IT MAY well have been over sixty years ago, but the Wolves and Albion sides of the late fifties were so highly regarded that many of their players are still household names in these parts.
Football annuals were eagerly awaited each year by young boys in those days, and with the Black Country's two biggest clubs riding high there was plenty to see of both of them between those glossy covers. These photographs are taken from a 1958 edition of The Big Book of Football Champions, which has been looked after by its original recipient, Tony Jones of Stourbridge, since he received it as a boy.
There was a particular style of picture which was always a feature of these annuals; colour paintings based on black and white photographs. Two of the stars singled out for the colour treatment were Wolves' Jimmy Murray and the Albion's Derek Kevan.
"Dashing Jimmy Murray," reads the caption, "Wolves' young centre forward, was in the goals last season, and was tipped for the England team. His first major honour was selection for the Football League team to meet the Irish League."
Derek Kevan was described as "a big, thrustful centre forward, who has made that position his own in the England team."
Further into the book is a chapter entitled Portrait of a Champion – Ronnie Allen, and it's illustrated with a photograph taken at a local derby, showing Allen attemping a diving header, with a floundering Malcolm Finlayson watching with relief as it sails wide of the Wolves goal.
"Allen is a star maker," says the Big Book. "Before Nandor Hidegkuti of Hungary shattered the England defence at Wembley in 1953 with his unorthodox centre-forward style, Allen had developed a similar type of game to bewilder defences. He wandered all over the field in search of open spaces, instead of staying put in the middle of the field, and collected clearances from the defences. Centre halves who tried vainly to get to grips with him left gaps into which Allen accurately planted passes. There to finish off the approach work – and catch the limelight – an inside forward.
"Wolverhampton-born Johnny Nicholls was nicknamed Johnny on the Spot for the understanding he developed with Allen. He was transferred to Cardiff, but missed the openings Allen made and his form faded.
"Derek Kevan came from Bradford. He was raw, but willing, strong but a little clumsy. Allen made up for the early deficiency in his game by laying on passes suited to Kevan's speed and build."
And Ronnie Allen was also credited with aiding the career of another Albion favourite and future national treasure ...
"Bobby Robson's potentiality was noted at Fulham and West Brom willingly footed a £20,000 bill for his transfer. He impressed the senior selectors with a neat hat trick for England B last October. Allen was the man who gave him the passes.
"Allen is on the short side for a centre forward and very elusive. He has a vicious volley which brings him many goals, and he mades as many as he scores himself, and he is, in fact, completely two-footed."
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