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
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] hotmail.co.uk
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