“City beaten in 10-goal thriller” screamed the front page of the Football Echo Pink ’Un in September 1955. When the paper was sold in Cardiff’s pubs that Saturday evening, the banner headline prompted many a double-take from those who had been at Ninian Park shortly before. After all, Wolves had won the First Division match 9-1.
I will leave it to you to decide whether the sub-editor who wrote it was enterprising or taking a liberty. But it did provoke laughs from gloomy home fans nursing their pints of Brains. It was the only fun they had all day.
Wolves, of course, were fabulous in the 50s. Under Stan Cullis they won the league title for the first time in 1954 and were trying to challenge Matt Busby’s Manchester United as the country’s premier side. The previous Saturday, Wolves had beaten Manchester City 7-2. Glamour was present in gold and black.
I was at the match with my father, Arthur. A Ninian Park regular, he’d taken me across town from Roath for my first visit to the ground. A 9-1 defeat for my team would appear a strange choice to savour, but the 42,060 crowd was a thrill, the skills gripping and, for an eight-year-old boy, goals in double figures really are better than 0-0.
The Wolves team that afternoon was star-studded. It included Billy Wright, England’s brilliant centre-half who was to soon marry Joy Beverley of the Beverley Sisters. Among other stars on the pitch was the stylish inside-right Peter Broadbent, whom Alex Ferguson later said was the player he admired most early on in his own playing career.
Johnny Hancocks, Wolves’ nippy outside-right whose claims for a regular England place were widely thought to be denied at the time only by Stanley Matthews, opened the scoring within 30 seconds, and he soon had a first-half hat-trick. We were standing low on the terracing, close to the pitch with a great view of the action. It was Hancocks’ finest half-hour.
He was 5ft 4in in his boots (reputedly a size 6) and was difficult to tackle partly because, it seemed to me, his shorts meant a full-back couldn’t see which way Johnny’s legs were heading until he’d gone. Even for back then they were extravagantly long.
The Wolves centre-forward Roy Swinbourne also scored a hat-trick, while Broadbent got two and the outside-left Jimmy Mullen (12 England caps) one. City’s goal was the final one, scored six minutes from time by the former Wolves man Ronnie Stockin.
Back in the West Midlands, the coverage in Wolverhampton’s Express & Star said “there was only one team in it” – a prosaic conclusion that could have done with input from editorial counterparts in Cardiff. The result also remained the biggest away victory in the top flight until Leicester won 9-0 at Southampton in October last year.
Wolves were on a roll but no one had the right to forecast anything resembling 9-1. And the Bluebirds were not set up to be easy pickings. On the previous weekends, Cardiff had won at Arsenal and Aston Villa.
Managed by Trevor Morris they had a number of Wales internationals, including the centre-forward Trevor Ford, whose physicality sparked fear in goalkeepers. There was also the former coal miner Gerry Hitchens, who after switching to Villa became an England player and then a big-money signing for Internazionale.
The footnote to this tale concerns the reverse fixture that season. On 31 December 1955, the press box at Molineux was packed in anticipation of a re-run. But Ford and Hitchens were on target to help Cardiff achieve some revenge for their humiliation – with an astonishing 2-0 victory. It was the first home defeat Wolves suffered that season. It might have been a turning point and they went on to finish third in the table, while Manchester United ran away with it.