Norman Deeley

Effervescent Wolves winger
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The Independent Online

Norman Victor Deeley, footballer: born Wednesbury, Staffordshire 30 November 1933; played for Wolverhampton Wanderers 1948-62, Leyton Orient 1962-64; capped twice by England 1959; (one son, one daughter); died Wednesbury 7 September 2007.

Norman Deeley was a tiny ball of high-octane energy and verve that never lost its bounce during his medal-rich prime with Wolverhampton Wanderers at the end of the 1950s.

An irrepressibly dynamic goal-scoring winger versatile enough to thrive on either flank, he excelled as part of the second thunderously powerful combination moulded by the formidable disciplinarian Stan Cullis, helping to lift two consecutive League titles and the FA Cup, and earning England recognition along the way.

There was never very much of the effervescent Midlander. When he made his entrance onto the international stage at schoolboy level during 1947/48, he stood a mere 4ft 4in and was said to be the smallest ever to play for the team. Indeed, he was to grow only a foot taller, but he compensated amply in skill, determination and bravery for what he lacked in physical stature.

Deeley might have joined West Bromwich Albion as a teenager, encouraged by his Throstles-supporting father, but the boy had his heart set on Wolves and he got his way, enlisting at Molineux as an amateur straight from school in 1948 at the outset of the successful Cullis managerial era. Nothing daunted at being surrounded by comparative giants, the diminutive newcomer played for the reserves at 16 and assisted in the capture of three successive Central League (reserve) championships, earning his first professional contract in December 1950.

At that point he was a right-half – a midfielder in modern parlance – and it was in that role that he made his senior début in a 2-1 home victory over Arsenal in August 1951. There followed sporadic first-team opportunities, some of them at inside-forward, as he completed his National Service in the Army, and he remained a fringe player as Wolves won the first League crown in their history in 1953/54.

Deeley scored his first goal for the club in a pulsating 4-4 draw with West Bromwich in the FA Charity Shield the following August, but it was difficult to imagine such a small man forging a regular centre-field berth in the fearsomely muscular, hard-running unit Cullis had created. However, the canny Molineux boss was loath to dispense with such a talented and punchy performer and towards the end of 1956/57 he gave him an extended run on the left wing, where Deeley began to hint at realising his full potential.

Thereafter he shone on a summer tour of South Africa, which set him up to star throughout the title-winning campaign of 1957/58 as a right-flank replacement for the equally minute local hero Johnny Hancocks, who had reached the veteran stage.

During that triumphant term, which saw Cullis's men finish five points clear of second-placed Preston North End, Deeley missed only one game and contributed 23 goals, including a rampant spell of 13 in 15 outings during the autumn. It was a remarkable total for a winger and he finished second only in Wolves' scoring chart to the centre-forward Jimmy Murray, but he was no mere converter of chances.

With his non-stop movement and incisive football brain, Deeley meshed fluently with his fellow forwards and was integral to Wolves' characteristic quickfire build-up play. He was particularly compelling in tandem with his closest friend, the silkily skilled inside-right Peter Broadbent, and linked beautifully, too, with the hugely underrated Murray, the industrious inside-left Bobby Mason and the experienced left winger Jimmy Mullen.

In 1958/59, at the end of which the vastly influential Wolves and England centre-half Billy Wright retired, Deeley and his fellow attackers remained equally potent as the Black Countrymen retained their championship, finishing six points ahead of the runners-up, Manchester United, who were still in the early stages of rebuilding after the ravages of the Munich air disaster.

At this point Deeley was rewarded for his derring-do in Wolves' famous gold-and-black with a full international call-up, being selected for England's springtime tour of South America, but made scant impact in defeats by Brazil and Peru and was summarily discarded by the coach, Walter Winterbottom.

At club level, though, he remained as effective as ever and in 1959/60 Wolves went agonisingly near to what would have been their greatest glory – becoming the first club in the 20th century to win the League and FA Cup double. Having completed their First Division programme they topped the table, with Deeley having netted 14 times, but then came the mortification of being overhauled by Burnley, who played their last match two days later.

However, there was consolation in store against Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup final, in which Deeley was to prove the central figure, notching two second-half goals in a comfortable 3-0 victory. In fact, he went close to a Wembley hat-trick as he was poised for a tap-in to open the scoring shortly before the interval, only for Rovers' Mick McGrath to slide in ahead of him for an own goal.

Less happily, with the score at 1-0 he was involved in a collision with Dave Whelan in which the Blackburn full-back – destined to make a fortune in business and preside over Wigan Athletic's remarkable rise to the Premiership – suffered a broken leg. In those days before substitutes were permitted, the injury rendered the final an uneven contest and infuriated Blackburn fans, who reckoned Deeley should have been dismissed for the challenge. However, the Wolves winger always maintained stoutly that the clash had been an accident, a view with which most neutral observers agreed.

In 1960/61, which was to prove his last full campaign at Molineux, Deeley remained on sprightly form as the team finished third in the table and compiled a century of League goals for the fourth successive season, but his star was beginning to decline and in February 1962, with Cullis seeking to rebuild his fading force, the little flankman was freed to join Leyton Orient.

At Brisbane Road, under the guidance of the manager Johnny Carey, Deeley enjoyed a brief, initially satisfying Indian summer, assisting Orient's rise to the First Division at the climax of that term. Thereafter, he missed only a handful of games as the hopelessly outclassed Londoners proved incapable of holding their own among the elite, then he left the League after half a season of toil back in the Second.

Later, he served a succession of non-League clubs, including Worcester City, Bromsgrove Rovers and Darlaston Town, before retiring from the game in 1974. In subsequent years Deeley managed the Caldmore Community Agency in Walsall, and worked as a steward at Walsall FC's VIP lounge.

Ivan Ponting

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