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Farewell Bert

PUBLISHED

15:43 5th February 2014

Hundreds attend memorial service

It is often said about funerals and memorial services, that if you could ask each and every person why it was they were in the congregation, what an extraordinary testimony that would be.

When it comes to the hundreds who packed into St Peter’s Church for Bert Williams’ memorial service this afternoon, it would be difficult to know where to start.

As Rector of Wolverhampton Rev David Wright: “There’s the public life and the private life, the family man and the friend, the footballer and the businessman – there are so many aspects to Bert’s life that we are here to celebrate today.”

And so it was that Bert’s family, friends, former team-mates were joined by many more Wolves supporters in paying tribute to the Wolves and England great, who passed away last month at the age of 93.

Bert’s family had been heavily involved in the planning of the service, and his favourite music – much of it including a football or sporting theme – was in evidence throughout.

Kicking off proceedings was the famous cup final hymn Abide with Me – how could it not be given this was a tribute to 1949 FA Cup Final winning goalkeeper?

The exit music was Land of Hope and Glory, composed by Wolves fan Edward Elgar, ‘Jerusalem’ has now been used for various sporting occasions and even the Battle Hymn of the Republic has a ‘Glory Glory Hallelujah’ chorus whose words are now adapted by the Molineux faithful in support of the team Bert graced.

Although there was – said one of the speakers BBC Midlands today presenter Ian Winter – a slight problem with the opening music: “Je ne regrette rien.”

“He did tell me he had one regret,” said Ian.  “That he didn’t play until he was 100!”

Joking aside though Bert didn’t regret anything.

His was a life not only full of footballing success at the very highest level but what was of more importance were his family and friends, and always being open and approachable.

It was Ian and fellow experienced broadcaster Bob Hall who delivered addresses with memories of Bert, whom both said they had felt “privileged” to get to know not only as a footballer but also as a friend.

For Bob there were the early memories as a youngster of seeing Bert on the cover of the famous Charles Buchan Soccer Monthly magazines – “as a young fan I was gripped,” he recalled.

“He was an amazing man who had the extraordinary ability to make everyone who visited him feel special,” added Ian.

And both were united in describing the gentle and unassuming nature of the man who was actually doing them a favour by being interviewed.

“I was quite nervous the first time I went to interview Bert,” said Bob.

“Then I remember seeing him at Molineux maybe six months later and he came up to me.

“’Do you remember me,’ he said. ‘I’m Bert Williams, you came to my house to do an interview....’”

Ian told a similar tale.

“I remember the first time I met Bert - October 24th, 2007.

“We went round to his house to do a feature and the first thing he said was ‘Thanks so much for coming.’”

It was that sort of selflessness that made Bert such a popular figure, way beyond his football ability alone.

The Cannock Chase Orpheus Male Choir gave up their time to perform during the service, clad in mixture of Wolves, Walsall and England scarves,  whilst guest soloist Sharon Burns performed a powerful rendition of ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’.

Wolves Vice-President Rachael Heyhoe-Flint delivered the bible reading, Bert’s son in-law David Crawshaw read Joyce Grenfell’s poem ‘If I Should Go’ while daughter-in-law Tanya relayed a poem written by Bert himself.

The poem, reflections on his own life, was entitled ‘I Have Seen’ and was completed with the line: ‘My life has been a fulfilled dream, you can see how lucky I have been’.

In reality it was everyone else who felt lucky to have known Bert, to have been friends with him, played alongside him, watched him from the terraces.

The guest-list was as long as it was illustrious, both from Wolverhampton and beyond.

Before his passing Bert was England’s oldest surviving England international, and the Football Association were represented today by Managing Director of Club England Adrian Bevington and FA Board member Mervyn Leggett, with the Birmingham and Staffordshire FA’s also in attendance.

The 1966 World Cup winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks, also a close friend of Bert, also attended the service among a group of past and present glovemen including Malcolm Finlayson, Fred Davies, Phil Parkes, Mick Kearns and Wayne Hennessey, who travelled back from new club Crystal Palace to pay his respects.

Matt Murray, who grew close to Bert during his own career, was unavailable to be present but had attended and spoken at the private family funeral which took place last week.

There was a delegation from Bert’s first club Walsall who travelled across the Black Country, as well as Wolverhampton Mayor Councillor Milkinder Jaspal and leader of the council Roger Lawrence.

Molineux officials present included Chief Executive Jez Moxey, Director John Gough, Club Secretary Richard Skirrow, and Vice-Presidents Baroness Heyhoe-Flint and Steve Bull.

And the Reverend Andrew Cullis, son of another Molineux legend in Stan, attended the service.

And the roll call of other former Wolves players not already mentioned?  So many, including Ron Flowers, Peter Knowles, Derek Parkin, John McAlle, Mel Eves, Steve Daley, Ted Farmer, Gerry Taylor, Bobby Mason, Alan Jackson and Alf Crook.

That was the football, Bert Williams of Wolves, Walsall and England, while his later employment running a successful sports shop got several mentions as well as the incredible fundraising in memory of his wife Evelyn which raised £150,000 for the Alzheimer’s Society.

But there was also plenty of time quite rightly afforded to Bert the family man, the man away from the football pitch and the spotlight, who worked so hard to provide for those he loved most.

Rev Wright read out some words from Bert’s family, detailing his sense of humour, love of gardening in particular growing tomatoes, and love for animals and the countryside.

“Dad achieved so much in life, he lived life to the full, and he always said that anything was possible,” said the address.

“To us, he was simply the best.”

Rev Wright had said earlier about how someone in football had commented how Bert had come through a full game's duration in terms of ‘90’years – but also added an extra three, almost four, on top.

“That has sometimes been known as ‘Fergie time’, well for us it shall be known as ‘Bert’s time’,” said the Wolves’ chaplain.

And what a time it was, played out this afternoon in front of one final packed house of all those who loved and cherished him.

Yes, what a testimony it was.

Thanks for the memories Bert.  Rest in Peace.

 

 

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