The late Wolves ‘keeper Malcolm Finlayson was really brilliant to me. He was always happy to take my calls, have a chat and give me a quote for a number of books I was working on - notably the Frank Swift biography, the 1960 FA Cup, Charlie Hurley biography and Ernie Taylor digital biography. As by way of tribute I have pleasure in publishing below some of Malcolm’s words.
The first set comes from the Fifty Years On book published in 2010 on the 1960 FA Cup that Wolves won by beating Blackburn Rovers 3-0 in the final at Wembley.
Goalkeeper – Scotsman Malcolm Finlayson was signed from Third division South side Millwall, for whom he made 230 first team appearances, in the summer of 1956 as cover for regular england keeper Bert ‘The Cat’ Williams. Although he made only 13 first team appearances in his first season, Finlayson became the regular Wolves keeper in 1957–58, when Wolves were the only First division side to concede fewer than 50 league goals during the season, a record maintained the following season as they won back-to-back league titles.
Finlayson was an agile performer with a safe pair of hands, was courageous and commanded his area with distinction. He played in five of the seven Wolves FA Cup games in 1959–60, by which time he had already started out in the business world. He later became, and remains successful as, a director of R&F Stockholders of Kingswinford near dudley. Finlayson would undoubtedly have won caps for Scotland had their selectors decided on a policy of no ‘Anglos’.
Malcolm on manager Stan Cullis.
Cullis built two great Wolves sides; the first won the 1949 FA Cup and the League five years later. As players came towards the end of their careers he slowly replaced them – Bill Shorthouse retired, Bert Williams was replaced by Malcolm Finlayson, Norman deeley came in for Harry Hooper, who had been bought to replace Johnny Hancocks, and Jimmy Murray for Roy Swinbourne, and from 1956 to 1961 Wolves had a second great team.
Malcolm Finlayson gives a further example of Cullis’s commitment to people who gave their all for him: “In 63–64 Stan let me continue playing part- time as I was moving into business. But in September 1963 Roger Hunt trod all over my hand up at Anfield and broke it. This took me six or seven weeks to recover and then when I got back playing it was in the reserves at West Brom. I got kicked on the knee and after that I decided to call it a day as it meant I was having to get taken in the back seat of my car to work and back. Cullis, however, made sure I got paid till the end of the season. He was as straight as a die, was Stan.
“He was a hard manager, straight-talking and wouldn’t suffer fools gladly but he would never criticise his players in public or in the press and I know that he really helped out one or two Wolves players who fell on hard times. I’d say his bark was worse than his bite, although not to journalists who I witnessed at times waiting to go in and interview him and were shaking like a leaf.
“In the 1980s I had my house burgled and they took my two league championship and FA cup winner’s medals. Stan, and Gordon Taylor, from the PFA, unknown to me, got the FA and the Football league to replace them. It was great of them I must say.”
On his understanding with Bill Slater the Wolves centre back and captain
Malcolm Finlayson remembers: “The match was one of those where the pitch was cleared of snow and blue lines painted on it. It was bitterly cold and would probably have been postponed today. Bill had a good game.
“A goalkeeper is the only player who can see everything that’s happening on the field. He can tell for example if a player is trying to go down the blind side of a defender and make him aware of the danger. You have to make sure you command your area and you have to be constantly talking to those in front of you and they have to be aware that if you’re coming for the ball then it’s yours.
“Bill listened if I said anything. He could also play and had good ball control, helped no doubt by the fact that he had previously been an inside forward.”
On Jimmy Murray
“Jimmy Murray was a fine player,” says Malcolm Finlayson. “We had a cracking forward line and scored a hundred goals a season for four seasons running. Our manager believed in attacking, with our particular strength being counter-attacking. We had a quick side with good ability on the ball; we were also very fit and powerful – not only did we have a coach/trainer in Joe Gardiner who had played left half for Wolves in the 1939 FA Cup final, but unlike other sides we also had a physical fitness trainer in Frank Morris, a well-known international runner who’d take the players for athletics.
“The club had spent heavily developing a well- equipped training ground but we’d also go out to Brockton in Staffordshire and be forced to run up this hill to keep fit. If you’ve seen Sean Connery in the desert film The Hill you’ll have some idea of what this was like.
“Stan Cullis would water the home pitch as he had us so fit that teams couldn’t compete physically and a wet pitch would give us a big advantage. Also the ball in those days was heavier than now at 16 ounces and when it got wet it would be even heavier. Today most players can kick it great distances but not in the ’50s – you had to have some strength and fitness to do that, especially towards the end of the match.”
Being a keeper in the 50s.
Of course, being a keeper in the 1950s was entirely different compared with today. Nowadays keepers don’t dive at forwards’ feet; they all wait until they hit the ball, then they try to spread themselves using their arms and legs. In those days the keeper would dive down at the feet of the forward to try to block or grab the ball. You would also get much more challenged for the ball in the air. These days you see keepers complaining if someone jumps close to them. Keepers were expected to be much more robust in the 1950s.
“Also, how many times do you see keepers trying to anticipate a penalty kick by diving one way? Yet about half of the kicks go down the middle of the goal. Back then keepers tried to watch the ball rather than the player and go after the ball had been kicked.
“The ball did fly straighter in those days – the one great disadvantage keepers have these days is that the ball does move in the air. This makes it much more difficult to catch the ball so they are inclined to punch it more. The weight of the ball meant you couldn’t kick it to the halfway line, particularly on wet match days as it collected water. These days keepers can kick it into the opposition half fairly easily.
“At free kicks keepers would try and get their defenders out of the way. Take for example a free kick 35 yards out on the right. The opposition player will attempt to bend it to the back post and defenders drop deep to try to head it clear. This makes it difficult for any keeper to come and get the ball as they’ve got to get in between the attackers and their own defenders. defenders drop back because they don’t have faith in their ’keeper. At Wolves I would insist that the defence stayed on the 18-yard line and tried to play offside so that if the ball was floated over it was my ball. I would make it clear to any defenders that if they got in the way they could expect to get clattered and if they didn’t listen they did.
“One main advantage, it has to be said, in those days was that defenders could play the ball back and you could pick it up with your hands; keepers today have to be better with controlling the ball with their feet. despite this I still feel they have it much easier today than ’keepers had it back in the 1950s and I am not convinced they’re any better than we were.”
On Norman Deeley
Malcolm Finlayson remembers: “Little Norman was a tiny wee chap at about 5’ 2” but he was very quick and had great feet. He had a great partnership with Peter Broadbent and they were always interpassing the ball and interchanging positions. Norman could and did create space around him in which to play. Peter Broadbent was also a very good player.
The semi-final against Villa
Fortunately, Finlayson had relatively little to do, being extended only twice. First the big goalkeeper, whose appearance ended reserve keeper Geoff Sidebottom’s nine-match run – a sequence which contained seven victories and only one defeat – was forced in the first half to make a diving save to stop a shot from Jimmy Mcewan; then 12 minutes from the end he found himself facing Bobby Thomson. It was a crucial moment and one Malcolm Finlayson remembers as he still has the scars to show from what happened next!
“Bobby, an ex-Wolves player, was clever. Wolves were known for pushing up to leave attackers offside. We’d push up to the halfway line; it would annoy the hell out of the opponents’ fans when we played away. The opposing player would push the ball through to their forwards and we’d get an offside flag. This day Bobby pushed the ball through and went after it himself. I met him on the 18-yard line and dived at his feet. Out of frustration he raked his studs down the inside of my thigh and even today when I see him I tell him I’ve still got the scars to show from his tackle. He says it was an accident. It wasn’t and today he would be sent off but in those days you could and did expect such things to happen as it was a much harder game than it is today.”
On Bobby Mason not playing in the final
Yet on the Tuesday of cup week Bobby Mason’s hopes must have soared when he was handed the number eight shirt to wear for the souvenir programme. It was not to be and two days later his heart was broken when Cullis took him to one side and explained he would be selecting the inexperienced Stobart in his place. Later the manager told the press that he knew “how disappointing it must be to be left out, but he has just got to accept it”. Yet he admitted he didn’t know “just how Mason has taken it. After all, how do you know what is in a man’s mind?”
Bob Pennington, in the Daily Express, said he understood that Mason was disappointed. This must be viewed as a massive understatement. Fifty years later when researching this book I received a letter from Bobby Mason responding to my request for an interview with the simple but terse reply stating in bold type: “Sorry but I will not take part in your cup final campaign.”
Malcolm Finlayson says: “I didn’t think Bobby would be interviewed. He was ever so upset; he had played in a lot of big games, Bobby, and he was a cracking player. But the FA Cup final was an extra-special event. To miss it was a big blow. I believe that he was offered a medal as one of the players who had played during the tournament but refused to accept it.”
Bobby Mason was indeed a “cracking player”. during his career at Molineux he won two league winner ’s medals and made 173 first team appearances in which he notched a highly impressive 54 goals. Ironically, 1959–60 had been his best season in terms of goals. He scored 15 times.