THE reaction to the passing of Bert Williams, Wolves, Walsall and England hero who died at the age of 93, has demonstrated just how highly regarded he was as a player, and how well-loved he was as a man.
A curious memento of Bert's career after his retirement from the game has recently been delivered to the Wolves Museum by a life-long fan, Kevin Flanagan, formerly of Darlaston, now living in Kent. Graham Hughes, Molineux historian, invited the Bugle over to have a look at the club's most recent acquisition.
"They're a tiny pair of brown leather boots," Graham told us, "which Kevin has looked after for years, but has been kind enough to give to the club."
Kevin told us the story of the tiny boots:
"When I was three years old in 1952, by grandfather, Michael Flanagan of Darlaston, decided to buy me a pair of boots, but after a long search he could not find a pair to fit my small feet. Well off he went to Bilston to a shop owned by Bert Williams, and he had them made there.
"The boots are all original (apart from the laces). Even the nails in the studs are still there and if you look at how they are worn, you will see that I was right footed, as the studs in the left one are worn down – too much backyard football with no grass.
"Anyway my mom – God bless her, she was a Wolves fan too – kept the boots safe and gave them back to me in the 1980s.
"I am only too pleased to donate them to the Wolves museum and hope that everyone gets as much enjoyment out of seeing them as I did looking after them and showing them to friends."
We've also been contacted by Graham Leddington of Wellington in Shropshire, who has given the following response to our appeals for memories of Bert. Graham writes:
"In the very early 1960s I was a young apprentice electrician, working for the MEB (Midlands Electricity Board) in Camp Street, Wednesbury. At the time, I was working with an electrician named Johnny O'Neil.
"One of the jobs that was given to us was in Bilston. This was working on the newly-built indoor cricket school which was nearing completion. Whilst working there I became quite friendly with an elderly gentleman who turned out to be Bert's father. I didn't know this initially, but the one day, he was having a cigarette outside, out of sight from everyone, when I walked out to fetch something for the work we were doing – and he seemed somewhat startled.
"It was then I learned who he was. He said to me, 'don't tell our Bert you've seen me smoking, he doesn't know and he won't be very happy about it.
"I thought this was quite endearing, and a bit of a role reversal. Usually, back in those days, it would be us sons worried about our fathers catching us smoking, rather than the other way round.
"Of course, I promised not to say anything when I saw Mr Williams (Bert), which was how I addressed him, and I kept my promise.
"I was included in the throng invited to the opening which was carried out by Ken Barrington I seem to remember.
"Some forty odd years later, I saw in the Shropshire Star that Bert Williams was doing a book signing/meet and greet at a pub in Bridgnorth. I think it was The Crown or The Crown & Raven. A friend of mine has a son who's a big Wolves fan, so I decided to go down on this particular Saturday morning, pick up a book and get it signed and dedicated for my friend's son.
"When my moment to meet Bert came along, I took the opportunity to tell Bert about my small part in the building of the cricket school back in Bilston, and he was very interested in chatting about it. I also mentioned that I got on very well with his father, keeping my promise of course and not mentioning the smoking.
"You can imagine my surprise when Bert smiled and said, 'did you catch him having a crafty smoke out the back?'
"I just smiled back and shrugged my shoulders. Obviously typical of the man I've been reading so much about recently, that although he was always aware of his father's bad habit, of which he did not approve, he chose to be diplomatic and not confront his father.
"After that meeting with Bert and regaling the story, he went up another notch in my book.
"He was a true gentleman and a nice bloke to boot – if you'll pardon the pun.