Extraordinary Service Of The Six-Decade Kind
Owen In Print On His Lifetime In The Game
Little did we know when we featured Brian Owen at great length on this site five years ago next month that we would one day have the perfect tool with which to research his amazing life in football.
The long-time coach, physio and occasional Wolves first-team player was already more than half a century into his career when we encountered him as an engaging, informative and fascinating interviewee on the other end of the line.
Had we waited a while longer to profile him, we would have had, at our disposal, the published life story that, to put it bluntly, knocks many autobiographies and biographies into a cocked hat.
Brian Owen’s Six-Decade Football Odyssey is the sub-title to the £9.99 paperback by Apex Publishing and that immediately speaks volume of the longevity of a man who shot from nowhere to appear in Bill McGarry’s defence in the 1972-73 season.
He is hailed as unique in having played, coached, scouted and worked as a physio in England’s top four divisions, so the anecdotes spill out of every one of the 170 pages.
On top of that, he had a long career with the England international set-up and was part of the under-18 backroom team under manager Bill Shorthouse when a goal by Peter Eastoe in the final against Portugal helped climax a victorious assault on the UEFA Junior Championships in Czechoslovakia in 1971.
Owen, himself a former England youth international, worked through the Ramsey, Revie, Greenwood and Robson eras, revealing in A Man For All Seasons that Bill McGarry had immediately said the appointment of the controversial Leeds boss would backfire.
The author nevertheless enjoyed working with him and trainer Les Cocker and is unusual in having started as an international physio while in his mid-20s. Being with the squad who won the Little World Cup four times in five attempts no doubt made the whole globe-trotting experience more enjoyable.
But what of his remarkable on-field emergence at Molineux? Following serious injuries, Owen was considered washed up as a player in January, 1972, as he said his farewells to Colchester, the club where he scored one of the penalties in an epic 4-4 Watney Cup final draw at Albion – the match believed to have contained English football’s first televised shoot-out.
“My playing career was in serious doubt,” he wrote. “I couldn’t continue playing with a limp.
“It came to the point where the manager Dick Graham suggested I call it a day. He was forced to prune the wage-bill and bring kids into the team. Many older players left.”
Sammy Chung, already known to Owen as a member of McGarry’s backroom team at Watford, had made contact on behalf of Wolves by saying there was a player-coach role for him at Molineux if he could secure his release from Layer Road.
When that was forthcoming, the Londoner headed north, moving in initially with the Shorthouses and then into the club house Peter Knowles had once had in the same neighbourhood in which Phil Parkes and Danny Hegan resided.
He and his family later found and, for five years, lived in their dream home on the edge of Cannock Chase and, with a nod to an area well known to Wolves players from punishing training runs, had the name Brocton on their next house in the south east.
The workload for him at Molineux was something else. “I used to train with the reserves in the morning, coach the youths in the afternoon and take some of the schoolboys on Tuesday and Thursday nights,” he added. “It was a full-on week but great experience.”
Owen was enjoying a hearty tea at home, two-thirds of the way through just such a day, when the phone rang 90 minutes before kick-off in a First Division home game against West Ham in August, 1972 and he was informed he was playing.
The nearly-retired utility man, who had last seen action with a mid-table Fourth Division club, was to make his top-flight debut and, what’s more, play for the first time in senior football as a centre-half.
John McAlle was switched to left-back to cover the absence of Derek Parkin on a night when Wolves were without several big-hitters, including captain Mike Bailey. Supporters were entitled to be anxious.
But the summer night passed without undue alarm as Owen slotted in calmly alongside acting skipper Frank Munro and the side comfortably kept the previously unbeaten Hammers quiet at one end before plundering three goals in the last 13 minutes at the other.
“I had given up hope of playing League football again,” said the man who was again handed a place for League visits that autumn to Leicester, where John Farrington scored the home team’s goal in a 1-1 draw, and Albion, where a late Bobby Gould goal gave the Baggies a surprise victory in their relegation season.
The book, written in conjunction with journalist Rob Hadgraft, states: “The 30,000 crowd at The Hawthorns included Sir Alf Ramsey, who must have been surprised to see his youth-team physio in action in Wolves’ defence.”
Owen’s six-game senior Wanderers career, also comprising a couple of Texaco Cup appearances, was condensed into that 1972-73 season, at the end of which he faced his employers in a no 7 shirt in a testimonial game for his mentor and Watford trainer, Pat Molloy.
Pat Jennings also played in that 1-1 draw and the legendary keeper’s former Vicarage Road team-mate stayed at Molineux until three weeks into the John Barnwell reign at the end of the decade.
A Man For All Seasons tells us, though, that there was much more to Brian Owen than what happened to him in the West Midlands.