One-Off Who Briefly Lit Up International Stage

Much-Loved – But Johnny Was Weighed Down By A Handicap

Johnny Hancocks…..has his place among the yesteryear list of England goalscorers.

How many England caps might Johnny Hancocks have won if two sets of circumstances had been different?

One of them concerned pure chance – namely, the fact he had none other than Tom Finney and Stanley Matthews as his rivals for a shirt.

Getting past those two on merit was some challenge, although the Wolves winger could hardly have done any more at club level to promote his claims.

An FA Cup winner in 1949 early in the Stan Cullis managerial era, he went on to play 378 League and cup games and become the second highest scorer in Molineux history.

But the only flying he did was along those touchlines. He wasn’t one for stepping aboard anything jet-propelled and taking to the skies.

Even a trip by coach could be a challenge for poor Johnny and more than one team-mate has recalled the sight of him being sick on the vehicle’s steps on the way to or from away games.

No wonder then that he won all of his three England caps in the British Isles. He could get to London and Cardiff easily enough, with his feet only a few inches off the ground!

There were other strange features, though, to his career at this elevated level. He played once for his country in 1948-49, once in 1949-50, once in 1950-51 and that was that.

The home games were against Switzerland and Yugoslavia, both at Highbury, and in between came a 4-1 victory over Wales, who had former Wolves man Cyril Sidlow in their goal.

Curiously, for those of us who so associate Hancocks with the old gold no 7 shirt, he played two of his three England matches on the left wing. Less surprisingly, considering he netted 167 times for the club in League and cups to trail at the time behind only Billy Hartill, he scored twice against the Swiss as a debutant in a 6-0 friendly rout.

He also shone hugely on the FA tour of Canada and the USA in the summer of 1950, top-scoring with 16 goals as a follow-up to hitting the target 14 times with Wolves that season. The good news for him was that the party crossed the Atlantic by ship and not at 30,000 feet.

Johnny facing the camera as Wolves’ players prepare to depart for a 1951 FA Cup tie at Sunderland.

His overseas haul included all four in a draw against against British Columbia in Vancouver and a free-kick winner against the USA in the final game.

The New York clash came ten days before global football was rocked by the Americans’ infamous 1-0 World Cup win over England in Belo Horizonte.

Such was the shock in London that some sports editors believed the result had been wrongly transmitted and should have read 10-1 rather than 0-1.

Hancocks, unlike Bert Williams, skipper Billy Wright and Jimmy Mullen, was not involved in any way in the nightmare in Brazil but had a brief taste of the subsequent disbelief when the captain of the ship bringing the FA squad home lowered the flag to half-mast.

 

 

 

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