Taylor And That Injury We Didn’t Hear About
Laughter comes easy to Steve Harrison. But even he realised that the time Graham Taylor was added to Wolves’ injury list in a fit of temper was no occasion for wisecracks.
Difficult though suppressing a giggle was, the need for straight faces and professionalism during the half-time rant saw to it that the manager’s long-time right-hand man at Molineux, Aston Villa and England kept it together.
“We were playing at Mansfield in the FA Cup and never really got started in the first half,” Harrison says. “They were in the bottom division and the pitch was dodgy enough for us to have to warm up before kick-off on another pitch next door.
“We were two down before we knew it and I could see the gaffer’s jugular pumping five minutes before half-time. I knew him well enough to appreciate when to say something and when to shut up and decided he was best left alone to his thoughts as we walked in.
“He came in slightly late and wasn’t in a good mood. He kicked the metal container with all the Lucozade bottles in and sent it flying across the dressing room. David Kelly had to duck and it smashed into the back wall of the showers.
“Graham’s face went blood red and I wondered whether he had hurt himself. Sure enough, after we had done much better in the second half and turned it round to win 3-2, he had his foot looked at.
“He saw our doctor as well and told me on the Monday that he had broken his toe. He warned me not to say anything to the lads but the pressure was off a bit by then, so I was saying mischievous things to them like: ‘Do you detect a little limp there?’
“The important thing was that he had not shown them he was hurt. He would have lost some authority and given them a reason to switch off if they had known he was in pain.”
Our regular readers will know that we had two highly entertaining meetings with Harrison in the autumn after being asked to write a lengthy feature on him for the Backpass retro magazine.
The second of those sessions was at his house near Stockport that used to belong to the late TV, film and theatre actor Peter Barkworth. The current occupant loves an audience as well, slapstick comedy act that he has proved to be among footballers down the decades.
Only last week, we learned of another of his escapades – one involving a pre-match meal, a bridal dress and a walk past a well-populated conservatory. He was fun to be around and clearly enjoyed his time in these parts. He may have been at Wolves for less than a season and a half but, as he prepared lunch, he happily reminisced.
“One of the things I remember about Wolves was that you saw gold shirts if you walked through the town; not many Manchester United or Liverpool ones,” he added.
“I recall walking into the centre once and going for a coffee at the art gallery. I also went to introduce myself to Ron Flowers at his sports shop and we ended up buying some weights off him.
“It felt like a real football town or city and I’m really pleased Mick McCarthy had a good long stay there. He was a man among men, a natural leader and a good captain when I worked with Bruce Rioch at Millwall.
“When we went to Ireland on a pre-season trip, it was not long after the World Cup in Italy and Mick was such a hero over there. Everywhere he got off the coach, they would mob him.
“We were taken to a village pub on a day off. It wasn’t a Sunday but they rang the church bells and the locals were coming out in their dressing gowns to see what was going on. This pub, which doubled up as a shop, must have had 100 people in it in no time.
“Paul Ince was another big character I worked with before he got to Wolves. I walked into the players’ dressing room at Middlesbrough once and he bundled me out, telling me I should knock before entering. He even threw my boots at me as I left. He had his Guv’nor reputation to live up to!”
Issue 33 of Backpass is still available and further outlines the colourful, often hilarious career of a man who, at 61, is now done with the full-time game but happy enough carrying out occasional coaching stints at home and abroad through the League Managers Association.
He has just been summoned for some work in the private school sector but admits the taste of management he had at Watford – in direct succession to Dave Bassett rather than the much more successful Taylor – left him cold.
“It wasn’t for me,” he said. “I wanted to be much more hands-on with the players. A lot of people say you have to fail as a manager in order to learn how to succeed. I didn’t wait to find out.
“When I left Villa to go back to Watford in charge, Graham said: ‘There are no apprenticeships for what you’re going to do.’ But I’m so thankful to have worked with him and guys like Steve McClaren and David Moyes.”
During a Blackpool career of more than 150 games, Harrison, who in 1999 became father-in-law to former Republic of Ireland international Kevin Kilbane, played home and away against Sammy Chung’s team during Wolves’ Second Division title-winning season of 1976-77.
Bob Hatton did likewise and scored in the Seasiders’ defeat at Molineux, Harrison becoming good enough pals with another of his team-mates, Paul Hart, to have the defender as Godfather to his eldest and to himself be a Godparent in return.
Right, enough of the serious stuff. This is Steven John Harrison, son of a part-time Blackpool stand-up comic…….
“I will just say about that prank with the bridal dress at a hotel in Wolverhampton that no harm came of it,” he added. “It was hanging up in a spare room, not about to be worn, and I just asked if I could slip it on to give the lads a laugh while they were having their pre-match meal. It was too good an opportunity to miss.”