Peter Broadbent’s Wolves team-mate Malcolm Finlayson tells Tim Nash about the attributes which made the inside-forward an all-time great.
Peter Broadbent was the footballer with no weakness.
So says former Wolves’ goalkeeper Malcolm Finlayson of the legendary, ball-playing inside forward, who died today at the age of 80 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Broadbent is the latest of Wolves’ all-conquering golden team of the 1950s to pass away.
For many, the unassuming inside-forward from Dover was the most skilful player in that great team put together by legendary manager Stan Cullis.
“It’s very sad,” said Finlayson, aged 83 and winner of two League titles and the FA Cup in 1960, all in the same team as Broadbent, who also helped Wolves to their first League title in 1954.
“What’s sad about it is he was such a great player and that Wolves side was such a great team and, to be honest, those players have never been replaced.
“He is irreplaceable. He had no weakness at all.
“He’d got this silky movement and ball control and was a great player.
“You could compare him to the other great players at other clubs, but he was better than most of them.
“Every club had its share of great players in those days – when you look at the fact we were facing Nat Lofthouse, Tom Finney and Stanley Matthews every week – but Peter stands alongside the greatest players I played with or against.
“It’s difficult to say he was the greatest player in that Wolves team because there were so many other fine players at that time.
“You wouldn’t say Billy Wright was a dribbler for example, but he was an immense defender.
“But what I would say was that for his ball control, Peter was the most skilful player in that team.”
Finlayson’s memories of Broadbent go back to when the pair were young players together and serving in the RAF together, Finlayson the then Millwall goalkeeper and Broadbent the emerging young star at Wolves.
“I first met him in the RAF when Peter, myself and Ron Flowers were all serving our national service together,” he said.
“We played for the RAF national team against the Army and Navy and the French, so I saw quite of bit of him during my time at Millwall earlier in my career. That young RAF team was like a young England and Scotland team, but there was definitely a recognition of Peter even at that time, because he stood out for his ability.”
Away from the spotlight, too, Finlayson gained an impression of the young Broadbent – and he proved as astute and canny off the pitch as he was on it.
“I remember we gathered before one game with the RAF for a game against the FA in London and decided to go out and have a meal,” he said.
"You have to remember that rationing was still going on at that time after the War, and we went to a cafe next to the Old Vic.
“We looked at the menu and saw there was steak on it and we all decided to order it, as you couldn’t get steak at that time.
“Anyway we were all looking forward to our meals when suddenly Peter noticed a sign on the wall that said ‘only the finest horse served here’ and piped up to tell us before it was too late!”
It’s difficult to convey to people today just how big Wolves were in those glory days of the 1950s.
But in a team of stars catapulted before a captivated national audience at a time when people were just beginning to own TVs, Wolves gained fans from all over the country as people marvelled at Stan Cullis’s side, who trampled all European giants before them in their silky gold shirts.
They were footballing rock ‘n’ roll and as such were a huge attraction wherever they played.
Billy Wright was the most high-profile player as England and Wolves captain, but Finlayson believes Broadbent did as much as anyone to create the aura that the team had around the country.
“Each member of those League title winning teams had their own individual skills which blended together to make us the great team we were,” he said.
“The pity about those great Wolves sides were that there is very little record of us on TV because there were so few televised games in those days.
“If people could see the games again now, they would appreciate how good he was, and the individual skills of each player.
“There was no question that he was recognised as a great player at the time.
“When we played at places like Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea, they used to lock the gates at 1pm because the grounds were full.
“They very rarely had all-ticket games in those days – they just used to shut the gates when the ground was full.
“But that was because of the reputation of Wolves – the knowledge that they had great players and that we were league champions.
“Around that stage, Stan Cullis said we were the best team in Europe and I remember after we beat Real Madrid over two games, we were a very popular team to watch: Not feared, but everyone seemed to hold us in the greatest of respect.”
At the heart of it all was Broadbent, a magician with the ball at his feet.
“If you had a ball you could kick it to him at any angle and he had the ability to bring it down in one movement – he was so skilful,” said Finlayson.
“His ball control, his ability to see a passing, his interchanging with his team-mates and his ability to move into open spaces was incredible.
“One of the great things about him on the pitch was that you could always find him because he was always moving into open space.
“I remember that Real Madrid game; the first goal came after I kicked a long ball down the middle and it was headed between Jimmy Murray and Peter and finished off – three moves and the ball was in the back of the net. That’s the sort of thing I remember.”
Finlayson recalled how Broadbent’s link-up play with winger Norman Deeley was an irresistible part of Wolves’ play as they overwhelmed all-comers in the 1950s.
But he also revealed there was one part of Broadbent’s game that wasn’t quite up there with the rest of his dazzling repertoire.
“He and Norman Deeley used to interchange a lot down the right and we scored a lot of goals through their passing and movement,” said the ex-keeper.
“The only thing he couldn’t do well was head the ball, but because he could do everything else so well, we used to pull his leg about it!
“When we were scoring lots of goals and winning games , we used to say ‘You didn’t head that one, Peter!’ and we used to joke about it because he had everything else.”
The one blot on Broadbent’s glittering career was the lack of England recognition afforded him.
Included in England’s 1958 World Cup squad, he was capped just seven times.
His tally of appearances for the national side might have been many more but for Fulham’s Johnny Haynes.
Finlayson believes Broadbent was criminally overlooked at the time.
“He got capped seven times for England and although ultimately Johnny Haynes got that place over him, in my opinion, Peter was a better player than Johnny,” he said. “He was such an unassuming player – I can look back now and still see him making those silky passes. He was as impressive on the pitch as he was modest and lovely off it.”
Sadly, Broadbent is gone, joining many of his team-mates from that Wolves team, in particular two friends.
“Three of the great players who comprised that great Wolves side in the late 1950s and 1960 – Norman Deeley, George Showell and Peter – and now we’ve lost them all in recent years,” said Finlayson.
“Whenever we travelled away, those three were great friends.
“They just had this thing in common between them off the field and they all got on very well with each other.
“They were all gifted players who are no longer with us.”
Finlayson kept in touch with Broadbent in later years and witnessed the way Alzheimer’s cruelly robbed him of the person he was.
“I went to see Peter at the home in Himley but unfortunately he had been quite ill for a long time,” he said.
“He had lost his memory but his wife Shirley attended to him every day.”
Thankfully, the memories he leaves behind are still there for a talent that had no weakness.