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United In Derby Debut Despair

The young Graham Hawkins in between Peter Broadbent (left) and Jim Barron on Wolves’ visit to the Caribbean in 1964. A few weeks later, the blond defender was making a painful Football League debut.

What do Ted Collins, Fred Davies, Joe Gardiner, Freddie Goodwin, Billy Harrison, Graham Hawkins, Wayne Hennessey, Kenny Hibbitt, Bob Iverson, Wilf Lowton, Robert Niestroj, Geoff Sidebottom, Eddie Stuart and Bobby Thomson all have in common?

It’s a substantial list and, in the context of this big derby weekend, a depressing one.

All, remarkably, started their first-team Wolves careers with defeats against Albion – a quite staggering statistic considering so many of them were blooded at senior level at a time of considerable prosperity at Molineux.

Three of the group (Davies, Goodwin and Thomson) made their debuts in the same Black Country derby – a 2-1 fourth-round home exit in early 1962, less than two years after Wolves had lifted the Cup at Blackburn’s expense at Wembley.

Going way back, Collins and Harrison (23rd and 33rd in the Legends list on this website) were also selected together for the first time, on the day in September, 1907 when the Baggies won 2-1 at Molineux in a Second Division fixture.

And there was a bitter-sweet feel to Stuart’s bow. Playing as a centre-forward towards the end of 1951-52 rather than in the defensive roles in which he became a three-time League title winner with the club, he scored but found himself in a side beaten 4-1.

For Hibbitt (1969) and the little-seen Niestroj (1998), involvement was from the substitutes’ bench only while Hennessey’s disappointment at a 3-2 first-game defeat at Molineux was offset by the fact he acquitted himself superbly in a play-off programme that Wolves were considered to have reached by over-achieving.

But there was real pain for Gardiner when the side he was introduced into lost 5-2 at The Hawthorns in February, 1935. The balding Iverson was a fellow debutant and scored Wolves’ first goal. 

And Hawkins had the same feelings of dejection after his blooding in September, 1964, ended in a 5-1 defeat at Albion.

So what about the others for whom debut day has been against Sunday’s opponents – and who had a much happier time of it?

Mick Kearns in his time with Wolves.

Few Wolves fans of a certain age will need reminding that John Richards’ first game in the senior line-up was a 3-3 Hawthorns draw in 1970 and, at the same venue, Mick Kearns distinguished himself in 1980 when he saved Peter Barnes’s second-half penalty to secure a 0-0 draw.

Much earlier, teenager Peter Russell had a pleasing and unforgettable debut in Stan Cullis’s side in a 4-4 Charity Shield draw between League champions Wolves and FA Cup holders Molineux at Albion in September, 1954.

The only two players from the last 75 years who we can see to have made winning debuts against Albion are defenders Jack Short and Gwyn Jones.

Short went in for the first time in a 3-1 home win at Molineux in December, 1950 that was highlighted by a Johnny Hancocks hat-trick and Jones’s first call-up was for a game that ended in a 3-2 home victory at the same venue in December, 1955.

A word, too, about Paul Dougherty. It is somewhat ironic given the almost freakish coincidences outlined above that his senior debut came in the extremely dark days of 1983-84, yet Wolves emerged from a home clash against Albion with the relative respectability of a 0-0 draw, albeit one played in front of a pitiful 13,208 attendance.

*Finally, we send our congratulations to Robbie Keane and Mike Stowell, whose club, Maccabi Tel Aviv, lifted Israel’s Toto Cup on Wednesday night. They won 4-2 on penalties against Maccabi Haifa after a 0-0 draw. Keane is head coach and Stowell, the veteran of no fewer than 16 Albion-Wolves games at the two grounds, his goalkeeper coach.




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