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Training with Wolves: Meet the man who saved Billy Wright’s career

By Heather Large | Wolves | Published:

He was the first team trainer who convinced Wolves to give a 15-year-old Billy Wright a second chance.

In July 1939, the player had been let go by manager Frank Buckley who thought he was too small to have any success as a professional footballer.

But as soon as he heard what happened, trainer Jack Davies rushed to his defence, telling Major Buckley that whilst the teenager “might have a small frame, he had a giant heart”.

It was all Major Buckley needed to hear. Trusting his coach’s opinion, he reversed his decision, enabling Wright to go on to make 490 appearances for Wolves, along with 105 for England, as well as winning three First Division titles and the FA Cup in 1949.

Jack served under every Wolves manager between 1920 and 1978 – and now his story is being told in full for the first time by his grandson, Merv Davies, and author Tim Gibbons in the new book Training With Wolves.

The new book Training with Wolves

“Whilst Jack Davies, might not be a name known to most Wolves supporters, it is hard to believe that a servant to the club for some 58 years would have almost gone unnoticed through the history books,” says Tim, 44.

“The book covers his time at the club, starting from Jack joining the club after serving in the First World War to his death in 1978.

“The book charts the club’s ups and downs over Jack’s nearly 60 years with the club and provides a fascinating insight into periods of the club that have not been previously documented,” he adds.

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Born in the Welsh mining village of Gwersyllt on June 2, 1894, John Henry ‘Jack’ Davies worked as a shoveller, loading coal on to the trucks.

Jack during a training session at Wolves

One of his early passions was boxing and he took part in many pit bank fights after work, eventually going on to be amateur boxing champion of Wales.

During the First World War he served in France with the The Royal Welch Fusiliers, including at the Battle of Passchendaele. He later took an engineering apprenticeship with Cammell Laird Shipbuilders, and played in its football and rugby teams.

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His team mates then spotted an advertisement for an assistant trainer at Wolverhampton Wanderers and encouraged Jack might be a suitable candidate, they encouraged him to apply.

“He joined the summer of 1920 as assistant trainer and trained the reserves,” says Tim. “He immediately had success in his first game, with the reserves beating the first team.

Jack Davies in 1920

“He progressed from assistant to first team trainer in 1931. These days the trainer is the manager but in the days of managers like Frank Buckley the manager was the finance man, it was up him to sign players, balance the books and do the administration.

“Jack Davies was the trainer and responsible for the physical fitness of the players and getting them ready for a Saturday.”

Jack, who was also the club physiotherapist, didn’t always see eye to eye with Major Buckley, who managed Wolves between 1927 and 1944.

On one occasion they disagreed about when the team should arrive at Wembley for the 1939 FA Cup final.

“Major Buckley wanted the players to travel on the day of the game but Jack Davies wanted them to get there one or two days before.

“They ended up on the same train as all of the supporters and it delayed their arrival. It wasn’t the best preparation for an FA Cup final and they went on to lose to Portsmouth 4-1 which at the time was a big shock,” says Tim, who previously published a book titled Wembley Wolves.

As well as helping to ensure Billy Wright had success in Wolves colours, Jack also played a part in ensuring the club kept Stan Cullis on its books when he was looking to leave by helping to secure a pay rise.

Team photo (Wolves reserves) from 1920 Jack Davies back row far left

“Both Billy Wright and Stan Cullis have said my grandad kept them at the club,” says retired maths teacher Merv, 69, from Lower Gornal.

Jack continued to work with the first team until before the 1960 Cup Final then became The Central League coach for the reserves.

“These were the players that went on to the play in the first team in the 1960s. He has great success and the reserves won the league three times in the row,” says Tim.

As he got older Jack took on lighter duties but remained an integral part of the club as a dressing room attendant.

“He helped out with the kit and would be an ear for the players and helping those who might be struggling,” says Tim.

Merv remembers accompanying his grandfather, who lived in Dunkley Road, to lock the ground up for the night.

“I would go under the stands with him and listen to them groan and creak. It was great

“Grandad was proud of his job and would go out at night wearing his blazer and badge. He would never divulge anything about the team tactics. He would always say it’s about 90 minutes and a ball,” he says.

Jack Davies in his other role as club physiotherapist treating Jimmy Mullen

Jack, who had four children and four grandchildren, was employed by Wolves until he died in 1978, aged 86. His dedication has been praised in the book’s foreword written by the late Bert Williams MBE before he died in 2014, aged 93.

“His love of the club was obvious for all to see, men like Jack Davies do not come along very often,” wrote the Wolves and England goalkeeper.

After the death of his wife Evelyn in 2002, Williams devoted himself to fundraising for the Alzheimer’s Society, and profits from the book will go to the same charity.

Training With Wolves which also includes stories about Jack from the likes of Stan Cullis, Mike Bailey, Derek Dougan, Geoff Palmer and Kenny Hibbitt, has been a labour of love for Merv and Tim for the past five years.

“I saw an article where Merv was asking for information about Jack because he was writing a book,” says Tim.

Merv with a short believed to date back to the 1908 FA Cup final and later presented to Billy Wright

“I got in touch with him and said that I didn’t know anything about his grandad but I had one of his trophies.

“My dad had bought it from of the jewellers in Wolverhampton because of the connection with Wolves. All I knew was that it was a trophy from the Central League awarded to Jack Davies.

“I had always wanted to know what his story was,” says Tim, who coincidentally was also a pupil at the same school Merv used to teach at in Bewdley.

“I’ve found it very rewarding writing about a part of Wolves history that I didn’t know about and helping to make sure Jack Davies is not forgotten.”

Merv spent five years working on the book before joining forces with Tim, and is pleased to be able to share his grandfather’s story and hopes that he will one day be recognised in the club’s Hall of Fame.

“Very little has been written about grandad and what he achieved and what has been written hasn’t always been correct.

“We have backed everything up with evidence – this was important to me because if you’re going to write history down it has got to be correct otherwise it’s useless.”

“I’m pleased with how the book has turned out and hope it does him justice. I’m very proud of him. He lived for the club and I want him to get the recognition he deserves,” says Merv.

  • Training With Wolves, priced £15, can be ordered from www.wolvesbooks.net and will also be available at Waterstones, Wolverhampton.
Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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