Wolves players from the early 1970s have been reacting with shock to the news that their former colleague Kevin Charlton has died at the age of only 66.
The long-time back-up keeper did not make the first team at Molineux despite substantial Central League experience but became a legend at Telford, where he went to three Wembley finals in the FA Trophy, featured in various giant-killings and was rewarded with a place in their hall of fame.
“Steve Daley rang me to tell me what had happened and it came right out of the blue,” said Phil Parkes, the stalwart who did most to block his path at the club.
“Although Geoff Palmer’s son Steve had stayed in touch with him through Telford, Kevin lived in Anglesey for decades, so the rest of us didn’t have the contact we would have liked.
“He was a cheeky little so-and-so when he was coming through at Wolves but a good lad, too. I think all keepers have to have that cockiness about them and he was well liked here.
“We used to have a pass for all the grounds, so I sometimes went to Telford for midweek games when I was still playing for Wolves. He was on the short side, especially by today’s standards, but was a good shot-stopper and did really well over there.
“I dare say he would have travelled with the first team a lot these days and been on the bench but Wolves fielded six teams on a Saturday when he was on the staff, so everyone played. Even when we went overnight to Ipswich, Southampton or the north-east, there was no stand-by keeper on the coach.”
Charlton, born in Dorden near Tamworth five months after Wolves won the League Championship for the first time, had Peter Eastoe – later a team-mate at Molineux – as a good friend in school football.
Leicester, Coventry and Albion all gave him trials and the presence of Gordon Banks and Peter Shilton at Filbert Street did leave the young keeper wondering whether his League career might have taken a different direction had he signed there instead.
But it was Joe Gardiner’s pitch, leading to an apprenticeship from 1970, that brought him to these parts and saved him from a longer post-school stint in the mines at Birch Coppice in Warwickshire.
Opportunity came early in the Wolves reserves after Parkes had suffered appendicitis on a pre-season tour and been consigned to a lonely week in a German hospital.
The 16-year-old Charlton, ‘young and gobby’ in his own words, became no 2 to John Oldfield for some weeks but later found Rod Arnold and then Gary Pierce further obstacles to his progress, a place among the substitutes for a Texaco Cup tie at Ipswich being the closest he went to senior participation.
John Sillett referred to the 5ft 9in keeper rather unkindly as a ‘podgy little chap’ and the nickname ‘Beefy’ was given to him at Molineux. But it’s worth noting that the familiar stocky build with which he was associated during his career may partly have been due to the fact he suffered with diabetes from about 1980 and, at the Bucks Head, often needed the ‘shot’ that a bar of chocolate gave him.
His stature had not stopped him lining up with Daley, Eastoe and Alan Sunderland in the side who reached the 1970-71 FA Youth Cup semi-final before losing to Arsenal but even a professional contract did not keep him at the club beyond the middle of 1973-74, when Bournemouth offered £4,000 for him.
He subsequently became a Third Division title winner at Hereford and served Barnsley and Scarborough on loan before dropping into non-League with Bangor.
Signing for Telford during Gordon Banks’s time as manager, he embarked on a stay of more than ten years and 500 matches, winning two England semi-professional caps along the way.
And his death in hospital, which followed what the non-League club called several years of poor health, had a sad irony to it.
His hero during his formative years was Ray Clemence, who has also passed away in the last few days.
For some final fond memories of this fringe figure from the distant Molineux past, we turn to Charles Bamforth, who travelled to Anglesey to interview him almost 30 years ago ‘over a pint of lager and a solitary cigar’.
In his excellent ‘In Keeping With The Wolves’ book, the writer said: “Nineteen years had elapsed since I first watched Kevin Charlton. Yet here he was, four days short of his 36th birthday, facing Welling United at the Bucks Head and showing many of the same characteristics which endeared him as a youngster to the Wolverhampton diehards that enjoy their action at all levels; the high-stepping run on to the field, last man out, windmilling his arms to loosen up. Here was a man in love with his job and here was a player of immense popularity.”