Enter the Cat

On November 30th 1949 Bert played at White Hart Lane, Tottenham for England against the World Cup Holders, Italy. The game was watched by 71,797 fans including a large contingent of Italian supporters and note that 20,000 were locked outside the ground.  It was, without doubt one of Bert’s finest games, and earned him the applause of everyone in the huge crowd.  As he came off the pitch the first person to greet him was Frank Swift who congratulated Bert on his tremendous performance.

The Italian press christened Bert, “Il Gattone” - The Big Cat and here you can see how Bert became known as the best goalkeeper in the world.  The name “Il Gattone” stuck with Bert following this game.  Ron Atkinson who was on the ground staff at Wolves (he actually rolled the pitch before the Honved game in 1954. Ron Atkinson always called Bert “Il Gattone” whenever they met following that game.

Ron Atkinson and other apprentices used to roll the pitch after it rained and he reckons it was his contribution to the magnificent victory over Honved and Ferenc Puskas

This was just one of many headlines that proclaimed the mastery of the England custodian

The original of this Harold Gittins cartoon hung on a wall in Bert’s home

Charles Buchan eloquently described the game as follows:  “Brilliant goalkeeping by Bert Williams saved England, who received a lesson in the finer arts of soccer from the Italian world champions at Tottenham.  On a heavy ground, suited to our style, we were outplayed in all departments except goal and as a pointer to our Rio chances we were made to look bad.  (1950 World Cup would be played in Rio)

Without question when the England selectors met they must have been impressed and influenced by Bert’s display against Italy and it came as no surprise when the selectors chose him for the 1950 World Cup squad.

Stan Cullis called Bert’s display, “The greatest performance by any goalkeeper in the world that I have ever seen”.

Tom Webster, who also came from Bradley, contributed his cartoon

The Cat by David Bartley

A Wolverhampton Wanderer of great esteem, a shining star in a golden team,

A man of distinction, reliability, feline qualities, incredible agility

A safe pair of hands, such aerial dominance

Presence, composure, vision and prominence

Commanding respect and appreciation, a local hero, a national sensation

England caps and trophies galore, a sensational record you cannot ignore

Admired by professionals, adored by the fan

Bert Williams - The Black Country Wanderer’s man

The Big Cat - a tribute to Bert Williams

Back when the Wolves were conquerors you were crucial in their quest

You were their all-time Number One, you’ll always be the best

The saves you made were stunning that no-one can deny

And when you leapt up for crosses you reached up to the sky

You played against the very best with forwards at their peak

But when faced with your clutching hands their prospects were quite bleak

Those famous floodlit matches you triumphed in them all

You leapt and dived with stunning grace and rarely missed the ball

That famous semi-final against United’s best, the Wolves were down to nine fit men but you surely passed the test

Beneath the towers of Wembley, you stood between the posts

Watched by the cheering masses you soon became their toast

Remember the Italians how they called you “The Big Cat” strong of heart and fleet of foot there can be no doubt of that

Whether playing for the Wanderers or with three lions on your shirt

To us you’re still the very best, many thanks for the memories Bert

Since WWII, I can’t go back any further, England has produced only one, possibly two world class goalkeepers.  The outstanding player was Bert Williams of Wolves.  He came to his peak a little before television became our God.  He was the greatest of them all and he looked the part.  His feats in Europe with Wolves and England earned him the title “The Cat” and he deserved it

A well-known sports writer

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Design: David Ainsworth