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Honorary Captains – A Discontinued Tradition

Willie Carr seen (centre) in sky blue in a Coventry v Wolves game in 1971-72. Four seasons later, he was not only playing in gold and black at the venue but going out first as captain.

It’s one of the forgotten customs of British football…..the act of bestowing the captaincy on an individual for a particular day.

It was generally a means of making a player’s afternoon or evening even more special when he was going back to face one of his former clubs.

We wrote a year or two ago about Eddie Clamp being named as temporary skipper by Arsenal when one of his first matches for them was a League clash away to Wolves.

Some time later, the ex-England wing-half was in the Stoke team who were captained here by another long-time Wolves favourite in Eddie Stuart, although the South African was often seen as skipper material anyway.

The type of figure we are homing in on in this piece is the sort who fans would not normally regard as a leader; one who had no pretensions to be elevated above the regular ranks but was given the captaincy as a one-off on a certain day or night.

A chosen man would effectively just lead the team out and perform the toss-up, the more senior or vocal members of the side then doing most of the cajoling and organising during the game.

We have heard from friends at other clubs that Ernie Hunt captained Coventry at Everton in 1969, having previously been on the playing staff at Goodison Park (as well as at Molineux), and Bobby Gould led Arsenal on an early return to face the Sky Blues after they had sold him to Highbury.

And one of our Martin Patching pieces contained the revelation that Graham Taylor allowed him to lead Watford out, albeit not strictly as captain, when they played an FA Cup tie at John Barnwell’s Wolves in February, 1980.

So much for players who had left Wolves before being made ‘honorary captains’ by rival clubs…what about those who were given the honour while wearing gold and black?

Well, Willie Carr captained Wolves in the First Division fixture at Coventry in April, 1976, having moved across the West Midlands patch a year or so earlier.

Ray Crawford carries out the captaincy duties at Ipswich in April, 1964.

And page 89 of David Instone’s 2002 Forever Wolves book shows Ray Crawford at the toss-up with Bill Baxter before Wolves’ 1964 game at Ipswich, where he had already had the first of two successful spells and where he was returning as a visiting player for the first time.

Carr and Crawford are the perfect examples of players who would qualify for this fleeting seniority; two men who had enjoyed long and highly successful spells in the opposition ranks and whose return there was turned into something even more memorable before a ball was kicked. 

In addition, former Carlisle favourite Hugh McIlmoyle led Wolves when they visited the Cumbrian outpost in the 1965-66 Second Division and Derek Dougan was accorded the same privilege when Ronnie Allen’s side travelled to take on his former club, Leicester, in the middle of their first campaign back in the top flight, 1967-68.

There might be other cases of this custom being observed that we have overlooked. And we wonder if Dave Burnside declined the chance to skipper newly-promoted Wolves against his old club, Albion, at the start of 1967-68. Likewise Dave Wagstaffe against Manchester City in the mid-1960s. Both would surely have been offered the opportunity. And we were surprised to discover Steve Kindon was not captain for the trip to Burnley in December, 1973.

There are other examples of players who would qualify for consideration. If Peter McParland had ever gone back to Villa as a Wolves player, for example, or Derek Parkin had been part of a Wanderers team at Huddersfield, they would have been prime candidates for the role.

But we are aware of one game in which the box was ticked twice.

When Allen’s already-promoted Wanderers went to Crystal Palace on the last day of 1966-67, John Holsgrove replaced the injured Mike Bailey as captain.

John Holsgrove….had the pride of leading Wolves at Crystal Palace, even if the day ended in disappointment.

Maybe the tall wing-half would have been a strong contender for the role anyway (along with Bobby Thomson and Dave Woodfield) as he had been at Molineux by then for nearly two years.

But the fact he moved to Molineux from Palace no doubt helped to secure his role for the day – one that turned sour with a 4-1 defeat that cost Wolves any chance of going back to the top flight as champions.

On the afternoon that Holsgrove led the visitors out, the same role for the home team went to Bobby Woodruff, who had left Wolves for South London the previous year.

So can you think of any other examples we have not remembered? Please let us know if you recall any players who became skipper for the day or, in other words, honorary captain.


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