Precious Memories Of Cullis, Wright, Flowers……And Others
Floundering In The Players’ Pool
Norman Giller’s name will already be familiar to some Wolves fans from newspaper back pages in past decades, plus the excellent Billy Wright biography he wrote in 2002. Amazingly, he has brought out his 100th book, the rich Molineux content of which prompted us to invite him to step up for a q & a as the latest media personality we have spotlighted on this site.
Q: We are guessing that your reporting of matters around the club dates back a long while, Norman….maybe to the Cullis era?
A: My coverage of Wolves as a reporter spanned the reigns of Stan Culls, Andy Beattie, Ronnie Allen, Bill McGarry and Sammy Chung. I then switched to television script-writing and boxing PR but kept in touch with football as a freelance for Sunday papers. I made several visits to Molineux in the last throes of the Culls era and it was painful to sit near him when the press seats were directly behind his place in the directors’ box. He used to kick every ball to the extent that he damaged the boarding in front of his seat. You could measure the shock of his sacking in 1964 on the Richter Scale and I recall us scrambling for quotes. But he sold his exclusive story to the News of the World for a then huge £15,000. The paper bought Stan’s silence and it caused a lot of ill feeling, particularly among the Midlands reporters. Alan Williams, the Daily Express goliath, was fuming. Years later, when working on the Billy Wright This Is Your Life tribute programme, I visited Stan in a Midlands nursing home. He was in the early stages of dementia and Billy had to fight back tears when he saw the condition of the man who had such an impact on his career. We managed a 15-second clip for the show in which Stan said to the camera: “Good luck.”
Q: Is it true that you organised the Wolves’ players pool at the 1974 League Cup final?
A: Thanks to my long friendship with Mike Bailey, I landed the assignment of handling the players’ pool when Wolves reached the final with Manchester City. I did not understand what Bill McGarry meant when he said: “You must be mad. You’ll regret it.” Within a few days of getting the ball rolling on local promotions, newspaper and magazine interviews and sponsorship, I understood what Bill meant. Derek Dougan, Wolves’ best-known player and the chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, said: “Count me out of the pool. Everything I earn in interviews and advertising leading up to the final goes to me. This is my last chance of a big pay day and I’m going to grab it. Any of the other players would do the same in my boots.” The Doog and I went back to his earliest days with Portsmouth and I quietly recalled how he had posted a transfer request on the morning of Blackburn’s FA Cup final defeat against Wolves in 1960. So I should not have been surprised to find that the likeable but controversial Irishman was not exactly a team player. He, of course, was the one Wolves player all the major newspapers and media outlets wanted to interview, and negotiating on behalf of the pool became a nightmare. Bill McGarry was right……I did regret getting involved.
Q: Did you ever fall victim to the famous McGarry temper?
A: I had a close relationship with Bill from his early days in management with Watford and Ipswich and knew how to play him. He was a difficult man with a touch-paper temper and one of the worst losers I have known in more than 50 years in the village world of football. He could not stomach defeat, particularly if he felt any players were giving less than 100 per cent. I recall Wolves losing 2-1 at Tottenham in 1975-76 and Bill brushed me out of his way when I tried to interview him afterwards. He went and sat alone on the team bus. It was the biggest sulk I ever saw from a manager. I was amazed when Wolves were relegated that season because they had such a talented squad, even after The Doog, with John Richards, the unpredictable but at times mesmeric Waggy and the driving, always determined Mike Bailey. Bill had lost the dressing room and resigned before they could sack him.
Q: When did you first come to Molineux, Norman? Any idea of the game?
A: Like many from the 70-plus generation, I adopted Wolves as my ‘second’ team. We had all grown up thrilled by their exploits in those televised matches in the 1950s against the likes of Honved and Spartak Moscow. My first visit to Molineux was in 1958 when I was sports editor of the local West Ham newspaper. The Hammers had recently been promoted back to the First Division and they battled to a 1-1 draw against Billy and the Cullis Cubs. I was like a kid at Christmas going into the ground for the first time, along with 52,000 other spectators. What would Wolves give to have those days back?
Q: Were you still reporting regularly when Wolves were sliding down the divisions in the 1980s? Did you go to any of those lower-division games as a one-off assignment and what were your thoughts on the club’s demise, having known their great times?
A: Seeing Wolves struggling was like watching an old friend becoming seriously ill. Sorry to sound like a Little Englander but goodness knows what the likes of Stan Culls, Billy Wright and the philanthropic Jack Hayward would think now about the Chinese ownership of the club! Despite spending much of his life in the Bahamas, Sir Jack was the most British-biased person I ever met in football.
Q: Did you ever have a cross word with the legend that is Billy Wright?
A: Billy was a pussycat and we were good buddies from back when I used to ghost his columns in the Daily Express and he was managing Arsenal. He had gold and black blood running through his veins and one of the biggest thrills of his life was when Sir Jack invited him to join the Wolves board as a director. I was privileged to write his official biography with the blessing of his now late widow Joy and I could have warmed my hands on the love I felt for Billy when interviewing all those connected with him. That wonderful statue of him at Molineux is a monument to a hero of heroes.
Q: Can you remember when your last trip to Molineux was? Was it in the time of the old Molineux Street Stand or have you been to the redeveloped stadium?
A: I have not been to the redeveloped stadium and prefer to cherish my memories of the ‘old’ Molineux. With my Spurs leanings, I am excited and at the same time sad to see White Hart Lane being replaced by a state-of-the-art stadium. I just hope they can lock the famous Lane atmosphere in and not see it become like the Emirates library or the graveyard of the Olympic Stadium, which was not built with football in mind. I also hope the younger Wolves generation will have someone who can tell them about the Molineux roar of the 1950s.
Q: Did you ever meet Sir Jack Hayward or write much about him?
A: Hopefully, I have covered this in the original response. Sir Jack was always wrapped in a Union Jack yet chose to spend most of his time in the Bahamas; a gold-plated eccentric.
Q: We loved the story from your ‘Headlines, Deadlines All My Life’ book about Les Allen/Ronnie Allen and your colleague and friend, Peter Corrigan. Please repeat it here for our readers….
A: My closest friend in my Daily Herald days of the early 1960s was the talented and witty Welsh writer, Peter Corrigan, with whom I enjoyed memorable experiences and escapades. He had a classic half-exclusive when he received a tip-off that Wolves were appointing Les Allen as their new manager in the wake of the sensational sacking of Stan Cullis. The first edition was due to go to press, so Peter dashed into print before he could make the proper checks. It was no secret that the veteran QPR striker wanted to move into management. Next day came confirmation that Allen was indeed being appointed as the new master of Molineux.… Ronnie Allen. “Oh well,” said Peter through his chagrin. “I was half right.” Ronnie was as neat and stylish off the pitch as he was on it and was an innovative coach. But he was too polite and charming a man for management. When he took over from Andy Beattie at Molineux, the Wolves fans could not look at him without seeing him in a West Brom shirt. When judging his brief stay, I hope supporters will recall and respect that it was Ronnie who brought in key players Mike Bailey, Derek Dougan and others. Sadly, like so many of the old pros, he spent his last years in the fog of dementia.
Q: You have also had a World Cup book published recently……do you recall having any chats with Ron Flowers before or during the tournament?
A: Ron Flowers and Bobby Moore could have passed as twins. Ron looked so much like the West Ham skipper that, on one summer tour, one of the doddery FA ‘blazers’ continually called him Bobby, which, of course, the players twisted to their juvenile advantage. They pushed Ron forward at every opportunity and listened to him talking about West Ham matters and the captaincy. Then Bobby would come and stand the other side of the confused official, with the players referring to him as Ron. It was little known that Ron went to bed on the eve of the 1966 World Cup final believing that he could be playing against West Germany. Bobby Moore had secretly been battling tonsillitis and Alf Ramsey told Ron to prepare himself for possible action. But Bobby was declared fit on the morning of the match, so Flowers watched from the stand. “Alf Ramsey’s secret,” Ron told me, “was that he got a club spirit in the England camp. We had the same sort of togetherness that we enjoyed at Wolves under Stan Culls. The spirit was one-for-all-and-all-for-one. We reserves were as involved as anybody in the crowd and were kicking and heading every ball. Although we were not playing, we felt part of the team. We were a very tight-knit squad and were desperate for our team-mates to win the World Cup, not just for England but for us. It was nerve-racking to watch. Torture!” I was at Downing Street in 2009 when Flowers was among the reserves who were at last presented with winners’ medals by the Prime Minister Gordon Brown. With typical modesty, Ron said: “It has been a long wait and, to be honest, I did not expect a medal. I was just happy to be part of one of the greatest days in English football history. Alf made sure we all felt part of it. We were a band of brothers.”
- * ‘Headlines, Deadlines All My Life’ is published by NGB and costs £18.95. The foreword is written by Ricky Tomlinson and he is just part of a long list of celebrities the author has worked closely with…..not just Billy Wright, Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Moore from the world of football but the likes of Muhammad Ali, Henry Cooper and Eric Morecambe from beyond. This is one very interesting life story.