Tony’s Two Chances – But Still No Deal At Molineux
To the far from brittle bones of a story we posted on here about Wolves’ search for a goalkeeper more than 20 years ago, we can now add another layer of flesh.
Back in the summer of 2016, we homed in on Mark McGhee’s efforts to shore up his last line of defence through a big-name signing, with Neville Southall, Erik Thorsvedt, Tony Coton, Petr Kouba and Zeljko Kalac among those targeted.
Now we can provide another angle to that tale; namely, Coton’s version of events at a time when it seemed Mike Stowell’s long-time hold on the no 1 jersey seemed about to end.
What is nothing like as well known as Coton’s long and successful playing career with Birmingham, Watford, Manchester City and others is the fact that he grew up with a love of Molineux – something he put down to the fact there was a family link with the gold and black.
He even spent time at Wolves as a youngster, so when they went calling in the summer of 1996, the pull was considerable, albeit still not powerful enough to tempt him to the West Midlands.
Coton was an unused member of the Manchester United squad at the time near the end of a well-travelled career of some 500 League appearances and decided he needed to be playing first-team football.
“I rang Alex Ferguson to tell him my decision and he wanted £600,000 – a £100,000 profit on what United had paid Manchester City,” wrote Tamworth-born Coton in his autobiography, There To Be Shot At.
“There was interest from Sunderland and Wolves and I met Mark McGhee at the Post House Hotel just off the M6 at Stoke.
“I was hugely tempted by the prospect of finishing my career at the club that had broken my heart as a teenager. But they were in the second tier and my former Manchester City team-mate, Peter Reid, was able to offer me the Premier League and the relationship I had with him was key to my decision.
“It’s a move I now look back on with regret, not because of how sour things turned out on Wearside but for turning down the chance to play for Wolves.”
Around 20 years earlier, Coton had nursed hopes of breaking through as meaningful competition to the likes of Gary Pierce, Phil Parkes and Paul Bradshaw at a very different Wolves.
He belatedly attracted League interest during his final year at school before being approached by chief scout Joe Gardiner and invited for trials.
“There was a strong family affiliation to Wolves,” he added. “My grandad, Bill Hitchcock, had been a season ticket holder at Molineux and his son, also Bill, inherited his allegiance to the iconic gold and black shirt.
“I reported to Molineux every Tuesday and even 40 years later, whenever I drive down Waterloo Road, I can visualise the famous old stadium before its impressive redevelopment and its familiar pungent smell of carbolic soap.
“Dad would drive me there (a 30-mile journey) and Roy Pritchard and Roy Little put us through our paces in the gymnasium under the stand while mums and dads and other family members watched from the balcony.
“When it came to the small-sided games that brought the sessions to a close, we would have to throw ourselves round on the bone-jarringly unforgiving wooden floor.”
Coton tried his luck at the club at the time Wayne Clarke, Colin Brazier and others were emerging and wondered why one teenager for whom he had high hopes fell short of the mark.
“I became friendly with a lad called Tony Blakemore, a Wolves fan from Penn,” he said. “He was by far the most talented player in our group. We all wanted him in our five-a-side team.
“With my 16th birthday approaching at the end of the season, I felt I had done enough to earn an apprenticeship. Unfortunately, like thousands of others at clubs, I had read it all wrong and I genuinely thought my world ended when Wolves told me there would be no offer. It was a bitter blow.
“My heartbreak was replaced by utter astonishment when Mr Blakemore called my dad to inform him Tony was choking on the same disappointment.
“He was a boy we all thought was destined to be a First Division star.”
Coton won an England B cap in 1992 and was part of the senior squad under Graham Taylor the following year. He became a highly respected keeper coach, notably at Manchester United, and has also worked in scouting, recruitment and as a players’ agent.
*There To Be Shot At (deCoubertin Books), £20.