A Star That Shone Bright Over Two Towns

Friendships Reaffirmed In Honour Of Wolves And Willenhall Favourite

Another of these all too frequent sad occasions.
Another of these all too frequent sad occasions.

When talk turns to what is occasionally referred to on this site as the Wolverhampton Wanderers family, the term is not always aimed only at the players, officials and supporters. It can be used to embrace the loyal womenfolk as well.

And rarely has the deep-rooted female network around Molineux been more in evidence than at the funeral of Barry Stobart in Wolverhampton today.

Going back long before footballers’ partners were known as WAGS – or even ‘partners’ for that matter – some good friendships were clearly forged this side of the dressing room door.

The phenomenal goal machine from Stobart’s highly successful time at Willenhall Town, Gary Matthews, cheekily suggested in his superb eulogy at the well filled Church of St Peter that the gaffer he and his team-mates doted on was perhaps the, err, quieter one in his marriage.

Which might help explain why the trail to Molineux that was long forgotten for some was trodden in numbers following the mid-morning service.

Barry’s wife Maureen has been a big help to us with introductions to former players and was delighted to meet up today with Carol and Ken Knighton, with whom she has stayed in close touch, Yvonne and Ron Flowers, Jane and Graham Hawkins, Shirley Broadbent, Barbara Wagstaffe, Jan Thomson and even Des Horne’s daughter Nicky and Blackpool-based former wife Janice.

The Knightons travelled from their home in Portishead, where they live just round the corner from Bobby Gould, and were amused to see themselves on the wedding photo that formed part of the tribute album playing on a loop on the screens in the stadium’s Hayward Suite over drinks and refreshments.

Ken hadn’t seen Ted Farmer for almost half a century and enjoyed chatting with the early 1960s goal ace about their time together on tour in America and Canada in the summer of 1963.

As we reported in December, 2010, Hawkins was in a garage business with Knighton more than 40 years ago – please see the link https://www.wolvesheroes.com/2010/12/10/duo-who-were-hot-under-the-bonnet/ – but reckoned he had seen him only once since. Jim Barron similarly.

Phil Parkes chats today to members of Barry Stobart's highly successful Willenhall Town squad.
Phil Parkes chats today to members of Barry Stobart’s highly successful Willenhall Town squad.

Among the others present were John Richards, Mel Eves, Fred Davies, Gerry O’Hara, Phil Parkes, Fred Kemp, Les Cocker, several former Molineux youngsters such as Phil Nicholls, Graham Newton, John Doughty, Geoff Richards and Tony Corbett, and veteran former Shrewsbury full-back Pat Wright.

Backpass readers will previously have learned from us that Gary Matthews also had a stint at Wolves in the early 1970s, as did his long-time former Willenhall colleague Richard Dams. Also in attendance today from the non-League club were the likes of Brian Fox, Johnny Newell, Richard Heath, Don Smith, Mel Whitehouse and Tony Turpin, now a Molineux season-ticket holder after serving as Willenhall secretary from 1965 to 1984 and later in similar adminstrative roles at Dudley Town.

Stobart’s time as manager at Noose Lane came in succession to John Rudge’s late brother-in-law Peter Clark, the former Wolves youngster who had installed him as a coach in 1977. The one-time Wath Wanderer went on to preside over their halcyon years.

At the time, the club were in the West Midlands League and won the title under Barry in 1978-79 and the league cup the following season. He had assumed control in the summer of 1978.

Another first came Willenhall’s way in 1980-81, when they reached Wembley in the FA Vase and looked sure to prevail when leading Whickham 2-0 early in the first half. But the loss through injury of keeper Steve Newton in the build-up to their opponents’ first goal changed the course of the final as there were no specialist replacements on the bench in those days. With first Matthews and then Martin Woodall going in goal, Whickham hit back to win 3-2.

It was a huge disappointment to a club who had another cup high when welcoming Crewe – World Cup winner Ian Callaghan, former FA chief Mark Palios and all – to Noose Lane in an FA Cup third-round tie in 1981-82. The visitors won 1-0.

But acceptance to the Southern Midland League in a reorganisation of the non-League game confirmed Willenhall as a club on the rise and they were in a far healthier state by the time Stobart was succeeded by his close friend Graham Newton – his one-time next-door neighbour – in 1983.

Barry, having worked at Willenhall for a season with Sean O’Driscoll (he scored six goals in 44 games in 1977-78), moved on to Dudley in 1987 for a three-year stint before deciding that window cleaning, walking and fishing were adequate alternative ways of filling his time.

“He was one of the most popular men you could ever hope to meet,” Matthews told the gathering. “We played systems that were ahead of their time in non-League circles – eat your heart out, Jose Mourinho – and the players couldn’t believe it when he walked out.

“I went round to his house with Richard Dams to try to talk him out of it. He was comfortably the best manager I ever played under. He taught me how to run and where to run and was simply a brilliant man manager.

“The team spirit was just sensational. The players came from different backgrounds but there were never any cliques and we all remained good friends. He was loyal, witty and articulate, with steely determination. He had honesty as well and you knew where you stood with him. He once told his son Sean he would never play for him again and told me at Halesowen once he would never pick me again until I had lost some weight!”

Sean held it together in church – the same one at which David Wagstaffe’s funeral was held last month – while reading a letter from his brother Loy, who was unable to travel back from Antigua. Sean was also proud to see his son Jake in a present-day Wolves shirt with the number 8 and the name Stobart on the back.

A friendly Noose Lane hug for Barry in recent years from Mel Eves.
A friendly Noose Lane hug for Barry in recent years from Mel Eves.

The duo, with their mother and another grandson, Joshua, had made an emotional walk from the half-way line amid loud applause to lay a bouquet of flowers behind the goal at the North Bank end just before kick-off at Wolves’ Johnstone’s Paint Trophy victory over Walsall last week. Maureen and Barry were married for a few weeks short of 50 years but had known each other for 57. The choice of Wembley anthem Abide With Me as one of today’s hymns was a poignant reminder of one of their proudest times together – his inclusion in Wolves’ 1960 FA Cup winning side against Blackburn.

As we started to disperse today, Kenny Jackett’s squad were assembling on the pitch beneath us for their annual photo call; another generation of the Wolverhampton Wanderers family in the early stages of their journey to what we hope will be success and prominence.

* The funeral cars paused en route for St Peter’s at Molineux’s main entrance, where around two dozen members of staff stood in honour. The club were represented at the funeral by Jez Moxey, John Hendley and Graham Hughes.

 

 

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