Footballer with Wolves and one of the last great amateurs of the game

Born: 29 April, 1927;

Died: 18 December, 2018

BILL Slater, who has died aged 91, was one of the last great amateur footballers. He was a key player in the great 1950s Wolverhampton Wanderers side that won three league titles and an FA Cup; he also earned 12 England caps and was the last amateur to play in an FA Cup final – for Blackpool in 1951.

Born in Clitheroe, in Lancashire, he always had his sights set on a career in teaching, going from Clitheroe Grammar School, to Leeds University to study for a degree in PE. However, Blackpool were aware of his considerable talents and signed him on amateur forms in 1944.

He played for the club whenever he could and in 1951, with his student days behind him, he was a late call-up to the Blackpool FA Cup Final team, replacing injured Scotland internationalist Allan Brown, as his team lost 0-2 to a Jackie Milburn-inspired Newcastle United. He will hold the record as the last amateur to play in the FA Cup Final in perpetuity since the FA abolished amateurism in the 1970s.

At the end of that season, he moved south to work and joined Brentford, where the regular half-back line was Jimmy “toe poke” Hill, future England manager Ron Greenwood and Slater. He continued to be an amateur, which allowed him to represent Great Britain at the 1952 Olympic Games, in Helsinki.

On returning from Finland, and having married fiancee Marion and moved to a job with Birmingham University, he signed for Wolverhampton Wanderers. He made his Wolves debut in a resounding 6-2 win over Manchester United in October, 1952 and, in spite of competition from the likes of Eddie Clamp and Ron Flowers (who would, like him earn full England caps) he became a regular in the side.

He was still an amateur when he helped Wolves win their first Football League Championship (the old pre-Premiership First Division) in 1953-54, whereupon the Wolves directors persuaded him to sign on as a part-time professional, for the princely signing-on fee of £10.

Slater then became one of the stalwarts of the Wolves team which played the celebrated TV games against top European competition, persuading the insular English football public that there was something to be said for European football.

Wolves finished second behind Chelsea, then third in the league, behind the marvellous Manchester United “Busby Babes” and his old club, Blackpool, over the next two seasons, before they and Slater won a second title in 1957-58. They then won back-to-back titles in 1958-59, before winning the FA Cup, and finishing a tantalising point behind league champions Burnley in 1959-60.

Slater was captain that year, having taken over the job with the retirement of the great Billy Wright, and he completed a terrific season by being named as the football writers' Footballer of the Year.

He had won the first of an eventual 12 England caps, against Wales in 1954. However, the arrival of the great Duncan Edwards put an end to his England career until, following Edwards' death in the Munich Air Crash, he was recalled for the 4-0 Hampden win over Scotland, in April, 1958, forming an all-Wolves half-back line with Clamp and Edwards.

He played for England in the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden, but after being run ragged by Ian St John and making the suicidal back-pass which Graham Leggat, intercepted to score Scotland's goal, in the 1-1 draw at Hampden in 1960, his England career was over. In addition to his 12 full caps, he won 21 England amateur caps.

He captained the Wolves team beaten by Rangers in the 1960-61 European Cup-Winners Cup semi-final, and left Wolves, to play out his career back at Brentford, finally retiring, after over 400 games – 339 of them for Wolves - in 1963. By then he was working at the National Sports Centre at Crystal Palace. He later worked at Liverpool and Birmingham universities, became president of the British Gymnastics Association and was a member of the United Kingdom National Olympic Committee.

A better than average cricketer, who played regularly for Warwickshire 2nd XI, he was made OBE in 1982, then CBE in 1998.

Bill Slater was pre-deceased by his wife Marion and is survived by his four children and eight grand-children.