Peter Broadbent: Creative force in the mighty Wolves side of the 1950s


Peter Broadbent was the creative hub of the thunderously powerful Wolverhampton Wanderers side which, guided imperiously by the iron hand of their martinet manager Stan Cullis, won three League titles in the space of six seasons in the 1950s. Shining all the more lustrously in Wolves' distinctive gold and black because most of his mightily athletic team-mates were not over-delicate in their approach to the game, the sumptuously gifted Broadbent was unfortunate in that his peak as a midfield general coincided with that of the Fulham maestro Johnny Haynes, whose pre-eminence restricted the hero of the Black Country to a mere handful of England caps.

Together with the vastly underrated and subtly skilful centre-forward Jimmy Murray, who hailed from the same village in the Kent coalfield, Broadbent gave the lie to the notion that Cullis's combination relied wholly on muscle, pace and the long-ball game. In fact the nimble schemer could dictate the play in any manner he chose, his artistry, composure and imagination enabling him to make the most of his hard-running colleagues but also to illuminate many a contest with a sudden, beguiling body-swerve or by threading a sublimely precise pass through the narrowest of gaps in a blanket rearguard. Broadbent delivered his share of goals, too, scoring 145 times in nearly 500 senior games for Wolves in a 14-year Molineux career in which he became, in the eyes of many shrewd contemporary observers, the finest all-round footballer in the history of the club.

Having almost died of pneumonia at the age of 10, Broadbent was always desperate to escape life down a mine, but when he left school in his early teens he started work in his local pit as a haulage boy, attaching ropes and chains to loaded coal trucks. An exceptional all-round sportsman, he excelled sufficiently as an amateur player with local club Dover to attract the attention of Second Division Brentford, with whom he turned professional in May 1950.

Soon it became clear that his talents would not be contained by Griffin Park and nine months later he was snapped up by Wolves for £10,000, a record fee for a 17-year-old. At the time Cullis was still building his first title side and Broadbent took time to settle, being tried in a variety of attacking roles and missing large chunks of two seasons due to National Service.

It was clear, though, that the boy was a gem, and in 1953-54 he became the regular inside-right and the brains of a dashing attack, alongside wingers Johnny Hancocks and Jimmy Mullen and front-runners Roy Swinbourne and Dennis Wilshaw, as Wolves tasted championship glory for the first time.

That set the scene for a mid-decade series of floodlit friendlies against top continental opposition, which seemed almost impossibly glamorous during the era of postwar austerity and proved an irresistible appetiser for the soon-to-be-launched European Cup. The stakes were increased because the national game was in the doldrums, England having been annihilated twice recently by Hungary, while the Soviets were keen to use sport to push their political ideas.

Against this background Wolves and their callow schemer rose to the occasion magnificently, winning dramatic and hugely entertaining encounters with the Moscow teams Spartak and Dynamo and, sweeter still, beating the Hungarian Army side Honved, which contained many of the "Magnificent Magyars" who had so humbled England. After that one Cullis declared that his team were champions of the world, and he was only less strident after Europe's dominant club, Real Madrid, also lost a Molineux friendly in 1957.

All the while Broadbent was growing in stature as a performer, his accomplishment on the ball matched by a willingness to work, and he reached new heights in a revamped younger side, still led by England captain Billy Wright but now featuring the prolific likes of Murray and flankman Norman Deeley. They won the League Championship in 1958, when admittedly their main rivals, Manchester United, had been effectively removed from contention by the Munich air disaster which claimed the lives of eight players in February, but Wolves had been leading the First Division table at the time of the crash and were worthy winners.

They won again in 1959, then missed out on a hat-trick only on the last day of the 1959-60 campaign, still finishing the season on a high by beating Blackburn Rovers 3-0 in the FA Cup final. Broadbent's consistently superb club form was rewarded by a long-delayed full England call-up during the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden. He and his fellow debutant, Peter Brabrook of Chelsea, formed a new right-wing partnership in a play-off with the USSR for a quarter-final place, and though England lost 1-0 the Wolves man sparkled, prompting the Daily Express headline: "'Brains' Broadbent capped too late".

However, his international destiny would remain blighted by Haynes, even after he scored both goals – through a clever lob and a brilliant header – in a 2-2 draw with Wales when standing in for the Londoner at Villa Park in November 1958. Though still in his pomp at 26, Broadbent collected his final cap, again as Haynes' understudy, in a 1-1 encounter with Scotland at Hampden Park in April 1960. That made seven full caps to be added to earlier appearances for his country's under-23 and B sides, and the Football League, which the majority of west Midlanders reckoned was meagre return for such a thrillingly gifted individual.

In 1960-61, although they were eclipsed by Bill Nicholson's League and FA Cup double-winning Tottenham Hotspur, Wolves finished third in the table and Broadbent remained a potent enough force for Cullis to proclaim that he should be an England regular. Thereafter, though, the team began to decline, the cultured inside-forward was no longer completely sure of his place and an atmosphere of uncertainty began to pervade Molineux, culminating with the shock sacking of Cullis in the autumn of 1964 following a calamitous start to the season.

After that, Broadbent did not tarry long, being sold to Third Division Shrewsbury Town for £10,000 in the January, a strange decision by caretaker-manager Andy Beattie given that relegation-bound Wolves might have found the veteran's experience invaluable. The rest of the Kentishman's career proved worthy but unremarkable. After setting an excellent example to the young Shrews of Gay Meadow, a £7,500 fee took him to Aston Villa in October 1966, but he could do nothing to prevent relegation to the Second Division.

His final League billet was found in 1969-70 with Stockport County, who released Broadbent after they finished bottom of the Third Division, then he saw brief service with non-League Bromsgrove Rovers before running a babywear shop in Halesowen for 30 years. An unassuming yet fun-loving fellow, Broadbent had been far more assertive on the pitch, where he had exuded a certain charisma, the type that set a crowd buzzing with anticipation every time he received the ball.

Peter Frank Broadbent, footballer and shop owner; born Elvington, Kent 15 May 1933; played for Brentford 1950-51, Wolverhampton Wanderers 1951-65, Shrewsbury Town 1965-66, Aston Villa 1966-69, Stockport County 1969-70; capped seven times by England 1958-60; married to Shirley Nicholls (one daughter, one son); died Himley, Staffordshire 1 October 2013.

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