“Working hard with my mates” is how Bert referred to training. There wasn’t any “I” in Bert’s vocabulary as he always thought of himself as part of a team. How fantastic it must have been for the ten outfield players in the famous “Old Gold & Black” strip to look back and see the greatest goalkeeper in the world between the posts. If you look for the letter “I” in describing Bert, words like imperious, imperturbable, invincible and incredible spring to mind. One of the reasons for Wolves’ success was the concentration on physical training. Fitness was the key to their success in an era when the ball was heavy as was the pitch so peak fitness was essential to be the best. Wolves trained every day but they relaxed a little on Friday when the team concentrated on sprinting, one of Bert’s many strengths. Bert was the fastest man in the Wolves squad, being in the Powderhall sprint class. They rarely stopped for tactical talks as they played the same style of football week after week.
The terracing was the gymnasium and the players would spend hours running up and down the terraces. The medicine ball was a key part of Bert’s training as Angus McLean threw the 10lb ball at Bert. The reason for training with the medicine ball was that it got Bert used to taking a shoulder charge, a regular occurrence in his era.
Bert is pictured in the “Boot Room” with two of the “ground staff” boys who were amateur apprentices who were too young to sign as professionals. They had to be 17 years of age before they could sign as a professional. The young lad cleaning Bert’s boots in the foreground is Norman Deeley who would become a successful player and scored twice in the 1960 FA Cup final when Wolves beat Blackburn Rovers 3-0. I remember that game well as I was at Blackburn Rovers myself in season 1959-60 and my memory of the game was of Dave Whelan breaking his leg in a tackle with Norman Deeley and Derek “Cheyenne” Dougan asking for a transfer the day before the match. Dougan was very uncomplimentary about Blackburn saying, “the dourness of the club matched that of the town. I could not shake off the depression that caused me to wake each day regretting that I had to go to the ground. Life was grey and monotonous". In 1967 he signed for Wolves for £50,000 from Leicester City and played 323 times for the club scoring 123 goals.
Signing autographs for Bert was always a pleasure as he considered it an honour to be asked and as he often remained at the ground for some time after a match there was always a gathering of fans eager to get his signature. His biggest worry was making a mistake on some kid’s precious autograph book or programme.
It certainly wasn’t all plain sailing for Bert as this headline proclaims. He had made a daring save at the Valley against Charlton Athletic and was kicked in the head for his trouble. As his splitting headache grew worse the trainer stood by the goal with smelling salts in one hand and the “magic” sponge in the other. At halftime Bert was stretched out on a table insisting that he was okay to carry on but Billy Wright took charge and said, “We want someone out of the attack to replace Bert in goal”. Sammy Smyth, the red-haired Irishman who had scored twice against Scotland the previous week, was first to volunteer when he said, “I did a bit of goalkeeping at school”. Bert played on the wing for a while with trainer, Joe Gardiner, following him up and down the pitch with the smelling salts. Three or four times Bert got back in goal only to revert to the wing when the pain got too much.
During the 1951 FA Cup run Wolves played Aston Villa and Bert made a magnificent save from a Con Martin penalty kick but got injured in the follow up. Players with their backs to the camera are from left to right, Dunn, Wright and Pritchard with referee Mortimer anxiously looking on. Walking away is the Aston Villa number 9, Dave Walsh.
All the hard work that Bert and his mates put in training on the Molineux terraces paid off because the whole Wolves squad were in excellent physical condition.