Plea to restore dilapidated grave of former Wolves goalkeeper who died aged 21

Pleas have been made to help restore the grave of a former Wolves goalkeeper who died aged 21 after it fell into a "dilapidated state" in the city.

Chris Marandola at Merridale Cemetery where Jimmy Utterson rests
Chris Marandola at Merridale Cemetery where Jimmy Utterson rests

Shot-stopper James 'Jimmy' Utterson, who was born in Gateshead in 1914 and appeared 14 times for the old gold and black during the 1930s.

The footballer – who was described as an "unassuming and friendly chap" – died from heart failure on December 6, 1935, aged 21.

He is buried at Merridale Cemetery, off Jeffcock Road in Wolverhampton, where his grave was discovered by Wolves fan Chris Marandola.

It was found in a "dilapidated state" with a plea being launched to restore the grave – and find out more information about the Wolves player.

Mr Utterson had been discovered playing in junior football for Gateshead Celtic and joined Glenavon in early November 1933, making his debut in a 2-1 win at Cliftonville on November 11, 1933.

And whilst with Glenavon, on November 21, 1934, he was in the Irish League team that beat the Rest of the League side 3-2 at Windsor Park. Jackie Brown and Dave Martin, both from Belfast Celtic and later Wolves, were in the league side.

Wolves' Jimmy Utterson

The match was to raise money for the Gresford Disaster Fund for the families of 266 men who had been killed by an underground explosion at Gresford Colliery, near Wrexham, on September 22, 1934.

Three dayslater he was acquired by Wolves' Major Frank Buckley – a manager who was responsible for bringing through Stan Cullis and offering Billy Wright a start in professional football – for a fee said to be £500.

A report from the Northern Whig newspaper at the time said he stood at six foot and one inch tall, and had come to prominence by his displays against the Football League and Scottish League that season. It described him as an "unassuming and friendly chap".

The goalkeeper made his Wolves debut in a 2-1 away win over Stoke City on December 15 and had an unbroken spell of 11 league appearances between then and his final match of the 1934-1935 season, a 3-2 home loss to Huddersfield Town on February 16, 1935.

During his time between the sticks, the club won five, draw one and lost five – scoring 26goals in total whilst conceding 18. Utterson made two FA Cup appearances in January 1935, turning out against Notts County and Sheffield Wednesday.

But his last four games of that league campaign saw 13 goals conceded in four defeats and he lost his place to Arthur Weare. His 12th and final game for Wolverhampton Wanderers came in September the following season – a 4-2 loss at Ayresome Park.

Jimmy Utterson's grave at Merridale Cemetery in Wolverhampton has fallen into a 'dilapidated state'

He appeared in the Middlesbrough game, his only start of the 1935-1936 season, due to Arthur Weare suffering a strained back. A report of the game at Ayresome Park, in the London Daily News, noted Wolves took an early lead through right-winger Jackie Brown.

Seven minutes into the second half, Bobby Baxter, scored from the spot to equalise after a foul by Bill Morris. England centre-forward George Camsell was in good form and from two of his passes, right-winger Ralph Birkett scored goals in the 65th and 78th minutes to make it 3-1 to Middlesbrough.

Chris Greene reduced the arrears nine minutes from time, only for Camsell to score the game's best five minutes later – with a swerving run through the Wolves defence, before making it 4-2.

By this time Boro were down to ten men with full-back John Jennings off the field. A report in the Birmingham Gazette said: "Utterson saved magnificently on a number of occasions, particularly when he flung himself full length at a ground ball from Camsell which was going away from him."

But unfortunately, Mr Utterson played only 14 games for Wolves before dying aged just 21. And although he sustained a head injury in the aforementioned away game, on September 18 in 1935, it seems unlikely to have been a factor in his death. He died on December 6 with heart failure being cited as the cause.

The shot-stopper played for the reserves three days against Derby County in the Central League and turned out for the Midland Combination team in November following the Boro game.

Wolves' Jimmy Utterson appears in a cartoon (bottom-right)

A report from the Birmingham Daily Gazette, on December 5 in 1935, said the reserve goalkeeper had entered a local nursing home for observation after being ill since November 30 when he played in the Combination side.

There was also a piece in the North Down Herald and County Down Independent under "Sporting Chatter", without a byline, which says: "On Saturday week he was playing for Wolves ‘A’ and a friend in Wolverhampton writes to tell me that he was in good form and there was no sign of the impending tragedy which was to befall him. On the following Friday he complained of feeling ill."

Wolves’ players wore black armbands for the home game following his death, against Manchester City, and before the reserves kicked off, the players stood to attention while a military band played Abide With Me.

It is the hope of Clive Corbett and Steve Gordos, who were alerted to the condition of Mr Utterson's grave by Mr Marandola, to help find a way of restoring the grave to "give honour to a former member of our great club".

And they are also hoping to track down another likeness of the player, having only managed to locate one so far, in the form of a caricature that appeared back in the 1940s in part 77 of the Birmingham Gazette cartoon series "The Story of the Wolves".

They are hoping anyone who may have any information about this, or has any other information to fill in the gaps to the goalkeeper's story, to contact gpbooks@hotmail.co.uk

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