Strike Aces Made It No Bed Of Roses For Cup Specialist
Loyal ‘Scouse’ On The Wonder Goal That Never Was!
We now have a full ‘team’ of interviewees in our Q & A area. And John Richards didn’t need an invite when settling down to question his latest subject.
He and John McAlle played hundreds of games together in the 1970s and travelled the world side by side, even if their roles in the Wolves team were completely different.
Our thanks once more go to our readers, especially those from Molineux Mix, who have provided the questions for this article.
And, if you need a reminder of who else we have featured in this area of the site, here is the line-up so far, in a traditional 4-4-2 formation, with a rather interesting choice as our left-footed central midfield play-maker:
Bert Williams, Andy Thompson, Neil Emblen, John McAlle, Derek Parkin; Kenny Hibbitt, Mike Bailey, Matt Murray, Dave Wagstaffe; John Richards, Don Goodman.
Back to the serious stuff. It’s on with John’s interview…….
Q: As a lad growing up on Merseyside, which club did you follow? Who were your boyhood heroes? (From Berlin Wolf)
A: Everton were my team; I used to watch some great players like Alex Young, Roy Vernon and Dave Hickson, who played for Liverpool as well. He was a really hard player. Then there was Brian Labone and the one that really stood out to me was Bobby Collins. He was great at Everton and went on to Leeds but he reminded me of Dave Mackay; a great tackler. He was hard, he could play, he was a great captain – very similar to Mike Bailey. He was that sort of player.
Q: When you were a youngster at Wolves, the A and B sides played in the tough West Midlands League and the Worcestershire Combination. I guess you were playing against much older guys in those competitions who perhaps loved to put one over on the young players of such a famous club. How was that experience? Was it a good grounding for your wonderful career in the first team? (From Berlin Wolf)
A: The West Midlands League and Worcestershire Combination were very tough leagues. Teams had some very good ex-pros who were getting on a bit and us youngsters were much fitter and quicker, so the games were very even. You learned very quickly and it certainly sharpened up your game playing against these older, experienced guys. We also played in a local amateur league, the Mitchells & Butlers League. Wolves put out a fifth team in that, and those games were just as tough. It’s amazing really that we were able to turn out five teams every week in the various leagues. To some extent, the Central League was the easiest because we were up against similar standard players with similar experience.
Q: As a youngster at Molineux, which staff or players gave you the most help and advice? (From Berlin Wolf)
A: I don’t think I got any advice from one person in particular. I used to watch the first-team players, the ones that trained hard and played hard – Dougan and Bailey, for example – and I copied them. We had some great trainers, like Derek Parkin. If anyone helped from a coaching point of view, it was Ronnie Allen. In some respects, you had to look after yourself. It was tough and there was a lot of competition for places, so a lot of it was down to individuals to make themselves better, otherwise they wouldn’t get in the team.
Q: Which forward did you least enjoy playing against? (From Reanswolf)
A: That’s a tough question because there were so many good ones about, like Bobby Charlton and Denis Law, not to mention George Best and Jimmy Greaves. And there were some impressive strike partnerships around – Toshack and Keegan at Liverpool, Chivers and Gilzean at Spurs, Jones and Clarke at Leeds, O’Hare and Hector at Derby – there weren’t many weak ones about. Then the later ones included Kenny Dalglish. That’s why I’m such a nervous wreck now……I had to come up against all those great players on such a regular basis!
Q: Many thanks for your loyal and wonderful service at Wolves. You were the best defender at raking the ball off a forward’s toe. How did you feel when Liverpool’s famous Emlyn Hughes arrived at Molineux? Wolves fans were in seventh heaven when John Barnwell signed Crazy Horse. But this meant you were mainly used as a substitute (From Edgmond Wolf)
A: Actually, the first person who knew what was happening was a certain Steve Daley. He used to hang about the area by the manager’s office and he could hear some of the conversations inside. He was listening to everything that was going on. He came back into the dressing room one day and said: ‘Hey Scouse, your days are numbered. I think Emlyn Hughes is coming.’ That’s how I found out.
Q: Thank you for the glory years of my youth. You were part of the famous 1970s team that I tell my sons about. What was it like to play in front of a packed and roaring Molineux and what do you remember of the 1972 UEFA Cup final? (From Surrey Wolf)
A: The crowd were brilliant. They were virtually on top of you and they were always supportive. I can’t remember them having a go at the players or a player, as they do now. They were very knowledgeable. It was an enjoyable place to play. A lot fans know an awful lot about football. They are watching games week in week out. In the UEFA Cup final, the home leg was very disappointing. We didn’t play anything like as well as we had been. We played better at Tottenham and should really have won overall. It was disappointing coming up against another English team. There seemed to be a lack of interest from the press and it was a bit of an anti-climax. It was just like a League game. Ideally, it would have been better against a team like Juventus or Ferencvaros, who we had beaten in the earlier rounds.
Q: You were predominantly a left-footed player. When you were a youngster in Huyton, were there those who tried to coach you to use both sides equally? (From Berlin Wolf)
A: I could just about strike a decent ball with my left foot, so let’s leave it at that should we!
Q: If I remember right, you scored only three goals for Wolves; two against Academica Coimbra in the UEFA Cup, and then in the League Cup about the same time v Manchester City. I have not seen them. Which of these was your favourite? I think you also had a disallowed goal v Derby at Molineux but I was very young in 1972? (From Edgmond Wolf)
A: It was against West Brom that I had a goal disallowed, not Derby. Even though it didn’t stand, I consider that to be my favourite. Ken Hibbitt was stood by the corner flag and he was given offside. How he was interfering with play, I’ve no idea! It went in off the post at the South Bank end. I struck it perfectly.
Q: We had an established and trusted back line of Geoff ‘Zico’ Palmer, Frank Munro, yourself and Derek Parkin. Who of these three do you feel was the most important defender to Wolves? (From Edgmond Wolf)
A: The question is a bit unfair because each of the lads had their own attributes. Geoff and I could win the ball and Derek and Frank were good readers of the game. We gelled well and our strengths complemented each other. Everyone was important, so it wouldn’t be right to pick one above another. Saying that, Frank was a brilliant player. He could read the game well, a bit like Bobby Moore. He rarely got caught out and, believe it or not, he was actually quite quick. He just didn’t have to sprint that often because he read the game so well. I just won the ball and gave it to him.
Q: That McGarry team was what I was weaned on, what did Bill say to you all to get you fired up? (From Edgmond Wolf)
A: I didn’t really have a lot to do with Bill. He was the manager and we did as we were told. Sammy Chung did all the day-to-day stuff and Bill was the tactician and decided how we played. There was nothing wrong in that and it worked. You have to bear in mind that Bill has been Wolves’ most successful ever manager after Stan Cullis, so he must have been doing something right.
Q: Which 11 players would you pick in your Wolves XI from your time at the club? (From Surrey Wolf)
A: I would go for the usual team in the early 1970s plus Jimmy McCalliog, Danny Hegan and Willie Carr. So, I’ve got 14 to choose from but together they make an impressive squad. I know Danny was only there a short while but he was a top-class player. His performance against Juventus away was one of the best by any player I have ever seen. They were all great players. I haven’t added Peter Knowles because I didn’t play with him on more than ten or 15 occasions, so it’s difficult to make a judgement. He was very confident as a player, with great ability, and probably would have gone on to play for England.
Q: What were the best and worst aspects of being a professional footballer, and specifically a Wolves player? (From Mutchy)
A: I can’t think of any aspects that weren’t good, apart from injuries, because we were being paid for keeping fit. I can’t think of anything bad about being a footballer. I didn’t realise until it was over but it was a fantastic career being a sportsman.
Q: How often do you get to Molineux these days? Have you visited the new museum and were you charged entry? (From Fleet Wolf)
A: I don’t go to Molineux at all. It just doesn’t interest me. I went to the opening of the museum and it is very impressive. However, I’m not sure they should be charging season ticket holders to go in. It would even be good if they had a former player in attendance on match days to make the experience even better for visitors.
Q: Would you go with annuals or perennials in my flower bed during the winter months? You used to deliver plants to where my brother worked and he got to know you quite well. I remember one football fact about John…. and this will need double-checking. But between about 1973 and 1979, he played in every cup game Wolves played, either from the start or as a used substitute. I bet John Richards didn’t know that! I researched that fact years ago and posted it to the ‘Beat Racey’ page in Roy of the Rovers. It was published, I beat him and won a tenner! (From Macman)
A: I most probably did know him. I used to buy thousands of plants from different nurseries. That’s an interesting fact about the cup games. I’d like to know if it’s correct – it’s quite a record if it’s true. I might have to get Fozzie at Wolves on the case. Please note: We at Wolves Heroes have checked and John played in 89 successive recognised cup games for the club, starting in 1970-71 and ending with the FA Cup semi-final defeat against Arsenal in 1979. The one competitive game he missed (other than League matches) inthis period was the FA Cup third and fourth place play-off victory at Arsenal in August, 1973.
Q: When I was about ten, you came and coached our school football team (at Beckbury). Did you do this because you could see the great potential in those young fresh faced lads – or was it because we went to school with your daughter? (From Hoop)
A: I remember that occasion because we used to live in Beckbury and I got to know some of the teachers quite well. One of them asked me to coach the school football team and I did. I would have done it whether Zoe had been at the school or not. I used to play five-a-side with the lads during the training and really enjoyed it.
Q: John, did you know before your football career ended that you were interested in going into gardening/horticulture for the next stage of your working life? How much of a culture shock was it to move from football into another career? (From Mutchy)
A: I didn’t actually plan to go into horticulture. I would have liked to have stayed in the game but that didn’t happen and horticulture was the next thing I wanted to do. It worked out well because I was living next door to a guy who owned Boningale Nurseries, so I asked him for a job. I worked for him for about nine months, then decided to go on my own. I started from scratch and worked my way up and eventually got the contract to maintain the gardens at the Merry Hill shopping centre. I actually found it quite easy adapting to a new way of life after football. It was something you just did. With the horticulture, because I was fit, I could plant more trees and shrubs than anybody else. Being a former footballer was a great help.
Q: What do you think of the kind of money earned by top players in England today? (From Mutchy)
A: Well, they’re not going to turn it down are they? It seems a lot of money they are getting and if they look after it, they should be set up for life. However, there will be some who will more than likely lose it all before they’ve finished, with gambling, bad investments etc. You read now about a lot of players who are bankrupt. There were some of our lads who gambled and lost all they had, and now it’s just the same. But the amount of money involved is so much greater.
Q: Are you glad you played at the time you did or would you have liked to play now when the game and media coverage etc has changed so much? (From Mutchy)
A: We each have our own era and I find it difficult to imagine how it would be now. It’s all right thinking you’d love to play today but you might not make it because you might not be good enough. You need a bit of luck in your life, like somebody thinking you are a decent player and avoiding injuries; also, having some other decent players join the team. That’s what happened at Wolves. We did well as a team but I believe we could have done more. Looking on Youtube at some of our games – I can’t believe how direct we were. Two or three passes and we were in the other team’s penalty area. It was good to watch. It’s actually what the fans want to see.