Gentle Giant Who Stalked Billy

Bert Reflected On His Reassuring Protector

Angus McLean – the looks and physique tell you he wasn’t an opponent to take liberties with.

Nothing pleases us more than to be contacted by long-lost friends or family members of Wolves favourites, so we have been delighted to hear much more during lockdown about 1940s and early 1950s Molineux stalwart Angus McLean.

We have written at considerable length twice before about the Welshman with a Scottish name, which is how this follow-up came about.

The pieces were read by McLean’s only offspring, Una, who informed us he was the youngest of six children.

His father, Joseph, worked in the steel industry as a blast furnace reliner, so the family moved around and their children were born in a variety of locations – the west of Scotland, the East of Scotland and South Wales. Gus and Doreen, the sister immediately before him, took their first breaths in North Wales.

“This later caused some amusement on the international football circuit, with an Angus McLean called to play for Wales!” Una told us, adding that his father died when her dad was only five, leaving widow Martha to bring up the family.

“Dad passed his 11-plus but declined a grammar school place as they played rugby there, whereas the local secondary school favoured football.

“I have a letter from a former friend who said he was very well liked at school and was always someone who stood up for the underdog.

“He and Doreen used to win all of the trophies on sports day and, as a teenager, Dad was crowned ‘King of the School’ one year. I have a photo of a rather embarrassed-looking teenager in his ‘royal’ regalia to prove it!”

McLean, a full-back who could fill in at centre-half, wing-half or even centre-forward, played 158 First Division and FA Cup games for the club after being spotted by Major Buckley and signed as an apprentice in November, 1942.

Born at Queensferry on September 20, 1925, he made a further 125 Wolves appearances in wartime football and attracted many admiring glances.

“I once had chance to talk to Bert Williams, who commented on how safe he felt when Dad was playing at the back as no player would shoulder-charge him,” Una added. “Dad simply got in the way and, at 6ft 2in and 13st, was a formidable presence. 

“I also have a newspaper report which says that Billy Wright had a miserable outing against the Wolves as Dad simply got in his way as he tried to play – Dad had been told to mark him for the whole match!”

We wonder whether this would be a fixture in wartime, when Billy guested for Leicester, or Molineux’s annual Whites v Colours curtain-raiser to the season.

An attired Angus McLean with (from left) Laurie Kelly, Bert Williams and Billy Wright.

What is more clear is that McLean’s First Division debut came, along with Williams, Billy Wright, Johnny Hancocks, Jesse Pye and Fred Ramscar, in the 6-1 home slaighter of Arsenal on the day League football resumed in August, 1946.

He missed only one League or Cup game that season and played 34 the next before a cartilage injury restricted him to 13 matches in 1948-49 and scuppered any chances of him featuring in a Cup run that ended with Wembley glory against Leicester.

McLean married Hilda Doreen Astley on the morning of November, 1947 and lined up in a 3-1 victory at home to Portsmouth in the afternoon. Football and footballers were different then! A week later, in a win by the same score at Preston, he scored one of his two peacetime goals for Wolves.

He toured the Netherlands with Wolves in 1947 and memorably travelled with them to South Africa four years later, when he was offered a job working with young players. But Una tells us: “He declined it because he couldn’t stand the apartheid movement that was rife in the country.”

The trail-blazing trip came just in time for the 25-year-old as he left Molineux that summer and subsequently played for Crewe and Bury, also serving both on the coaching side.

We reported several months ago that McLean played for Bury in a 1953 friendly victory at home to Wolves on the night the Gigg Lane floodlights were officially unveiled.

“By the time I was born in 1957, he had hung up his boots a few months earlier,” Una said. “Soon after, he became assistant trainer at Bury.

“In 1960, he moved to Hull City as trainer and, while there, completed his FIFA training qualifications, taking on the role of coach at the Tigers.

“They became Third Division champions while he was there and I recall a Cup replay at Chelsea. I was the only child allowed on the trip and we sat in the directors’ box. Hull lost but were seen as giant-killers that year. Most notably, I recall hearing Chelsea fans chanting: ‘Docherty out, out, out’ outside the ground.

“In 1967, we moved to live in Hartlepool where Dad took on the role of manager at Hartlepools United (the ‘s’ is vital!!).

“We followed a manager called Brian Clough, who had caused so much trouble with the neighbours that they wouldn’t speak to us for some time.

“Dad took the team to promotion and into the Third Division. Mr Clough tried to claim it was ‘his’ team but my father was clearly able to show that the triumphant team were lads he had chosen and trained, not Mr Clough.

“In 1972, we moved so Dad could take up his role as assistant manager and secretary at Rochdale.

“During this last period of his professional football career, he was also scouting for the big clubs as he was known to have an eye for a good young player and was excellent at spotting potential and skill – I recall sitting in the directors’ box at Old Trafford with him on one scouting trip.

“He left Rochdale to work briefly as a coach at Southport and, for the last couple of years of his life, worked at the then Hawker Siddelley – now British Aerospace – in Manchester.

“We were on holiday in Guernsey when he died suddenly on Sunday, July 1, 1979. Only a few weeks before, he had passed a works physical, for insurance purposes, as A1 fit.

Who said there wasn’t a post-war memorabilia market?

“He was a loving dad and a real gentle giant whose temper was rarely roused. He was a devoted husband and father and allowed me to have a life and opportunities not open to many.

“Finances in those days didn’t match the ridiculous sums paid to players and staff today but that was made up for by love, care, attention, support and encouragement, family holidays caravanning in Devon, Dorset and Cornwall and later boating on the Norfolk Broads – self catering was cheaper than hotels!

“I hope this helps to fill in some of the gaps in your website.”

McLean missed out on his Welsh cap, although called up as a reserve to the squad for a game against Scotland in 1947-48.

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