This is the story of a forgotten Welsh hero, and probably the best all-round sportsman the country ever produced. I'm toying with the idea of launching a kick-starter campaign to have Wilf Wooller' s epic adventures immortalized on film, with Jason Statham playing the lead role. And I'm only half joking.
I didn't know who Wilf Wooller was, either. Until recently when I was researching my forthcoming book, From the Ashes: The REAL Story of Cardiff City Football Club, and his name cropped up in some vintage match reports.
Although he didn't play many games for the Bluebirds, he seemed a decent enough centre forward circa 1939, and once scored a hat-trick, just before joining the 77th Anti-Aircraft Regiment as a gunner when World War II broke out. The thing that caught my attention was the fact that by then, he was also captain of Glamorgan cricket club AND the Welsh rugby team!
Dubbed in his Guardian obituary 'a man of charm and a man of arrogance,' Wilfred 'Wilf' Wooller was born on 20th November 1912 in Rhos-on-Sea, Denbighshire. He was a gifted student, going to Cambridge university to study Anthropology. By this time he had grown to a 6' 2" 14-stone man-monster. In 1933 he made his debut for the national rugby side in his country's first win at Twickenham in twenty years, and went on to represent them a further 17 times. His greatest moment in a scarlet shirt came in 1935 when he played against the New Zealand All Blacks. With Wales 12-10 down and a man short, he put through a sublime kick that allowed his team to score the decisive late try. The Daily Telegraph said he was 'like the sacrificial car of juggernaut, leaving a trail of prostrate figures in his wake.' At club level he represented Cardiff RFU.
In 1938 he played his first game of county cricket for Glamorgan, having won the distinction of becoming a 'double blue' by playing for Cambridge against their great rivals Oxford. In his first bowling spell for the county he took three wickets for 22 runs in nine overs, and would go on to represent the club for the next 24 years during which time he scored almost 14,000 runs. He was captain for 13 years, and later became club secretary then president. Although never being called up to play for England, he was a test selector for many years. By that time he had also somehow found the time to represent Wales at squash, Cardiff Athletic Club at bowls, and Barry Town at football. For most of his working life he traded coal in the Welsh capital.
During the war years, he was posted to the Far East and captured by the Japanese in 1942, spending time in the notorious Changi prison in Singapore and working on the Burma railway. After the war ended and his subsequent release, it was reported that Wooller consistently refused to use Japanese-made calculators due to his bad treatment as a POW.
Later in life, Wooller became a respected sports broadcaster for the BBC and journalist for the Sunday Telegraph, building a reputation both for his scathing wit, and for not being afraid to voice his outspoken views. He was involved in numerous clashes with everyone from players to politicians. The story goes that once, the mother of a Welsh rugby international sent him a pair of glasses after he dared criticize her son's performance in a game. He sent the glasses back with a note explaining that his wife worked for an optician, so he didn't need them!
He died in Cardiff on 10th March 1997 at the age of 84.
They just don't make them like anymore. What an asset he would be in these days of spoiled prima donna footballers kicking up a fuss because they have to play on the right side instead of the left. Wilf Wooller, we salute you!