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80 years since Wolves and England legend Billy Wright’s debut – the match he forgot!

By Steve Gordos

Today marks the 80th anniversary of the first senior Wolves appearance by a 15-year-old who would become a football legend.

William Ambrose Wright was on the left wing in the side who played Albion at The Hawthorns in a wartime friendly on Saturday, September 23, 1939. The match came just three weeks after war had been declared and the Football League programme abandoned.

The match was an eight-goal thriller, Wolves coming from 2-0 down at half-time to win 5-3. Yet, amazingly, it seems not to have stuck in Billy Wright’s memory.

According to books written by Billy, he got his first-team chance in a friendly against Notts County at Meadow Lane. That is what is stated in ‘Captain of England’ published in 1950, and in ‘Football is My Passport’ published seven years later.

However, it’s not correct – the game against County was a week after the Albion match. It could have been that when he came to write his first book some 11 years after his debut it was the trip to Meadow Lane that was his abiding memory.

A cutting from the Birmingham Despatch confirms Billy played at The Hawthorns, his name appearing in the Wolves line-up as “Wright (W)”. The initial after his name is because the club also had on their books Horace Wright, an inside-forward (midfielder). The attendance was only about 5,000. There is a misprint in the Wolves team, Tom Galley’s name appearing as “Guy”. The Despatch noted that a warden was on duty in The Hawthorns offices seated by a telephone in case of reports of an air raid.

Youngsters like Billy were needed by manager Major Frank Buckley as several senior Wolves players had already been called up for military or police service.

Former Wolves full-back Cecil Shaw gave the Baggies the lead from the penalty spot and then fired a second spot kick straight at goalkeeper Cyril Sidlow only for Harry Jones to score soon afterwards.

In the second half, England full-back Bill Morris, playing on the right wing, pulled a goal back on 50 minutes, Alex McIntosh equalised and Dennis Westcott put Wolves ahead only for George Banks to make it 3-3. Westcott then completed his hat-trick with two late goals.

A week after the Albion game came the trip to play Notts County which apparently stuck in Billy’s memory as his debut. What did not remain in his memory was the scoring prowess he showed in the game. He always recalled it as a 2-1 victory when it was in fact 4-1 and he grabbed two second-half goals in the space of two minutes. He was again on the left wing.

The man who made football history by becoming the first in the world to win 100 caps, may thus have set a Wolves record – has there been a younger scorer in a first-team game for the club than Billy Wright, aged 15 years and seven months?

In the Monday edition of the Express & Star was a piece headed “Wolves 15-year-old winger” and it read:

William Wright who scored two goals for Wolves against Notts County at Meadow Lane on Saturday is only 15 years of age. Wright is well-built standing 5ft 8½ ins and weighing 10st 7lbs. he has previously assisted Wolves’ B and A teams, At Ironbridge he played for the local schools eleven.”

If only Billy had kept the newspaper cuttings!

Our Billy…held aloft at Wembley as England captain.