An introduction to a football “great”

Bert Williams was born in the poorest part of Bradley, Bilston on January 31st 1920.  When he left school at the age of 14 in 1934 he went to work at Thompson Brothers in Gt. Bridge in the electrical welding department making tanks for milk lorries.  Obviously he played in goal for the works team during his time at the works.

At the age of 15, Bert, joined Walsall Football Club and I will talk about his time there as I record his career for the enjoyment of every football supporter in the land who might never have heard of this icon of the game, yes, he was that good.

From 1939-45 Bert served in World War II in the Royal Air Force reaching the rank of sergeant.  During those six years Bert was a guest player for several teams including Nottingham Forest and Chelsea and of course he played for Walsall whenever he could travel back home.  He was goalkeeper for the RAF for the duration of the war and played with or against most of the great soccer players of the time including Tommy Lawton, Ted Drake, Matt Busby, Alf Ramsey, Tom Finney, Len Shackleton, Wilf Mannion, George Hardwick, Stan Cullis, Johnny Hancocks, Jimmy Mullen and Billy Wright to name but a few.  Joining the RAF at the age of 19 and coming out when he was 25 meant that he lost six of the best years of his life serving his country and who knows what might have happened had there not been a World War!

On returning from the RAF Bert was told by Walsall that Wolves had come along and offered the princely sum of £3,500 and what a bargain price that turned out to be for Wolves.  Bert was also wanted by Chelsea to whom he had given an assurance that he would play for them after the war but Wolves was the team he really wanted to play for so he apologised to Chelsea and instead went to Molineux where he was first team goalkeeper from 1945 until he retired in 1957.

Bert soon became known as “The Cat” due to his agility between the posts performing miracle saves week after week.  How many times did spectators see him dive one way and then turn in mid-air and go the other way when a shot got deflected?  He was completely fearless and was always regarded as totally reliable with some of his save bordering on the impossible.  Such was his fame that many letters simply addressed to “The Cat” came from all over the world and they ended up safely in Bert’s hands.  He still received weekly fan mail from all over the world requesting his autograph up to his death in January 2014.

Bert Williams was a hero of mine when I was 10 years old and he retains that status over six decades later and England goalkeeping great Gordon Banks described Williams as his hero in an interview with BBC Late Kick Off Midlands.

"I first saw Bert playing for Wolves in the cup final - and then when he was playing for England," Banks said. "I used to admire this guy so much. He was so athletic, so agile; he used to get to the ball in the top corner - such fabulous agility.  By watching goalkeepers at that time, especially the great ones like Bert, it taught me things. He was fantastic, a great, great guy."

Gordon Banks became firm friends with Bert and used to travel from his home in Crewe to Bert’s home in Shifnal, Shropshire.

Bert & Gordon used to meet regularly

Gordon Banks said, “Bert Williams was the best, the most agile goalkeeper ever.  He could leap across the goal like no one else, I’ve never seen anyone else come up to his standards.  I’ve seen great goalkeepers like the Russian, Lev Yashin, but Bert was smaller and had this extra leap to get across goal and cover the top corner of the net - he was absolutely brilliant.

The book on Bert’s life that I am privileged to have been given access by his family enables me to reproduce and recall the memories of a man rated as one of the top goalkeepers in the world.  It is full of photographs never seen before as they were given to Bert by the many photographers who laid siege to his goal knowing they were sure to record some miraculous saves by the master at work.  Up to 20 photographers were a common sight either side of Bert’s goal and many times he had to move some of them before he could take goal kicks.  How fortunate we are that these priceless photographs and memorabilia have been preserved for over 50 years in the numerous scrap books that Bert and his wife Evelyn compiled.  The book, and I hope the articles on my website, will give many hours of pleasure, not only to all Wolves supporters, because we get to see the inside story behind those famous years when all other teams in the country and even in the world feared coming to Molineux to face the team in Old Gold & Black and the unsurpassable talent of the man known as “The Cat”.

Headlines that would be constantly repeated throughout Bert’s illustrious career

© Soccer Nostalgia 2017

Design: David Ainsworth