Meet John Wilson - Norfolk’s man of many sports

Former Norwich City player John Wilson, who made his debut for the club on Christmas Day 1953. Pictu

Former Norwich City player John Wilson, who made his debut for the club on Christmas Day 1953. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

Many have represented Norfolk in one sport – but few have done so in three. John Wilson made his Norwich City debut in 1953, but never fully committed to the club as it could not compete financially with his career as an electrician.

When John Wilson made his debut for Norwich City's first team, it was on Christmas Day, 1953. The Canaries have not turned out on Christmas Day since 1956, so very few - if any - others can say this.

Mr Wilson played right-back for City that day, at the age of 19, as they lost 1-0 away at Crystal Palace, His home debut came the very next day. Same opposition; same result.

This, however, was not the first time that he stepped on the Carrow Road turf. This day came seven years earlier, at just 12 years old, though there were no footballs involved.

Mr Wilson was born on October 28, 1934 and grew up on Plaford Road in Sprowston. He was the oldest of three children, attending George White Junior School, and it was while he was here that he made his first appearance at Carrow Road.

It came on June 20, 1946, in the Norwich Schools Athletics Association competition. It was also the first time Mr Wilson tasted victory at the stadium, as he won the under 12s 100 yard sprint.

Mr Wilson recalls: 'I was always a good athlete growing up, but I had a choice to make; athletics or football.'

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In 1949 he captained both Norwich and Norfolk school boys, however, it was then partially through chance that his blossoming football career saw him turn out for Norwich City.

He said: 'After George White Junior School I went to Alderman Jex School and then became involved with the youth club there. It was here that I got to know Maurice Tobin, who played for Norwich City.

'In February 1951 he told me that Norwich's A team, which in those days was what the third team was called, were short of players for an away game against Brandon. He asked me if I would play, and that was the first time I ever turned out for Norwich City.'

It was in the same year that Mr Wilson began playing for Norfolk, and between 1951 and 1952 he received a rare accolade, earning his colours for his county at senior level before he earned them at youth level.

'In those days, when you play three games for your county, you received your colours. I played three times for Norfolk seniors before I had played three times for the juniors and was lucky enough to become the youngest player to captain Norfolk school boys at 15.'

However, while his football career was gathering pace, he had still not made his final decision between football and athletics. He joined the Norfolk and Norwich Athletics Association in 1951, and in 1953 he became Eastern Counties champion in the 440 yards and the long jump.

His choice became final in August 1953, when he signed his first semi-professional contract with Norwich City. His debut followed on Christmas Day that year.

During his spell at the Canaries, he also represented the RAF football team, whilst on national service between 1956 and 1958. It was in this period that he came up against his most famous opponents.

'In 1957 I played for the RAF against the Army, and I marked was a young lad called Bobby Charlton. Honestly, I couldn't tell him apart from anybody else on the pitch.'

Mr Wilson made around 48 appearances for the Canaries between 1953 and 1959, and was part of the club during the historic FA Cup run of 1959; though he did not figure in the cup that season.

Throughout this time he also worked for a living as an electrician, and the club were unable to financially compete with his day job.

'Archie McAuley was in charge when I left. I told him that I was fed up with being the 12th man and wanted to play and we made an appointment to talk about a contract. He didn't even show up.

'The club offered me £14 a week for a full time contract. I was on £12 a week part time, plus what I earned as an electrician, so if I had taken the full time contract with Norwich, I would have been losing out.'

After he left Norwich, he went on to sign full time for Chesterfield, before playing for Kings Lynn, Lowestoft, Thetford and Hellesdon.

Whilst at Kings Lynn, he was part of the 1962 squad that reached the FA Cup third round, before bowing out to Everton.

It was while playing in the local leagues that he discovered his third sport: bowls.

'I used to train at the Gothic Social Club in Norwich, but when they got promoted to the same league as my club, I was told I wasn't allowed there any more,' he said. 'I then spotted that the club was looking for new members of its bowls team. So I signed up, knowing they couldn't stop me if I was on the bowls team.'

He then ended up taking the sport up, and in 1992, was part of a Newton Trophy winning Norfolk side.

He is now 81 and lives on Armstrong Road, Thorpe, with his wife Carole, who he married in 1960. The pair have two daughters, three grandchildren and four great grandchildren,

'People often ask what I am most proud of, but I have no answer,' he said. 'I was never a star, just a local boy who made good.'