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‘The Story of England's Goalkeeper — Bert Williams of The Wolves’

By gavin jones  |  Posted: May 21, 2013

The men in suits sign the young prodigy.

The men in suits sign the young prodigy.

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IN tribute to Bert Williams, who died this weekend aged 93, we reproduce an article from last year, based on a cartoon strip found in a 1950s sporting annual ...

Here, thanks to Wolves’ historian Graham Hughes, is an illustrated account of Bert’s life in the game from the days when he was still very much the top man between the sticks. It comes from a late fifties edition of Every Boy’s Book of Sport, and features cartoon illustrations of a young Bert during his schooldays, all the way up to his goal keeping at international level.

Here we reproduce some of the text and images from the first half of the story, with the second part to follow next week ...

“Bert Williams has always been on the small side, at any rate for a goalie; but from the very beginning of his interest in soccer, goal-keeping attracted him. As a small boy he played for his school team, St Martin's School, Bradley, near Bilston in the Black Country. Even then, and even though he was small, he was obviously a 'keeper above the average.

He was so anxious to learn that when he was not playing he went to the St Andrew's ground to watch the great Harry Hibbs, the Birmingham 'keeper.

“After he left school he played for a local boys' club team, and his spectacular work between the posts soon attracted the attention of the talent scouts. In the Midlands, with clubs such as Aston Villa, Birmingham, West Bromwich Albion, the Wolves, Coventry City and Walsall searching for good young players, boys as promising as Williams do not escape the eagle eye of the scouts. But it was not one of the fashionable clubs that he joined. When he was 16 he signed amateur forms for Walsall.

“But it was obvious to everyone right from the moment that Williams wore a Walsall jersey, that the club had made no mistake in signing this 16-year-old. His play was soon discussed by those who watched him, and Walsall had no hesitation in asking him to become a professional as soon as he was 17.

Hero “Then a new manager arrived at Walsall. And who should it be but young Williams's boyhood hero, the great England and Birmingham goal-keeper, Harry Hibbs. This was to prove a lucky chance for Williams.

Almost any other manager might have been an ex-forward, half-back or full-back.

But here was a manager who could give expert and special attention to the young Walsall 'keeper.

“Harry Hibbs, of course, had heard all about his club's fine goalie, but when he had seen him in action he realised that the lad was even more than a fine 'keeper — he was an England player in the making. And who should know better than the great Harry Hibbs who had himself played 24 times for England? “Despite his many other duties, Harry Hibbs found time to give Williams special coaching. He taught him how to get down to low shots and up to the high ones, and he developed his sense of anticipation much more quickly.

“All this was in 1938-9, but by the end of the next season, war stopped all League football, and Williams joined the RAF as a PT Instructor.

War service gave him a chance to play in some good representative games alongside such fine players as Matthews, Mortensen, Burgess, Hapgood, Franklin, Doherty, Drake, Liddell, and dozens more.”

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