The Fondest Of Farewells
Goodbye Waggy – Hero To Thousands
At Derek Dougan’s funeral six and a bit years ago, it wasn’t the proceedings inside St Peter’s Collegiate Church that most put a lump in my throat. Whatever the tributes paid by Mike Bailey, Martin O’Neill, Terry Conroy and the like, the greatest poignancy came from the spontaneous chanting of fans who followed the service by tanoy as they stood in the rain.
Today, when the Wolverhampton Wanderers family reassembled at the same venue to pay their final respects to David Wagstaffe, it was probably the exit music, Daydream Believer, that most hit the spot.
There aren’t many funerals which are genuinely enjoyable and uplifting but the rhythmic clapping that accompanied the coffin and family at the start of the journey to Bushbury Crematorium confirmed that this was one of them.
Waggy never made great play of the fact he was close friends with The Monkees’ Davy Jones. Name-dropping and bragging definitely weren’t his thing.
In fact, when he first clapped eyes in a Manchester coffee bar on the young lady who was to become his wife, he told her he was a window cleaner. It was only when they were out on their first date that Barbara learned from a friend that he was actually scorching the grass at Maine Road as a talented young winger.
“He was one of the best four players around at that time,” Peter Knowles said to Waggy’s son Scott after the gathering had moved on to Molineux. “There was Best, Marsh, Dougan and your dad.
“Ronnie Allen just used to tell him and me to go out and enjoy ourselves. I was a big-headed so and so but he was brilliant.”
Players from three decades and four clubs gathered in celebration of the life of a man who was loved by them all.
Knowles was thrilled to see Ernie Hunt again for the first time since they had gone their separate ways in the late 1960s. Gerry Taylor bumped into his one-time boot boy George Berry and joked about how he had once given him 50p as a Christmas tip when, as a match-day bobby around 30 years ago, he had seen the player walking up to Stoke’s Victoria Ground.
Ted Farmer, Ron Flowers, Terry Wharton, Fred Davies, Jim Barron, Fred Kemp and Graham Hawkins were also in attendance from the early Waggy years on this patch. From the enduring 1970s side were John Richards, Phil Parkes, Geoff Palmer, Derek Parkin, John McAlle, Kenny Hibbitt, Barry Powell, Willie Carr and Steve Daley. Representing those who played a little later or less often were Mel Eves, Gerry O’Hara, Dean Edwards and Phil Nicholls.
The distinguished list wasn’t confined to team-mates. Jutta Dougan, Merlin Humphries, several members of London Wolves, Maureen Stobart, Bobby Thomson’s widow Jan, Doug Hope, Norman Bodell, Robert Plant, Jez Moxey, John Gough, Matt Grayson, Graham Hughes, John Hendley and Rachael Heyhoe Flint were there, too, as were Fred Eyre on behalf of Manchester City and former Blackpool forward Jeff Chandler.
Bodell it was who, as assistant boss to Jim Smith at Blackburn, took Waggy to Ewood Park for £3,000 after the best Wolves winger since Hancocks and Mullen had thrilled a generation of fans here. He played 404 times for the club in League and cups and sits among their top 15 all-time record appearance makers.
This formidable venue, with its view over Molineux, has hosted funerals or memorial services for the great and good – the greatest and best, in fact – in Wolves’ history; Billy Wright and Stan Cullis among them.
Fans turned up from 11 o’clock this morning ready to applaud the cortege on arrival and several dozen, some in retro shirts and scarves, were admitted to the church as Hi Ho Silver Lining, dubbed at the appropriate time of course with the name ‘Wolverhampton’, was played at the start of the service.
By happy coincidence, the Reverend David Wright is a Manchester City fan and recalled having kickabouts as a lad on the same patch of land that Waggy frequented not far from where the Etihad Stadium now stands.
John Richards gave a reading requested by the family and author and former Express & Star sports editor Steve Gordos earned applause for his outstanding eulogy, as did the wonderful duet provided by grand-daughter Chloe Williams and Richard Probert.
Nostalgia was heavy in the air, whether it was the clips of commentary from Brian Moore and Hugh Johns that were played, or the reminder that we were honouring the only former City player in Wolves’ victorious 1974 League Cup team, a man who had also scored in the club’s only European final appearance.
“He used to joke that he would be best remembered for having received the first red card in English football,” said Steve Gordos, who also recalled him going into the E & S offices with scribbled notes on the back of a fag packet ready for John Dee – also in attendance today – to write up his weekly column in the Sporting Star.
So many stories, so many reminiscences. “He loved a good laugh but loved a good moan more,” said Scott in a tribute read by Rev Wright. “He was still telling me off for not going the quickest way when I drove him to Walsall a couple of weeks before he died – and he wasn’t well at all then.
“But he was kind, caring, thoughtful, easy-going, modest and made friends everywhere he went.”