Harry Hooper, one of the oldest of Wolves’ surviving former players, has passed away at the age of 87.
The north-easterner had a fine career in the game, although his stay at Molineux was restricted to around 18 months – including one season of high achievement.
He top-scored with 19 goals in the 1956-57 campaign and the fact he played in 39 out of 42 League games and was still in the first half of his 20s suggested Stan Cullis had found a worthy replacement for the departed Johnny Hancocks.
But a disciplinary incident on the 1957 tour of South Africa, where he was again among the goals, is said to have brought him into conflict with the manager, who didn’t select him again in the First Division before selling him to Birmingham in December of the following season.
And, although Norman Deeley was back in the fold after his national service had stretched to a second stint when he was despatched to North Africa during the Suez Crisis, the figures suggest that Hooper was a player many top-flight clubs would have wanted.
The £25,000 fee was not only a Wolves club record but also the highest ever paid for a winger in Britain. Most of the money was recouped when he moved across the West Midlands for £19,500.
Hooper netted 42 goals in 105 games for Blues and played in an Inter Cities Fairs Cup final for them as he built on the fine impact he had made with Second Division West Ham at the start of his career.
At a club where his father was the assistant trainer, he caught Wolves’ eye with an excellent record of 44 goals in 119 League games, including a hat-trick against Doncaster.
It was form that saw him become the first Hammer to be selected for the England under-23 team – a step he marked by scoring twice in a 5-2 thrashing of Italy at Stamford Bridge.
Another cap followed and his performances at age-group level earned him a place in the England B team and, according to West Ham sources, selection as a reserve for England’s 1954 World Cup squad.
While hitting the heights with Wolves, he added a sixth England B cap and recognition with the Football League representative side came along, too. He was in consideration for a full international call-up but had a certain Stan Matthews and Tom Finney among those blocking his path.
He was a success immediately at Molineux, scoring in a 5-1 home win over Manchester City on his Division One debut for the club and highlighting his stay with a match-winning hat-trick against Preston in a tremendous 4-3 victory.
The only other time he scored more than once in a match for them was when Bolton were sent home on the end of a 3-2 defeat but he accumulated goals steadily to finish two ahead of Peter Broadbent and Jimmy Murray, both of whom totalled 17.
After Wolves had closed in sixth place, Deeley was preferred at the start of the 1957-58 season, though, and his own prolific record in front of goal as an ultimately triumphant title challenge materialised saw to it that Hooper did not regain his jersey. Without saying so publicly, Cullis had apparently decided he wouldn’t.
It seemed to be a case of principles over-riding practical considerations because Hooper, who had also scored in high-scoring floodlit successes against Roumania CCA and Borussia Dortmund, was clearly a terrific performer.
A few months after Wolves’ FA Cup triumph of 1960, Blues did a deal to send their free-scoring forward back to his native north-east – to Sunderland, where he had played as an amateur in his teens.
He subsequently served in non-League for Kettering and Dunstable and stayed in that area for decades afterwards, working in the sales office of an electronics firm in Bedford for well over 20 years.
We have spoken to his widow Meg, who recalled living next door to Malcolm Finlayson and his wife in Penn during their time in Wolverhampton.
“It has been a number of years since we have been in contact, but I would like to let you know that he greatly enjoyed his time at the club and held everyone there in high regard,” she said.
“It’s a long while ago now, of course, and perhaps I will be better at letting you know his movements from the last few decades.
“Some time after Harry turned 65 and retired, we went to live in Essex to be close to our daughter and then we went to Norfolk around six years ago after she moved there.
“He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in about 2011 and spent his last year in a wonderful home, where the staff were as upset as us when he passed away.
“We were married for 65 years, which doesn’t happen to many couples, and he loved football to the end. It was something he could watch and enjoy at a time when he couldn’t understand a lot of what else was going on.
“I would say he was closer to West Ham than any other club and he was there with our grandson on their last day at the Boleyn Ground.”
Harry was born in Pittington, County Durham, on June 14, 1933 and played for Hylton Colliery before following his father to Upton Park.
Burnley-born Harry Hooper Senior was a full-back who played for Sheffield United and Hartlepools, following up his stint at West Ham with five years as manager of Halifax.
He was such a heavy smoker that goalkeeper Jack Smith is reported to have been the only team-mate who would room with him. He died aged 59 in 1970.
We at Wolves Heroes would like to send our deepest condolences to the Hooper family on their loss this week.