd-pack/) and had played in Wolves’ Central League team even before his England selection.
At 15, Field had been chosen to play rugby for Staffordshire but gave it up to concentrate on football. And he also sacrificed another sport, the shot-put, at which he won national honours. He drifted away from Molineux but signed for Stafford Rangers as a part-timer in June, 1978.
We don’t have the full story of that solitary appearance in the reserves but know for a fact that it started with a row between Phil Parkes and manager Bill McGarry. Ian Willars reported in the Birmingham Post on October 29, 1975 that the transfer-listed keeper had been fined a week’s wages and suspended for seven days on the Monday.
Lofty had reportedly refused to go running with John Richards on the racecourse – apparently because he had injured his hand – and wanted to remain at Molineux. The article went on to say this would spell promotion for Stuart Garnham but that didn’t happen. Thus the goalkeeper slot for the Central League game against Nottingham Forest at Molineux went to Field.
We assume Garnham suffered a late injury (Lofty was back in the second team the next week) and also that youth-team keeper Tony Walker was unavailable. So the schoolboy was given his chance in this team who drew 1-1: FIELD, Nigel WILLIAMS, Kevin JONES, Sammy WRIGHT, Colin BRAZIER, Derek JEFFERSON, Martin PATCHING, Maurice DALY, Don GARDNER, Dave SYRETT, Kevin ASTON. Sub: Mel EVES (for Patching).
No Forest player got the better of Field – their appearance on the score-sheet came from an own goal from Jefferson, who deflected in a George Lyall shot. The Wolves strike was from Dave Syrett and there’s another interesting story around him. The Salisbury-born Swindon forward had been on trial at Molineux since late September but two goals in four Central League appearances clearly didn’t satisfy McGarry, so it was back to Wiltshire for him.
Syrett went on to have a career of 321 games and 89 goals – for Swindon, Mansfield, Walsall, Peterborough and Northampton. And, while we are examining that line-up, a quick mention of Jones and Aston…..
The former managed several Central League appearances that season and in 1974-75 but was soon on his way to Nantlle Vale FC, near Caernarfon. Aston returned whence he came, Alvechurch, having made half a dozen second-team appearances.
Although Oliphant was only an injury to the likes of Clamp, Slater or Flowers away from a chance in Wolves’ first team, none of the other mentioned players ever went close to senior recognition. But there was one lad who I am reliably informed by several former players had so much going for him, but who opted to take a different route.
Arthur Hodgetts forsook the chance of a professional football career to further his education, although he did play his other sport, cricket, for many years thereafter. In October, 1959, he was in the Staffordshire boys team who played at White Hart Lane against a Middlesex side containing Ron Harris and Ray Bloomfield.
It was reported that Hodgetts had developed ‘a phenomenal shot and tough frame’ and he was chosen four months later to lead the line for The North at Kettering in an England Schools trial against a South team containing Barry Fry (Bedford) and Ron Harris (Hackney).
Arthur did not gain that precious cap but received a huge amount of attention and, in May, 1960, Wolves’ legendary chief scout, George Noakes, pipped Chelsea, Spurs, West Brom, Villa, Manchester United and Manchester City to sign him on amateur forms.
What more evidence is needed for the young unpaid player’s prowess at a time when Wanderers were loaded with an immense number of accomplished professional players than what occured on August 19, 1961, the first day of the season? He was chosen for his Central League debut in the match against Sheffield United, which ended 4-1 to Wolves. The home team read: Fred DAVIES, John HARRIS, Gerry HARRIS, Fred GOODWIN, David WOODFIELD, John KIRKHAM, Terry WHARTON, David READ, Ted FARMER, Arthur HODGETTS, Alan HINTON.
A year later, six of that team were in the Wolves side who took Division One by storm with an 8-1 win over Manchester City. But Hodgetts had already decided on another journey. A month after that second-team bow, the 16-year-old announced he was not planning to become a professional, at least for a few years.
It was stated that the ‘strapping West Bromwich lad’, 5ft 10in and nearly 12st, was hoping to go to university to study maths. Reading between the lines, I suspect Stan Cullis was not best pleased, hence Hodgetts not getting another look-in.
Wolves let him drift away. In December of 1962, with all of his team-mates (except Read) from that Central League debut very much in Wolves’ first-team squad, Arthur was playing for Walsall’s youth team alongside the likes of Colin Harrison, Nick Athey and a certain Allan Clarke.
The next mention I can find of him is in April, 1965, when he was a student at Sussex University and playing for Worthing in the Athenian League. The article concerned said he was an ex-Arsenal amateur.
By August, 1968, he was playing for West Bromwich Dartmouth in the Birmingham League and was described as ‘a bowler who can bat’. He had finished at Sussex University and had reportedly ‘declined to become a football professional so he could become a teacher.’