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Wandering the globe – World Cup Wolves down the decades

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: June 22, 2014

By Steve Gordos

  • Above:

  • England with three Wolves. Back row: Bill Slater, Roger Byrne, Ron Staniforth, Bert Williams, Len Phillips, Roy Bentley.

  • Wolves' Ron Flowers missed out on the 1966 final, but did eventually receive a winner's medal for his part in the campaign

  • Wolves internationals Billy Wright and Bert Williams

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IT'S NO surprise that Brazil 2014 will not see any Wolves players battling for England's cause in the World Cup finals. It was a different story, however, in Brazil in 1950.

That was the year England first took part, having boycotted the three pre-war tournaments because they had opted out of FIFA.

Led by Wolves skipper Billy Wright, England set out for South America, ready, so we thought, to show that we were still the greatest exponents of the game we invented. Alas, Billy and his clubmates Bert Williams and Jimmy Mullen were in for a mighty reality check.

They were in the team who negotiated the first hurdle by beating Chile 2–0. Then came one of the most humiliating results in England history.

In Belo Horizonte, a goal scored when Joe Gaetjens deflected the ball past Williams saw England lose to the USA 1–0. It was unbelievable – a fact borne out by newspapers at home thinking there was a misprint in the teleprinter message and the nought should have had a one before it.

There was no misprint. England had lost despite having most of the play and creating a host of chances. Wright and Williams kept their places for what proved to be the side's final game in the tournament but Mullen was dropped to make way for Stanley Matthews. The team were beaten 1–0 by Spain and headed for home.

If England went to Brazil with high hopes it was a different story four years later as they arrived in Switzerland still smarting from humiliating defeats at the hands of Hungary, 6–3 at Wembley and 7–1 in Budapest. Despite such scores goalkeeper Gil Merrick kept his place ahead of Williams, who was not even given a place in the squad.

Wolves still supplied three men as Wright and Mullen were joined by Dennis Wilshaw, fresh from being top scorer with 26 goals as Wolves had become champions of England for the first time.

After a 4–4 draw with Belgium, which marked Wright's last game for his country as a midfielder, Wilshaw and Mullen formed the left wing as England then beat Switzerland 2–0. Both scored. An injury to centre-half Syd Owen of Luton meant Wright switched to the number-five shirt for this game and he proceeded to carve out a second career as a central defender. At least England had qualified for the quarter-finals but they bowed out 4–2 to Uruguay with Wright and Wilshaw in the beaten team.

Champions of England for a second time it was no surprise that Wolves had four men in the squad for the 1958 finals in Sweden – Wright, Eddie Clamp, Bill Slater and Peter Broadbent.

In the days when England still lined up with three half-backs, Wolves made history by providing all three for the 1–1 friendly with the USSR in Moscow and then in the World Cup group games as England drew 2–2 with the USSR, 0–0 with Brazil and 2–2 with Austria. The goalless game was the only time ultimate winners Brazil failed to score in the tournament.

Being level with the USSR on points meant a play-off and yet another meeting with the Soviets. Clamp was dropped but Broadbent came into the team for his first cap. All reports made the new boy England's best player in Gothenburg yet a string of chances he created were wasted as the USSR collected the game's only goal.

Another legendary Wolves half-back, Ron Flowers, was the club's lone representative at the 1962 finals in Chile – and the two penalties he scored made him his country's top scorer in the tournament.

Flowers was spot on when England lost 2–1 to Hungary and then beat Argentina 3–1. A goalless draw with Bulgaria ensured a quarter-final place but the mighty Brazil proved too strong, going through 3–1 on their way to retaining their title,

When England triumphed gloriously four years later, Flowers was again in the squad but had lost his place after collecting 49 caps. His total might have become a half century, however, when before the final against West Germany, centre-half Jack Charlton was doubtful with a heavy cold. Flowers was put on standby by manager Alf Ramsey but the Leeds pivot recovered to play his part in the dramatic 4–2 victory.

Many years later, Flowers and the other ten members of the squad not in the final were awarded winner's medals.

It was 24 years before Wolves again had a player in the finals – Steve Bull, first capped as a Third Division striker. In Italia 90, Bully came on as sub in the first two group games as England were held 1–1 by the Irish Republic and 0–0 by Holland, but he was in the starting line-up for the final group game when they beat Egypt 1–0.

No Wolves man has made an England World Cup squad since Bully but they have been represented among other nations.

David Kelly made a 26-minute substitute appearance for the Irish Republic in the 1994 finals in the USA in the goalless group game against Norway and another Wolves striker, Seol Ki Hyeon was in the South Korea squad 12 years later and made two substitute appearances.

Wolves had three men at the 2010 tournament in South Africa. Keeper Marcus Hahnemann did not get a game for the USA but Adlene Guedioura and Nenad Milijas both saw action.

Guedioura was a sub in each of Algeria's three group games, which included a 0–0 draw with England, while Milijas started Serbia's opening game, a 1–0 defeat by Ghana.

Do you have memories of local stars playing in the World Cup? Get them in The Bugle – call us, write in, or email gjones@blackcountry bugle.co.uk.

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