A wind of change was sweeping through Britain in 1960. The prim austerity of the 1950s was slowly but inexorably being engulfed by the outset of the ‘swinging sixties’ and 1960 was the year that Penguin Books were prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act after their publication of the D H Lawrence classic ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover.’
Representing the Crown, Mervyn Griffith Jones QC asked the jury with a magnificent exposition of pomposity: “Is this the kind of book you would wish your wife or servants to read?”
Society was ready to move on; so was football. The year 1960 marked the beginning of the end for censorship and it coincided with the last tango for Wolves as the dominant force in the English game.
Our lust for silverware had been insatiable but the passion was about to dampen, although it’s hard to imagine that any pre-season at Molineux could have been sprinkled with greater anticipation than the one in 1959.
The prospect of a third consecutive League championship and a second tilt at the European Cup signified that the club’s aspirations could not be set any higher.
Ultimately, however, both these challenges were destined to end in bitter disappointment. The championship eluded Wolves by the slenderest of margins while Barcelona handed out a monumental thrashing that put paid to any notion that Wolves would rule Europe in the aftermath of the fabulous floodlit friendly games with which they pioneered the inception of what is today’s Champions League.
Consolation didn’t come any bigger than winning the FA Cup. Indeed, when Pathe News filmed the event, their commentary said that the kick-off at Wembley marked the start of the match for ‘the most highly prized trophy in the world of sport.’
The luck of the draw certainly did not favour Wolves in the third round. A trip to Newcastle – three-times winners of the trophy in the previous decade – was a daunting prospect.
The Geordies clearly didn’t give much for our chances either. The match programme bluntly expressed the prospects with typical North East swagger: “United are playing with such skill and purpose that it is difficult to see how Wolves or any other team can give them the KO.”
In front of a crowd in excess of 62,000, Ron Flowers fired in an equaliser before his wing-half partner Eddie Clamp converted a penalty to put Wolves ahead after a goal-bound shot from Norman Deeley was handled by a Newcastle defender – an infringement that these days renders instant dismissal for the culprit.
A late reply for the Magpies meant that the first fully floodlit cup replay to be played at Molineux would be contested on the following Wednesday. In a cracking match played in arctic conditions, Wolves won 4-2.
Over 40 years later, speaking at his then home in Tettenhall Wood, Eddie Stuart, the Wolves captain in the two games, said that being drawn at Newcastle was such a stiff test that even at such an early stage, he felt Wolves would reach Wembley if they survived it.
Stuart also revealed to me his despair relating to a far more serious matter. By February, he found himself vying with George Showell for the no 2 shirt. Then, on March 21, back in his native South Africa, police opened fire and killed 69 black civil rights demonstrators in Sharpeville near Johannesburg.
A storm of international protest followed and Stuart, a native of Jo’burg, was subjected to disparaging and upsetting comments. He had no truck with apartheid but this hard, no-nonsense defender was and remains a highly emotional individual. “I’m a fusser,” he admitted, conceding that Sharpeville distracted him.
He revealed that he spoke extensively to Stan Cullis about his apprehensions and was appreciative of how supportive the manager was. Showell was the man in possession of the right-back spot and playing superbly and, significantly, the playing season was over for Eddie Stuart after Sharpeville.
Last autumn, Wolves Heroes fixed me up with the chance to meet the other South African in the Wolves team, winger Des Horne. He did not experience the turmoil suffered by his older compatriot. In fact, 1959-60 was the best season of his brief stay at Molineux.
Horne, who was just short of his 70th birthday when we became acquainted in a city centre coffee shop, scored in the replay against Newcastle and weighed in with another goal in the fourth-round game against Charlton at Molineux.
The match programme paid tribute to former Charlton goalkeeper Sam Bartram, who had recently retired, then 37,000 spectators saw his successor Willie Duff play the game of his life. The Second Division side almost defied Wolves, who scored very late on to shade the tie 2-1.
Reflecting on the Cup run, Eddie Clamp referred to the game being ‘our hardest match – and everyone thought it would be our easiest.’
Clamp was on the score-sheet against Luton in the fifth-round tie at Kenilworth Road. England goalkeeper Ron Baynham allowed ‘Chopper’s’ speculative long-range effort to slip through his fingers in dreadful monsoon-like conditions.
Bobby Mason helped himself to a couple of goals in the 4-1 win, one of which was a superb diving header.
When Wolves then travelled to Filbert Street to play Leicester in the quarter-final, they trailed Tottenham in the First Division by a single point and were on course to become the first club to win the League and Cup double in the 20th century. Ultimately, it would be Spurs themselves who achieved the distinction in the following season.
Keeper Malcolm Finlayson, injured for the Luton tie, was still absent, so Geoff Sidebottom continued in goal. His fellow Yorkshireman Barry Stobart filled in up front with the prolific Jimmy Murray also out of the side.
But an own goal from City full-back Len Chalmers and a strike from Peter Broadbent past the great Gordon Banks saw Wolves into their first semi-final since 1951.
Wolves were hot favourites facing the Second Division leaders, Joe Mercer’s Aston Villa, at The Hawthorns.
With Horne missing, Cullis – famous for his policy of blooding young players – drafted in 20-year-old Gerry Mannion, who had played only three League games.
Villa offered spirited resistance but an early Deeley strike beat keeper Nigel Sims, who had spent the first eight years of his career at Molineux, and proved sufficient to earn Wolves a place in their eighth FA Cup final.
Their Wembley opponents would be Blackburn, who had beaten Sheffield Wednesday in their semi-final courtesy of a couple of goals from a certain Derek Dougan. Back in those days, Doog just couldn’t help himself and posted a transfer request to the Rovers board on the day of the final, spending the next seven years as a nomadic maverick until he found his niche and a glorious climax to his career at Molineux. But Saturday, May 7, 1960, was not to be Doog’s day; this was one for the Wolves.
The Monday before the final brought major disappointment. Burnley’s win at Manchester City thwarted Wolves’ quest for a hat-trick of consecutive League championships, the title going to Turf Moor by a solitary point.
In those heady days, second-place finishes were deemed a failure at Molineux and defeat at Wembley was not an option as far as Cullis was concerned.
Wolves had already beaten Blackburn home and away in League matches that season and Rovers were a lowly 17th in the table.
Tottenham captain Danny Blanchflower, who the following season would achieve that coveted double triumph, summed up the mood when speaking on television on the morning of the final. With typical Irish whimsy, he gave us this take: “Everybody’s tipping Wolverhampton Wanderers to win, so I’m tipping Blackburn Rovers to lose.”
For Cullis, team selection was a straightforward exercise with a couple of exceptions. Following a 5-1 win at Chelsea in the final League game, he retained Stobart, which meant there was no place for the excellent Bobby Mason, who had played in every match on the road to Wembley. The anguish must have been desperately hard for Tipton-born Mason to stomach.
Des Horne, who scored twice at Stamford Bridge, was preferred to Gerry Mannion. Despite some excellent League form from the rookie, it was the South African who got the nod.
The final was played in tropical heat, with many spectators having to be revived after fainting. They saw Wolves in the ascendancy throughout the first half and finally take a deserved lead when Rovers wing-half Mick McGrath deflected a Stobart cross into his own goal.
Two minutes later, the match effectively ended as a contest. Norman Deeley tangled with Blackburn’s full-back Dave Whelan and the current owner of Wigan Athletic left Wembley on a stretcher with a badly broken leg.
Over the years, constant reviewing of the match DVD strongly indicates there was no malice in the winger’s challenge. Indeed, later that year, the FA yearbook reflected that ‘Whelan’s injury was sustained in a harmless-looking tackle with Deeley.’
In his 2009 autobiography, Whelan was highly critical of Deeley and reinforced his claim when speaking on Simon Mayo’s Radio 5 Live show on the BBC. Whelan insisted Deeley had ‘gone over the top’ in response to a couple of hefty challenges by Whelan.
Deeley, who died in 2007, was not here to respond but Horne told us that any suggestion of his colleague deliberately taking out an opponent so ruthlessly was nonsense. Horne revealed too that, early in the game, a couple of Blackburn defenders gave him ‘the verbals’ by threatening him with dire consequences if he tangled with them. Unfazed, he replied that no Rovers player was quick enough to catch him – and was proved right!
Deeley’s two goals and disallowed efforts from Ron Flowers and Jimmy Murray simply emphasised Wolves’ superiority. Captain Bill Slater, voted Footballer of the Year, lifted the trophy to the delight of all from Wolverhampton, but not, it appeared, to many from outside the town.
Certain sections of the national press dubbed the game ‘The Dustbin Final’ – an allusion not only to their perception of the entertainment value on offer but to the fact that a section of disgruntled Blackburn fans threw apple cores and discarded match programmes in the direction of the Wolves players as they completed their lap of honour.
Malcolm Finlayson bristles at the criticism to this day, pointing out that the heat was stifling and debilitating; so energy-sapping that fast, fluent football was virtually impossible. He stresses that at no time, before or after the Whelan injury, was there any likelihood of Wolves not prevailing. The ‘dustbin’ jibes are met with contempt.
A couple of years ago, I spoke at length with Finlayson at his business base in Staffordshire before we went to the garage housing the magnificent collection of classic cars of his that were featured on www.wolvesheroes.com very recently.
With properties in the Midlands and in his native Scotland and a hugely successful business career behind him, clearly Finlayson has much to be proud of. As I was about to leave, though, he said: “Just one last thing……of everything I’ve ever achieved, nothing compares to playing for the Wolves. Nothing even comes close.”