South Bank, Middlesbrough born inside forward Wilf Mannion played junior football for Smith’s Dock and South Bank St Peter’s from 1935 and joined First Division Middlesbrough in September 1936, becoming one of the club’s greatest ever players. He made his Football League debut against Portsmouth in January 1937 and played once more in his debut season in a defeat at Preston in April, breaking into the team on a more regular basis after Christmas 1937, when he scored his first goal against Leeds United in a 2-0 victory on 27th December. With his blonde hair, he was nicknamed “The Golden Boy”.
He scored 14 goals the following season, 1938-39, as ‘Boro finished fourth in the League, but the Second World War soon interrupted his progress. He continued to play for the team in the early years of the War while serving in the Auxiliary Fire Service before being called up, and in between fighting in France and Italy, he appeared as a guest for both Tottenham Hotspur and Bournemouth. He also appeared with the South African club Peninsular of Johannesburg whilst serving in that country. He also had his first international experiences during the War, winning four unofficial wartime caps for England.
With the War over he returned to Ayresome Park and had his most productive season in 1946-47, scoring 23 goals. He made his full England debut scoring a hat-trick in a 7-2 victory over Ireland at Windsor Park, Belfast in September 1946, and was an England regular through to his last appearance in October 1951, scoring 11 goals in 26 caps and playing in the 1950 World Cup Finals. He also played once for Great Britain in 1947 , when along with Middlesbrough and England teammate George Hardwick he was part of the team that beat the Rest of Europe 6-1. He also made 4 appearances for England B between 1947 and 1950, and represented The Football League on 7 occasions.
At the end of the 1947-48 season he wanted a transfer, but Middlesbrough refused and put a £25,000 price tag on him. In protest he did not play for them for much of the following season but he eventually backed down and started playing for Middlesbrough regularly again from 1949. His career with Middlesbrough ended with the club’s relegation in 1954, having scored 111 goals in 371 appearances for the club.
After initially retiring as a player in 1954, Mannion subsequently joined Hull City in December 1954, scoring once in 17 matches for The Tigers. However, the Football League suspended him for articles he had written, and he left to play non league football with Poole Town in 1955. He also had a spell as player-manager of Cambridge United between 1956 and 1958, and played for King’s Lynn, Haverhill Rovers and Earlestown between 1958 to 1960.
He was eventually awarded a testimonial match by Middlesbrough in 1983, alongside former ‘Boro and England colleague George Hardwick. After his passing at the age of 81 in 2000, Middlesbrough erected a statue of Mannion outside The Riverside Stadium.