Peter Russell’s name has featured in our columns more than once over the years and we are happy to pay further tribute to the Gornal-born wing-half or centre-half who served Wolves from 1952 to 1956 and still lives in South Africa at the age of 86.
Our new information has been received in various emails from the retired John Williams, who is in his mid-70s and living in Roodepoort, Johannesburg. We are happy to quote him at length on how the paths of the two men crossed…..and the impressions formed as a result.
John wrote: “In 1965 and 1966, I found myself in Durban as a 19-year-old and starting my first job as a junior clerk in a building society. In my school days, I had become a Durban City fan, so the prospect of closely supporting them excited me greatly and I watched all their home games at Kingsmead Stadium.
“The football season was played through our autumn to spring, roughly May to September, with games in Durban played on a Sunday afternoon. Everywhere else in the country, games were on a Saturday afternoon.
“Durban had the talent to have three teams in the then National League – Durban United, Durban City and Addington. The derbies always filled the stadium to capacity, as did Durban City matches against Highlands Park from Johannesburg, with these teams usually vying for the title.
“One of the City players I loved to watch was Peter Russell, a really colourful character. He played among the half-backs but often went up at corners as he was an excellent header of the ball. He read the game well and was tough but in turn could take the knocks.
“My special memory was an incident during a crucial derby between City and Addington at Kingsmead. Peter and a number of other City players were getting some rollicking from the Addington fans and, with the score at 0-0 and the second half moving on, Peter called on his captain to allow him to take a corner, which happened to be on the Addington supporters’ side of the field.
“Amid much rollicking, he calmly placed the ball, waited briefly, then sent it over. There was a wind blowing and Peter took advantage. Without anyone getting to it, the ball curved over the keeper’s outstretched hands and inside the far post. (This was a very long time before David Beckham’s day and with a much heavier ball!).
“The City crowd went wild with delight and Peter slowly turned to the opposition supporters and made a true royal bow, right arm across his stomach, then slowly trotted back to the half-way line. I will never forget the incident and had the privilege of reminding him of it some 12 years later.
“In 1977 and 1978, in my career in geology, I was part of an engineering team working on the construction of a very large water storage scheme in the Drakensberg Mountains in Natal. It was not far from Ladysmith, which is part of British military folklore from the Boer War of 1899 to 1902.
“Spion Kop was not far away (think Liverpool and the famous end at Anfield). One day in the autumn of 1977, a call went around for “soccer- talented” guys to attend a meeting to establish a works team to be called Drakensberg FC and to be sponsored by the storage scheme’s owner, Escom (Electricity Supply Company).
“And there I met Peter, who was introduced to us as the coach of the team. The workforce was very large and I had not noticed him around before. We joined the Ladysmith Sunday League and did very well with a mixture of South African and British lads, plus two Dutchmen.
“I use the word ‘lads’ reservedly, as many of us were in our 30s. But what we lacked in fitness, we more than made up in experience. And Peter’s coaching was excellent. He trained us hard but allowed us to enjoy ourselves.
“He had a great sense of humour, was a super guy and never brought his previous career and fame to the fore but was just ‘one of the guys’. He was so modest that it was I who told many of the players about his City days.
“I became very good friends with Peter, often discussing British football on those cold nights when we practised under lights on Escom’s field near the Drakensville township we stayed in. And I have been a Wolves fan ever since!
“I unfortunately lost touch with him and most of the others after I left the project. But I always remember him whenever I have gone through my photo albums and see the poster I have of the 1965 Durban City team and the team photos of us, Drakensberg FC. They are precious, precious memories.”