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It was a sign of things to come when Peter Withe bumped into John Richards recently and, around the same time, was handed a note to contact Steve Daley.
After around seven years in Western Australia, the 1982 European Cup final match winner is back living in the West Midlands ‘for a couple of seasons at least,’ not only looking for work but also catching up with old friends.
He has just completed a spell in charge of Stockport Sports and is busily taking in some local games; Aston Villa, naturally enough, figure high on his list of ‘places to visit.’ As we speak, though, Wolves v Birmingham – a clash of two more of his previous clubs – holds much interest, too.
“I was asked to attend the Memorabilia Show at the NEC at the end of November and met a few old friends and rivals there,” said Withe, now 61.
“I hadn’t bumped into John Richards since I met him at a match quite some time ago but he was there and surprised me by saying he was just back from Australia, where they had been seeing their daughter and family.
“They tend to go to Melbourne and the east coast rather than anywhere near where we were in Perth but it’s interesting we have those long-haul flights in common. He was one of the players who blocked my way into the first team at Wolves.
“Steve Bull was also present, so was Brian Little, who I have stayed in contact with for a long time. I was actually signed by Villa to play with Brian but he had a bad injury and never made it back.
“The only time we played together was in his testimonial. I went to the 1982 World Cup finals around that time but the way he scored a hat-trick in that game, you’d have thought he should have been going instead.”
Withe’s time in Stockport gave him ample opportunity to drop in on the Little residence near Stafford for coffee and the two are still good friends.
Sentimentalists among the claret and blue fraternity had nursed hopes of seeing the two line up side by side for the Villa All Stars XI. Alas, it won’t happen.
Little, who had a successful caretaker spell in charge of Wolves in 1986 immediately before Graham Turner’s appointment, is himself 60 next year while time caught up long ago with his successor.
“I had a hip replacement relatively young and haven’t played since then,” Withe added. “I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardise my well being for later life, so I stopped there and then. If I played, I wouldn’t be able to walk for days.
“Thankfully, it doesn’t stop me coaching, which is a relief, so I’m looking forward to the next challenge in my career. I’d like to get fixed up with some work at the BBC or Sky to get back in the public eye because it can seem like you’ve fallen off the face of the earth when you work abroad for a long time, as I have, whereas in fact all that experience in different countries enhances your capabilities.
“Our middle son has just become the father to our first grand-daughter, so we came back in the spring and said we’d stay here for at least a couple of years. That plan hasn’t changed.”
Withe, who is living in his old Solihull property, also shared memories with the likes of Paul Reaney, Norman Hunter and Frank Worthington while mingling with autograph seekers at the NEC.
But, of course, it’s the recollections of his time at Molineux from 1973 to 1975 that most interest us – in particular how he came to be recommended to Bill McGarry by Derek Dougan.
“The Doog came out to South Africa to guest for Arcadia Shepherds, the club I was playing for,” he said. “As far as I can remember, he played only the one match – in the league against Pietermaritzburg, near Durban – and I scored the winning goal.
“The combined height of our attack was 18ft 8in because we also had Rodney Marsh as well as us two! Derek obviously saw something of himself in me and suggested that I might be his eventual replacement at Molineux.
“My main memories there are of the fierce competition. As well as him and John, who always seemed to play if they were fit, we had Alan Sunderland, Peter Eastoe, Norman Bell and Steve Kindon, as well as the younger lads.
“It was very hard to get in and I was happy to play anywhere. I remember playing wide left when I went on as sub and scored against Carlisle and also wide right.
“I reminded Paul Reaney at the NEC of how he kept racing past me once in a game against Leeds. It wasn’t that he was so much quicker – it was the timing of his runs that I couldn’t handle.”