Matt Busby came call­ing but I signed for Wolves

STEVE GOR­DOS speaks to one of Wolves’ hat-trick he­roes, who tells him why he turned down the chance to join Matt Busby’s Man­ches­ter United and signed for Wolves in­stead

Black Country Bugle - - BUGLE SPORT -

IF you were a Man­ches­ter lad in the 1950s and Matt Busby came call­ing your heart might skip a beat.

And if the leg­endary United boss said “Come and join us” you would prob­a­bly jump for joy.

Not Colin Booth, a mem­ber of a tal­ented Eng­land school­boys squad. When he got the chance to be­come a Busby Babe, he said ‘No, thanks’.


United’s loss proved to be Wolves’ gain and the school­boy wing-half be­came a goalscor­ing in­side-for­ward who helped Stan Cullis’s side twice be­come cham­pi­ons of Eng­land.

Booth, who will be 84 at the end of De­cem­ber, now lives in Ox­ford and still re­calls the time when the two great fifties man­age­rial ri­vals, Busby and Cullis, were vy­ing for his ser­vices.

“Oh yes, United wanted me to go there,” re­mem­bers Colin, “but there would be a lot of pres­sure be­ing a lo­cal lad and peo­ple would be want­ing me to get them tick­ets and such like. My dad said the same, it was bet­ter to get away from home. Matt Busby spoke to me, he came round to our house a cou­ple or three times, and ev­ery Thurs­day we used to go to a school in Man­ches­ter and he’d coach us in the gym­na­sium – Matt Busby. I learnt quite a few things from him. He was a smash­ing guy.”

Booth had grown up in the area of Man­ches­ter known as Mid­dle­ton and at­tended New­ton Heath Tech. New­ton Heath, of course, was the name by which United were first known.

Wolves, like other clubs from the First Di­vi­sion, which was then English foot­ball’s top flight, had their eyes on that highly suc­cess­ful Eng­land school­boys side of 1950 whose crown­ing glory had been an 8-2 de­mo­li­tion of Scot­land at Wem­b­ley be­fore 55,000 fans.


Colin was in the squad but was a re­serve and trod the hal­lowed turf only to pose for the pre-match team pic­ture. Sub­sti­tutes were al­lowed in that game but only for in­juries. Scot­land needed to use three but Eng­land sus­tained no in­juries so did not call on their re­serves.

As well as Colin, Eng­land had fu­ture Chelsea winger Frank Blun­stone on the touch­line. Un­der to­day’s sub­sti­tute laws, both lads would no doubt have been given 20 min­utes or so with Eng­land so much in com­mand of a game that had been 1-1 at half-time. Fu­ture Wolves col­league Ed­die Clamp scored Eng­land’s equaliser af­ter the Scots had taken a shock lead.

Colin had to serve a long ap­pren­tice­ship at Mo­lineux, not mak­ing his de­but un­til April 1955, when he faced As­ton Villa at Mo­lineux on Easter Mon­day.

Colin helped make the only goal of the game, scored by wing-half Ron Flow­ers who was in the un­usual po­si­tion of cen­tre-for­ward as Roy Swin­bourne had in­jured his knee in the game at Villa Park two days ear­lier.

Colin re­ceived the ball from a throw-in by Bill Slater and hooked it back to Slater whose cen­tre was nod­ded home by Flow­ers with just three min­utes of the game to go.

By the time of his de­but, Colin had been con­verted into an in­side for­ward, as goal-scor­ing mid­field­ers were then known. It was clear to him that his path­way to suc­cess as a half­back at Mo­lineux was blocked by some fine play­ers.


“We had some for­mi­da­ble play­ers at half-back – Billy Wright, Bill Slater, and Ron Flow­ers. Then there was Ed­die Clamp and Ron How­ells.”

While in the Army, Colin tasted cup suc­cess.

He was in the Ord­nance side, along with Clamp, when they beat the Cater­ing Corps 4-3 in April, 1954, to win the Army Cup fi­nal at Alder­shot. He scored the Ord­nance’s first goal while fu­ture Arse­nal and Wales man, Mel Charles, scored twice.


Colin had fin­ished his Na­tional Ser­vice by the time of his de­but and was given his fourth league ap­pear­ance in the third game of the 1955-6 sea­son be­cause of an in­jury to Eng­land in­ter­na­tional Den­nis Wil­shaw. Ron Flow­ers was also side­lined so Clamp joined Booth to face Man­ches­ter City at Mo­lineux.

It was thanks to Clamp that Booth col­lected his first league goal when he de­flected the wing-half’s shot past goal­keeper Bert Traut­mann af­ter just nine min­utes.

Some re­ports said the goal was Clamp’s but the club said that of­fi­cially it was Colin’s. The game ended 7-2 in Wolves’ favour with Roy Swin­bourne grab­bing four goals.

Colin had made a fine im­pres­sion and went on to make 26 league ap­pear­ances that sea­son, which ended with him scor­ing a hat-trick at Sh­effield United. All the goals at Bra­mall Lane came in the first half and it was a dis­ap­point­ing evening for Wolves – a win would have made them run­ner­sup to cham­pi­ons Man­ches­ter United. In­stead, that hon­our went to Black­pool on goal av­er­age.

De­spite the com­pe­ti­tion for places at Mo­lineux, Colin es­tab­lished him­self in the side and in Novem­ber, 1956, hit four goals as Wolves beat Arse­nal 5-2. A month ear­lier he had won an Eng­land un­der-23 cap in un­for­tu­nate cir­cum­stances. Don­caster Rovers’ teenage sen­sa­tion Alick Jeffrey broke his leg in the game against France Un­der-23s at Ash­ton Gate. The in­jury came af­ter only nine min­utes and so Colin was sub­sti­tuted for him.


Colin’s ca­reer was mov­ing along smoothly in the win­ter of 1956 but then he was in­jured on Christ­mas morn­ing when Wolves lost 2-1 at Charl­ton, Colin scor­ing his side’s goal.

That gave oth­ers a chance and though he started the 1957-8 sea­son as first choice, Colin even­tu­ally lost his place to Bobby Ma­son and made only 13 ap­pear­ances as Wolves pro­ceeded to be­come cham­pi­ons. Thir­teen games was also his to­tal the fol­low­ing sea­son when Wolves again fin­ished top. When Wolves beat Portsmouth 7-0 just af­ter Christ­mas, 1958, Colin helped him­self to an­other hat-trick.

As well as Ma­son, young South African Cliff Du­randt was push­ing for a first team place and Colin de­cided early in the 1959-60 sea­son that he needed some­thing that Cullis could not guar­an­tee him – reg­u­lar first-team foot­ball. In Oc­to­ber, 1959, Colin moved to Not­ting­ham For­est, still a topflight club in those days. There he could be more cer­tain of reg­u­lar first team foot­ball and scored 41 goals in 98 games. He was For­est’s top league scorer in 1960-1 with 19 goals and again the fol­low­ing sea­son with 12.

The goals con­tin­ued to flow when Booth had two sea­sons with Don­caster Rovers, hit­ting 34 in 19623, which made him the Fourth Di­vi­sion’s top scorer, and 23 the fol­low­ing sea­son. That sec­ond to­tal, which again made him his club’s top scorer, in­cluded two goals when Don­caster cre­ated a club record by beat­ing Darlington 10-0 at Belle Vue.

A sea­son with Ox­ford then saw his to­tal of league goals reach 145 as yet again he was his club’s top scorer. His 22 goals helped an Ox­ford side, who in­cluded fu­ture Man­ches­ter United and Villa boss Ron Atkin­son, gain pro­mo­tion to the Third Di­vi­sion:

“Ron Atkin­son was a great lad. His brother Gra­ham was also in the team. Ron would or­gan­ise things out on the pitch, al­most more so than the man­ager, Arthur Turner.”

Booth is one of the play­ers fea­tured in a new book, Golden Balls, by Steve Gor­dos and Clive Cor­bett. It de­tails ev­ery Wolves player to have scored a hat-trick, and is avail­able from gp­[email protected] hot­

Above: Colin Booth in old gold, which he chose above the red of Man­ches­ter United, de­spite ap­peals from Matt Busby

Colin Booth with a replica of the Foot­ball League cham­pi­onship tro­phy

Colin Booth, wear­ing a blazer and kneel­ing ex­treme right lines up at Wem­b­ley with the 1950 Eng­land school­boys side. Ed­die Clamp is the first player from the left in the back row and Johnny Haynes is the sec­ond player from the left in the front row

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