Shades Of The Buckley Babes

Starting ‘Em Young at Molineux

Jimmy Mullen…..his Wolves record is safe for now

Wes Okoduwa has another five games and four weeks in which to make Wolves history at the expense of the late Jimmy Mullen.

The 15-year-old right-back remained on the substitutes’ bench during Saturday’s game against Arsenal but would still replace the legendary winger as the club’s youngest ever League debutant if he gets on in what remains of the top-flight season.

Mullen made his debut aged 16 years and 43 days in a 4-1 victory at home to Leeds in February, 1939. Given that Okoduwa turns 16 during the close season, he has only the remainder of 2023-24 in which to break that record.

Head coach Gary O’Neil had suggested the schoolboy might start against the Gunners after being taken out of lessons on Friday.

In the event, he didn’t and the closeness of the contest, with Martin Odegaard’s killer goal coming deep in stoppage time, made it much less likely that he would be introduced from the bench.

The make-up of Wolves’ current match-day squad bears some comparison, though, with the pool of players from which Major Frank Buckley selected just before the Second World War.

Following Mullen’s eye-catching introduction in a right-wing role, no fewer than eight other players were given Wolves first-team debuts in the final ten League matches of the 1938-39 campaign. And this at a time when the club were chasing the double!

One of those was right-sided Alan Steen, who was also still 16 when he and Mullen played on the wings in a 3-0 Molineux victory over Manchester United in mid-March.

Okoduwa, who has helped England Under-16s win the Football Federations Cup this season, was an unused substitute for the 3-0 defeat at Newcastle on March 2 as well. But the severe injury list at present and the fact the challenge for possible European qualification appears to be petering out perhaps makes his introduction more likely in these later games than a month and a half ago when Wolves were still also in the FA Cup.

Cameron Buchanan, who figured in a first-team game against Albion at the age of 14, is proudly touted by some older fans as Wolves’ youngest all-time debutant.

Alan Steen in his playing days.

But we should make the distinction that that was in wartime football, which was very different; different enough, for example, for Mullen to have guested for Newcastle and Darington in his native north-east and (along with Billy Wright) for Leicester.

Speaking of such greats, it will be 70 years to the day come match-night at home to Bournemouth on Wednesday since Wolves secured the League Championship for the first time.

Mullen was well established on the left wing by then and scored seven goals in his 38 First Division appearances in that breakthrough Molineux season.

Coincidentally, the English top tier’s youngest ever player is Arsenal’s Ethan Nwaneri, who was 15 and 181 days when he went on in a 3-0 win at Brentford last season.

 

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