Johnny Kirkham | 1941-2021

Wolves are saddened to learn of the passing of former midfielder Johnny Kirkham at the age of 79.

Kirkham spent the first nine years of his footballing career at Wolves throughout the late 1950s and early 1960s, making 112 appearances for Stan Cullis’ old gold side.

Born in Wednesbury, Kirkham began his first steps in football via the youth team at Molineux. Joining his local club at 15, the wing-half signed as a professional during the year of the second of Wolves’ three league title triumphs

He was one of the younger members of the squad who famously snatched FA Youth Cup final glory from the jaws of defeat against Chelsea in 1957/58, as he put in an exquisite performance in the 6-1 second leg victory at Molineux to help turn the tie around.

Kirkham, who had also played for England at youth level, was part of Wolves’ 1959/60 First Division squad which missed out on the league title by a point, having made a memorable debut in a 3-2 autumn win at home to Manchester United.

Two more outings followed for Kirkham after Christmas and further progress was made the season after as he not only appeared 13 times, including the Charity Shield draw at Burnley, but scored five times; once at the start of a very brief FA Cup defence and twice in helping successfully turn round a first-leg European Cup Winners Cup deficit against FK Austria.

He had a half-season run in 1961/62 in the number four shirt, but found deputising at left-half for Ron Flowers brought him more luck, in the form of goals against Nottingham Forest and Manchester United in the space of four days in early autumn and another in a spectacular 5-4 win at Chelsea in April. Kirkham also took over in goal for the injured Geoff Sidebottom in a 5-0 drubbing at West Ham United.

In his accustomed wing-half role, he became something close to a regular by playing 30 times in the 1962/63 campaign, but half as many followed in the subsequent season and then as first-choice right-half in the latter months of 1964/65.

As Wolves dropped into the Second Division, Kirkham was part of the major post-relegation clear-out, with a small fee taking him to Third Division Peterborough United. In a career which also took him to Exeter City, Kirkham subsequently had a life-changing spell in South Africa with Durban Spurs as well as serving Horwich RMI in non-league.

Following retirement, he remarried in South Africa, but after his wife passed away, he returned to live in England and based himself with friends in Wigan, from where he later moved into a home.

The thoughts of everyone at Wolves are with Johnny’s family and friends at this sad time.