Special Day Had A Fraught Countdown
Injury Worries All The Way In Wembley Lead-Up
Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of Wolves’ first League Cup final triumph – and we could hardly let that occasion go by unmarked.
But the build-up to the big day of March 2, 1974, was interesting in its own way, packed as it was with all kind of conjecture as to who Bill McGarry would send out to face highly fancied Manchester City at Wembley.
By way of a variation on celebrating this golden occasion, we thought we would offer a reminder of some of stories doing the rounds behind the scenes in final week.
It’s well known that John Richards struggled to stay on the pitch long enough to rifle in the 85th minute winner – and that Dave Wagstaffe, who went off instead, had been so fearful of missing out on facing his former club on football’s ultimate stage that he concealed the full extent of an injury suffered in special training in Sussex.
But there were other scares, theories and hard-luck stories.
Topping the latter list was Phil Parkes, who had been Wolves’ first-choice goalkeeper for some seven years apart from during the interludes provided by Evan Williams, Alan Boswell and John Oldfield.
Lofty, what’s more, had played in every game in that season’s League Cup run and every match the club had played in the competition since they beat Tottenham in it in September, 1969.
But misfortune struck in a big way when he suffered a hairline fracture of his right ankle in training at Wolverhampton Racecourse a couple of days after Wolves had overcome Norwich in the second leg of the semi final on January 26.
McGarry even arranged a Central League home game against Blackburn for the Tuesday before Wembley, so his deserving last line of defence could test himself for the greater challenge ahead.
The manager remained behind to watch while his squad set off for a cup hideaway in Worthing, only to then admit it was all a bit of a sham. Parkes completed the Blackburn game but less than convincingly but had never been in the running for a return at the twin towers.
McGarry had just engineered a guessing game to protect stand-in keeper Gary Pierce and prevent him being swamped with Wembley questions and possibly nerves as he played in the five First Division matches leading up to the big afternoon.
Pierce turned 23 on match-day and laid to rest all fears over his suitability for such a demanding task. He played an absolute stormer and had the most surprising present he could ever have imagined – a hug from a sheepskin-coated McGarry at the full-time whistle in the goalmouth he had so valiantly defended in the second half.
So Wolves had been without their top keeper and may also have been without their match-winner and 1973-74 leading scorer, who declared himself fit to play only in midweek after missing the previous two games with a pelvic injury.
Just how serious a problem this was can be underlined by the fact that not only was Richards planning to come off at Wembley at around the three-quarter stage (until the flare-up of Waggy’s thigh trouble made him a more urgent case for replacement) but also that he didn’t play again that season.
His strike partner Derek Dougan had not been in the best condition either. He went off in the last home game before Wembley after having flu – an inconvenience deemed substantial enough to warrant the recall of Peter Eastoe from a three-month loan spell at Swindon that had brought him seven goals in 11 games.
Eastoe went on for the genial no 10 in the 1-0 home win over Birmingham but the main man played throughout the 0-0 draw at Manchester United a week later, so that was one headache resolved.
Another concerned Mike Bailey. The skipper had a cracked bone in his toe and hadn’t played since the defeat at Everton three weeks prior to Wembley. McGarry wanted him in his side at Old Trafford to prove his fitness but that deadline was missed and Steve Daley remained in the no 4 role for a second game.
If Parkes is the unluckiest man in missing out on Wolves’ two Wembley visits in that era, Daley must be immediately behind him. The midfielder impressed when opportunity dawned and was eventually let down gently by McGarry, who told him his Wembley chance would come again while Bailey’s may well not. To his disappointment, Daley never did make it on to the famous turf, though, being famously transferred by Wolves early in their 1979-80 League Cup-winning season and then missing out when his new club – Manchester City, by coincidence – played the FA Cup final and a final replay against Tottenham the season after.
The list of near misses goes on. Jim McCalliog wore Richards’ shirt in the two games immediately before Wembley and there was even a school of thought suggesting that Barry Powell, who was barely out of his teens, might be preferred to Kenny Hibbitt in midfield.
The Express & Star’s John Dee went as far as to say that he expected Powell to play, although the midfielder had been out since damaging knee ligaments in the defeat at Sheffield United on February 5.
In the reserve game against Blackburn that was ostensibly scheduled as a fitness test for Parkes, Powell also lined up and scored in a 3-0 victory. Having stayed back rather than travel to Worthing at the start of the week, he then journeyed south by train with McGarry and the Daily Express’s Alan Williams, who tipped him off when they were alone that he wasn’t going just for the ride.
At least Powell had his day in the sun. He went on as Wolves’ first Wembley substitute and was able to fully savour the victory secured by goals from Kenny Hibbitt and Richards – one protected by any number of other heroes.
And a few other things we might have forgotten – or not known – from the big day and its aftermath:
There was to have been no extra-time against star-studded City. A replay would have been held had it not been for John Richards’ late strike. At least that made it easier planning for those in charge of the nine special trains carrying Wolves supporters.
The match was not televised live and kicked off at 3.30pm on a Saturday that was well packed with League fixtures.
Barry Powell had one more scare after recovering from his injury. He forgot to take his boots and had to rely on Phil Parkes collecting them and ensuring he could take his place on the bench.
Wolves’ players occupied the south dressing room at Wembley and had been the subject of considerable efforts to keep their minds busy during the week. As well as playing golf and being taken to see ‘No Sex Please, We’re British’ at The Strand, they went en masse to watch Brighton’s home League game against Wrexham.
Gordon Banks, in the news recently around the sad occasion of Bert Williams’ funeral, was the chosen keeper for the pre-match final of ITV’s ‘On the Ball’ penalty competition.
City had a major scare of their own with Francis Lee saying he wouldn’t figure if he didn’t return from injury in the last pre-final League game, away to Southampton. He didn’t play at The Dell but, as a twice past Wembley winner with City, he was given another chance to prove his recovery from a month-long knee problem and took it in a midweek reserve clash at Blackpool.
Phil Parkes didn’t play again until four weeks after Wembley. Coincidentally, it was away to Manchester City – in a 1-1 draw.
John Richards’ return did not come until the first day of the following season, when he scored in a victory at Burnley. And Waggy wasn’t seen at first-team level for three weeks.
Jim McCalliog, although part of the Wembley squad and seen on the photos on the pitch beforehand, didn’t play for Wolves again. He quickly joined Manchester United – the club where he had signed off his Wanderers career.
There was a new name in the no 9 shirt in the first game after the final – that of Peter Withe. He had also been in the Wembley squad and, when named at no 9 at home to Ipswich, was among the scorers in a 3-1 victory.
The final was to prove the last League Cup game played by Derek Dougan, who had intended to retire at the end of 1973-74 but decided to stay on for another 12 months.
* We invite readers to write in with their own memories of a wonderful day.