Norman Wilkinson

The basis of this page is an article that appeared in The Press on February 1st, 2011, following the death of City legend Norman Wilkinson on January 28. This page has subsequently been heavily expanded.

Former players and supporters have been united in mourning the loss of a York City legend following the death of all-time record goalscorer Norman Wilkinson.

Signed from Hull City for just £10 in 1954, Wilkinson went on to plunder 143 goals (401 appearances) in 12 years with the Minstermen, placing him three ahead of another late, great Keith Walwyn in the history books. An unselfish player, with an instinctive grasp of the game, he would glide into space and bring his teammates into play. Maybe not the the quickest, he was a battering ram of a centre forward, his prodiguous heading ability was far superior to many.

Most famously, Wilkinson was the youngest member of City’s 1955 FA Cup semi-final side that eventually bowed out to Newcastle United after a replay. Wilkinson scored twice in a fifth round victory over the mighty Tottenham Hotspur during that run after marking his debut with two goals in a 6-2 victory over Wrexham on the opening day of the momentous season.

With Wilkinson having passed away in his sleep aged 79 on Saturday (28th January 2011), goalkeeper Tommy Forgan and striking hero Arthur Bottom are the only two surviving members of the ’55 team known affectionately as the Happy Wanderers.

Ex-City right-back Gerry Baker, who had the privilege of sharing a dressing room with Wilkinson for the final three seasons of the 5ft 11in striker’s career, led the tributes to his team-mate. The pair played key roles during the Minstermen’s promotion from the old fourth division in 1964/5 – Wilkinson’s penultimate season before retiring at the age of 35.

Despite since remaining unassailable at the top of City’s scoring charts, Baker feels Wilkinson probably deserved even greater recognition, saying: “Norman was probably one of the most under-rated players I ever played with because he looked a bit pedestrian but he always found some way of getting to the ball and was magnificent in that respect. Losing him is a real blow as he was a cracking, first-class bloke – a superb fellow who I remained friends with long after we finished playing. I can’t speak highly enough of him and he was also so modest. Anybody who met him any day of the week would be treated exactly the same. He was always delighted to see you and loved York City.”

Staying part-time during his dozen years at Bootham Crescent, Wilkinson remained a part time footballer, he never gave up his career as a cobbler and, as a result, Baker revealed he always boasted the best pair of boots at the club. He added: “Norman loved football but also loved being a cobbler and never gave up his day job. He always had a decent pair of boots with good soles. When we were retiring, players were starting to wear Adidas boots with screw-in studs but his were still a lot better. He would put bars on them in the winter and proper studs in the summer.”

David Dunmore, who returned for a second spell with City during Wilkinson’s final season at the club following stints at Tottenham and West Ham, recalled the Northumberland-born forward’s aerial ability that saw headers responsible for a fair percentage of his record goal haul. He said, "Norman was always great in the air and would play in any position. If you wanted him on the wing, he’d go and play there. He wasn't a quick player but he was good on the ball and could read the game well with his intelligence. He was starting to struggle when we played together towards the end of his career, but he still had that great heading ability. As a person, he was a Geordie lad who was always at everybody's beck and call and wanted to help others." Fellow teammate, Alan Woods whose City career spanned Norman Wilkinson’s latter years recalls, “(his) game was purely in the air … (he’d) jump and hang in the air” whilst Billy Rudd recalled, “he looked about 50 when he was 20 (and) had hunched shoulders because he was bent over (all the time being a cobbler)”.

Former York Evening Press City writer Malcolm Huntington who cut his reporting teeth watching Wilkinson grace Bootham Crescent, believes the powerful forward’s movement and anticipation remains unmatched. "Norman Wilkinson was one of the best. He scored a lot of goals, was always in position to take a pass and covered an enormous amount of ground. He was the best player off the ball that I have seen in all my years of reporting on York City. All his team-mates used to say that when they had the ball, Norman was always in a position to receive it. He was an option at all times. In hindsight, he would probably have been a better choice for Player of the Millennium than Barry Swallow."

Many others also believed him to be the finest ever player to play for City. Happy Wanderers team mate Billy Hughes said, “no matter where you were, even if you were in a tangle, he would always be the one in open space to take a pass off you. You would see him defending in his own half and the next time you saw him he was in the penalty area at the other end, but you never saw him go”.

Latter day, 1964/5 promotion side teammate, Andy Provan noted, “he looked like a headmaster with his bald head but with Billy Rudd, he ran the tempo of games and he would slow play down and quicken it up to help the team out".

Former City Supporters’ Trust member Graham Bradbury got to know Wilkinson well on a personal level during his work as a past-players’ host for the club and when organising the Happy Wanderers’ golden anniversary dinner in 2005. Like others, former Football League linesman Bradbury was impressed by the great man’s humility, saying: “I never heard anybody have a bad word to say about Norman. He was a lovely guy and a great player. “He was very modest with it too. He admitted to me on several occasions he would not have been the club’s all-time record goalscorer had Arthur Bottom not been transferred to Newcastle. He regarded Arthur as the better goalscorer and had no ego at all. He also had a great passion for York City.”

That was probably never better illustrated than in October, 2006, when Wilkinson, living back in the north-east, turned up at Newcastle Benfield Bay Plastics when his former team were handed an FA Cup fourth qualifying round tie at the Northern League outfit. The humble legend was not there as a guest of either club but was simply waiting for the gates to open as a paying customer. City will hold a minute’s silence in Wilkinson’s memory before tonight’s Blue Square Bet Premier home clash with AFC Wimbledon.

Imagine (1): Norman never gave up his day job and would return to the north east after training to do his day job as a cobbler. Imagine how much more potent he'd have been as a striker if he'd kept his mind on the job and done that extra shooting practice in the afternoon.

Imagine (2): Imagine how dire some of our latter days strikers would have been if they'd had to work for a living.

Marshall Lawson, Annfield Plain writes, “My Dad and Norman were best mates. Norman ended his career playing at Annfield Plain FC, where my Dad is still club secretary. I have great memories of 'Uncle Norman', he visited our house 2 or 3 times a week. He was a committee member for Annfield Plain FC and did lots for the Club, from selling raffles books to working on the gate, lighting the boiler on a Saturday morning for the baths to putting up and taking down the nets. Things he really didn't need to do, but his love for the game and the club shone through. He supported everything the Club did. A great memory of mine was that the Football Club collected the village's old used newspapers and cardboard so that we could take it to be recycled and claim the money to aid Annfield Plain FC. Every Saturday morning, Norman, my Dad, Alec Patterson, Billy Smith and Frank Ross would gather at the Club and totally fill my long wheel base transit van to bursting. I would drive to the Weighing Station and then we would unload all of the paper and cardboard, 3 of us in the transit and 2 following in my Dads car. The 'craic' on these mornings was absolutely ridiculous and hilarious. Me and four 70+ year old blokes falling in and out of a van throwing newspapers everywhere. It was so stupid it was unbelievable, making paper footballs and shooting and heading into the back of the transit pretending it was a goal...Frank Ross was a 'keeper in his time so he was 'between the sticks' ..brilliant days and great craic! Norman was a good crosser of a paper football as well as a great header!! Saturday mornings were a fantastic start to matchday at Annfield! Norman always managed to get me an extra season out of my old and worn football boots too, a decent cobbler he was!!! Norman will be sadly missed. My Dad visited him is hospital 3 or4 times a week, as he wasn't well in the last year or so, and he received a call on Saturday morning to ask if he would go down to visit as Norman was deteriorating. He went as spoke to him one last time and then we got the news he has sadly passed away late on Saturday Evening. A top, top man and a York City man through and through...very humble and non self appreciative, he was always quiet about his own exploits and vocal about others.....sign of A TRUE GENT!

Footnote (1): A friend of mine was dragged kicking and screaming to Bootham Crescent one May evening in 1966 for his first ever City game, his dad took him to see Wilkinson play in the last reserve game of the season, Wilkinson’s last game before he retired.

Footnote (2): Later, Albert Johanneson told him that he and Don Revie had made several scouting missions to Bootham Crescent to watch Wilkinson play.

York Press tribute.