By Charles Bamforth
What a choice….stay with the mighty Wolverhampton Wanderers at a time when they were at their all-time peak or, it being an era when the rewards for even superstar players were modest and guarantees for a comfortable post-playing lifestyle were non-existent, step away in search of more long-term security. Barry Clark faced that choice as a 20-year-old in 1962.
“I was born in Luton in January, 1942,” he says. “I used to go to watch Town – it was within walking distance of my home. I idolised Gordon Turner, Syd Owen, Bernard Streten and, when he was finished at Wolves, Jesse Pye.
“Schoolboy football was very strong in Luton. I attended Beech Hill Boys School. In my first year, I played for the second year side. In my second year, I was also playing for the fourth year – the teams played on separate days.
“I played for Luton Boys at under-14 and under-15 levels and skippered both sides. Every year, Luton Boys played Bedford Boys at Kenilworth Road and there was always a great turn-out. The under-15s played in the English Schools Shield but we always seemed to end up meeting a London side and they were always very strong, especially the lads from Essex.
“I paid a lot more attention to football than to my education! I trained a couple of nights a week at Luton, where the manager was Dally Duncan, the old Derby County player. I think they thought it was automatic that I would be joining them, but several clubs were approaching my father.
“I was now playing in the Bedfordshire team, as well as the London area team and then England alongside the likes of Alan Mullery and Nobby Stiles. We played West Germany at West Ham in the midweek and the second half was shown on BBC. Then we played them again on the Saturday at The Valley at Charlton.
“I was no 8 in the days when that actually meant inside right. I was a fetcher and carrier. In those days, your natural skills were encouraged. With the academies now, they try too hard to stamp their own ideas on players and change them from what comes naturally. I think it’s a mistake.
“I remember one game playing in that London area team when we were up against Manchester Boys at Maine Road. They switched Nobby Stiles to left-half to mark me. Let’s just say he got away with a lot!
“They changed the school leaving age from 15 to 16 and Dad was insistent that I stayed on to do the examinations. Wolves had registered their interest in me and said that they were prepared to wait. My father insisted they lined up an apprenticeship for me.
“One of the Wolves directors (Claude Clifford) was a director at HM Hobson, so it was arranged for me to go there. They were a prominent company in the aerospace industry. If that had not come through, I would have gone to AC Delco in Luton.
“In the 1956-57 season, my last year at school, I would go up to Wolverhampton on a Friday, by train from Luton to St Pancras, then a walk to Euston to board another train to Wolverhampton. I stayed at the Molineux Hotel, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Farr. I would go to the ground to see which team I was in next day and then catch the appropriate bus on the Saturday. Then, on the Sunday, I would go back to Luton via London.
“When I joined the groundstaff at the start of the next season and before they sorted out permanent digs, I stayed with Eddie Clamp’s mum, who lived a couple of doors away from the players’ car park. We had the menial chores to do – sweeping the terraces on a Monday and so on.
“Of course the other lads knew me from the previous season and on the first day, they had me scrubbing out the big bath in the first-team dressing room as they headed off to a lunch at the Molineux Hotel. By the time I caught up with them, there was no seat but, as I passed by Bill Slater, he astonished me by saying: ‘Barry, isn’t it? Come and sit here with me.’ What a gentleman! Most players expected to be ‘Mr this’ and ‘Mr that’, he insisted I call him Bill.
“Another job I had was to re-stud boots. They weren’t screw-in ones then but were built up using leather washers of different diameters and the same thickness. You put on more layers of progressively smaller diameter as you built up the studs to the depth that each player wanted.
“Eddie Clamp was another who wanted to be called by his Christian name. One day, I was after a pair of boots for myself and asked Eddie if he had a spare pair by any chance. ‘Certainly, Barry’, he said. ‘What size do you need?’ I told him 8-and-a-bit and he said: ‘Aye, I can help you’ and he put a pair in my hands. When I turned them over, they had bright red bottoms. I asked why they were red and he said: ‘They don’t show the blood, son.’
“Mr. Cullis was strict. But he was brought up in the Wolves way and it had been successful for so long. You don’t change from a winning formula.
“They had six teams in those days, all playing on a Saturday. Second team in the Central League, third team Birmingham League, fourth team Worcestershire Combination, and then two teams in the Wolverhampton Amateur League, in Division 1 and Division 3. These last two teams played at the old Butler’s Brewery ground on the other side of the station. You would go to Molineux, pick up your kit in an RAF bag and catch the trolley bus there. The Birmingham League was the tough one – lots of old professionals and up-and-coming ones.
“As a part-timer, I would train on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Castlecroft (we used to run there from Molineux and back) but also I trained on a Wednesday evening at Molineux, where the lads who were doing National Service at RAF Cosford used to come in; chaps like Les Cocker. He and I lived at Fordhouses and we would walk in and back afterwards. Tuesday was ‘kamikaze night’, when we did the circuit training that was set out in the dressing room at Molineux. It was usually Joe Gardiner who ran that – a lovely man. Thursdays was the night when the local lads came to train.
“I got into the FA Youth Cup squad at the age of 16 and played one game in the 1957-58 season run when they won it. I was in digs with Gerry Mannion. He liked a gamble did Gerry – in fact, I think he went into that professionally when he was finished playing.
“The next season, we also had a strong team and were expected to do well. There was a lad called Gerry Brown in goal. Alec Royle was at right-back and Vic Cockcroft at left-back. There was John Kirkham at right-half and Graham Jones was the other wing-half. Tony Corbett was at centre-half. I partnered Slipper Read on the right and Alan Hinton was on the left wing, with Brian Perry inside. Tony Bridges (or WE Patten) was at centre-forward.
“I think Manchester United beat us in the quarter-final. I recall I had a boil on the inside of my right ankle and they lanced it and bandaged it up, declaring me fit to play.
“I didn’t have one of my better outings, though. At half-time, I was first through the dressing room door, to be greeted by Mr. Cullis saying: ‘I’m sending you home.’ That was encouraging! He didn’t, of course. Cullis was great at telling what you were doing wrong but never very good at telling you what you were doing well.
“In 1959-60, we had the likes of Ken Sill, my friend David Oliphant, Bobby Thomson, Terry Wharton and Johnny Greenwood in the team. Our keeper was a lad called Beebee.
“Among my friends were Ted Farmer and Fred Davies, who lived on Patshull Avenue. Ted got me in trouble once and I still remind him about it. After the 1958 Youth Cup win, the young players were invited to a tournament in Germany. I was pretty much there to look after the kit, being the youngest.
“There was a big marquee which staged a reception. No alcohol, of course. Ted was 18, me 16. He decided we should chat up a couple of frauleins and Ted asked how they were getting home. They said on the subway, so we gallantly offered to take them home, only to find they lived in different parts of the city. Ted was the first back to our base and when I finally got in, Joe Gardiner was waiting. ‘It’s a good job you’re only looking after the kit!’ he said.
“I played for the Birmingham Counties under-18 team for two seasons. It was a really strong team with players from Villa, Birmingham and Albion as well as the Wolves, with blokes like John Cullen, Tony Corbett, Alan Hinton and David Woodfield. We got to the final two seasons in succession against London and the games were played in the morning of the FA Cup final. Afterwards, we were all taken to the Cup Final. It was strange that in the first year, my home town team Luton were in the final and in the next year it was my club, Wolves.
“I used to get terrible cramp in the last 20 minutes or so of a game. No subs in those says, so they used to give my calves a good rub and send me back out. They diagnosed it as a salt shortage and I used to have to take salt tablets.
“Stan Cullis did not like the way I played. I loved to go back, collect the ball from the defence and take it forward. I was a play-maker. Although I didn’t model myself on Johnny Haynes, I guess my style was somewhat like his. I could dribble and score as well. ‘My half-backs do what you do’, Stan Cullis insisted. With me also working at Hobson’s, I really don’t think I fitted in.
“One Wednesday night, Mr Cullis collared me. By now I was in the second team in the Central League. ‘You need to make your mind up….if you want to stay playing for me, you need to give up the engineering,’ he said. I was 20 and had just one more year to go on my apprenticeship. I weighed up my options and could not see me giving up my engineering career. I was 20 and soon to get married (in 1963) and move to Shropshire to live in Newport, where we still are.
“I honestly believe your life is mapped out for you. I was saying this recently to my granddaughter’s friend, Damien Stevens, who had been a young keeper at Shrewsbury at the same time as Joe Hart. The two of them were sitting in the stand one day and the first-team keeper got injured before the game. The manager went up to find them and said that one of them would have to play but he couldn’t decide which to choose. Apparently, he turned his back, looked out at the pitch and just said: ‘Joe, go and get changed’. That’s just how life turns out.
“In my case, Cullis was insistent that I was not going to go the Blues or the Baggies or the Villa. So I joined Wellington Town (later Telford United). The most important thing for me was that the digs money was met. Their chairman was Frank Nagington, after whom one of Telford’s stands is named; a lovely man who made his money in milk. He saw to it that I was okay.
“After Wellington, I joined GKN Sankey, who were in the old Cheshire County League, which became the Northern Premier League. So I went from playing against teams in the south of England to teams in the north, such as Wigan Athletic, Altrincham and Macclesfield. The manager was Neil Franklin. They had an immaculate surface in a great stadium. They were a big company, employing over 10,000 people making axles for trains, vending machines and so on. I did not work for them – I stayed with Hobson’s for over 40 years.
“Next I went to Kidderminster Harriers and later played for Brierley Hill – the Steelmen, who were always one of the rougher sides to play against when I had been in the Wolves A team. I played for several other non-League clubs, including having two stints at both Lower Gornal and Lye.
“Perhaps my most memorable day playing for Lower Gornal was in the Worcestershire Senior Cup when we were drawn against Hereford at Edgar Street. Their player-manager was the legendary John Charles, The Gentle Giant. I had watched him playing for Leeds at Luton when I was a kid and remember my dad telling me to watch out for how he would leap to such a height in the penalty box for his headers.
“What I noticed was that one time he actually did not position himself in the box but rather out beyond the D by the 18-yard-line and then came in from there to meet the ball and head it in. Years later and, it being in the latter days of my career, I was by now playing at right-back. We were 2-1 down when I noticed John Charles lining up by the D. So I went to stand by him – and I was struck by how huge he was! He tapped me on the shoulder and said in that Welsh lilt: ‘I’m not jumping – I’ve pulled my thigh muscle’. So I went back to guard the right-hand post on the line. Over came the corner and in charged John Charles, leaping and bulleting in his header. We lost 3-1.
“I packed in playing after I was in a serious car crash that put me in the hospital at RAF Cosford for a week. I turned to coaching, the highest level being Rushall Olympic, for whom I had previously played.
“Then I started to help out with a local side called Edgmond Rangers. The manager’s wife had visited our home to see my wife and saw the various trophies around. ‘Did your husband play football?’ she asked. Soon, I was helping out there. I played a bit but it was mostly coaching.
“The chairman’s son was Paul Bracewell, who lived near Newport at Church Aston. He was on Ipswich’s books but their manager decided he wasn’t big enough and let him go. The lad was devastated but I knew Alan Durban at Stoke and asked him if he would take a look. He did – and in due course Paul was playing alongside Howard Kendall, who would later take him to Everton. Later, of course, Paul was picked to play for England – by Bobby Robson, the man who had let him go from Portman Road!”
Bracewell was one whose life was destined to be one spent at the pinnacle of the English game. For Barry Clark, it was so near, yet so far. But, I sense, there are no regrets. It’s how things turn out.
*We again apologise for the technical problems we have been experiencing as we try to master the new system we have been confronted with in the last couple of weeks.