Goal Glut Made Wolves Champions Again
There was no swimming in the ocean, no brushes with pop star ‘royalty’ and no epic extra-time golden goal winner when Wolves returned to the land of their famous 1967 conquest.
Two years on from lapping it up on Los Angeles’ fashionable Wilshire Boulevard, meeting The Monkees and finally overcoming Aberdeen in a final that is still regularly talked about on both sides of Hadrian’s Wall, they had to make do with somewhat less plush and desirable surrounds when they decamped for another sizeable end-of-season gathering of clubs.
But they were victorious again, they saw further signs of Peter Knowles’ disenchantment with football protocol and they were in the States when Neil Armstrong was in the final planning for setting foot on the moon……what odds would you have been quoted on that little lot?
The 1969 United States Championship saw Wolves centred in the Midwest in Kansas, with their plane subsequently pointed east for matches in Baltimore, St Louis and Atlanta and south for one in Dallas.
Their participation in this lower-key tournament, which pitched them only into games against British opponents, started on the second day of May and finished on the month’s last day, so the stay was more than a fortnight shorter than the one Ronnie Allen’s men had so enjoyed on the back of their Second Division promotion triumph.
Even so, it was a schedule that, following a 47-game English season resulting in them in a modest final placing of 16th, would raise many eyebrows today.
The trip across the Atlantic was the first of many summer tours the players would be engaged in during the Bill McGarry reign, the manager having arrived from Ipswich in the late November. There were also countless mid-season jaunts thrown in under his managership.
Following their success as the LA Wolves, the club became the subject of a takeover bid by Jack Kent Cooke, their backer during that venture.
The move was, of course, unsuccessful but the game in the USA was still clearly capable of some interesting innovations.
Wolves learned in fact of new experimental rules almost as soon as they touched down on American soil, to be greeted at Kansas Airport by about 60 cheerleaders all dressed in red, white and green. Some week and a half after their domestic campaign had ended with defeats at Sunderland and Newcastle, they were told there would be no offside from free-kicks in a tournament which was also to carry six points for a win and a point for every goal up to three.
The scoreline from the opening game – against West Ham in Baltimore – perhaps reflected the greater rewards on offer. The Londoners ran out 3-2 winners with Peter Knowles and Mike Bailey on target in front of a crowd numbering more than 5,000.
Youngsters Derek Clarke, Paul Walker, John Farrington and John McAlle were among Wolves’ squad but there was a stressful start for one of the more senior members of the travelling group, Dave Wagstaffe. His luggage somehow found its way on to a flight bound for Las Vegas and it was two extra days before he was reunited with his cases.
Waggy, presumably having borrowed the odd t-shirt, nevertheless played both in the opener against the Hammers and two nights later in the first match in Wolves’ adopted Kansas home – the Municipal Stadium headquarters of the Kansas City Royles baseball team.
Knowles, having scored nine goals in what was to prove his last full Football League season, added two more as Dundee United were overcome 4-2, Bailey also getting on the score-sheet again, along with the Canadian-bred Les Wilson.
The conquest of the Scots brought Wolves the first of their maximum nine-point hauls but it wasn’t long before the side’s fortunes hit an unexpected hitch.
The scheduled return with the Hammers on May 7 was called off because of rain. The surface wasn’t too bad but baseball was by far the greater priority at the venue and, with a match looming, no risks could be taken with anything as trivial as football!
When Ron Greenwood’s West Ham did step out in Kansas some 24 hours later than planned, the entertainment continued to be plentiful.
McAlle, having had the unnerving experience early in the trip of a woman grabbing some money from him and disappearing with it, this time stepped up as the two-goal man in a second successive 4-2 victory. Actually, the Scouse youngster scored three but one was at the wrong end.
The in-form Bailey, who had met his former Charlton team-mate Gordon Jago while in Baltimore, and striker Hugh Curran were the support acts in the revenge victory over the Hammers.
Wolves’ players received a surprise present when they were introduced to the Major of Kansas in the days after the game – the freedom of the city and certificates of citizenship. And their popularity in the locality was underlined when they popped into the stadium to sign autographs and help sell tickets for the forthcoming Mother’s Day game against Kilmarnock.
That’s where the charity ended. Wolves were pushed hard but still proved too good for the Ayrshire side in a 3-2 win secured by a brace from Scotsman Curran and a goal by Farrington.
With another nine points banked, McGarry’s men were well placed in the tournament and still hadn’t been able to field one of their star assets, Derek Dougan. The charismatic striker had been playing for Northern Ireland in the Home Internationals but turned up among his club colleagues in time for a Midlands derby with a difference – the clash with Tommy Docherty’s Aston Villa in Atlanta in the middle of the month.
The Doc said on local radio in Georgia that he reckoned his team were as good as Wolves despite being a division below them. Big mistake! Their opponents were tuned in to the broadcast and left him choking on his words as they ran out 2-1 winners against a side containing their former favourite Peter Broadbent. Knowles netted again and the newly-arrived Doog proved he had dispensed with any jet-lag problems by hitting the other.
There was an unusual occurrence before the next game – the return against Kilmarnock in St Louis – when Wolves found themselves travelling to the stadium in a yellow school bus. More surprising still was the fact they stopped en route to pick up the Killie players.
The outcome was no different, goals by Dougan, Wagstaffe and Curran in front of a 3,224 attendance bringing the 1967 American champions their fifth successive victory – and this one without so much as a single goal against.
Three days later, Wolves’ players were given the chance to see what all the fuss was about over baseball but their cheers for the Royles in Kansas seemed to fall on deaf ears as visitors Baltimore Orioles ran out 5-0 victors.
Another occurrence that doesn’t befall the English game made for a delay in staging the re-match against Villa. A tornado alert saw to it that the fixture was put back a few days. It mattered little….Wolves slammed their near neighbours 5-0 and that meant the title was theirs with a game to spare.
There wasn’t the same elation and indeed relief as when they had finally ground down Aberdeen in the memorable summer of ’67. This tournament didn’t generate the same headlines but it was still a job superbly done, with Dougan, Curran (2), Knowles and Dave Woodfield hitting the goals against hapless Villa in Kansas.
Wolves were again proving a big hit on that side of the Atlantic and, despite the mounting excitement surrounding the impending Apollo mission that was to land Man on the moon for the first time, they were asked to squeeze in an extra game on May 25 – a 1-1 draw in a friendly against Kansas City Spurs in which The Doog was on target once more.
As skipper, Bailey had found himself in demand for an interview on local TV and, like his colleagues, was no doubt thinking of home as the tournament ate deeper and deeper into what is now routinely regarded as footballers’ close season.
The squad said a fond farewell to Kansas on the 28th of the month when they took off for Dallas for their final game.
Dundee United were lying in wait and, with the champions perhaps taking their foot off the gas, it was the Scots who prevailed 3-2 in a city wilting under 90-degree temperatures.
Dougan scored both goals in the losing cause but Wolves had won many more friends as well as another tournament.
They were understandably proud as they returned home and had made enough of an impact to ensure they would be invited back to the country in 1972.
The crowds hadn’t been particularly big and McGarry was far from convinced that the game was about to take off in a big way in the States.
But Wolves had done all they could – beat the sides placed in front of them – and they did so amid a torrent of goals that emphasised why they were such popular visitors.
Unlike the moon landing, it wasn’t a giant leap for mankind but it was another significant step forward for a team who would soon be transferring their skills to the playing fields of Europe in the UEFA Cup.
Sadly, for supporters in particular, that adventure would be undertaken without the mercurial Knowles. He boycotted the National Anthem during the tournament because of his Jehovah’s Witness beliefs and would sensationally quit the game for good early in the following season.
For him at least, this lengthy jaunt was the final one he would make as a professional footballer.
Squad: Phil PARKES, Les WILSON, Gerry TAYLOR, Derek PARKIN, Mike BAILEY, Dave WOODFIELD, John HOLSGROVE, Frank MUNRO, John McALLE, John FARRINGTON, Paul WALKER, Peter KNOWLES, Derek CLARKE, Hugh CURRAN, Derek DOUGAN, Dave WAGSTAFFE.
* The 1969 tour of America is featured strongly in the new book, Wolves All Over The World (written by David Instone, produced by Thomas Publications). The 192-page hard-back has colour on every page and costs £19.99.