Charles Bamforth didn’t have to look beyond the Wolverhampton area for his latest interviewee – another from that broad band of talented hopefuls to fall by the wayside, at the highest levels at least, in decades past.
Young professionals at major clubs are paid substantial sums of money and play what one might euphemistically call ‘gentle’ games against other academies. It is a little later that they find themselves on the scrapheap with some serious questions to ask of a ‘what next?’ nature.
If we transport ourselves back 60 years, we come to a time when there were just as many young hopefuls eager to make their way in the game, but who realised that the chances of success were slim. And even if they reached the top, the rewards in the pocket were hardly going to be spectacular.
They also knew that to get noticed, they weren’t pitting their wits against their peers in other major clubs. At Molineux, for example, youngsters would be up against rather older players from the Wolverhampton Amateur League, the Worcestershire Combination and the Birmingham League who seemingly delighted in playing a role in knocking the young Wolves into shape.
A talented teenager back then had decisions to make: Did he fancy fighting his way to the top? Could he actually aspire to a better living by pursuing another walk of life?
Some, perhaps the more far-sighted and thoughtful ones, tried for the best of both worlds. On the top level, then, we had Bill Slater, never a full-time professional, but who reached the highest possible level while combining his playing for Wolves and England with a role in education at Birmingham and Liverpool Universities. Dennis Wilshaw was a school master and another England international.
Another with evident abilities as a player who took the part-time route was Graham Jones, who did not reach those levels. Older supporters will remember the time when the Wolves programme recorded the teams from previous games, citing Jones (G) and Jones (Gra). The former was tough Welsh left-back Gwynfor Jones. The second was the rather younger (and Wolverhampton’s own) Graham Jones.
“I was born in Tettenhall in November, 1941 and attended Warstone’s Road junior school and then Penn Secondary school,” he said. “As a boy, you were tried in various positions but I settled at wing-half and played for Wolverhampton Schoolboys as a third year and a fourth year and for Staffordshire Schoolboys in that fourth year.
“I was selected for England Schoolboys in 1957, alongside Nobby Stiles, and played against Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Germany, the last of those in Stuttgart.
“The only team for me was Wolves but I wasn’t allowed to go to Molineux to watch until I was 13 and then only to watch the Central League side. When I was 14 or 15, I could go to first-team games and my heroes included Bill Wright, Johnny Hancocks and Jimmy Mullen.
“I’d been quite successful at school and the chap who ran the Wolverhampton Boys side arranged for me to train at Wolves on a Wednesday evening. There must have been 30 or 40 lads there, with the coaching run by Bill Shorthouse, Joe Gardiner, Jack Dowen, Billy Crook and Alf Crook.
“I left school at 16 and had a choice to either join the groundstaff or take an apprenticeship in a business somewhere. There was no real money in football in those days, so my parents insisted I took the apprenticeship route. The Wolves director Claude Clifford was also a director at the engineering firm Hobsons and it was arranged that I got a place there. It was a five-year apprenticeship. I worked all day, then went to Wolves to train on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings.
“I managed to get into the Worcestershire Combination side in my first year at 16. Several of us trained in the evenings, including Les Cocker, Barry Clark, Tony Corbett and Alec Royle.
“I didn’t really pal up with other players in my time at Molineux. Remember that if you were not on the groundstaff or later a full time professional, you didn’t really get close to the rest.
“I signed as a part-time pro in August, 1959. My wage was £6 a week, with an extra £4 if I got into the second team in the Central League. The bonuses at that level were £2 for a win and £1 for a draw.
“It didn’t take me too long to get into the reserves and I played more than 30 games in my last season, 1960-61. Twice, I travelled with the first team as 12th man, to Burnley and Arsenal. There were no substitutes in those days but youngsters went along to get a feel for what it was like.
“I will never forget that game at Turf Moor. George Showell was injured after about 10 minutes and Wolves were losing badly. At half-time, I was sitting next to trainer Joe Gardiner and let’s just say that Stan Cullis was not too happy! I had never heard anything like it.
“If you talk to the former Wolves players, you’ll get a mixture of views. Some say ‘look at his record’ and they won’t have a word said against Stan. Others merely recall him as not being a pleasant person.
“For my part, I can remember arriving at Molineux in the evenings and going in at the top door which took me right past the manager’s office. Sometimes Mr. Cullis would call me in and he was always fine with me, demanding for sure, but quite normal.
“I had two years as a part-timer at Wolves, then they put me on the transfer list. I have no idea what the fee being asked was, nor do I know who came in for me, other than Bury. We played them at Gigg Lane on the last day of the 1960-61 Central League season and won 3-1.
“The Bury chairman interviewed me afterwards but it wasn’t going to work out because I didn’t want to go full-time and wanted to stay in the Midlands on my apprenticeship.
“So I signed for Wellington (later Telford United) and was with them for a couple of years. Then GKN Sankey came in for me. The company were throwing huge sums of money around to attract players and giving them jobs with the company.
“They brought three of the players from the newly defunct Accrington Stanley, including George Forrester and built an amazing ground, although there were seldom many spectators in it. We play teams like Altrincham and Wigan in the Cheshire County League, which became the Northern Premier League. I was there for three years before moving to Halesowen and Brierley Hill in the West Midlands League. Ankle trouble finished me in 1970-71.
“Looking back, I realise that, as a player, you are at a big disadvantage as a part-timer. On the one hand, you are not part of the scene and the camaraderie and, on the other, you are not in a position to be part of the side knitting together.
“I had completed my apprenticeship at Hobson, which became Lucas Aerospace, and I got my ONC and HNC qualifications before embarking on a career in industrial engineering.
“My speciality was in the improvement of productivity through the understanding of how people work and are incentivised. I went independent in due course and was doing that until I retired, aged 65. Nowadays, it’s a case of looking after a big garden and playing golf.”