George Showell: Wolves stalwart of the 1950s and '60s


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The Independent Online

Stan Cullis, the martinet manager who moulded Wolverhampton Wanderers into one of the dominant football forces in the land during the decade and a half after the war, demanded of his defenders that they be stout of heart, muscular of body and hard of head – requirements that George Showell fulfilled to the letter.

The big, blond Black Countryman was never one of Molineux's stars, being a non-playing rookie when they won their first League title in 1954 and a deputy to the likes of centre-half and skipper Billy Wright and full-back Eddie Stuart when they added two more in 1958 and '59. But Showell played his stalwart part in the FA Cup triumph of 1960 and was usually on the teamsheet for the next few seasons, until his tenure was effectively ended by the shabby sacking of Cullis, the man who had led Wolves to the only period of sustained success in their history.

Showell was recruited in 1949 as an amateur who also worked as a fitter's mate. He turned professional as a 17-year-old in 1951, completed his national service as a gunner with the Royal Artillery, then found it difficult to emerge from the periphery of Cullis's formidably strong squad. The youngster made his senior debut at home to Preston North End in April 1955 and played the last eight games of the season at right-back, but come the new term the No 2 shirt was back in Stuart's possession.

It was a frustrating situation for Showell – who gave arguably his finest performance when substantially subduing Real Madrid maestro Alfredo di Stéfano in a 1957 friendly – especially when Wolves lifted their back-to-back championships. Each time he was short of the 14 appearances then needed to qualify for a medal, even though in the autumn of 1958 he had demonstrated further versatility by a spell as emergency centre-forward in place of the injured Jimmy Murray.

In his first 10 years at Molineux he had made fewer than 50 senior appearances, but his status was altered radically by Wright's retirement in 1959. Showell began the following campaign at centre-half, then shifted to right-back to accommodate the more stylish Bill Slater. He totalled 41 games, easily the best return of his career to date, as Wolves went agonisingly close to becoming the first club in the 20th century to win the League and FA Cup double.

They missed out on the title by a point to Burnley on the last day of the season, but beat Blackburn Rovers 3-0 at Wembley in what was to be dubbed "the dustbin final" – partly because it was a dour game and partly due to angry Lancastrian fans, who, upset by what they saw as Wolves' over-robust approach, pelted the victors with orange peel and other rubbish.

Nevertheless, Showell had secured a major honour at last, he was established in the side and in 1960-61 he performed with customary efficiency as Wolves finished third in the table – though they could only feel galled as Tottenham Hotspur attained the double which had so narrowly eluded them a year earlier. Injury kept him out for most of 1961-62, during which the team struggled, but he was back in harness for a commendable fifth place in 1962-63 before the wheels began to come off Cullis's creation. The club's youth policy was stuttering, rivals were coming to terms with Wolves' hard-running, long-passing style and in 1963-64 they declined to 16th place.

A debilitatingly wretched start to 1964-65 saw the hitherto seemingly impregnable manager controversially sacked, and the 30-year-old Showell proved surplus to the requirements of Cullis's successor, Andy Beattie. In May 1965 he joined Bristol City, newly promoted from the Third Division.

At Ashton Gate, however, he couldn't oust such consistent defenders as Tony Ford, Alec Briggs and Jack Connor and in November 1966 he stepped down two tiers to enlist with Wrexham, where he did well until knee trouble forced his retirement in 1968. He had become a popular figure at the Racecourse Ground, where he was to remain for nearly a quarter of a century, serving as coach, trainer, caretaker manager when Bobby Roberts was dismissed in 1985, then for several years as assistant manager to Dixie McNeil – a role he combined with work as club physiotherapist, before his departure in 1990. Later he was physio for Wrexham Rugby Club and worked in a local hospital.

Ivan Ponting

George William Showell, footballer: born Bilston, Staffordshire 9 February 1934; played for Wolverhampton Wanderers 1951-65, Bristol City 1965-66, Wrexham 1966-68; died Wrexham 18 December 2012.