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Wolves' number 5 mystery – was it Wright or Russell?

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: July 26, 2014

  • Left: Emily and Tom Corbett beneath the number 5 shirt in Billy's Boot Room, after it had been given to Molineux after years in the Corbett family

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FOLLOWING on from Gavin Jones' recent article on Billy Wright, I want to seek the help of Bugle readers to solve a long standing mystery.

In the early sixties a Wolves shirt with a number 5 on the back and a baggy pair of black shorts came into our family's possession. However, the true origin of these items of mid-fifties kit remains as uncertain now as it did then.

The Corbetts have always referred to it as the 'Billy Wright shirt' but although we know that it was spirited away from the Molineux dressing room in the 1954-55 season, there are various possible explanations of how it came to us via our uncle Barry.

During that season the peerless Billy wore the number 5 shirt for the majority of matches, but it was also donned on three occasions each by Bill Shorthouse and Ron Flowers, and twice by Peter Russell.

Peter was the person always associated by my family with passing the shirt on, but in all honesty Billy's shirt could have been worn by just one or all of those who wore it in 1954-55.

Peter Russell, born in 1935, began his career with the Wolves Youth team, appearing in the 1952-53 FA Youth Cup Final. After turning professional in 1952, he made his senior debut on October 2, 1954, in a 4–2 win over Manchester United. He made just three appearances in total for Wolves during the 1954–55 and 1955–56 seasons, during which the club made the top three both times.

Unable to establish himself at Molineux, he moved to Notts County in March 1956, also later playing for Hereford United. The Wolves Heroes website posted an article on Peter in March of this year, sparked by an email from his 19 year-old grandson in Cape Town. It reported that Peter emigrated to South Africa in the 1960s to play and coach. Peter turns 80 early next year and now lives with one of his daughters Kym in Johannesburg, where he needs care because of the effects of Alzheimer's.

On Thursday, November 6, 1969 my mother Margaret was waiting on at a Sporting Dinner and Boxing Event at Brierley Hill Civic Hall. Billy Wright was a guest of honour at the event and kindly signed an autograph. Mom told him about the kit and, unsurprisingly, he had no problem with us keeping it. However, he did ask that it be returned to Molineux if we ever considered throwing it away.

And so the kit remained in our possession until Billy's death on September 3, 1994, at which point I decided to return it to the club. I am pleased to say that it was put on display alongside the book of condolence in the days after his death. My children Emily and Tom, then 10 and 6 years old, are seen in the picture here, outside the Billy Wright Stand on the visit that we made to pay our respects. The club said a poignant farewell to Billy before the home match against Tranmere Rovers a week later.

Soon afterwards, the club decided to put the kit on display in Billy's Boot Room, an entirely appropriate final resting place. In a splendid act of generosity a few months later, the club treated Emily and Tom to a tour and presented them each with a current home shirt. Club historian Graham Hughes took us around and here they are pictured in Billy's Boot Room with that shirt on display, alongside one of Billy's many England jerseys.

I hope that someone out there can help to solve the mystery of the shirt, maybe Ron Flowers or a member of Peter's family in South Africa?

If you can shed any light on the Number 5 mystery, write in, call us, or email gjones@blackcountrybugle.co.uk.

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