How Hazell Was Hailed A Trail Blazer

E & S Spelled It Out On Bob The Breakthrough Man

Keeping our content topical, as we often seek to do, we look back to the 1977 fortunes of one of the England age-group sides, which were nothing like as successful as the country’s under-20 and under-21 campaigns are proving to be in Eastern Europe this summer. But there was a momentous international event nonetheless 40 years ago – and it was draped in gold and black. 

It wasn’t the biggest Molineux story around at the time – the impending rise back to the top flight of Sammy Chung’s Wolves took that billing.

But much was still made that spring of the fact Bob Hazell became the first black professional player to represent England at any level.

On the very eve of the promotion-clinching draw at Plymouth, in fact, the Express & Star showed a photo of the central defender in his Three Lions jersey and used their accompanying article to forcibly put to flight a myth that nevertheless still survives in part today.

Albion’s Laurie Cunningham had previously been announced as the first black player to represent England beyond schoolboy level – and still wrongly receives that accolade in some quarters now.

But the Star pointed out that the honour had fallen to Hazell a few weeks before the London-born forward played and scored in an under-21 victory over Scotland at Sheffield United.

Our thanks for reminding us how the paper treated the story go to Martin Patching, who not only played in the joyously greeted 0-0 draw at Home Park the following day but was an under-18 international team-mate of his Molineux colleague.

“I was good friends with Bob and just remembered the Star setting the record straight by sticking his England shirt on him and taking him out on the pitch at Molineux and doing this feature,” he told us.

“There had been publicity about Laurie Cunningham in the preceding weeks being the first black professional player to represent England – and you still read that sometimes even now. But it isn’t true.

“Laurie’s debut was in the April. Bob and I both played in the same under-18 side against Wales, by coincidence at The Hawthorns, on March 9 of that same year.”

March, 1977, was by further coincidence the month Albion signed the forward from Orient but he was too old for the 1-0 win over Wales that helped England’s under-18s into what was then called the Little World Cup, although it was an all-European tournament. Hazell scored the only goal after a Sammy Lee corner had been spilled by keeper Eddie Niedzwiecki.

Alas, the success in qualifying – confirmed via a second-leg draw at Cardiff two weeks later – and the momentous Molineux contribution to it was as good as it got during what was a gloomy time for England’s fortunes at various levels.

“The tournament itself was in Belgium and we had a great record in it earlier in the decade,” Patching added. “I believe England had won it in 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1975. We fancied ourselves this time as well.

“The squad were named after training and trials at Lilleshall and we thought we were strong. Our keepers were Chris Woods and Chris Turner, with Derek Statham and Kenny Sansom there also. Vince Hilaire, Sammy Lee, Kevin Summerfield, Paul Clark (Southend) and Wayne Entwhistle (Bury) are others I remember around the party.

“The manager was Ken Burton, who had been with Wolves and Leicester as a junior wing-half. He served under Stan Cullis and I remember enjoying chatting to him about his time at Molineux.

“Unfortunately, he had to finish at 22 because of a bad hip injury, so he did his coaching badges and took a sports shop in Kettering. He was a great bloke who worked hard at his job. Brian Garvey was the physio on the trip because Brian Owen couldn’t go for some reason.”

In Belgium, England failed to progress out of their group despite opening their campaign by beating the hosts 1-0 in Lokeren. They then drew 0-0 with Iceland in Turnhout and by the same score with Greece in Beveren.

The side finished level on points with Belgium but had a much worse goal difference and were consequently eliminated.

Martin Patching at Castlecroft……mixed memories of England under-18 duty.

“It was a major disappointment,” Patching added. “We had been expected to sail through. The FA must have assumed we were going to get through because we moved hotels and couldn’t fly home for a couple of days.

“They sent a professor of sport out from Sheffield University to speak to us. I played in all three games and roomed with Bob.”

In 1978-79, after being set up by Cyrille Regis, Hazell scored the winner when facing Denmark in his only under-21 appearance. The game was played in Hvidovre, where Wolves visited in 1978 and 1994, and also featured a goal from Glenn Hoddle.