Obituary: Johnny Hancocks

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The Independent Online
John Hancocks, footballer: born Oakengates, Shropshire 30 April 1919; played for Walsall 1938-46, Wolverhampton Wanderers 1946-56; capped three times for England 1948-50; died 18 February 1994.

THERE wasn't much of the footballer Johnny Hancocks but what there was tended to make an explosive impact. Standing 5ft 4in and wearing size two boots, Hancocks was a right-winger whose dashing style and savage shot typified the all-action Wolverhampton Wanderers side assembled by their manager, Stan Cullis, after the Second World War.

Hancocks was a leading light of the old-gold-and-black combination that finished the 1940s as a major power, then vied for supremacy with Manchester United's Busby Babes during the next decade.

Having impressed mightily in local amateur circles, the tiny teenager turned professional with Walsall in 1938 and showed high promise with the Saddlers, who were then struggling in the nether regions of the Third Division South. Hancocks's burgeoning career was placed on hold by the outbreak of war, though he put his athleticism to effective use, serving as a PT instructor in the Army and excelling in services football. Come 1946 his potential was recognised by Wolves, who signed him for pounds 4,000, and pitched him straight into their senior ranks.

He was an instant hit, his strength and determination compensating amply for lack of inches, but it was his ability to strike the ball crisply that took the eye. Thunderous shots, especially from free- kicks, were his speciality - his final tally of 158 goals in 343 League games was remarkable for a flank man - and his expertise in delivering long, raking crosses was another telling factor in the team's success.

Sometimes the home crowd at Molineux might grow impatient if he appeared to hold on to the ball too long but, in general, they took him warmly to their hearts. Indeed, it was not hard to see why as he took a key role in the FA Cup Final triumph over Leicester City in 1949, performed rousingly as Wolves finished runners-up in the League the following season and helped them blaze the British trail into Europe in a series of stirring friendlies. But best of all was his contribution as the club lifted the League championship for the first time in 1954.

That season the 34-year-old Hancocks finished joint top scorer with 25 goals, as well as laying on many more for the likes of Dennis Wilshaw and Roy Swinbourne. Thereafter he continued as buoyantly prolific as ever, topping the Wolves strike chart in two more campaigns before, in 1956, Cullis decided younger blood was needed.

Hancocks's path to international stardom was barred by such luminaries as Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney, and he played only three times for England but acquitted himself with spirit, especially on his debut when he netted twice against Switzerland at Highbury in 1948. He wound down his playing days with non-League clubs, later working in an iron foundry in his home town of Oakengates, in Shropshire, before retiring in 1979.

Despite suffering a long illness which left him partially paralysed he endeavoured to keep in touch with the football scene he had bestrode so excitingly and for so long. He will go down as one of the Wolves' very finest; Johnny Hancocks would not ask for more than that.