Wolves And The Formidable Red Barrier

New Cup Opened Another Route To Glory

Molineux has witnessed some stirring FA Youth Cup nights (and days), especially in decades past. Charles Bamforth delves back into the archives to look, in particular, at their nearly-but-not-quite early years in the competition.

I have this obsession with Wolverhampton Wanderers goalkeepers. I wrote a book about them some 30 years ago and these days keep tabs fastidiously on what the current and former keepers are up to.

Evan Williams – surrounded by rivals!

I guess not many folks know (or perhaps care) that there are currently 11 professional keepers at Wolves. Quite how they are all kept happy when there are only three teams to play in, I have no idea.

I remember Evan Williams telling me once how shocked he was to be standing alongside five other keepers in the pre-season photo in 1966. But 11? That is something else.

Of course, some of them are getting useful experience elsewhere, namely Matija Sarkic at Birmingham, Andreas Sondergaard at Randers, Jackson Smith at Kettering and Joe Young with Runcorn Linnets.

The newest addition is Louie Moulden, son of former Manchester City forward Paul Moulden. I mention him by way of coming round to the FA Youth Cup.

It was in this venerable competition that Louie was part of the young City side who went so close to glory in 2018-19. They went all the way to the final before losing on penalties to a Liverpool side containing Neco Williams and Rhys Williams.

A year earlier, Bukayo Saka had been in the Arsenal side who lost in the final to Chelsea, for whom Billy Gilmour scored the opening goal and Callum Hudson-Odoi notched two of the others. But let’s go back to the beginning…..

The competition was the brainchild of Sir Joe Richardson, whose thinking was that it would be an opportunity for knock-out combat within the Football League structure for the younger element.

He was the League President but the tournament, like the FA Cup, was thrown open to non-League clubs as well, the trophy having been bought by the League during the Second World War and left gathering dust in their headquarters in Preston.

It was donated to the FA for the purpose of the new competition and (sadly) did not have to travel far for its first resting place.

The Youth Cup kicked off in 1952-53 and it was no surprise that the first finalists were the two clubs that epitomised the development of young playing talent, the Busby Babes (Manchester United) and the Cullis Cubs (Wolverhampton Wanderers).

Stan Cullis……went head-to-head with Matt Busby as he plotted a way to the top for Wolves.

The young Wolves team started by beating Wellington Town (later Telford United) 5-0 away. This earned a tie with Albion, which brought a 2-0 home triumph at Molineux.

Next to St Andrew’s and a 5-0 thrashing of Birmingham. Doncaster in the next round were thrashed 6-0 and so to the two-leg semi-final and an unlikely meeting with Huntley and Palmers. I can’t help but say that this surely took the biscuit…..

It was 5-0 at Molineux and 6-0 in Reading as the hot favourites prevailed once more. Which set things up nicely for the two legs with the Red Devils. Oh dear!

The attendance at Old Trafford on Monday, May 4 was 20,934 and they saw United hand out a 7-1 walloping despite a goal by centre-forward Harry Smith for this visiting team: Peter Owen, Arthur Hodgkiss, Eddie Clamp, John Timmins, Peter Russell, Frank Bolton, Brian Punter, Robert Walker, Harry Smith, Colin Booth, Len Cooper.

I confess to so far having drawn a blank on some of the Wolves team. We, of course, are well acquainted with Chopper Clamp – if not, perhaps, as a left-back. Peter Russell, from Sedgley, played a few games in Wolves’ senior side a couple of years later before going on to a good career with Notts County. And there is Colin Booth, a lad from Middleton near Manchester, who was coveted by Matt Busby but became a champion at Molineux.

We have covered Brian Punter in Wolves Heroes before, so what of the others? I believe (but can’t be sure) that Owen soon went to Wellington. Hodgkiss, I think, hailed from Penkridge. The Birmingham Gazette in October, 1952 says: “Also in Wolves’ reserve team at Bolton is cherub-faced John Timmins, who only two seasons ago starred at right-half for the Brierley Hill Schools side, runners-up in the English trophy that year.”

Cherub-faced?! He signed professional forms a month after the final with United but remained on the fringes without a senior game before signing for Plymouth in January, 1958. After five games for Argyle, he signed for Bristol Rovers and played four games for them.

Frankie Bolton was a schoolboy international from Blackheath who signed pro at Wolves in September, 1953 and went on to play for Bromsgrove, alongside ex-Albion star Johnny Nicholls (who, incidentally, was an uncle to Vic Povey). Punter and Smith also joined Bromsgrove.

Bobby Walker was a young Scot who attracted huge interest. Charles Harrold, a legendary football commentator in the Midlands, wrote in the Sports Argus of January 17, 1953 how Wolves had fought off competition from the likes of Arsenal, Newcastle, Everton, and Spurs to capture the lad’s signature. The article tells how George Noakes did the groundwork before Stan Cullis weighed in, obviously smooth-talking (could Stan do that?) the lad’s mum right down to bringing in a local builder to give the lad (a trainee bricklayer) a job in his company. He would go into digs with Colin Booth.There’s a photo of the boy and his mum meeting Billy Wright.

Fast-forward to The People in January, 1954 and a snippet that Walker had gone back home, homesick, and fancied a place at Airdrie. In fact, he joined Hamilton Academicals, where he played 127 games and hit 18 goals before heading to Hearts.

Which leaves us with Len Cooper, an England youth international from Lower Gornal. He was given a professional contract by Wolves on the strength of his performance in that season’s youth side but didn’t make the first team and went to Walsall in February, 1956, playing five first-team games and hitting two goals that season.

Harry Smith (centre) opens the scoring in the second leg of the 1953 FA Youth Cup final – against Manchester United, of course.

So how did the second leg of that 1952-53 final turn out? It was considerably better and finished 2-2, both the Wolves’ strikes coming from Harry Smith. The team had changes, with the no 7 shirt passing to Lionel Stephenson, on whom I have drawn a complete blank.

The highly-coveted Walker was no longer at no 8. Booth was now in that shirt with Ron Howells, formerly with Nuneaton, in at no 10. The Rhondda lad, of course, did make the grade at Molineux, before going on to serve Portsmouth, Scunthorpe and Walsall.

But who could possibly be in a United side so capable of pulverising the Wolf cubs? Well, how do names like Duncan Edwards, Eddie Colman, Ron Cope, Billy Whelan, David Pegg and Albert Scanlon grab you?

I am sure that one of George Noakes’s greatest regrets is not tempting Dudley’s Edwards to Wolves. Come to think of it, United keeper Gordon Clayton was from Noakes’s home-town of Wednesbury. I wonder if Clayton felt any pressure from another young keeper at Old Trafford, Ben Thorley. Busby had been so impressed with him during United’s game with Nantwich in an earlier round that he snapped him up. The score had been Manchester United 23 Nantwich 0! (Smacks of the time Southampton signed Dave Maclaren from Wolves after he had been keeper in that 9-3 Second Division defeat in 1965!).

It was United and Wolves again in the 1953-54 final. And what a journey it was for the Molineux youngsters, with these results: Wolves 7 Stoke 0, Wolves 8 Derby 0, Wolves 11 Spalding 1, Nottingham Forest 0 Wolves 1 and, in the quarter-final, Portsmouth 1 Wolves 2.

So to the last four: Wolves 6 West Ham 1 and West Ham 1 Wolves 2. Mickey Lill, later to sign at Molineux, was in the Hammers team but it was Damned United again in the final, albeit much closer this time, with a 4-4 draw in front of 18,246 in Wolverhampton and 1-0 to United before 28,651 at Old Trafford.

In goal, Wolves now had Geoff Sidebottom, who had a fine senior career at Wolves, Villa and elsewhere. At left-back was John Harris, so unfortunate at Molineux but who was a Walsall mainstay for a substantial time. Tony Griffiths was at right-back and is someone I can find no information on – and it’s the same story with John Fallon at left-half.

Geoff Sidebottom in action against Everton at Goodison Park.

On the right-wing was Stan Round. Can’t say much about the Dudley schoolboy save for a snippet in the Sports Argus from January, 1955. The story line was that a few of the players from Wolves had been sent to Wath Wanderers to help out in a cup-tie. Sidebottom, Colin Tether, Dick Calvert, Bobby Thomson (the Scottish one), Harry Middleton, Jerry Bevan and Round were summoned back home early after the game. They should have been travelling on a Sunday train, the York to Bristol express that was derailed at Sutton Coldfield.

The inside-forwards and centre-forward need no introduction: Bobby Mason, Joe Bonson and Jimmy Murray. And what about United? Were they much different in personnel? Well, Edwards, Colman and Pegg were still there but the left-half was Wilf McGuinness. And at no 9 was someone called Bobby Charlton. I wonder if he did much in his career….

United went on to win the FA Youth Cup again in 1955, 1956 and 1957 but, in the semi-final of 1957-58, revenge came.

United now had Dave Gaskell in goal (I knew him from my village near Wigan), and Nobby Stiles and John Giles were elsewhere in their side. It was 1-1 at Old Trafford and 3-1 to Wolves in the return. And an infamous final with Chelsea followed, with Wolves emerging victorious as the first club other than United to lift the cup.6

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