From watching ‘those wonderful Wolves’ to reporting on Millwey Rise
PUBLISHED: 10:23 15 April 2020 | UPDATED: 10:23 15 April 2020
During the late 1940’s right through to the 50’s, Wolverhampton Wanderers was one of Europe’s top footballing teams, writes Dick Struch.
They were First Division Champions on three occasions- 1953-54, 57-58 and 58-59. They also won the FA Cup in 1949 and 1960 and lifted the Charity Shield trophy in 1949, 1954, 1959 and 1960.
Indeed, for a while, they were called ‘Champions of the World’ under the managership of the ‘ahead of his time’ manager Stan Cullis and they were one of the first British Clubs to have floodlights installed in 1953.
I think I read somewhere that they cost in the region of £25,000 which was a large sum of money in those days, but how they inspired the team to play some wonderful football under their glare.
I was born in Wellington, Shropshire, some 20 miles from Wolverhampton and although we moved to Axminster in 1947, I spent a lot of time back with my Grandparents in Wellington.
Here, apart from watching Wellington Town (Now AFC Telford Utd) play at the Bucks Head ground, my greatest thrill was going to Molineux to watch the ‘Wolves’.
I remember the first time my Grandfather and Uncle took me to see Wellington play (I was only four or five years of age), but we had to leave the match early because I was so upset by the noise of the crowd shouting and the players ‘bumping’ into one another!
I don’t think they were too happy having spent their hard-earned money to get in and then having to miss the best part of the game due to a ‘squawking baby’. Fortunately, it didn’t take too long before football became my passion and needless to say ‘Wolves’, my team.
There were always buses leaving Wellington for Molineux on matchdays.
My Uncle Joe would take me with him and there was nothing more exciting than climbing the steps of the coach and joining the buzz of anticipation (and smog of cigarette smoke) that swept through its passengers. Once the bus stopped outside the ground everyone was in a hurry to get off and through the turnstiles onto the terraces.
Although Uncle Joe chose to stand higher up the terrace to get a better view, I would be carried shoulder high and placed virtually on the pitch with the other young supporters (Oh, those days of trust and innocence).
I could see everything and could also hear a few choice words, particularly after an opponent had felt the effect of a ‘strong’ tackle from Eddie Clamp, the ‘original chopper.’
Goalkeeper Bert ‘the Cat’ Williams, centre half Billy Wright, left half Ron Flowers, inside left Peter Broadbent; all my heroes within touching distance. By the time the match finished I was hoarse from all my shouting and my hands were sore from clapping as invariably the ‘Wolves’ had won.
Two games stand out in my memory, both within a very short time of each other.
Games which earned Wolverhampton Wanderers the title ‘Champions of the World’.
Hungary, at the time were all conquering and had beaten England 6-3 at Wembley and followed this up six months later with a 7-1 victory in Budapest.
The esteem of the England international team might have been at a low ebb, but what ignited the Nation was ‘Wolves’ match against Russian champions ‘Spartak Moscow’ at Molineux on November 16, 1954.
It was the first time I had watched a game under floodlights.
What a wonderland and truly unreal experience that I will always remember.
It was a rather foggy night which added to the atmosphere and the whole stadium echoed with the heartbeat of excitement.
Again, I was carried down to the front of the terrace, crushed between the other kids as the crowd, I believe, was nearly 60,000.
The first half produced no goals but there were chances at either end. Wolves left it late into the second period before overwhelming Spartak with four goals in the final 10 minutes.
Johnny Hancocks scored the first two and Roy Swinbourne and Dennis Wilshaw added the others.
The crowd went absolutely wild and everyone was caught up with the gravity of the result.
The second game was a month later, on December 13, against the Hungarian four times champions Honved, with their irrepressible centre forward Ferenc Puskas who had scored four goals – two in each win over England!
The atmosphere on the coach as we left Wellington- even for a 12-year-old- was electric.
I can remember the man next to my Uncle saying: “We’ll be lucky to get a draw,” and my Uncle in reply saying: “We’ll win, Swinbourne will see to that.”
Those words turned out to be so prophetic. It was again a capacity crowd under those magical floodlights and I was as usual close to the pitch.
It was somewhat disconcerting for us after 15 minutes as Honved had taken a two-goal lead.
I can’t remember who scored for them but I’m sure Puskas was involved. Wolves had one or two chances, but Honved were very much on the front foot, with their clever short passing game as the first half finished.
The pitch had become very heavy and cut up as the game progressed (there had been several days continual rain) which gradually reduced the threat of Honved`s style and ‘Wolves’ more direct approach began posing threats.
Their first goal was a penalty scored by the diminutive Johnny Hancock (all of 5ft 4ins tall and size three boots).
In the final 15 minutes, Roy Swinbourne majestically rose to head home the equaliser before a few minutes later, firing home a shot from outside the area, which proved to be the winner.
I can’t describe the elation. The shouting, the cheering and the clapping was deafening. Somebody hugged me, somebody shook my hand and I was shouting as loud as anyone else.
What excitement and on the way home in the bus the noise was unabating. I can remember bottles appearing and being passed around to celebrate this fantastic victory.
My grandmother passed away in 1956 so my visits to Wellington became less frequent as did my visits to Molineux.
My last visit was in 1978 when I drove to Wolverhampton with my great friend, the late Ian ‘Wicksy’ Wicks, to watch the FA Cup replay after Exeter had held Wolves to a 2-2 draw at home.
The ‘Grecians’ lost 3-1, but the atmosphere and crowd were very much different to that I remembered as I stood beside the pitch 20 odd years before.
What memories they are. What a team they were. It’s great to see them once again gaining the dominance they once had. Those wonderful ‘Wolves.’
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Midweek Herald. Click the link in the orange box above for details.