When The West Midlands Prospered With Under-23s
We’re into anniversary season at Molineux. It’s 40 years next week since Wolves booked their place in the 1974 League Cup final, so it follows that another big milestone is due to roll around on March 2.
Somewhat less heralded is the fact that it was on today’s date in 1974 that Geoff Palmer – with John Richards, Barry Powell and three other West Midlands-based youngsters as fellow squad members – made his debut for England under-23s.
Life was already stimulating enough for the Wolves-supporting full-back, who had not only just broken into Bill McGarry’s team but also found himself in a side who were in the latter throes of an exciting cup run.
His international bow, in fact, came in between the quarter-final and semi-final of the 1973-74 League Cup at a time when he had played only a dozen League games.
“The under-23 match was against Wales at Ashton Gate and was with Sir Alf Ramsey as our manager,” Palmer said today. “It probably helped me having the other Midlands lads there as well but I really enjoyed the few days we spent working with him. He was a real gentleman.
“Unfortunately, we only drew 0-0 on a quagmire of a pitch but I gave as good as I got against Leighton James, who had the strange habit of talking to you a lot on the pitch and even calling you by your first name. I think he was a full international at the time as well as being well established in Burnley’s attack.
“Steve Perryman was our captain, if I remember right, and we had a strong side with lads like Kevin Beattie, Terry McDermott and Trevor Francis in there as well.
“I had to be patient for another chance but did win a second cap the following season after Sir Alf had been sacked. George Eastham and Geoff Hurst were in charge of the side beneath Don Revie and we went and won 3-2 against Portugal at Benfica’s ground, the Stadium of Light.
“Like in Bristol, it poured with rain and this time we went down to ten men. But I think David Johnson was in that night and did well.”
Johnson, then of Ipswich in between substantial spells with the two Merseyside giants, actually scored twice and Peter Taylor once, with an Alan Kennedy own goal keeping the Portuguese interested. Powell went on as substitute for Everton’s Mike Buckley in that European Under-23 Championship qualifier, with Alan Dodd also in this team: Alan Stevenson (Burnley), Geoff Palmer, Alan Kennedy (Newcastle), Steve Perryman (Tottenham), Mike Lyons (Everton), Alan Dodd (Stoke), Mike Buckley, David Armstrong (Middlesbrough), David Johnson, Trevor Whymark (Ipswich), Peter Taylor (Crystal Palace).
Sadly, opportunity didn’t knock again for Palmer at that level, although he was still only 20 and returned to hit the heights with the Wembley-bound Wolves.
“Bill McGarry was very friendly with a Worcestershire cricketer called Jack Flavell and I think they drove John Richards and me back from Bristol,” he added.
“We always had the day off after a game but when I was dropped off, McGarry said: ‘I’ll see you in at 10 o’clock in the morning.’ You’ve obviously been talking wages down there with those other England players and it’s my job to keep your feet on the floor.’
“Fortunately, I kept my place in the Wolves side for the rest of the season and we won the League Cup, which meant it was a fantastic time for me.”
An oddity of the fixture list saw to it that Wolves’ next three games after England v Wales were all against Norwich – in the League on the Saturday at Carrow Road and in the cup semi-final first leg there four nights later before a Saturday afternoon return at Molineux. That unusual Saturday date was possible because it was FA Cup fourth-round day and both clubs had already been knocked out of the competition.
While Palmer could be satisfied enough with his work at Ashton Gate, things weren’t going as well at the other end of the field for the under-23s.
Having ended 1972-73 by firing blanks in defeats away to Czechoslovakia and Holland, they were then frustrated in a 0-0 draw with Poland at Plymouth in the October, with Richards going on as a substitute for Ray Kennedy.
In the middle of November came a 1-1 draw against Denmark at Portsmouth, with Dave Thomas (but none of the then Wolves players) in the line-up, followed by the New Year stalemate against the Welsh.
The England side at Ashton Gate, where there was no place in the end for Powell, was: Peter Latchford, Geoff Palmer, Steve Mills, Terry McDermott, Tommy Taylor, Kevin Beattie, Trevor Francis, Paul Fletcher, Bob Latchford, John Richards, Steve Perryman. Wales lined up: Parton, Dwyer, Edwards, Villars, Griffiths, Aizlewood, Jones, Smallman, Showers, Hubbard, James.
The end came for Sir Alf in the April, although it was the previous autumn when his fate was effectively sealed by England’s freakish World Cup qualifying failure against Poland.