‘Unlikely’ Run To Youth Cup Final
Charles Bamforth’s latest offering for this website is a detailed look back, through the eyes of several of the players, at the progress of the club’s youngsters in a momentous 1975-76 season.
“We didn’t do very well, did we?” That was Bob Hazell’s reply when asked if I could interview him about the successful 1976 FA Youth Cup final side he had been part of at Molineux.
Wolves actually did very well but the big centre-half became used to success. And so to finish second to traditional rivals Albion was more than he could tolerate.
Perhaps I should have reminded the fearsome but gently spoken West Indian that he could take great pride in being a member of the last Wolves team to reach the final of the FA Youth Cup and one of only five sides from the club to have reached that stage. Indeed, the only victorious side was that in 1958.
Bob was quick to assure me that the 1975-76 team were the best of the three he was part of. He had played in the previous two seasons as well and said: “We lost to Ipswich the first time and Spurs the next.”
I might mention in passing that Spurs won the final in 1974 and Ipswich in 1975, so the young Wolves of his era were in powerful company.
In 1976, though, they really did feel their name was on the trophy. In all four rounds up to the semi-final, they were drawn away. In the first three of those rounds, it was a case of draw away and win the replay. And there was not an easy fixture in the entire pile.
On the face of it, it was an unlikely success. The team were as extreme a blend of players as it is possible to imagine. One guy was already in the first team set-up while others were amateurs who were playing their football on Saturday mornings in the Midland Youth League. Yet the chemistry was potent and the players gave enormous credit for this to coach Brian Garvey.
“Brian was totally dedicated,” John Black said. “He put in countless extra hours developing my game and improving me as a person by instilling good habits while I was growing up.
“We all spent so much time with him. He dedicated endless hours of his own time on this. He wouldn’t let you slip. He would have us doing things over and over to get them right, to improve. When I went to other clubs, I realised just how thorough he was. When we trained at the racecourse, we’d come back on the coach but he would jog back. He really looked after himself.”
Brian Garvey himself told me: “Aye – and I used to run back from Castlecroft, too!”
Martin Patching chipped in: “Garvey did an excellent job. Remember, it was a real mix of players, a true jigsaw puzzle. But Brian was a good coach. He hated bad language and bad tackling. He really was a gentleman. When we lost that final to Albion, we were disappointed for him. That youth team would beat West Brom in the Midland Youth League games but when it came to that two-legged final….”
Hazell is another who valued Garvey immensely. “He was a disciplinarian,” he added. “I know now that I needed it but I didn’t know it then! When you are in coaching yourself, you see how indiscipline off the pitch comes out in games.
“I used to hate doing jobs as an apprentice. Slave labour. But Brian Garvey used to take George Berry and me out to the training pitch on many afternoons. He recognised raw talent and could nurture it. In a later season, George and I were playing in the first team and Brian came into the dressing room. He reminded us that it took work to get there and that we had to carry on working and not to stop, thinking we had arrived. We needed to keep striving to improve.”
Brian Garvey’s squad truly covered the ground in terms of stages of development. In goal was 16-year-old Tony Walker from Rugeley, with David Field, a year older, as his back-up. Walker was “not the tallest but was reliable and agile,” recalls John Black. “Pretty reliable, a nice lad off the pitch,” adds Mark Duncombe.
The full-backs were amateur Duncombe, who was studying at Wulfrun Technical College, and apprentice professional Garry Tysall, who Black recalls as being “very left-footed” and a huge Villa fan. “It was Villa this, Villa that,” he says. Bob Hazell said: “Garry and I played in the same junior team for at least three years and signed for Wolves at the same time. His dad was a nice fella. He took me to games.”
The heart of the defence was where the team had their rock, with Hazell and Berry, the skipper, who had both already played in the Central League side and who would each go on to have huge careers in the Football League for Wolves and others.
So there was barely a look-in for Martin Loftus (as local a lad as you can get, from Waterloo Road), who was still at school, and Paul Marsh, whose twin Garry was also in the squad as a midfielder. Speaking of brothers, the team featured Paul Moss, yet another in the side from Birmingham, whose younger sibling Craig would emerge through the ranks a few years later. Black remembers Paul as “a very decent player, up and down the pitch. Workmanlike.” He recalls Loftus as “quiet, a really nice guy off the park but very tough-tackling on it.”
Despite the prominence of Hazell and Berry, surely the most notable player in the team was apprentice inside-forward Martin Patching, an England schoolboy and youth international and already figuring in Bill McGarry’s first-team thinking.
Others moving matters up front were Ken Todd, the North Easterner, and wee Scotsman Black, who were both full-time professionals and also making people take notice in the second team. Todd said of his colleagues: “Martin had such endeavour, he would run for ever. Blacky probably had more natural ability than any of us.”
One of the lads playing at a lower level was Punjab-born Chindha Singh, who could not only play on the wing and in midfield but also at full-back. “I was a bit surprised that he didn’t go further,” says Hazell, whereas Black chuckled: “Chindha was an enigma. Gangly, a lot of pace, got up and down. He won a lot of tackles. One minute he’d beat a defender and whip over a great cross. The next, he’d do something that a two-year-old would have got right!” Mark Duncombe suggested: “Chindha was easy-going and probably didn’t realise how much ability he had.”
Top scorer in the run to the final was centre-forward Steve Crompton, a Wales schoolboy international. “Nice guy. A bit crazy at times” recalls Hazell. Duncombe referred to him as: “An old-fashioned centre-forward who would go in where it hurts. Not the most graceful of players but very reliable.” “Very unlucky,” adds Black. “They couldn’t make their minds up about him. He was a similar type to Norman Bell, although perhaps not with the same touch. But who knows what he could have become? I am surprised they didn’t give him a year but there were a lot of players in front of him – in front of all of us.”
Patching agrees that Crompton was unfortunate with the timing of his sojourn at Molineux: “Steve was a big, heavy lad. There were, of course, lots of players in the club. So decisions were made like: ‘Okay, I’ve got Wayne Clarke and Steve Crompton, so which one do I keep?’ It’s a tough job trying to predict which players will work out.”
The squad also featured three more local lads, Ian Clarke, Ken Price and second-choice centre forward Tom Smith, the latter of whom would go on to play League football for Sheffield United and Huddersfield.
Finally, there is a mystery – a winger by the name of Kevin Aston. He featured in early games in the run but then disappeared from the scene. “I’m surprised you mention his name – I thought he was older,” Black said. “A Birmingham lad,” said Hazell, “but he was older.” “Ginger hair – but older?” says Mark Duncombe.
So it truly was a mixed bag that coach Garvey needed to juggle.
“It affected how he had to arrange things” says Patching. “The apprentices, of course, had jobs to do in the morning. But we were given leave of those duties. We trained the night before a game in the gym on Waterloo Road, starting at 7 o’clock. Then we turned up at the ground around 10 next day, had lunch at the Molineux Hotel, before boarding the coach that was used to transport the first team and reserves. Sid Kipping was at the wheel. We’d have tea and toast somewhere near the ground we were playing at.
“The games in each round were treated as big matches. There was good team spirit. After training the night before, we would go out and have a pint or a bottle of Guinness and drag everyone along. Just for the one. On the long trips, we all got to know one another.”
The youngsters started in the second round with a tough tie at Birmingham. “That one was quite tasty,” said Duncombe. Black told me: “Midlands games were always tough. Blues had Keven Broadhurst. All the teams we faced had players who would go on to good careers.”
The ‘other’ Billy Wright was in there, so too Mick Rathbone (who went on to write an entertaining book about his career as a physio with Everton and others), Steve Fox and Roy McDonough.
The game finished 1-1 thanks to a Crompton goal, with Wolves winning by the odd goal in three in the replay courtesy of strikes from Patching and Moss.
The third round brought a trip to Fulham and another 1-1 draw against a side including Tony Gale. Todd hit the goal.
“I was really quite ill with flu,” Duncombe recalled. “I felt awful on the way down but of course I didn’t want to say anything for fear of being left out. I was sub that night. Luckily, I wasn’t called on. I was in for the replay.”
That second game finished 3-2 to Wolves, with the mysterious Aston notching two and Crompton the other.
The next game was perhaps the toughest test of the lot: Spurs away. They were powerful days at youth level for Tottenham, who had won the competition in 1974 with a team made up of the likes of Neil McNab, Noel Brotherston and Chris Jones. Here, in 1976, there were Terry Boyle, Steve Walford, Stuart Beavon and some bloke called Glenn Hoddle.
Spurs had beaten Wolves 4-1 in the third round the previous season. This time, as the 90th minute arrived, it looked like the home side would be taking this one 2-1, Todd having hit Wolves’ goal. Martin Patching takes up the story……
“There can hardly have been any time left and over came the ball from the wing. I was at the far post. No way could I reach it but as it sailed over my head, there was George Berry towering above me – and bang!”
“If you are going to have a great run, there is always a ‘lap of the Gods’ time on the way,” Crompton said. “Ours was at Spurs. Blacky could bend a ball, even the ones we used those days. One of us big lads, Bob, George or me, would stand on the front post and another on the back post and John would curl it in from the corner flag. We scored a lot that way.
“Talking of John Black, though, I’ll never forget that we went on to beat West Brom to win the Midland Youth League after the final. Mid-way through the game, he just sat on the ball. They went berserk!”
Back at Molineux, with Martin Loftus deputising for Hazell and playing in a sweeper role, the final score suggested a canter, with Wolves triumphing 4-0. But the Express & Star report speaks of Wolves triumphing thanks to ‘a slice of luck, some superb shooting and a brilliant display of goalkeeping from Tony Walker.’
It was sometimes one-way traffic towards the home goal but a 34th minute mistake from Walford let Crompton in. Then, after 55 minutes, Black floated over a cross from the right and somehow it found its way into the net past puzzled keeper Nick Markwick. Patching rifled one in on 79 minutes and Singh made it four three minutes from the end.
John Black laughs: “I took Glenn Hoddle out of my pocket at the end and told him: ‘Off you go now, son, and get a shower.’”
Thus to the quarter-final at Loftus Road. Queens Park Rangers had Peter Hucker, then an amateur, in goal and a squad who included Phil Nutt, Nicky Evans and Paul Goddard. Once again Wolves had to thank Walker for some heroics to preserve their 1-0 victory, gained when Crompton converted a superb through ball from Patching. Duncombe remembers it as ‘a very tight match.’
“They had a mudbath of a pitch in those days and just smothered it with sand,” says Black. “That’s where I made my first-team debut and it was just the same that day.”
Wolves had to wait to see whether their semi-final opponents would be Bristol City or Newcastle. It turned out to be the Magpies and once again the challenge was stern.
Newcastle had Kevin Carr in goal, David Barton and Aidan McCaffery at the heart of the defence and Stuart Robinson up front. In the first leg at St James’ Park, reports spoke of a superbly organised defence and Ken Todd and Steve Crompton strikes leading to a 2-1 victory.
“It was a cracking match at Newcastle – one of the best I played,” says Duncombe. “I was up against Robinson, who was a nifty left-winger. Unusually, Bill McGarry was there and he came into the dressing room to congratulate us. He didn’t often do that.”
Black adds. “Bill McGarry didn’t appear to show much interest in the team at first. But occasionally he would call a young player into his room in the morning to ask what was going well and what wasn’t. We were all absolutely terrified of the man. You’d watch your step if you were walking down the corridor. If he passed you, the chances are he would just walk past and not say anything. If he called you in, you were terrified that you were in trouble.”
Martin Patching continues: “Of course so many of the youngsters were absolutely terrified of McGarry. George, Bob, Blacky and I were a bit more used to him but some of the other lads who had not encountered him through playing for the first team or reserves were scared to death.”
The scoreline from St James’ Park was repeated in the second leg, with Crompton and Todd again on target, the latter with a penalty after Crompton had been hauled down. John Dee, writing in the Express and Star, tells again of Walker’s heroics, as well as the major contributions of Hazell, Berry, Patching and Black. The cream of Wanderers youth were cheered on by 4,685 paying customers.
And so to the final and a West Bromwich Albion side who had put out the previous year’s winners Ipswich and also Manchester United, the club who had dominated the competition in its formative years in the 1950s. It was going to be tough against a side containing Mark Grew, Derek Statham, Steve Lynex and Kevin Summerfield.
Jeff Farmer covered the first leg at Molineux for the Daily Mail, writing of this being the first all-Midlands final in the 23 years of the competition. An 11,875 crowd witnessed an end-to-end battle but the home faithful were dismayed that Summerfield and Trenter scored first-half goals that clinched the game for the Baggies.
“We had beaten WBA in the Midland Youth League, home and away,” says Black. “In that first game, I hit the bar when it was 0-0 and it could have been so different if that had gone in.” Duncombe, though, felt that “in that first leg, we never really played.”
John Dee’s report in the Express & Star certainly suggested that the young Wolves had not been totally out of it. He wrote that, in the first half, only Berry really competed at the same standard as those in blue and white stripes, although he does mention Black as hitting the bar with a corner hit with the ferocity of a free-kick. Dee complimented Black for turning it on for the second 45 minutes and of two fine saves by Grew to preserve the Baggies’ lead.
For Bob Hazell, though, it was all a bitter disappointment. “I was devastated,” he said. “Such feelings of shock. I wouldn’t go into the players’ lounge after the game. Derek Parkin had come to watch. He asked what I was doing, stood outside. When I told him, he said that I needed go in because it was important to come to terms with these things.”
Considering ‘Squeak’ was part of the Wolves senior side relegated following that famous defeat to champions Liverpool just a day after the Albion-Wolves second leg and therefore having plenty to worry about himself, this advice speaks volumes about a man Les Wilson describes as “quiet, unassuming and a gentleman.”
The Hawthorns return was dismal indeed, with the ‘babbies’ sliding to a 3-0 defeat. John Black recalls: “We went into the second leg confident and started very well. But then George made one slip and his back pass to the keeper was not to the side of the goal, the way we were taught, and Tony Walker had come out. We went in at half-time 3-0 down and it was too much to come back from.”
Patching chips in: “I remember Bill McGarry coming in after the game and some of the lads were crying. They were obviously thinking they were not going to be taken on. McGarry turned to Garvey and chuckled: ‘If this is the worst thing that happens to them in their careers, it won’t be too bad.’ Gallows humour – he knew that if the first team lost the next night, he was going to be sacked.”
Indeed, it was far from being the end of the world – and the youngsters had already tasted success by winning a tournament in Switzerland at Easter with three of the older lads, Colin Brazier, Sammy Wright and Mel Eves, supplementing their squad.