Saturday, April 20, 2024

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Wolves At Europe's Door

Wolves & Europa League (via Birmingham Mail)While their latest European sojourn may have been delayed if not yet derailed by coronavirus, Nuno Espirito Santo's Wolves side is by no means the first to get a taste of it. The early Fifties saw the men in old gold become the first club side in England to spend big on floodlights- a £10,000 set up approved at Molineux in 1953. And to show it off they arranged friendlies against the continent's best- one of which was witnessed by L'Equipe editor Gabriel Hanot, so impressed by their 3-2 win over Honved on December 13, 1954 that he felt compelled to call for the creation of a European Cup.



By the following year it met with UEFA approval, & the 1955/6 season was the first to feature the European Champion Clubs' Cup as it was originally dubbed. The groundwork for Wolves' guiding hand in it had arguably been laid by a first league title win in 1953/4, four points separating them from West Brom in second- & two further such triumphs would follow in successive seasons, 1957/58 & 1958/59.


Stan Cullis, manager then, had played under the equally forward thinking, for different reasons entirely, Major Frank Buckley, who had arrived as gaffer in July of 1927. The Major set about quietly revolutionising things through pioneering use of both psychology & the wider media- tools which we might now reasonably say are a big part of the managerial cut & thrust.


His preceding job at Blackpool had also seen him in a sense rip up the old time rulebook! Soon after arriving in the old seaside town it was noted that “a pleasing feature of the training … is that the manager dons the jersey and joins the boys giving them advice and practical demonstration of what to do and how to do it”.


The Friday afternoon training games he scheduled before Saturday's matches were also seen as a departure from the norm in that most managers wouldn't have bothered letting their charges near a ball until the Saturday kick off in case they somehow lost the desire beforehand!


It would seem that he was also a pre-Fergie advocate of the hairdryer treatment...


“If you had a rotten game you’d hardly dare go in at half-time, you were going to get the biggest bawling at … cursed and swore at you. So from that point of view he was a terrible chap.


So said Don Bilton, one of his players at Molineux. Another, Jimmy Dunn, added “The Major was a hard taskmaster. He got the best out of players through fear as much as anything else.


He’d have the fire brigade come down on the Friday before the game and flood the ground.”


Youth development, though, was a key cornerstone of his philosophy- to the extent that he purchased a hostel in Wolverhampton complete with medical facilities & recreational space. That, though, came with a caveat, the Major having club employees report back to him on anyone deemed to be neglecting his club duties.


Some debate exists as to whether his alleged endorsement of monkey gland treatments to aid the performance of his players is a myth- part of a Buckley media masterplan. But having been impressed by the claims of scientist Menzies Sharp, before having it administered to those on his playing staff who consented, he gambled by injecting himself!


“The treatment lasted three or four months. Long before it was over I felt so much benefit that I asked the players if they would be willing to undergo it and that is how the gland treatment became general at Molineux.”


Injections were then given to willing players over six weeks’ worth of injections every three or four days, the alleged upturn in physical condition drawing the ire of beaten opponents, including Leicester, swept aside 10-1- who complained to their local MP.


The man in question, Abraham Lyons, duly had the government investigate the treatments- which succeeded only in English & Welsh clubs being obliged to display posters saying that players could only take them voluntarily...


By 1944 it might have seemed to some like the Major was a prophet. Appearing on BBC Radio, he talked of the future of football- “a glossy future of British and European football leagues, with top teams whizzing over the continent in aeroplanes and every fan seated in a covered and heated stadium.


Why, even refereeing would be better after the War, so long as officials were recruited from the ranks of former players and paid a full-time wage.” as recounted by Duncan Steer.


The then 61 year old Buckley was by most accounts “the highest-paid and most controversial football manager in the country”.


As demonstrated before a derby match against Walsall. Another of his players, Eddie Holding, remembered “He brought in one of those boards, with the players represented by magnetic markers and he put them all in position and said: ‘When the whistle blows, this happens.’


And he threw all the little markers in a heap! We all laughed – but it was the Major’s way of saying tactics could be taken too far.”


Perhaps some of that attitude came from his military service- Cullis later quoted as saying “His style of management in football was very similar to his attitude in the army. If you didn't like his style you'd very soon be on your bicycle to another club. He didn't like defenders over-elaborating in their defensive positions.”


Once he got on his own bicycle, never known for staying with one club for any great length of time, it was to Notts County- having left Wolves in 1944.


His next big project came in pitching up at Elland Road four years later, lifting Leeds out of the Second Division having discovered John Charles, implemented “shooting boxes”- designed to send balls out to players at a variety of angles & speeds- & introduced dance training to aid movement. The PA system at the ground blared out the dance music of the day- the Whites' own waltz having carried on for a century with their 100th anniversary coming last October, & currently aiming to canter back to the Premier League.

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