Dennis Wilshaw

Wolves and England inside-forward
Click to follow

Dennis Wilshaw was a dynamic, free-scoring inside-forward who netted 25 times as Wolverhampton Wanderers lifted the Football League championship in 1954, then entered the record books as the first Englishman to notch a hat-trick against Scotland.



Dennis James Wilshaw, teacher and footballer: born Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire 11 March 1926; played for Wolverhampton Wanderers 1943-57, Walsall on loan 1946-48, Stoke City 1957-61; capped 12 times by England 1953-56; married (one daughter); died Stoke-on-Trent 10 May 2004.



Dennis Wilshaw was a dynamic, free-scoring inside-forward who netted 25 times as Wolverhampton Wanderers lifted the Football League championship in 1954, then entered the record books as the first Englishman to notch a hat-trick against Scotland.

Yet even an impressive tally of 10 goals in a dozen appearances for his country failed to secure a regular international place for the prolific Midlander. Would that England's current manager, Sven-Göran Eriksson, could be so choosy as to discard such a proven marksman in the run-up to Euro 2004.

Wilshaw was strong, resilient and direct, an awkward customer for any opponent to control, and thus was perfectly suited to Stan Cullis's formidable all-action Wolves side which provided the main opposition for Matt Busby's more refined, sweet-passing Manchester United of the mid-1950s.

He was capable of sudden bursts of searing acceleration which equipped him ideally to exploit gaps in opposition defences. His shooting was explosively powerful, especially with his left foot, and he was combative in the air, forming a potent dual spearhead with the centre-forward Roy Swinbourne. Together they terrorised not only First Division defences but also the more cultured rearguards of continental powers such as Spartak Moscow and Honved, the crack Hungarian side, during a crucial period for the domestic game.

United are credited handsomely, and rightly so, as pioneering British football's expansion overseas by becoming England's first entrants into the European Cup in 1956 but, a little earlier, the Black Countrymen were also immensely influential in blazing the new trail as they embarked on a series of enthralling friendlies, mostly against teams from the Eastern bloc.

The intelligent Wilshaw, who particularly relished the challenge of new horizons, made his first impact as a footballer at Hanley High School, but it was for his derring-do with Packmoor Boys Club in the North Staffordshire League that he riveted the attention of Wolves' scouts. Shortly after plundering 10 goals in one match he was enlisted as an amateur by the Molineux club in September 1943, being elevated to the first team for a wartime league match only seven days later.

While training to be a teacher, he agreed professional terms with Wolves in March 1944 and, the club being well endowed with forwards, he was loaned to Walsall of the Third Division South in May 1946. Wilshaw flourished at Fellows Park, establishing a productive frontline partnership with Doug Lishman, eventually doing so well that he was recalled to Molineux in September 1948 as an understudy for the centre-forward Jesse Pye.

Competition for senior places was intense, but when the versatile Wilshaw was given his top-flight début at outside-left in March 1949, he responded with a hat-trick against Newcastle United, then underlined his burgeoning status with a brace in each of his next two outings, both as leader of the line. Though still nominally a Wolves reserve - he was overlooked for that term's FA Cup Final triumph over Leicester City - he was called up by England B in the May, and scored twice against Finland in Helsingfor.

Gradually it became impossible for Wilshaw's club boss, Cullis, to ignore his claims for a regular berth, which he finally secured in 1952/53, then he enjoyed his most productive campaign in 1953/54 as the hard-running Wolves pipped West Bromwich Albion and Huddersfield Town - how the balance of power has shifted - for the title.

By then he had earned his first full cap, against Wales at Ninian Park, Cardiff, in October 1953. There followed a trip to the 1954 World Cup Finals in Switzerland, where he made two appearances, registering against the host nation but drawing a blank as England were knocked out by Uruguay in the quarter-finals.

Wilshaw's most glorious international achievement, though, was reserved for a memorable encounter with Scotland at Wembley in April 1955 when he netted four times in a 7-2 annihilation of the old enemy, linking brilliantly with Bolton's Nat Lofthouse and Don Revie of Manchester City. Even then, at a time when the England line-up was in a state of constant flux, Wilshaw never managed to become a fixture and he collected his last cap, as a 30-year-old, against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park, Belfast, in October 1956.

Back at club level, he remained a force with Wolves until he joined his hometown club, Second Division Stoke City, a £10,000 fee changing hands in December 1957. At Molineux Wilshaw had maintained an enviable strike rate of better than one goal for every two games - his precise record was 112 strikes in 219 senior outings - and he was not far off equalling it at the Victoria Ground where he totalled 49 in 108.

His peak for the Potters came in 1958/59, when he knocked in 15 as the side finished just outside the promotion places. Thereafter, as Stoke declined towards the lower reaches of the Second Division and Wilshaw approached his middle thirties, he became less of a force but had no immediate plans for retirement when he suffered a broken leg in an FA Cup clash with Newcastle United in February 1961.

He never played League football again, opting instead to pursue a successful teaching career, which included the headship of a school in Stoke and a leading role in the Service and Community Studies department at Crewe and Alsager College of Education.

Ivan Ponting

Comments