Straight From The Heart
Fond Memories Of Hopeful Who Gaffer Jettisoned Twice
Graham Turner’s arrival at Molineux wasn’t good news for everyone. For one player, it was a bit of a nightmare.
Not only had he hit it off in a big way with the manager’s predecessor Brian Little but he had actually been shown the door by Turner previously.
The reunion in Wolverhampton was no marriage made in heaven but it did endure for a while. Then came the permanent separation and all sorts of lifestyle changes.
The story is an entertaining one and we were immediately drawn towards wanting to tell it after this former midfielder contacted us out of the blue by email and impressed us with his ability to tell a tale.
“I have been reflecting on my mini career at Wolves in the incredible times when this great club nearly went to the wall,” he wrote. “I played in a team with real characters and at a time when the fan base hit 4,000! My name is Matt Forman and, as my young family grow up, I’d like them to know about their dad’s playing career.”
We at Wolves Heroes receive messages from far and wide but very few come from former players. We were hardly likely to pass up an opportunity and request like Matt’s, especially as the email continued: “I have great memories of travelling home with the fans who were ‘the right side’ – a small pocket of fans in the John Ireland Stand when I was playing.”
The recollections kept coming…..The Corner Shop song, being coached by Bill Shorthouse at Aston Villa, growing up with Tony Daley, Tom Bennett, Phil Robinson and others, scrapbooks full of cuttings from his playing days, scoring the last goal of the Little managerial stint and the first one of the Turner era, netting and suffering against Chorley and lifting a cup as a Wolves captain. Here’s a man we really had to get to know better.
We’ll start at the end; the end of his Villa career, that is.
“I thought I had done well there,” he said when we moved on to a proper interview. “I really rated Brian Little and loved working with him as my youth coach.
“Then I think there was a spat with Graham Turner and he left. I had been playing alongside players like Gary Shaw and Simon Stainrod in the reserves and stayed in a hostel with Phil Robinson, who was a year older than me, and others.
“Graham Turner released me, along with two other lads in 1986. Just afterwards, they signed Garry Thompson but the savings on my wages wouldn’t have helped much. I was on £80 a week and would happily have given half of that back to stay at the club. I just loved playing football.
“The bizarre thing was that I was freed and then asked if I would go the next day and play in a youth tournament in Switzerland. Bill Shorthouse, who was a great guy who used to tell us all about Wolves in the older days, said how sorry he was that I was being let go.
“I had assumed he had advised that I should be released and didn’t want to talk to him but he sat me down in this posh hotel and said Graham had told him the week before that he was going to give me a new contract. I think he was embarrassed to have to tell me in such circumstances. It really was a double hammer blow and made me think how fickle it all was.”
Amid the sort of soul-searching that would gather pace a couple of years later, Forman spent part of that summer of 1986 questioning himself.
“It was a massive shock,” he added. “I didn’t know how to react because I had been youth-team captain and spent a year in the reserves with Bill.
“Fortunately, Brian had turned up at Wolves in the meantime and I had a call from him asking if I’d like to go there. Sammy Chapman was manager but I think Brian had an inkling that he was soon going to be taking over.
“I felt I knew a bit about Wolves’ history from Bill telling us about the glory days and how he was never afraid to put the man as well as the ball into the front row of the stand!
“Although the club were in a bad state, it was a step up for me because I went into the first team on the first day against Cambridge. We lost and Brian, who was now manager, said I needed a bit more time in reserve football.
“I will always be grateful to him for putting his faith in me. He was a great coach who had been cut down by injury in his playing career. I remembered from Villa how he could still whizz round players like Allan Evans in training, although he couldn’t stay on the pitch long because of his knee.
“At Wolves, I was training at Castlecroft with a good few of the players who did so much to help the club recover. Andy Mutch was there by this time, so were Floyd Streete, Peter Zelem, Micky Holmes, Jon Purdie, Scott Barrett, Vince Bartram, the two Edwardses, Steve Stoutt, Roger Eli….
Forman was still, lest we forget, a teenager, having been born in Evesham on September 8, 1967. And playing for a club who had suffered three relegations was no picnic.
After a month and a half out, he came back into the side better and stronger, playing alongside Ian Handysides in an unlikely Sunday clash at Scunthorpe and laying the first goal on for Dean Edwards before volleying past Barry Siddall from Jon Purdie’s cross for the clincher in a 2-0 victory.
“I remember celebrating with the Wolves fans in the crowd after my goal,” he added. “I just disappeared in among a sea of them! Malcolm Beard, who had been at Villa and had just started helping Brian out, said in the dressing room afterwards that it was my first of many.
“There’s a video on You Tube of Steve Bull and Andy Mutch talking about what a strange ground Molineux was then with two sides closed. But you were reminded when we went away what a big club we were at. Half of the crowd were Wolves fans. It was a matter of time before they got back up the divisions….win a few games and the crowds would return.
“I remember being mobbed when the crowd came on the pitch at Molineux on the last day of the League season. They were just so happy to see us up near the top of a division again.
“Also, we won at Torquay on a Saturday night, at Exeter on a Bank Holiday Monday and then played at Scarborough on the first day of the following season. What were the authorities thinking of? It seemed they had no idea of what could be dangerous for crowd control….our supporters liked a good weekend away and the chance for a few drinks!
“I was at home in Redditch eating some beans on toast on my lap the day after the Scunthorpe game when the lunchtime news came on and announced that Brian Little had been sacked and Graham Turner was expected to take over. I couldn’t believe it.
“I went and bought the papers and spent much of my day off reading the reports. I was gutted. Brian liked the way I played and I enjoyed playing for him but I had discovered the previous summer that football was a cruel game.
“I just had to get on with it and headed the first goal in the opening minutes of Graham’s first game, at home to Tranmere. There were a few ups and downs and I played in all three games against Chorley.
“My mates have ribbed me about that result for nearly 30 years but I have my diving header from the home game on tape and decided to put it on You Tube. I’ve never forgiven my sister because another tape showing me in action had been used to record the film ‘Amadeus’ all over it.”
The boyhood Albion fan, who had had trials at The Hawthorns as well at Nottingham Forest, Arsenal and Manchester United, tended to be deployed at Molineux in the centre of midfield or on the right. At Villa, the club he plumped for because they were local and had won the European Cup just before he was taken on by them in his mid-teens, he was occasionally seen as a right-back or even a forward.
“I played ten on the trot for Wolves and did okay,” he added. “As well as scoring against Chorley, I got one on that night at Torquay, where our fans had lifted the chicken wire fence and intimidated their keeper so much that I think he dived over the ball just to keep them happy.
“We had a great run and it was such a shame we didn’t go up. I was on a low basic wage and virtually doubled my money when we took three points. With all the win bonuses, I bought my first car, a Mini.
“At times, I travelled into Wolverhampton on the train with Mark Kendall. Keith Lockhart, from Cambridge, was another commuter. We would meet at New Street and Kendo regaled me with his stories of playing for Tottenham, like when he was beaten by that famous shot by Liam Brady at White Hart Lane. He half let it go because he thought it was going wide then it swerved into the top of the net.
“Everything seemed more simple then. I got friendly with a guy called Peter Jones, who I think became Micky Holmes’ father-in-law. He ran a pub over Harborne way and offered me a lift back from Tranmere once as I could get back quicker that way than on the team coach. Imagine that now!
“There were a group of businessmen who used to travel to all the games and, coming back from somewhere, one of them said they were going to ring Beacon Radio on the car phone and say they had kidnapped me. It was funny but I was relieved they didn’t do it. I could see a prank like that getting me into trouble.
“It was around the time of ‘The Corner Shop Song’. I remember the fans having us in stitches the first time we heard it. It has probably been put to bed now because Bernard Manning would have been thrilled to have thought it up!
“My fifth and final Wolves goal was special to me as it came at Exeter in our last away League game of 1986-87. We had had a brilliant run to get us so close to automatic promotion and my uncle went to the match as he and my auntie lived in the road next to the ground. I asked the gaffer if I could go and see her for a cuppa afterwards.”
Forman’s disappointment did not end with the subsequent shock defeat against Aldershot in the last of the two-leg play-off finals.
Fortunately, he had put some contingency plans in place by then, although those – and every other ambition he had – might have gone up in flames that summer.
“I picked up salmonella food poisoning after buying a Chinese takeaway while staying with a friend after the U2 concert at Wembley in the close season of 1987,” he recalled. “I was so ill, it was untrue.
“I was only 10st 7lb wringing wet anyway but I lost a stone and a half in a week and a half and was put in an isolation ward in Redditch. It’s lucky I was fit. Put it this way….that sort of illness kills older people and I had representatives from the local area health authority coming to see me at home.
“Although I was training again in a matter of weeks, I didn’t feel right until Christmas and Wolves were steamrollering the Fourth Division by then.
“Graham Turner had renewed my contract at £125 a week but I only played in the reserves. Mind you, I was chuffed to do some reading back a year or so ago and realise I was captain when we won the Birmingham Senior Cup in 1987.
“Not many players can say that they captained a cup-winning Wolves side but I think I got the nod from Graham Turner because I had played in every round, not because of my leadership qualities.
“There’s no point denying that footballers have loads of free time and I filled mine by enrolling on college courses back in Redditch, doing A level English and management.
“I was going out at the time with a girl who was on a foundation art course at Bourneville and socialising with her friends from that world was the first time I had been among people who weren’t into football and weren’t interested in me as a footballer.
“I ended up at the art college there and also noticed a photography course, so I bought myself a camera and started taking photos. I knew I was coming to the end at Wolves and didn’t want to be left with nothing to fall back on, like when I left Villa.
“My escape route – the one thing that might have kept me in League football – was Alistair Robertson. He was one of my heroes as an Albion fan and he used to drive me into training at Wolves in his Porsche.
“He was strongly linked with the Exeter player-manager’s job and said he would take me with him if he was appointed. Some of the other fringe lads like Steve Stoutt, Micky Holmes and Jon Purdie were interested as well but Wolves stopped Ally from going.
“I went on the Sherpa Van Trophy final weekend but not in a special suit. By coincidence, we stayed at The Bull in Gerrards Cross and it was a fantastic party on the night the lads beat Burnley.
“Looking back, I just think it was disappointing that I was on a table with Holmesy and Stoutty, possibly Jon Purdie as well….all players who weren’t kept on.
“Holmesy was actually on crutches around the dance floor after being badly hurt at Wembley and had his leg in plaster when he was given a free transfer a couple of days later. There’s obviously no sentiment in football. I didn’t want to go on the bus tour of Wolverhampton the day after – I knew I was leaving, so I said goodbye to the lads, although my departure was actually done by letter. I didn’t get spoken to by Graham Turner.
“I didn’t want to be sat around Redditch all summer with people asking me where I was signing next, so I flew out to America to work for six weeks on a summer camp. I was based in Massachusetts but travelled around the States in an old Dodge Cadilac.”
Robertson had been unable to keep Forman in the League but did the next best thing by using his friendship with his former Albion team-mate Bobby Hope, by now the Burton Albion manager, to get the Wolves discard a contract with a club then recognised as one of the leading lights in non-League.
John Gayle, later of Wimbledon and Birmingham, provided the wheels and company for many of the trips to East Staffordshire, where Steve Cotterill was another playing colleague.
From there, it was on to Moor Green the following year for a two-season stay, his £50 a week pay supplemented by a student grant while he studied for a university degree in design and photography in Stoke. Stints at Oldbury, Evesham and Bromsgrove followed. Thereafter, Sunday football was as serious as it got…..his playing career was over by his mid-20s, his first-team Wolves career having amounted to 29 games.
Matt Forman, now 48, clearly has plenty about him and maybe it’s his post-football need to forge new career paths that ensures he is a very diligent emailer.
We return to the trail of messages to conclude this lengthy feature; one which now sees the light of day 30 years on from when he joined Wolves.
“I started searching on the Internet for old team-mates like Ally, Holmesy and Keith Downing,” he wrote. “I was really pleased to see your article on Steve Stoutt and read about other long-lost football friends.
“Not long ago, I spoke to Steve Bull because a mate of mine was eating in his restaurant. But I would really like to contact some of the players from this infamous era. I have read on some fans’ forums about the fondness of those days.
“It really struck me how many players were mates from not only Wolves but also Villa. I was in the same apprentice group as Tony Daley and also played with Phil Robinson, Mark Burke and Tom Bennett in what was a Wolves/Villa late 1980s thing! I was really sad to hear about Paul Birch, who I knew from Villa as well.
“I’m pleased that someone knows my Wolves career better than I do and have bought the odd book, just to prove to people that I really did play professional football.
“Life since has been good. I’ve been an art teacher in Manchester for 15 years and have been in the profession since 1997. My school is a stone’s throw from where Maine Road was and we had free tickets for ten years until they moved to the Etihad.
“I hadn’t been to a football match for around a decade until I got this invite to watch City in 2000. It took me right back and got me hooked again. The banter of the City fans reminded me a lot of the Wolves fans.
“As well as studying and finding a good new career, I got hooked on travelling through being in America. I lived in Antwerp for a few years, flew around the world, met my wife and have a lovely family here in sunny Manchester, with three children aged seven and under.
“I may now be a City fan but I watch out for Wolves’ results every week. My father-in-law grew up in Wolverhampton and I feel I know a good bit about Wolves’ history from being there and because my wife Jakki has a gran who turns 99 next Tuesday.
“She lives in Halifax now but is from Tettenhall and was taken to Molineux by her father way back in the 1930s. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that she makes it to 100.”