A youthful escapade that Bobby Mason describes as being ‘like the Great Escape’ is remembered in less dramatic terms by one of his co-accused, Nigel Sims.
Did three young Wolverhampton Wanderers players really have the bottle to bail out of a month’s recuperation in Ireland and flee back early to the Midlands without permission?
Yes, says Mason, adding: “I was a 17-year-old nobody and didn’t want to rock the boat but Nigel and Ron Stockin said they had had enough because there wasn’t much to do over there and were going home the following day.
“We checked out and caught the ferry back. It was like The Great Escape. Then we received a letter ordering us to the ground and found ourselves up in front of Stan Cullis and directors James Baker, Jim Marshall and John Ireland.”
Nothing appears to have come of the trio’s decision to go AWOL, although the club sent someone to Ireland to check with the landlord on their version of events before deciding to take no further action.
Sims, a goalkeeper who played 39 times for Wolves before going on to win the FA Cup and League Cup with Aston Villa, later had a major fall-out with Cullis which might now leave him inclined to bad-mouth the manager.
But he says of the unauthorised ‘break-out’: “The club were okay about it.
“I remember being sent out there because I’d had tonsilitis and Bobby went because they thought he was too skinny.
“We caught the ferry from Fishguard, slept in bunks and stayed in a small hotel in Bray. We stayed for over a week but there was nothing to do. It was so quiet.
“Another problem was that all we seemed to eat was salad and potatoes. But we didn’t have much money, so the club didn’t have to worry that we were out drinking and getting up to no good.
“I would guess the trip was in the summer of 1953 or 1954, so I would generally have been in the reserves behind Bert Williams. But I think it was open-ended how long we stayed out there.”
While Mason’s time in the first team came in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Sims had already had a taste of the big time.
He even had a sniff of a place in the 1949 FA Cup final team after a hand injury to Williams saw him drafted in for his debut at Sheffield United over Easter and retained for the last two games in the Wembley countdown.
Williams returned, though, and it was his brilliance that kept the younger pretender frustrated despite appearing in Wolves sides who twice won handsomely at Manchester United as well as beating Liverpool 3-0 and Manchester City by the crushing scorelines of 7-3 and 4-0.
Now 79 and resident near Swansea on the Gower Coast since the early 1980s, he remains amused by the manner of his signing at Wolves.
He was born in Coton-in-the-Elms, near Burton-on-Trent, and conceded nine goals and then four in two trial games. But the club still saw enough to offer him a contract – something he described as being ‘like winning the lottery.’
Sims faced England for Young England in the traditional eve-of-Cup Final clash in 1954 and twice represented the Football League after, in 1956, following in the footsteps of another Molineux keeper, Dennis Parsons, by joining Villa for £12,000.
He became a legend at Villa Park, helping them win promotion from the Second Division, facing Wolves in the 1960 FA Cup semi-final and going on to guest for Arsenal.
His subsequent travels took him to Peterborough, where he played with Derek Dougan, and Canada, where he had a couple of seasons.
Since his playing days, he has run a Wolverhampton timber firm, worked in insurance and set up a wardrobe and bed-parts business in South Wales.