We frequently talk about teams peaking at the right time to deliver winning performances in games of massive importance.
But Terry Springthorpe is an example of an individual who came to the boil at the perfect time for his Molineux career and then went on ‘simmer’ very soon afterwards.
Thanks to the help of one of the late full-back’s Wolves-supporting relatives, there is plenty of information lower down this article surrounding the back-stories to his life. Nothing, though, comes remotely close in news value to his selection in the Wolves team who beat Leicester to win the 1949 FA Cup final. So that is where we must start…..
Springthorpe was 24 when the victorious season kicked off and, more relevantly, only 11 games into his senior career with the club he had joined aged 15 in 1939.
His League debut came in a 1-1 home draw with Sheffield United on March 13, 1948 and the rather bland headline on the Express & Star match report commended him on a good start in the side – impressive enough to help see to it that he played in the following ten matches as well at the expense of Roy Pritchard.
With the more experienced man on the outside looking in, his fellow Midlander also appeared in the first nine games of 1948-49 in the no 3 shirt but then didn’t play again between September 18 and April 6. Was this really someone who would soon be puffing his chest out with pride while walking out behind Billy Wright, Bert Williams and the rest at Wembley?
The catalyst for the emerging challenger to step into the most piercing of football spotlights was the game Billy rated as the very best of the 650 or so he played for the club, friendlies included.
Pritchard and right-back Larry Kelly both came a cropper in the Cup semi-final against Manchester United at Hillsborough and, with Wright deputising at left-back and then at right-back, it required a mammoth effort from the skipper and those around him to keep Wolves in the competition, ready to fight another day.
Neither full-back recovered in time for the replay at Goodison Park a week later, so Alf Crook made one of only two appearances he was given in Wolves’ senior XI, his name showing next but one to brother Bill on the team-sheet. Springthorpe was handed the left-back role – his first time in the side since mid-September, remember, and his FA Cup debut to boot – as the holders were sunk by a Sammy Smyth goal.
Such was Springthorpe’s form that he stayed in for 11 of the 12 games that remained that season, although Pritchard soon recovered and Kelly also returned to First Division action well before the Cup final.
It is one of the sadder anecdotes in Wolves’ history that Kelly, after being told of Cullis’s Wembley line-up, disembarked the Surrey-bound coach when it stopped at a traffic light in Oxford and made his way back to Wolverhampton. He was out and Springthorpe was in amid a sort of forerunner to the crushing disappointment and disbelieving elation Bobby Mason and Barry Stobart, respectively, experienced before the 1960 final.
Wolves defeated underdogs Leicester 3-1 at Wembley and reports spoke of Springthorpe performing soundly following an uncertain start as the club laid to rest the unhappy memories of their shock defeat to Portsmouth in the last pre-war final.
Interestingly, though, Springthorpe was back on the sidelines at the start of 1949-50 behind Kelly and Pritchard. In fact, he played only six games all season, five around the time of the Charity Shield in the autumn and the last a 3-1 home defeat against Sunderland in March.
Angus McLean had sprung to prominence in the meantime and continued to help close the curtain on Springthorpe’s Molineux career. But what subsequently happened to the subject of our story is very much worthy of recording, as is the fact he was born in Draycott, Derbyshire, and not in the Shropshire village of the same name, as some Wolves books suggest.
Springthorpe had made himself a man in demand with his earlier form and Second Division Coventry dug deep in December, 1950 to find the £12,000 to buy him.
Alas, his time and impact at Highfield Road were limited. Following only 13 games for the Sky Blues (then nicknamed The Bantams), he and his wife Pamela, who was also from Derbyshire and who had been working in Wolverhampton as a PE teacher, set sail for a new life.
The couple married at the town’s St Peter’s Church at the end of May, 1951, then headed out of Liverpool for New York with Cunard White Star and set up home on Rhode Island. Wolves kindly recognised the inconvenience of Coventry’s situation by returning a third of the transfer fee to them.
The Sky Blues also retained Springthorpe’s registration and kept a distant eye on his status, aware that they were due a further payment had they discovered he was earning a secondary income to the one he planned in the textile industry. Whatever the details, his football career clearly bounded along.
By now described as a right-half and playing for New York Americans, he was one of several players of British descent who played for America against England at the New York Yankees baseball stadium in June, 1953.
The reunion was distinctly low-key. Only 7,271 were present for England’s first floodlit international – one marked by a 6-3 victory which gave Wright, Alf Ramsey and others some revenge for their shock defeat against the US in the 1950 World Cup.
Billy fondly recalled during England’s visit that he and Springthorpe had at one time shared digs in Wolverhampton – presumably around the time they were losing a large chunk of their Football League careers to the war. Partial consolation for those missed years came Terry’s way with the 35 wartime appearances he made for the club, all of them in the first half of the conflict.
So what of Springthorpe’s surviving links with Wolverhampton? We are indebted to Anne Bott, a Penkridge-based lifelong Wolves fan who is a cousin of his several times removed, for taking the story on.
“I’m hugely proud of the fact Terry is a relative of mine and played in the side who won the FA Cup in 1949,” she said. “My birth name was Springthorpe and I remember my dad and grandad talking a lot about his time at Molineux.
“I’m sad that I never met him because I’m sure I would have had plenty of questions. I am also intrigued that he later went and started a new life in America. I did some research of my ancestry and found that my part of the family originated near Ashby in Leicestershire, which isn’t too far from Terry’s roots.
“I actually wrote to him in the pre-Internet days after they had moved back to England to live in Devon and formed the impression that he wasn’t particularly a family man.
“They didn’t have children but I would be fascinated to try to learn more about him. My work as a volunteer librarian in Penkridge gives me the chance to do some delving back and I want to know how distant a cousin I am of his….it’s maybe five or six times.
“I was thrilled to find some Cunard passenger lists showing his and his wife’s names from when they moved to America and I also have the ‘It’s Ours’ Sporting Star from the day of the Cup final in 1949, as well as various Wolves record books. I’m very proud of having him in our large family!”
Coventry sources tell us that Springthorpe’s Derby-born father, James, made two appearances for the Rams, both of them in 1907-08 as a winger. That’s the same number as his son’s tally of American caps.
We haven’t been able to substantiate reports that the player used to fly in for home games when he was living well outside New York but the American dream didn’t prove to be for ever.
The Springthorpes returned to the UK and lived in Ottery St Mary, Devon. Terry died in 2006 at the age of 82.