Chapter 4.  The English Cup Final of 1908. “Ravenous Wolves”

Hunt's reputation and record as half-back for the Corinthians and Oxford City Reserves were good enough for him to be selected for the England team against Wales in the April of 1908. However, he was to forsake this honour in order to turn out for Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Cup Final of that year.

Kenneth Hunt had started playing for the Wolves on a part-time basis at the start of the 1907-8 season. Not for the last time in their history were the Molineux Club suffering a financial crisis, and so were undoubtedly very glad to be able to avail themselves of the services of the very fit and keen undergraduate, who would only accept travelling expenses, rather than jeopardise his amateur status. Only two years before Hunt had agreed to play, Wolves declared a mere profit of £119.6s.8d, compared with nearly £950 made by local rivals Smallheath, (now Burmingham City), and £2,000 by Aston Villa.

The English F.A. Cup of 1895.

Things did not improve over the ensuing two years and by Christmas 1907 the town's evening paper, the Express & Star were so concerned about the club's plight that they offered financial assistance for the purchase of players. Thus, the availability of someone of Hunt's experience must have seemed like a godsend to the Wolves' Board. Hunt would finish his studies on a Friday afternoon and make his way by train to Wolverhampton. After spending the night at his parents' home in Chapel Ash he would be available for team selection on the afternoon of the following day. The Wolves team that Kenneth Hunt joined presents a rather strange picture compared with its modem counterpart, and if the conventions of those days were employed by a team now the F.A. will not permit them to play in competitive games.
All of the Wolves players wore identical old gold and black striped shirts, including Lunn, the goalkeeper. 
It seems odd that he was the smallest man in the team. Although he was prone to being shoulder-charged over the goal-line by opposing forwards caught in possession of the ball, he had more freedom of action than his modern counterpart in as much as he could handle the ball outside his penalty area. 

An advert for football equipment from the early 1900s.
Another advert from the early 1900s.
None of the players wore numbers. (This practice only came about in 1933 when identification numbers were needed by radio broadcasters commentating on a match.)

Training for the 'big one' seems to have been a rather leisurely affair for the Wanderers' players compared with the rigours a present-day team would endure. They did some work to develop their ball skills, but Albert Fletcher, the trainer, also organised long healthy walks in the countryside around Matlock, (where the team were staying for a week prior to the Final), which the players undertook whilst dressed in three piece suits and flat caps!

Considering the state of the Club's finances, and the inability to buy 'crack players', it is not to be wondered at that the Wolves team of 1908 were a mediocre outfit which held a mid-way position in the second of the two divisions that constituted the English Football League at that time. In the previous year they had managed to gain sixth place in the lower division, although they had been knocked out of the Cup in an early round by Sheffield Wednesday who were the eventual winners.

Wolves had not got a good record in the Cup competition up to that time, having only won it once in their history, (in 1893). Indeed, a Cup-tie against the Wolves would have been considered a lucky omen by many teams, as by 1908 they had been dumped out of the competition by the eventual winners on no fewer than eight occasions. 

This, together with the fact that the competition had only once before been won by a Second Division Club, makes Wolves ultimate achievement in 1908 even more remarkable.
A cigarette card of Kenneth Hunt from c.1909.
Against all odds Wolves reached the Final in 1908, fortunately winning all their matches in the previous rounds by narrow margins. In a tie against Swindon earlier in the year, Kenneth Hunt had come on for Wooldridge, the Wolves skipper, who had been injured. In true heroic style he changed the run of play, and helped Wolves snatch a victory, even though he was knocked unconscious twice in the course of the match. The three Cup games prior to the Final were not so dramatic for Wolves, but they were very close run things. The team scored only seven goals, whereas their opponents in the Final, Newcastle, had hit the net no fewer than eighteen times in the corresponding ties. In sharp contrast to Wolves, Newcastle at the time were 'riding on the crest of a wave'. They were one of the most successful clubs in the history of the game before the First World War. They were the previous season's Champions and had reached the Cup Final no less than four times in the seven seasons between 1904 and 1911.
As might be expected, the Geordies' confidence was sky-high prior to the Final, and the club requested permission to have the team photographed with the cup before the Final had even taken place. In the light of subsequent events, there must have been many Magpie supporters who were eternally grateful that the request was refused. This confidence in a predicted Newcastle victory was not felt on Tyneside alone.

Despite parochial and partisan emotions felt by people in Wolverhampton, neutral pundits had little doubt as to the outcome of the thirty-fifth annual Cup competition. Wolves were described in the London press as a "rough and tumble team", and sharp contrasts were made with the smooth and silky skills of the Newcastle side they would meet at the Crystal Palace; (the ground which had been used to stage the Final of the competition since 1895). On the morning of the game the "Sporting Life" declared "there is no comparison on paper. Newcastle should win in handsome style."

Not surprisingly 'Cup Fever' had gradually built up in Wolverhampton as the Wanderers had progressed through the various stages of the competition. One local newspaper planned to utilise the technological advances of the day to bring details of the Final to Wulfrunians as quickly as possible.

Kenneth Hunt in 1908.

The Directors of the Express and Star stated that they were willing to personally bear the expense of having a 'new fangled' telephone line installed between a small wooden hut in the Crystal Palace ground and their Queen Street offices. Costing 45/- per hour the telephone would be used by a correspondent at the match to transmit the score at regular intervals to the newspaper office in Wolverhampton. This would be conveyed to the crowd assembled in Queen St. by it being chalked up on a large blackboard, which was to be suspended out of an upper-floor window for all to see. Other commercial interests also used the occasion for topical publicity, and readers of local papers were assured by advertisers that the winners would be the one whose players invested a 'lucky sixpence' to purchase their cocoa! The 'Oxo' company also exploited the interest in the Cup by putting on a competition in the local papers. The prize for the several lucky winners was to be "a free trip to London and back, with reserved and numbered 5/- seats at the Palace".

Crowds outside the Express & Star offices following the progress of the Cup Final.

The Wolves Trainer, Albert Fletcher, had endorsed this product by stating "Our players speak highly of Oxo, and consider there is nothing like it for giving energy and staying power".

Considering the poor understanding of food values at that time, there is no reason to think that beef extract drink did not indeed form an important part of the team's diet in the build up to the Final.

With all preparations completed, the legions of Wolves supporters made their way towards the metropolis on the many 'special' trains which had been laid on for that purpose. With the exception of the fortunate winners of the Oxo competition, the total cost of the day's outing, including transport and admission price would have been very nearly the equivalent of an industrial worker's weekly wage at the time. However, few true supporters would have let that stop them going to the game.

The team had set off on the morning of April 25th in a specially commissioned London & North Western Railway Company train. The engine (named "Messenger") had been decorated with flags and bunting, and a sign declaring "Here come the Wolves!".

After many supporters from both sides had attended a service at St. Paul's Cathedral, undoubtedly all praying for ''the right result", the crowds made their way to the Crystal Palace. The weather had been very poor and totally out of keeping for the time of year. Snow had caused the cancellation of games at Southampton and Reading and conditions at the Crystal palace ground were described as "Rain in torrents and pitilessly driven sleet, alternated with heavy snow showers"

However just prior to the game the stormy skies were replaced by bright sunshine. It was surely an omen that black skies and white snow gave way to golden 'Sunshine on that day, in a way that the black and white colours of the Northerners would succumb to the 'old gold' of the Wolves. Watched by less than 75,000, (the smallest crowd for several years), the game kicked off at the appointed time under the control of Referee Mr. T.P.Campbell. The heavy weather had made the embankments slippery for spectators, but this did not stop one Wolves fan from appearing in a home made fur Wolf suit. Despite the effect being somewhat spoilt by the lack of a wolf mask and the wearer insisting on retaining his flat cap, many must have envied his outfit on such a cold day! Others at the game included both the Mayors of Wolverhampton and Newcastle; Sir Alfred Hickman (the Wanderers President), and the famous politician A.J. Balfour, (leader of the Conservative Party and one time Prime Minister of Great Britain). The initial play heralded dire warnings for the Midlanders. Skill and training gave way to nervousness and uncertainty. Newcastle, by far the more composed side, mounted several early attacks. As if overawed by the big occasion, Wolves allowed gaps to develop between the forwards and the half-backs, and these were duly exploited by the Tynesiders. At the other end of the park Wolves attackers, Pedley and Radford, had their efforts thwarted by the Newcastle international defender, Gardner, on several occasions. The other Wolves' forward, Hedley either slipped or failed to put in a proper shot when in front of goal, even though he had already completed a lot of hard work in receiving long passes and getting the ball under control. There was a tendency for the Wolves attackers to try and 'walk' the ball into the net, but considering the Newcastle team's skill and experience this type of play would always be fruitless. Something dramatic was needed to break the deadlock and lift the Wolves.

"Cometh the hour, cometh the man" is an old adage, but never more true when recalling Hunt's actions on that day so long ago.

After nearly forty minutes, a feeble and messy scramble in the Newcastle goalmouth saw the ball cleared by a defender's long kick. It was intercepted by the Oxford graduate who was standing some forty yards upfield. Hunt's next action brought him some brief national fame, but more lastingly, ensured his elevation to the ranks of the all-time heroes of Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Calmly and thoughtfully Hunt struck the ball back towards the opposition's goal with such ferocity that the Magpie's goalkeeper could do nothing but embarrassingly palm the ball into his own net. Hunt's goal has been described as 'speculative' and even 'lucky' by analysts who reason that he was not a proven or regular goal-scorer and was not in the habit of trying long range shots. There may be some truth in long-range shots. There may be some truth in this as it was the only goal he scored for Wolves that season, but what a time to score it! His reason for trying a shot will never be known, but more important was the effect that it had on the rest of the Wolves' players. The team suddenly believed in itself and the vague possibility of a win became an almost certainty as the Wolves piled on the pressure. Whereas before Hunt's goal almost nothing had gone right, now the Midlanders could hardly put a foot wrong. The Wanderers hustled, bustled, jockeyed their foes and fought for every ball, grasping at half chances at every opportunity. The Newcastle team were taken aback at this newly found dynamism from the team that they had so recently dismissed as 'no hopers', and were at a loss in knowing how to handle the Wolves determination and aggression. Hunt himself led the way in maintaining the pressure. His speed and power were phenomenal, and Wilson, one of the Geordies who was detailed to mark him ended up 'doing the splits' whilst attempting to catch Hunt who was running with the ball.

The Molineux men went further ahead in the 'second half through Hedley and Harrison, before exertion and strain started to take its toll. Newcastle managed to score in the dying minutes of the game through Howie, but by then it was far too late for the Magpies to salvage anything more than a little pride from a game that they expected to win so easily. (Apart from scoring for Wolves, Billy Harrison would have greater reason to remember that day, for whilst he was playing at Crystal Palace in the Final, his wife was back in Wolverhampton giving birth to triplets! Strangely Howie's goal for Newcastle meant that all the players on the park that day whose surnames began with the letter 'H' managed to score).

The final whistle was greeted by scenes of wild excitement on the Crystal Palace terraces. Wolves fans cheered themselves hoarse as the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Henry Bell, handed the trophy to Wooldridge, the Wolves skipper, who boastfully declared to loud applause that it would not be the last time that he would have the honour of receiving it. (Sadly it was!) Newcastle took their surprising defeat in good part as W. Hudson, M.P. for Central Newcastle, gave an impromptu speech in which he congratulated the Wanderers. Although unexpected, Wolves victory was very popular in various parts of the country. 

Wolves victory is hailed in the Daily Mirror.

At a match on Merseyside between Everton and Sheffield Wednesday, (the Finalists from the previous year), the underdogs' victory was greeted with great cheers.

The news of Wolves success was greeted in Wolverhampton by scenes of great excitement, especially outside the Express & Star offices in Queen Street, where crowds had been arriving by tram all afternoon to hear reports on their team's progress. Spotted amongst the crowd was the Reverend Robert Hunt, Kenneth's father, who was as keen as anyone was to hear the news from London. In what was considered an outlandish display of fanaticism for the victorious team, a resident of Park Village devised a flag in Wolves colours and hoisted it up outside his house. 

At Dudley and West Bromwich the news caused crowds to congregate on the streets to excitedly discuss the victory.

In true sporting spirit the Wolves Board received a congratulatory telegraph from West Bromwich Albion, and this was duly published in the  local press. Other local reactions to the victory were somewhat strange. In a letter to the editor of the Express & Star one correspondent advocated a change in Wolves colours away from the "dowdy and dull gold and black" to a more cheerful red, which would be more fitting for a winning side. (perish the thought!)

There has been much debate about the reasons Wolves won this famous Cup Final. There was no doubt why the local newspapers thought that Wolves had been victorious. Quite simply they stated "Wolves won because they were superior!... The Wolves were the keener team, they had more of the game and were deadlier at goal they won the last yard every time."

This may be true of the latter part of the game, but it could not be said of their performance throughout the ninety minutes. A great deal was made of the fact that the Wolves team was made up of not only 'local' men, (which it wasn't! e.g. Hedley had been born in Durham), but more to the point of 'Englishmen'. Rather pompously, local sources felt it fitting that the 'English Cup' should be won by an 'English team'.

This was a rather churlish swipe at Newcastle who had fielded several Scottish signings amongst their Final line-up. The national press was not so jingoistic or partisan in their appraisal of the game, and singled out Kenneth Hunt for particular praise. Papers like the Daily Mail described his play as 'classy' and 'stoic', and others identified his enthusiasm, tenacity and example as being the key to the ‘Wanderers’ success. When interviewed later, Hunt himself modestly stated that Hedley was the shining example of the Wolves team, and further played down his own part in events by stating that Newcastle had the "cleverest half-backs" in the game. In his opinion Wolves had won because their game plan was simple. “We hustled” he said, “We only ever intended to hustle". He also later summed the game up mathematically. "Newcastle played 75% of the football - we scored 75% of the goals!"

Hunt's popularity as a local hero to the people of Wolverhampton now knew no boundaries. He and the rest of the team were mobbed when they rather unwisely tried to stop at St.Mark's Vicarage for "light refreshments". Whilst parading the trophy through Wolverhampton two days after the game Kenneth Hunt was then carried on the shoulders by jubilant fans up to the Molineux Hotel whilst the crowd sang a popular song of the time "The Boys of the Old Brigade".

Hunt was always a very competitive player, and has been described "as hard as teak", but his reputation for fairness with the Wolverhampton public had been high since the Swindon match. A collision between Hunt and an opponent called Chambers had resulted in the latter being taken into hospital. In true sporting spirit Kenneth Hunt had taken a considerable detour on his journey from Wolverhampton to Oxford to twice visit the man and enquire as to the progress of his recovery.

There was a strong local pride in Hunt's triumph and people wanted to show how living in Wolverhampton had helped him. This feeling was articulated in the month following the Final, at the annual Dinner of the Grammar School Old Boys' Association, (the 'Old Wulfrunians'). G. Bancroft, who had been a contemporary of Hunt at the school six years earlier, stated unequivocally, (but rather too simplistically,) that the Wolves' hero had "learnt his craft as a footballer at the Grammar School, and not at Trent College".

So, what is the true significance of the 1908 Cup victory and Kenneth Hunt's part in it. The game itself certainly brought fame to the Club. The Wolves of 1908 were to have the distinction of becoming one of the last winners of the F.A. Cup of that time, which itself was a replacement for the original trophy, which had been stolen in 1895.

The 1908 Cup, which had cost £20 and was rightly entitled the 'English Cup' was replaced in 1911 by the present trophy because the design had been pirated. The old trophy was presented to Lord Kinnaird, the President of the F.A. who had witnessed the Cup Final of 1908 and was a man whose record number of Cup Winners medals has never been surpassed. The Express and Star saw the success in terms of potential publicity for the town and noted that it was important that the game had showed the London public what the Wolves could do.

Probably the most significant fact was that Wolves benefited financially to the tune of £3,000, which went along way to easing their financial worries, and probably saved them from subsequent bankruptcy in the period before the Great War.

In personal terms the game indicated Kenneth Hunt's love of the Wolves. He had been selected to represent England against Wales at that time, but had declined the offer, preferring to turn out for Wolves in the Final. For Kenneth Hunt the victory brought him immediate opportunity and lasting respect and fame. Within six months he had been selected to play for the victorious Great Britain side in the London Olympic Games Football Competition. By being a member of the side that defeated-Denmark 2-0  in the Final, (in what was described as a "poor game"), Hunt had achieved the unique and honourable distinction of winning an Oxford 'Blue', F.A. Cup Winner's Medal and Olympic Gold Medal all in a twelve month period.

Although he later achieved other successes, such as England Caps and a Runners-Up Medal in the Amateur F.C. Cup with Oxford City four years later, his career as a footballer could never again reach such dizzy heights.

Hunt played for the Wolves for one more full season before moving on to Leyton Orient and Oxford City, although he returned to Molineux on occasion. He planned to return to the Molineux to play a final couple of full games in Wolves' colours in the Spring of 1920, almost twelve years to the day that the Club had won the Cup, but due to his uncle Joseph's sudden death, his appearance was limited to a single game. Wolves were again going through a very severe financial crisis, and there were public meetings held in which the resignation of the Board was called for.

Despite this, over 15,000 people turned up to see the thirty six year old Clergyman lead Wolves to a fine 4-0 victory over County neighbours, Stoke City. In all Kenneth Hunt played 61 times for the Wolves, including a Charity Match in 1916. He often turned out for Wolves during vacations from his teaching post at Highgate School. His final appearance at Molineux was during the Second World War when he played in a practice match, even though he was well into his fifties!

For a time Hunt had become the archetypal Edwardian hero. His display of grit and determination against great odds endeared him to the English people before the holocaust of the Great War caused them to them to become more uncertain about the World and their place in it. Apart from his awards and medals, Hunt still holds the distinction of being the last of only three amateur players to win an F.A. Cup Winners Medal once professionalism had been legalised. He also has the distinction of still being the oldest man to represent England at International level, whilst remaining totally amateur. (This was in the Antwerp Olympics of 1920 when at the age of 34 he played against Italy and France). Perhaps the most enduring reminder of Kenneth Hunt is in the hearts of all true football fans when they read about the past glories of the game. In this way, even though he was not a priest at the time, the 'Reverend' Kenneth Hunt's name, fame and reputation will live on forever.

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