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A Bolton Wanderers 1958 Team Reunion

by Ken Beevers

In December 2004 I was privileged to be present at one of the informal gatherings of Bolton Wanderers 1958 FA Cup winning team. These lads have been meeting for nearly 50 years and are part of Football's golden age, as well as the folklore of Bolton Wanderers and the FA Cup. Geoffrey Green said in his book Soccer in the Fifties that this was one of the most eventful periods in the history of English football, and Bolton Wanderers were very much part of that. It was an age of loyalty, of modest wages, but a time and an age when football was fun. Nothing much else mattered in Bolton but the fortunes of its football team. Before their meal they allowed me to ask them a few questions.

Guide us with eternal love

Only six members of the team were able to be there that day; Roy Hartle, Tommy Banks, John Higgins, Bryan Edwards, Dennis Stevens, and Ralph Gubbins. Singing together was a vital part of team spirit and they gave a fine rendition of the Three Bells before talking about those football days.

Just a lonely bell was ringing
In the little valley town
T'was farewell that they were singing
To our good old Jimmy Brown

Then the little congregation
Prayed for guidance from above
Lead us not into temptation
Bless this hour of meditation
Guide us with eternal love

"You never lose it"
If ever a group of people felt genuine delight in each others company then this was it. I asked them how much time they had.

How much time have you got?


"Never mind we will play extra time if you like."

"We won't tell you the truth you know that"

What was it like playing in a final that no one else apart from people in Bolton wanted you to win?

It didn't matter about anyone else because we knew we were going to win anyway. We were in no doubt about it. It was obviously an emotional day anyway. Wembley is an emotional place. You walk out on to the pitch at Wembley and there are a hundred thousand people there. There is an atmosphere. We couldn't hear the crowd in the dressing room. The only time we heard the crowd was as we went up the tunnel.

You know we walk out in twos. I walked out with Dennis Violet. He is dead now. I walked out with him into the arena with 100,000 people there. He said "They can't stop us now can they." I can remember that as if it were yesterday. Brilliant atmosphere. It is every player's dream to play at Wembley. It was in those days anyway.

Plus the fact we had 11 English lads playing. There is only one team that has done it since then. I believe it was West Ham in 1960 odd. They called us the £110 team. In those days you got a £10 signing on fee. We all came up through the reserves into the first team and we were all English. We were a team. If you kicked one you kicked us all. We were playing a team that had just had a crash, and everybody was for them.

We beat them that season you know (4-0). We lost away two -seven. I think there was a bit of jiggery pokery there, that seven. As far as I am concerned. Bolton always beat United in my time. We beat them a few seasons before that when they turned the lights on. It was the team that opened the lights.15000 were locked outside the ground. We beat them 5-1 at Old Trafford in 1954, 5-1. When did we lose? Not so often. Ray Parry got two, Lofty got one and Willie Moir scored twice. 1954. Never forgot it.

What was the homecoming like?

Wonderful. It wasn't very good through Salford though. They pelted us with tomatoes. We didn't feel a thing. We'd won. Talk about happy lads. We got a big bonus for winning. About ten grand apiece. (Laughter). £25 was all we got.

Tommy Banks describes the evening celebrations.

"The manager gave us £50 to take the girls out for the night. That was eleven of us. £50 between us. Aye but we came back and we'd spent a bit more. He didn't like it. £70. I'll tell you what the bill was. 70 pound odd. I supped champagne out of our Marie's shoe (Tommy).

George Taylor was just going to bed when we got back to the hotel. What had happened I'd arranged for a do. What was it called, that club? He said he couldn't come. If you remember a couple of weeks before we played Arsenal. And we licked Arsenal. And last time we licked Arsenal it were 1929. I said that's an omen. 2-1 wasn't it. Yes we licked them 2-1 at Arsenal. Then we went to this club. And we couldn't get in. It were that full of Bowton folk. They knew we were going. We went back to the Hotel and George Taylor was just going to bed. George was our choir master. He was a bloody good un George. He knew every song there was. We stopped him going to bed, him and George Hunt the other coach. I've no idea what time we went to bed. . We had breakfast about five o clock, four or five of us. I stopped up longest. I was chasing what's is name. Aye chasing somebody and he couldn't catch a frog. That's why I finished early with covering him. I'm talking about you John (John Higgins).

"My legs have gone", said John. "I just walked in here and they said you were a bit quicker than that once. I said not a lot. But they couldn't get round me."

What did you think of Bolton when you first came here?

"Not very impressed. Not with the town. Listen. I came from Buxton in Derbyshire". (John)

You went to grammar school as well didn't you? Can't you tell the difference between us? Can you tell what I'm saying? (Tommy)

Could you understand people?

I still can't. Ill tell you I trained the first Tuesday night I came here and there were a lot of little lads with dark eyes and they'd been in pit all day, and the muck was that bad that night I couldn't believe it. The bath was that thick with scum. When I got home I said I'm not going back any more dad. Anyway I went back following week and they were the best set of lads I've ever known in my life. Team spirit. Everton are playing like we did. They are not very good but they win.. (John)

If Wanderers win the cup this year how would they ever get together - reunions? They'd have to have ten interpreters...I've travelled the world tha knows. I've wined and dined with Khrushchev and he couldn't understand me. He was gaffer there when I went to Russia. (Tommy)

We were all different.

I came when I were 15. I came from out of the forces. I came from Leeds when I was sixteen (Bryan Edwards). Bolton offered to sign me on my 17th birthday. I left on my 35th birthday. To the day. It doesn't happen today. You're lucky if they do 18 months. Then we were all on the same money... It didn't matter who you played for. So called stars used to get a little bit of a job as well. Travelling and things like that. It was a question of I'm all right jack, I said there has got to be some changes.

After playing I went cleaning windows. Worked on a farm. Looked after pigs. And hens. One fellow went on a one man strike and finished playing football, A great player. He was called Wilf Mannion. He finished and went working in Oldham; He said I'm not having this. They had Babe Ruth over, a yankee from New York.He saw the great crowds. He said Wilf you must be on £1000 a week. He said I'm on a tenner. But all these stadiums are full. He was outstanding. He finished for ten months. He went to Bogotá. (Tommy)

What was Bill Ridding like?

He was a very good rubber downer. He was a physiotherapist. Bill Ridding when we had our talks on Friday he used to come over with the salt cellar and pepper, and move them on the table to show us tactics. He had a good coach, a very good defensive coach in George Taylor. T'other coach was the best ball carrier in the world. Six balls in a bag every morning. George was excellent and a good man. He didn't allow swearing.

We thoroughly enjoyed our life.

We had a great life, no doubt about it.

When we went out we went en bloc, all together.

What advantage did you get playing at Burnden?

It was that drop. Before we got the training ground at Bromwich Street we had to run round Burnden Park. When I went in 1946 it was level. We ran round that much we wore it down. It's reet. At the back of the stands there was a cinder pitch. We played 5 aside on it. Bromwich Street came in the 1950s. It had a good feeling about it. We had to walk across the canal, otherwise it was good, good facilities.

We used to wear the same shirts all week. I'm not joking. They gave me a sweater in 1946, and I handed it in when I left in 1961. (Tommy)

They used to threaten the wingers. "How dost want it".

Stanley Matthews only played once at Burnden Park. He didn't want to play against Tommy.

Rubbish. Stanley played against much better footballers than me. He were a great player. Because he could play football. He was the quickest player I've ever seen over the first ten yards. The best kicker of a ball I've ever seen. Never mind Beckham. He was doing it sixty years ago.

Thanks to Tommy Banks, Roy Hartle, Bryan Edwards, Dennis Stevens, Ralph Gubbins, and John Higgins

John Higgins died on 22nd April 2005 in Macclesfield General Hospital. He will be sadly missed by his family, by all Bolton Wanderers supporters and by his 1958 team mates, who have a bond and a team spirit that lives on as strong and close as ever.