Tributes are pouring in from all over the world to Wolves, Walsall and England goalkeeping great Bert Williams MBE, who has died aged 93.
This afternoon, Wolves confirmed they would be holding a minute’s applause before Saturday’s home match against Bristol City, and say a celebration of his life will take place.
His family have requested a private funeral, but say plans for a memorial service at St Peter’s Church are in the pipeline so he can be remembered by hundreds of fans.
The star, nicknamed ‘The Cat’ because of his extraordinary agility, passed away at Wolverhampton’s New Cross Hospital, where he had been for a week, at 10.50am yesterday.
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He played 420 games for Wolves and won 24 caps for England. He was the country’s oldest living international, with that mantle now passing to Sir Tom Finney, who will be 92 in April.
Bert’s family today thanked the many well-wishers who had paid tribute to him. Son-in-law David Crawshaw said: “Bert slipped away peacefully surrounded by family. You couldn’t have wished for a calmer way to go.”
Players joined in with the tributes on Twitter
RIP Bert Williams.Best keeper to ever play for Wolves. Helped put the club on the map. A proper legend but more importantly a true gentlemen— Matt Murray (@MattMurray20) January 19, 2014
So sad to hear about the loss of Bert Williams. He was a fantastic gentlemen & True legend. Thoughts are with his family. RIP BERT— Wayne Hennessey (@WayneHennessey1) January 19, 2014
RIP Bert Williams what a sad loss, a privilege to have met him.— Jody Craddock (@MrJodyCraddock) January 19, 2014
Former Wolves goalkeeper Matt Murray led the tributes: “He was, without question, Wolves greatest goalkeeper and a top, top man. The word ‘legend’ gets bandied about too easily these days, but in Bert’s case he was the ultimate legend.”
Recently, Bert – who has a sports centre named after him in Bilston – fell victim to Alzheimer’s, the disease which claimed his wife Evelyn in 2002. Following her death he helped raise £150,000 for the Alzheimer’s Society. Those efforts contributed towards his MBE for services to football and charity in 2010.
Born in Bradley, Bilston, he began his career with Walsall in 1937 and made 28 appearances for the Saddlers.
World War II interupted his career but he signed for Wolves in 1945 – despite interest from Chelsea – and became one of their most illustrious players, forever associated with the halcyon days of Wolves’ most successful years in the 1950s.
He played in the famous floodlit matches against Honved, Spartak and Moscow. In all he made 420 appearances, which stood as a club record for a goalkeeper for 42 years. His last game was against Aston Villa in 1957.
After making a few guest appearances for Chelsea during the war years, he played in two wartime internationals, and won his first full cap for England against France in May, 1949.
His international career was under way following his contribution to the rise of Wolves under Stan Cullis which began with the FA Cup triumph that same year.
It also led to his nickname coined by Italian journalists after Williams produced one of the performances of his career in England’s 2-0 win at Tottenham. ‘Il Gattone’ – The Cat – ran the headlines in Italy the following day and the nickname stuck.
Molineux’s flags were today flying at half-mast and the club has started a book of remembrance which is placed in the main Billy Wright reception, Waterloo Road. It will be presented to his family at Saturday’s game.
He leaves three children, Ann, aged 72, Vaughan, 64, and Paul, 55 – who all live near Bert’s home in Shifnal – two grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. He moved into a care home last year.
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