Premier League Promise Was The ‘Carrot’ For Don

Goodman On Crossing The Black Country Divide

Unlike many former players, there isn’t much chance of Don Goodman disappearing from our football lives – not while he finds such regular work with Sky TV as an articulate commentary-box summariser. Here, though, John Richards puts a host of readers’ questions to the popular Molineux striker on behalf of Wolves Heroes.

Q: Did you have any hesitation joining Wolves after being an Albion player previously? (From topcat99) 

A: No hesitation whatsoever. I was ambitious and wanted to play in the Premier League. That was my driving force in leaving Albion in the first place. I went to Sunderland believing they would be the vehicle to get me there – a big club, Roker Park, a huge following and lots of passion. I thought they would be that club but it became evident while I was continuing to make a decent goal-scoring contribution that I was playing in a team round the middle to the bottom of what is now the Championship. I had bigger plans and Wolves were up there near the top of the Championship, spending money on players, like Steve Froggatt and Tony Daley, two wingers getting crosses in – just how I liked to play. It was ideal, Bully was there, and David Kelly. I honestly felt this was the team to get me into the Premier League. That’s why the answer to the question is an unequivocal ‘no’. It’s not as if I went straight from Albion to Wolves. It’s a brave step to go from one to another. I know Bully and Tommo did it but they weren’t particularly first-teamers at the time. If they had been established players at Albion, then moved across, it might have been different. Albion’s loss was Wolves gain in that case.

Don Goodman - the latest interviewee in John Richards' q and a series.

Q: Which stint in your career did you enjoy most? WBA or Wolves? (from Rocky Balllboa). Q: Which fans gave you the most support? WBA or Wolves? (from Edgmond Wolf )

A: I am asked on an almost daily basis about whether I preferred being at Wolves or Albion. I enjoyed them both – I had five good years at Albion and four good years at Wolves. I think that’s very different to a Steve Bull, who had two minutes at West Brom and an eternity at Wolves, and someone like Cyrille Regis, who was the opposite way round. My scenario was very different. West Bromwich Albion was the club that made me the player I was – predominantly through the coaching I received from Stuart Pearson. They were the first set of supporters to put me on a pedestal and that stays with you. Obviously, I then went away to Sunderland and was well received there. Then, when I came to Wolves, it would have been so easy for the fans not to give me a chance, especially as I didn’t score for seven games. I played up front in my first game against Notts County and then put out on the right wing. That was the manager’s prerogative. With Bully and Ned Kelly, he had two excellent players. But the Wolves fans were very fair to me and I will never, ever forget that, as long as I live. It would have been very easy for them to have a go – big-money signing, seven games without a goal, ex West Brom, what a waste of money! They could have got on my back. Not once did I get any of that, though. I then went on to have four good years at Molineux and struck up a wonderful relationship with those terrific supporters. Ideally, like many others, I would like to see both clubs battling it out at the top of the Premier League. That’s where they should both be. Wouldn’t it be great to have these local derbies in the Premiership every year, the way we’ve got it now? 

Q: I would like you to cast your mind back to the cracking Wolves v Sheffield Wednesday FA Cup fourth-round replay at Molineux on February 8, 1995. Wolves won 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw over the 120 minutes. The game was so atmospheric, broadcast on a freezing cold night on Sky TV for the world to see. It was so nail-biting, it must be stored in the top drawer of your football memory bank……Wolves were 3-0 down in the penalty shoot-out and looked dead and buried. So how did it feel to score THE penalty, the one that decided the game, down at the South Bank? Did you sleep that night or stay awake, scoring the penalty many times over in your mind? And does your heart still pump that bit faster when you think and talk about it today? (From Berlin Wolf )

A: Yes, I remember it well. We were 3-0 down and out of the competition really. I wasn’t in the first group of five to take a penalty and I thought we were dead and buried. I never thought I’d be called upon to take one. But they missed their last two, Chris Waddle was one of those, and we scored our last three to bring it level. Their guy missed the next one and I remember thinking I just wanted to get it over with. I’d already made my mind up that I was going to smash it as hard as I could down the middle and didn’t waiver from that. Ironically, the keeper Kevin Prestman didn’t dive but I struck it well and it beat him for pace. I’ve actually got a photo from a cameraman who was behind the goal that night, with the ball bulging the net and the keeper with his hands in the air, not a million miles from it. I have to say I was very relieved because I was still a new boy. This was the February and I’d only signed in the December. The last thing I wanted to be remembered for was the clown who ruined the Great Escape. I can’t imagine that there has been another occasion when a team was 3-0 down in the penalty shoot-out and still won. Great memories! 

Q: The 1994-95 season was Graham Taylor’s only full season as manager of Wolves. I’m certain we’d have been promoted that season had it not been for the fact we had horrendous bad luck – arguably the unluckiest season in Wolves’ history. The following summer, Dean Richards was signed permanently and the Premier League experience of Mark Atkins was added to further bolster the squad that had just missed promotion. Of course, Taylor was sacked quite early in 1995-96 but, as a player with insight into both contrasting seasons, why do you think Wolves struggled so badly in those few months that led to Taylor’s sacking? (From Beowulf )

Q: You were always one of my favourite players in those days, Don. What’s your take on why we never quite got that promotion we were so desperate for? Everything seemed to be in place? (From crocos) 

A: As I mentioned, I came to wolves because one of the prospects that excited me was playing with Froggy on one wing and Tony Daley on the other. I’d played against them both several times before and they were the sort of players who were going to get lots of crosses in and create lots of chances. However, straightaway, they both got injured and then there was Geoff Thomas, who I think could have made a major difference, but who was already injured and who never really got back properly. Three quality players there, all of whom played for England, and we didn’t have access to them. So, that was one thing. 

All Wolves fans will remember the game when we only beat Bolton 2-1 in the first leg of the play-offs at Molineux. It should have been 10-1. We absolutely murdered them but fate conspired against us. We hit the woodwork four or five times that day. It’s such a fine line between success and failure. And, obviously, in the second leg, John McGinley could and should have been sent off for headbutting David Kelly. If that gets seen by the referee, it’s a whole new story. And we would have fancied our chances in a game at Wembley with the players we had. It wasn’t to be that year, then because of the money that had been invested in players, there was pressure on Graham Taylor. There were factions of the press that were desperate for him to fail because he was the ex-England manager. When I say the press, I mean the national press not the local ones. They turned up waiting for Wolves to fall, so they could have a story to write about Graham Taylor. I don’t think that helped the club. Then there was the board. You need strength and resolve there, but, with the greatest of respect, I think they buckled under the pressure to get rid of Graham. When I look back and think of what Graham went on to achieve at Watford after being at Wolves, taking them from League One to the Championship and from there to the Premier League, I think it was one of the biggest mistakes Wolves have made in modern history. So, there were lots of things that seemed to be conspiring against us at the time.  

Greeted by the law when arriving at Tonbridge for a friendly in July, 1995.

Q: How did it feel getting the winner against Leeds, having been born in the city but never played for them? (From Dewsburywolf ) 

Q: My favourite goals of yours for Wolves was the one against Leeds in the FA Cup sixth round. Which was your favourite? (From Mugwump)

A: It is one of my favourites. I’ve scored technically better goals than that but, for what it meant and what it was, it’s very special. It was the quarter-final of the FA cup, I’m a Leeds lad, I was born and brought up there, I stood on the terraces at Elland Road as a boy, I was also a ball-boy there – and I’d been rejected by Leeds as a young lad. Ironically, Leeds are a club I always used to score against – for Bradford, West Brom, Sunderland, whoever. That was my first game against them in a Wolves shirt. When the chance came, I just saw the keeper coming off his line and dinked it over him. That was something I always tried to do when I was one-on-one with the keeper, just try to lift it over him. It was late in the game. There were about ten minutes to go and I don’t know where that calmness came from. When it hit the back of the net, it was an amazing feeling but then young Robbie tripped up Hasselbaink. I remember going numb and thinking we’d blown it but Hans Segers saved the penalty and the day and the rest, as they say, is history. Great occasion! I still get Wolves fans coming up to me, saying ‘Elland Road, 1998, I was there.’ It’s a brilliant memory for all of those reasons mentioned and the fact that it got us into the semi-final of the FA cup, which is no mean feat as a Championship club. 

Q: How did Bully and Keane react to being benched for the semi-final v Arsenal by Mark McGhee and what effect, if any, did it have on the players going into the game that day? (From DurhamWolf )

A: The manager signed about four new players before the semi-final, including Steve Claridge and Robbie Slater, and Bully and Keane were left on the bench. But, make no mistake, Arsenal were a great team. They were one of the best of that era. It was unfortunate for the lads to be left out but I also remember being hauled off myself with about 20 minutes to go and I felt I was the one causing their defence most problems, even if it was only through sheer physicality. I remember David Seaman and Tony Adams scowling at me because I clattered into them. I couldn’t understand why I came off but I never really saw eye-to-eye with Mark McGhee and don’t know whether that had any bearing on his decision. You’d like to think it didn’t but you never know. He once went six weeks without talking to me. If he saw me going towards him, he would turn around so he wouldn’t have to acknowledge me. That’s how petty it got with him. We had a great day out at Villa for the semi but it would be fair to say we were second best on the day. 

Q: What do you remember of your debut for Sunderland? You played against Wolves and had two players sent off? (From Mugwump)

A: We had two players sent off in the first five minutes, for dissent would you believe! You can imagine what it was like. I signed for Sunderland and then, a couple of days later, I was making my debut for them at Molineux. You couldn’t write it really. Of course, I got barracked when I got off the bus, when I warmed up, during the game. It was a busy linesman who took exception to one of the lads swearing because he disagreed with a throw-in decision. If every footballer who swore was sent off, there would be nobody left on the pitch. I remember the game clearly because I was ploughing a lone furrow. After an hour, I was physically exhausted. I was winning all the headers from our keeper’s kicks and my only instruction from our manager Denis Smith was to ‘head it for touch and get behind the ball.’ That’s all I did throughout the game. We held out until a few minutes from the end before a great shot by Paul Cook beat us.  

Q: Who was technically the best player you played with, Don, and who was perhaps the worst – but made up with it by hard work. And did you ever consider playing at left-back? (From OLDGOLD) 

A: That’s a good question because the word ‘technically’ has been used. I’ve played with a lot of good players, a lot of internationals who were coming to the end of their careers, like Andy Gray and Tony Morley. But what I would say that, technically, the best is someone Wolves fans will remember – Gordon Cowans. An absolutely incredible player, Sid, again coming towards the end of his career, but left foot, right foot, he was the best by far.  

Q: Don, who would you say was the most underrated player of your time at Wolves, such as an unsung hero or just a player that did not quite get the recognition he deserved? (From OoohRobbieRobbie) 

A: Difficult question and obviously I’m looking at someone from a Wolves perspective. Actually, I’m going to say someone who, sadly, is no longer with us – Paul Birch. You were guaranteed a performance from him week in week out, without stealing the headlines. He was consistent, reliable, the sort of player you’d want in your team. 

Getting in a header (centre) in the Steve Bull testimonial game against Santos.

Q: You suffered a serious head injury while playing for Wolves at Molineux. How hard was that to come back from and how nervous were you about going into your first competitive aerial challenge after that? (From Mutchy) 

Q: You suffered a horrific injury while playing for Wolves and cracking your skull. We were all desperate for you to get well. How worried were you that you’d never play again? How did you spend your time during your convalescence? How worried were you that you’d not be the same player? And how’d you celebrate coming back from injury. (From singwolf_1) 

 A: It was a fractured skull which I did at Molineux against Huddersfield in 1996. It was two weeks before my daughter was born – that is how I remember the date so well. We had a corner and I flung myself at a ball I was never going to get, and smashed into the back of the full-back Steve Jenkins’ head. He was concussed, if I remember right. I was conscious throughout but was down and couldn’t feel my arm. The physio Barry Holmes started looking at my arm, then I put my hand up to my head and felt some blood. Basically, there was a big hole in my head. It was a depressed fracture of the skull and it had caved in. I said to Barry: ‘Actually, I don’t think it’s my arm that’s the problem, I think you’d better take a look at my head’. I saw his face when he looked at my head and realised it was pretty serious. I was paralysed down my right side because the skull was pressing onto the left side of my brain. It was a nasty one, six months out, but no after-effects thankfully. The operation involved drilling four holes into my skull and lifting it back into the shape it should have been. A depressed fracture, as described to me by the surgeon, is like pressing your thumb into a ping pong ball. They said I’d be out for a year but, fortunately, I was back much sooner. I think many people thought I would never play again. It was that serious. But, the surgeon was amazing and reassured me that, in time, the skull would actually be stronger than before. In training, I was wearing a skull cap and taking part in one of my first five-a-sides and a ball was smashed in my direction straight at my face, I automatically dipped my head down and it hit me on the skull cap and knocked me off my feet. All the lads came running over and were panicking around me. I got up, smiled at them and said it was alright. That was the moment I knew it was going to be alright. 

Q: How did you sometimes defy gravity by appearing to hang in mid-air when heading a ball? Is it just me who thought you were defying gravity? (From OoohRobbieRobbie)

Q: Don, you were superb in the air – what was your secret to be able to ‘hang’ for so long? (From Boss Hogg) 

A: I get asked this a lot. It’s just something I could do naturally. I’ve always had strong legs, big quads and big calves, and that obviously helped me sprint and helped me spring as well. I also had good timing. I could judge the flight of a ball better than most. It was just a very natural thing.

Q: Don, your nickname was “Woody” how many times do you remember hitting the woodwork? I think one season it must have been about 20! (From Arcadius)

A: That’s a new one on me. I did hit the woodwork a lot, that’s true, but I don’t remember being called Woody.

Q: There’s a lot being said about racism in football today, what with the alleged Terry incident and Blatter’s gaffe. What was it like to be a black player during your time? How much racism did you face at Wolves or at any other club? (From singwolf_1)

A: I think it was the generation before me that we have to pay homage to – the likes of Big Cyrille (Regis), Laurie Cunningham and Brendan Batson. They were the ones who took it on the chin and came through it. That was the most important thing. Those lads were so mentally strong, they got through it. And that enabled the next generation of players like me to be able to play without fear. I was lucky. There wasn’t that much racism directed at me and, even if there had been, I was one of those guys who could laugh it off. In 20 years, it only happened to me once. This player made a racist remark to me in front of the referee. I asked the referee if he was going to put it in his report but all he said was: ‘I didn’t hear a thing.’ That was the only time it happened to me on the pitch. We had jovial banter in the dressing room and things were probably said then which wouldn’t be acceptable now. But it wasn’t offensive. It’s just the way things were. People like me and other black players need to be grateful for those lads who had to deal with it in the sixties and seventies. I’ve seen photos of Cyrille having bananas thrown at him and he was mentally strong enough to deal with it and come through it. It’s players like him with that resilience that has allowed me to go on and have a career in football. I’ll be eternally grateful for that. With regards to Blatter, he has made himself look an idiot on many fronts other than race; it’s remarkable that he is still in the position he is. 

Q: You refused work with Sky on the day of Wolves’ play-off final victory at Cardiff because you are quoted as saying you wanted to go as a fan…..(From Shergar)  

A: I went to the game as a fan but the play-off final was 2003 and I wasn’t even on Sky’s radar at that time. 

A natural in front of the Sky TV cameras at the Masters tournament.

Q: On the subject of Sky, how did you get into that line of work? (From JR) 

A: I really enjoy my work with Sky. I was never interested in going into management and was always told I talked a good game. It seemed a natural progression. I actually called Gary Newbon for some advice. He said I gave good interviews and advised me to get a column in the local newspaper if possible. I did that for the Express & Star, then starting summarising on games for Radio WM – something I did for a season. Gary said I would be picked up by someone if I was any good. And that’s what happened. I did three years with Radio 5 Live and, from there, got a call from Sky asking if I was interested in TV co-commentaries. That’s what I had aspired to. Once I’d made the decision to try my hand at broadcasting and media, then the biggest and the best to work for is Sky Sports. They are the market leader and, when they came calling, it was brilliant. But, then, you’ve got the pressure to maintain your standards, make your commentaries interesting and do a good job, otherwise they’re not going to keep you. I’ve now been with them for five years. I love it. Some would say, apart from playing, coaching or managing, it’s the best job in the world. And they probably wouldn’t be far wrong.