Bailey: My England Letdown

Two Caps A Poor Reward For Awesome Leader

By John Richards

This latest Q & A has been particularly enjoyable for me because it involves my former captain and team-mate, Mike Bailey. Mike was the man who led us to the final of the UEFA Cup in 1972 and then succeeded in lifting the League Cup two years later. He was a natural leader and an inspirational player. He was without doubt the best captain I played under and I firmly believe Wolves have not had a captain of his calibre since he left in 1976. As you’d imagine, we were inundated with questions for him, so much so that we are going to publish this interview in two parts. And, in one or two cases where questions are very similar, we have linked them together.

An England cap to go with Mike Bailey's Charlton colours, rather than those he would wear for so long at Wolves.

Q: Mike, you were awarded a full England cap early in your career at Charlton….why do you think this was not built on during your career at Wolves? And how disappointed are you that it was not? (From Jim Heath). Why did you never get more than the two England caps you gained at Charlton? You had an outstanding career (From Goldeneyed)

A: My involvement with the full England team came after an under-23 tour in 1965 when I was with Charlton. I had been home for a week, then I got a call from the FA saying I had been selected to go on a senior tour to Brazil. Alf Ramsey was the manager. We flew to America for a warm-up game, I played and we won 10-0. Then we went to Brazil, where we played Brazil, Argentina and Portugal in a mini tournament. I didn’t play in Brazil but, in the November after we got back, I was picked to play against Wales. I was then in the squad for the next international against Holland but broke my leg. It was during the lead-up to the 1966 World Cup, so, sadly, I was not involved in that. That was a big blow, being out of the reckoning for the World Cup. I got back in the squad once the leg was mended but the manager was not going to change his World Cup winning team and they went all round the world playing exhibition matches.

Q: Do you think your England career was in any way held back by playing at Molineux, rather than a high profile outfit in London or in the North West? Lord knows, you were plenty good enough! (From John Lalley)

A: There was a suggestion that the move to Wolves was detrimental to my England career but I never felt that was the case.

Q: Can I ask you about Mexico 1970 and whether you had any contact from Alf Ramsey about being included? I remember Geoffrey Green of The Times saying at the time that you should have gone (From Wagstaffe was Magic)

A: I was included in a few of the squads after 1966 but Alf Ramsey, understandably, stayed loyal to his World Cup winning squad. By the time 1970 came around, I wasn’t in the squad and didn’t have any contact. After all this time, I can’t remember the Geoffrey Green article but it was nice of him to write that!

Q: Do you feel Wolves could have sustained a title challenge between 1971 and 1973 if a bit of team strengthening had occurred. Did we come up slightly short? And why, after the high of Wembley ’74, did the club, instead of building on the triumph, allow it all to fizzle into relegation within two years? (From John Lalley). Who do you think would have made us the complete side that would have topped the league? (From Oldgold Wolfcub). The relegation season in ’76…..what do you think went wrong? (From IrchyWolf)

'We were title challengers.'

A: I felt we were challenging for the title during that time. I think we probably didn’t believe in ourselves as much as we should have done. We’d got the players. After promotion in 1967, we spent a couple of years developing the team and I felt we should have marched on from there. We might have got a bit more help from Bill McGarry through adding more experience to the squad. I was quite happy with the players we had. We were strong in all positions. Perhaps we needed more quality in the back-ups, ie in the reserves. It’s not like today, where clubs have a squad of top-quality players. When we lost one of our first-team players for a length of time, it did make a difference. If you look at the teams now, the back-up quality is as good as those on the pitch. We really relied on 15 or 16 players to get us through a season. I also felt this was a factor in our relegation two years after the League Cup victory. We had players getting older and key players getting injured but the replacements of the necessary quality weren’t there.

(JR): This is also my view of the relegation we suffered in 1982, two years after the second League Cup final win. There were a number of players, myself included, who were in the 30-plus age bracket but replacements weren’t being lined up.

Q: Given that your era included a lot of flair players and hard men, it would be interesting to know which players you most feared playing against (From Nimrod)

A: Liam Brady of Arsenal was a quality player and, of course, Georgie Best. With George, you didn’t mark him, that wasn’t possible. It was a case of the nearest person to him marking him. That’s how it worked. They were both great players with brilliant football brains.

Q: I think the best goal I ever saw you score was for Charlton against Wolves just before your transfer to us. What are your memories of this and your subsequent move to the Midlands? (From Red Socks)

A: That’s a long time ago now. I can’t remember the goal, sorry, but I think the score was 1-1. My move to Wolves happened very quickly. I was training one day when the manager Bob Stokoe said Ronnie Allen had been on the phone and he would like a chat. He asked if I’d be interested in having a meeting. I said yes, so I went up to meet Ronnie and signed on the day. I was so impressed with the club obviously. I’d played against Wolves and they had players like Ernie Hunt, who I knew as I’d shared a room with him on the England under-23 tour, and Dave Wagstaffe. You could see Ronnie was putting together a very good team.

Another shot from the Cambridgeshire boy's days at The Valley.

Q: It was a very quick decision. You were married at the time – did you discuss the move with Barbara? (From JR)

A: I was negotiating the move with the Wolves chairman, John Ireland……you know what he was like. He wanted to get the deal done straightaway. I asked if I could think about it but he said: “We haven’t got time for that.” I was a bit naive, so I just asked if I could call my wife. I told her I was going to sign and we were moving to Wolverhampton. Fortunately, she was working for the Bank of England and they had a branch in Birmingham, so that fitted in and she transferred to that branch. I signed and went back to Charlton. Bob Stokoe asked me how I had got on and was a bit surprised. “Signed?” he said, “there are a couple of other clubs who were in for you!” However, it worked out well. I was very pleased to come to Molineux.

Q: How did it feel to lift the League Cup, especially given we were such underdogs? And were you worried about Gary Pierce being in goal? (From Waggy’s Boots)

A: No way at all was I worried about Gary Pierce being in goal. I was very disappointed for Phil Parkes because he had played in all the previous rounds. To be fair, I didn’t expect Gary to play the way that he did. It was a fantastic one-off performance. McGarry had prepared us well for the final. We spent the week at Worthing. I felt we were just superb on the day and we settled down quicker. Because of the big occasion, I did wonder if we would be a bit nervy but that wasn’t the case. We just got at them from the outset.

Q: What was Bill McGarry like to play for? (From Waggy’s Boots)

A: We didn’t have a particularly good relationship. I just did as I was asked on the pitch – whatever the plan was. My job was to make sure McGarry’s orders were followed in games. There was a difference between McGarry and Ronnie Allen. Some people felt things were getting too lax under Ronnie and players were deciding things whereas McGarry came in with a strong disciplinarian style, both on and off the pitch.

Q: How did you like management when your career branched out in that way? (From Waggy’s Boots)

A: I enjoyed management when we won. I enjoyed the every-day stuff and I enjoyed transforming teams, getting them to play how I wanted them to and getting success out of it. Barbara says I would never have lasted as a manager because I was too worked up on match-days – a nervous wreck she described me as. We had a good side at Brighton and did really well. They got to the (1983) FA Cup final the year I was sacked. The difficulty I had was with the chairman. He was not satisfied with anything. I made Brighton a difficult team to beat. I knew the standard of the players we had and knew how to win matches. We used to work on clean sheets. With the previous manager, they hadn’t won away from home but we went to Anfield and won. But the chairman kept saying: “Why can’t we score a few more goals?” He didn’t understand it.

Q: Mike, we believe you did some scouting for Dave Jones. It would be interesting to know who you watched and if you felt any players were missed by not following up on your recommendations? Did anyone sign for Wolves because of your advice? (From Shergar)

A: That really wasn’t my role. I was mainly doing assessment on games and teams. It was match analysis rather than scouting for players.

Q: When Leeds beat us in the FA Cup semi-final at Maine Road in 1973, were you really fit or still struggling? I know Bill McGarry desperately wanted you to play and you must have desperately wanted to be involved but was it touch and go? (From BitterBob)

A: I felt I could have played from the start but McGarry was worried about Frank Munro, who was also carrying an injury. I came on part-way through the second half and, although we put Leeds under a lot of pressure, we couldn’t get the equaliser I felt we deserved. It was a very disappointing day.

Kenny Hibbitt - challenging here with Spurs' Martin Peters and regarded by Mike Bailey as a high-quality midfielder.

Q: Who was the best midfielder that you ever played with? (From Japan Wulf)

A: It has to be Kenny Hibbitt. He was a bit special. Some people have suggested Danny Hegan and he did have plenty of ability but he was inconsistent.

Q: How good was Peter Knowles and how far could he have gone? (From FMM). As captain, did you feel you could or should have tried to get Peter Knowles to change his mind about quitting the game? (From Dewsburywolf)

A: He could have been in the England 1970 World Cup squad. He was as good as that. He had unbelievable ability – super feet, a very good football brain and an ability to entertain. He could do tricks and would sit on the ball, which wasn’t to everyone’s liking. To be honest, yes, I did believe he would change his mind about quitting football. I thought he would come back. I think we all did. Give him a year or so and he would be back – that’s how we saw it. But he stuck to his belief and principles, and I admire him greatly for it. There had been rumours about him leaving and I remember sitting by him on a coach trip to a game and saying: “Don’t talk to me about religion.” He had been talking to other players about them joining his faith. But that was it and I never saw him again until last year when he attended Bobby Thomson’s funeral.

Part Two of this q & a will follow in the next couple of weeks

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