ONLY the biggest stars in football got to put out their own books – and only the luckiest youngsters woke on Christmas morning to find one in their stocking.
One such lad was Tony Jones of Stourbridge, who has cherished his copy of Billy Wright's Football Album ever since he was given it in 1954 at the age of 7. Tony has very kindly loaned it to us, and in it we've found a fascinating piece by the former Wolves and England captain in which he outlines some of his toughest challenges in the game. Billy writes:
"I was the guest recently of a Youth Club and I was asked: 'What do you consider to be your toughest assignments?'
"I had to think hard about that one. As I pondered the question many incidents passed through my mind as if on a cinema screen. Memorable occasions – and quite often worrying ones too.
"Without a doubt my toughest-ever assignment was to try and beat myself! That's an admission, I know, which is sure to make many people look twice, but it was the outcome of a fractured ankle. During the war cup ties were played on a home and away basis, so after we had won 3-0 at West Bromwich everyone felt we stood an excellent chance of victory the following Saturday.
"The Wolves went all out for quick goals and after 25 minutes we were leading 2-0. Then tragedy for me. I made a perfectly simple tackle but as I fell wrenched my right ankle and a pain which felt like a million needles being stuck into my leg almost made me cry out.
"Something told me I had hurt myself badly. After a careful examination, the ankle was strapped in the dressing room and I was carried out to watch the remainder of the match from the touchline bench. Wolves finally won 4-0. At home the damaged ankle was treated with cold water compresses at regular intervals but that Saturday night, as I lay in bed, it dawned on me for the first time how painful an ankle injury could be.
"Well, to cut a long story short, X-ray photographs revealed a fracture. The following Thursday a bone specialist operated upon me – and there I was, faced with a three months spell of inactivity and robbed of the chance of appearing in the wartime Cup Final against Sunderland.
"But what really worried me was getting back to my pre-injury fitness. I also put on weight during my period of idleness and this made me even more depressed. My manager, the famous Major Buckley, sensed my worry, and when the doctor eventually took off the plaster Major Buckley casually remarked: 'Now it will be essential for you to put everything you possess into getting really fit again.'
"I did. Then came the biggest challenge of my career – to test my right foot by hitting a football. I shirked it. Every time I decided to crack the ball with my injured ankle something made me change my mind at the last moment. I confided this to Manager Buckley who patted my shoulder and said:
'Don't worry sonny, I'll soon help you get your confidence back. Come out on to the pitch with me.'
"I followed the Major on to the Molineux pitch where he quicly got Welsh international Cyril Sidlow into goal, and put wingers Jimmy Mullen and Cameron Buchanan on the touchline. They were given the job of hitting over accurate centres to me. 'And your job', said the Major, 'is to hit the ball first time into the net.'
"It all sounded delightfully simple. Jimmy and Cameron also made it easy by flashing across some beautiful centres. Every time I decided on a do-or-die effort – only to find myself at the last moment hitting the ball past Sidlow with my LEFT foot, instead of the right.
"But still Major Buckley kept me at it, and after twenty minutes Jimmy Mullen hit over a lovely ball. 'Crack it, Bill', shouted Jimmy, and running forward I hit it hard and low past Sidlow.
'Well done!' everyone exclaimed. 'What a right footer!'
"Yes, without realising what had happened, I'd hit my first goal with the damaged foot. It proved to be the turning point for me. I was never afraid again, afraid to hit a football with my right foot. I'd completed my greatest assignment – to beat my own fears. I shall always remember, too, my first appearance for an England team at Wembley. It's always a testing time for a youngster making his debut at England's showpiece stadium.
"Joe Mercer, who was my captain, sensed how I felt. He came up to me in the dressing room just after we'd arrived and said: 'Let's have a look at the pitch, Billy.'
"Together we walked on to the velvet surface where a few minutes later I was to play my first international against Belgium. As we trod over the lush green surface Joe casually remarked: 'Anyone ought to play good football here, Billy, and I reckon you're going to enjoy every minute of the game.'
"Yes, out there on the Wembley pitch, with thousands of eyes watching us, Joe Mercer gave me a pep talk which knocked the bottom out of any fears I may have had. It gave me the confidence to face what was for a youngster something of an ordeal.
"Shortly before we went out on to the pitch, Joe came up to Jimmy Mullen, Jesse Pye and myself, the new lads in the team, and said: 'Don't forget lads, I'm here to help you. Now, the best of luck and a grand game to each of you.' Mercer was as good as his word.
"After twelve minutes I did succeed in making a goal, pushing forward a pass to Brown which he banged home. Everything went right for me after that. I had earned a regular place for myself in the England side!"
We're always on the lookout for old sporting memorabilia. If you have some you'd like to share, pay us a visit, give us a call or email gjones@black countrybugle.co.uk.