Joe Wilson, one of the great names from Workington Reds’ Football League history, has died in Australia aged 78.

Mr Wilson, from Northside, enjoyed a career in the top flight with both Nottingham Forest and Wolves.

The tough-tackling full-back, who was occasionally used as a winger, played for Reds in two spells and notched up 347 league and cup appearances for the club, scoring nine times in the League.

He made his Reds debut in 1955 after coming through the reserve ranks and it was his performance against Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup tie in 1961 which brought about a big money transfer to the City Ground.

Mr Wilson had put in a typically strong and energetic display against Forest’s highly-rated international winger Dick Le Flem which prompted Forest to fork out for the 23-year-old full-back.

He returned to West Cumbria in 1968 after a short spell at Newport and played for another four years, also doubling as player-coach under Brian Doyle before he and wife Irene emigrated to Australia.

Mr Wilson actually wound down his playing career Down Under before having a short spell in coaching.

He gained a fearsome reputation in the First Division as a physical opponent and there is one famous TV clip of him clattering Spurs international winger Cliff Jones at White Hart Lane.

But it was exactly those qualities which first attracted Forest to Mr Wilson in that third round FA Cup tie at Borough Park when Reds lost 2-1.

Forest were run by committee in those days as opposed to a board of directors and the decision-makers met in due course. A couple of months later, Mr Wilson got the call to the City Ground.

In an interview with the Wolves Heroes website some years ago, Mr Wilson said: “I think the fee was £7,000. The next week, we were playing at the Hawthorns. The manager Andy Beattie said ‘Do you want to play today or watch?’. I replied ‘If you wanted me to come to Forest, you’d best play me, eh?’.”

Mr Wilson would turn out in 84 First Division games for Forest, hitting a solitary goal. “With that transfer, I went from £7 basic wage to £10 basic, increasing to £15 if we won," Mr Wilson said to the Wolves Heroes website. "A bit less than they get these days.”

And his toughest opponents? “Best, Charlton – and Bertie Auld. It was really after facing him that I learned a few tricks," said Mr Wilson. "Auld was legendary for getting his retaliation in first."

It was Beattie who took Wilson to Wolves in 1965 for a fee of £5,000. 

He quickly became a firm fans' favourite but 58 Division One and Two games later, with the Wanderers happily restored to Division One in 1967 but Gerry Taylor now taking over in the No 2 shirt, Mr Wilson made his way on a free transfer to Newport County, where he would appear in 43 Division Four games.

“I liked it at all my clubs except Newport,” he said. “My wife Irene was always a great supporter. It’s so important to have a wife who settles and with whom you can enter into the great spirit of the various clubs.”

Mr Wilson got the call from George Aitken to go back to Workington in September, 1968, and he would go on to appear 169 more times in the Reds’ league side, scoring four goals.

Australia beckoned in 1973. “There was a lad at Workington called Phil Copeland who had played there and he urged me to give it a go," said Mr Wilson.

"I met with the George Cross club and they paid our fares on the ship. 

"I only played a few games before my knee gave out on me. But I got a good job with the Hoechst Chemical Company. They dealt with powders and stuff of the type I was familiar with around the mines. But the asthma was causing me a problem so I went into the warehouses handling the boxes and pallets and so on.

“I did some coaching there and later with Altona City. There was a great camaraderie, a good social life.”

Joe lost his wife Irene four years ago and had been suffering from dementia. 

The couple are survived by their four children - Kevin, Karen, Glen and Marc.

A former Wolves teammate Les Wilson told the Wolves Hero website: “My memories of Joe are that he was a very hard tackling, hard nosed, enthusiastic full-back. A complete team player. He was renowned and legendary for some of his bone-crunching tackles. He led by example in this department.

“I recall some of the discussions in the dressing room with Joe. He was quite critical of some of the high-profile players in the game, suggesting they were overrated poseurs. 

"Joe made no bones about this and other matters. He was always transparently honest in his beliefs on the game and especially when things were not going well, even with his own game. 

"If he made a mistake, he was the first to put up his hand and say it was his fault.

“Joe was true to his word and gave 110 per cent for the club. I can still feel the bruising from one of his tackles from a practice match that we had at Molineux – first team versus reserves – four-and-a-half decades ago.”

Those sentiments would be found in dressing rooms he shared at Workington, Forest, Wolves and Newport.

Alan Hinton, briefly a colleague at Forest and also an opponent while at Wolves and the City Ground, said: “Joe Wilson was an extremely popular player in the locker room and with the fans at both Nottingham and Wolverhampton. He was a very tough defender who wanted to win.

“I played against Joe a few times and think he won the battle. I once went to a game at Wolves where there was a delay, so Joe went in goal and entertained everyone, including me. He was always happy but very focused on winning.”

By John Walsh