A Massive Opportunity Missed
How Wolves Waved Withe Farewell
How easy it would now be to criticise Bill McGarry for failing to make the best of Peter Withe’s considerable talents for Wolves.
Here is a man who, for clubs elsewhere in the Midlands, picked up two League Championship winners’ medals, scored a European Cup final winner and got his hands on plenty of other pieces of silverware. He was a serial champion.
At Molineux, though, his output was a modest 17 first-team games and three goals before he was moved on to Birmingham in 1975. Couldn’t some of that star-dust we saw later have been sprinkled along Waterloo Road?
We have delved eagerly into Withe’s newly-published autobiography, All For The Love Of The Game, in search of a little more insight into why Wolves missed out on the barn-storming qualities that served Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa so royally. And in particular homed in on a conversation the player had with his manager at the time.
“The team weren’t really setting the world alight in the League but he still picked his favourites week in week out while he had an abundance of young talent waiting in the wings with myself, Alan Sunderland and Steve Kindon,” the author writes.
“I confronted Bill one day and asked him why he kept picking the same faces and he said: ‘Because I keep thinking that today’s the day he is going to hit it off.'”
Withe had been spotted in South African football by Derek Dougan, who recommended him to McGarry as his successor in the club’s attack.
When the charismatic Northern Ireland drifted to the Molineux fringes in 1974-75, though, it was to Sunderland and Kindon that the manager turned, with Withe’s 14 senior outings that term including five as a substitute and bringing him goals against Carlisle and Luton.
Football is littered with those who can be described as late developers but this proud Liverpudlian was no raw teenager when making a goal-scoring League debut at home to Ipswich a week after Wolves’ League Cup final triumph over Manchester City.
He was a few months short of his 23rd birthday when stepping in for John Richards, who wasn’t seen again that season after defeating Manchester City with the most famous of his 194 goals for the club.
Withe lined up with The Doog both against Ipswich and in the follow-up games at QPR (0-0) and at home to Liverpool (0-1).
But Wolves signed Bobby Gould for the second time in 1975-76, by which time Withe had spent a summer on loan with the new Portland Timbers franchise in America – a prospect first put to him when he found himself in the Molineux sauna next to McGarry.
As in Port Elizabeth and Pretoria, his impact the other side of the Atlantic was considerable. Under ex-Villa manager Vic Crowe, he scored 17 goals in 22 games in a side also bolstered by the temporary signings from Wolves of Barry Powell, Jimmy Kelly, Don Gardner and Chris Dangerfield. The centre-forward’s contribution meant McGarry had another clear glimpse of what his man was capable of.
The manager had received firm interest in the meantime from Peter Taylor at Brighton and Freddie Goodwin at Birmingham and it was the latter who took the trouble to fly to America’s west coast to see Portland’s star turn.
Notwithstanding the fact that Richards still had many fruitful years still ahead, we can only regret the fact that Withe was shipped out to Blues – albeit it at a £40,000 profit on the £10,000 Wolves are reported to have bought him for.
The 394-page hard-back offers excellent recollections from a man now resident in Western Australia and best known in the last few years for his coaching in the Far East.
In no time at all after his arrival, he was ordered off for a haircut by McGarry – no surprise there! – and he also refers to excelling in the famous stamina runs on Cannock Chase and even jogging several of the miles back to Wolverhampton afterwards.
Alas, this remains a tale of what might have been and the closest Withe went to building a life in Wolverhampton was buying a house in Codsall and commuting from there with new team-mate Ray Martin to training at Blues.
Peter Withe: All For The Love Of The Game costs £18.99 and is published by Goodyear Publications (www.goodyearpublications.com). It is also available from www.peterwitheofficial.com but our readers are welcome to contact us for further details of how to purchase.