New Insight Into Winger’s Molineux Stop-Off
Various reference books have Alan Birch’s early departure from Wolves down to the fact he never settled at Molineux.
But that isn’t how the player himself recalls the full story almost three decades on.
“I joined Wolves on a four-year contract in 1981,” he told Wolves Heroes. “John Barnwell closed the door of his office, locked it and told me I wasn’t going anywhere until I’d signed.
“Just before, I’d played for Chesterfield against Wolves in a practice game at Castlecroft and done well against Derek Parkin and Geoff Palmer, so I suppose that’s where the interest came from.
“I made my debut on the first day at home to Liverpool, who were the European Cup holders, and made the only goal for Mick Matthews.
“But Barney left a few months later and Ian Greaves took over when it was becoming clearer and clearer that the club were heading for financial trouble.
“Ian called me in one day in the New Year, told me the club were going into liquidation and said he was selling me to Barnsley.
“I wanted to stay and fight for my place because I had a long contract. I had only been there a few months and had been living in the Connaught Hotel all the while I was with Wolves as I still had a bungalow in Chesterfield that I couldn’t sell.
“But, apparently, I was the only player they had had an offer for, so I went and signed for Norman Hunter at Barnsley.”
Birch, who played 18 games for a Wolves side who were relegated that season, had other times in a career of more than 500 appearances when he felt like little more than a pawn.
Arthur Cox once wanted him to take him from Chesterfield to Newcastle, only to be refused in apparent revenge for the manager walking out at Saltergate.
And, while still a Walsall player in the late 1970s, he agreed terms with Mansfield and went for lunch with a member of the coaching staff, then returned to find manager Billy Bingham had been sacked while the forms were being drawn up!
Mansfield’s loss was Chesterfield’s undoubted gain. He joined the Derbyshire club for £40,000 in July, 1979, and played in a side who not only finished fourth and fifth in the Third Division in successive seasons but also beat Glasgow Rangers 3-0 in a cup final.
“It was the Anglo Scottish Cup final,” he added, “and we were the last winners of it, I think.
“We drew 1-1 at Ibrox, then thrashed them 3-0 at our place. Gary Bellamy, who was a team-mate, would probably have been playing, so too Danny Wilson. It was a cracking side.
“I had played purely as a winger at Wolves but was allowed a free role off the centre-forward and scored a lot of goals.”
Birch, now 53, was such a hit that he went back for a second spell at Chesterfield and, as with his first stint, launched it with a goal in his first game.
And he also clicked with Rotherham, where he scored 28 goals in 99 games, including a hat-trick that turned a 2-0 deficit at Port Vale into a 3-2 win and an important victory on the road to Third Division survival.
Moves to Scunthorpe, Stockport and Frickley Athletic followed but he never did pitch up at Albion, the club closest to his West Bromwich roots and the one where he played three trial games before being snapped up and turned into Walsall’s youngest-ever debutant at 16.
Since quitting the game, Birch has been consumed by the pub trade, running establishments in Chesterfield, Pelsall, Rushall, Tamworth and Oldbury before his present calling, the 18-room Globe Inn and Hotel in Tamworth town centre.
He returned to Molineux last season as a guest of the club following the death at 46 of his younger brother Paul but one mystery remains…….and this truly is one of Roy Of The Rovers proportions.
Why was he chosen by Blackie Gray for Melchester Rovers’ star team in a 1981 issue of the comic after the sensational shooting of Roy Race? Birch’s picture appeared in colour on the back page and was seen all over again several months ago when The Guardian gave away full repros of vintage comics to their readers.
“Someone brought it in to show me but I have no idea why I was selected,” he added.