No Regrets – Arnold
Slow Start, Then Rod Became A Record-Breaker
History is littered with goalkeepers who have struggled to break through at one club before moving to another and becoming hugely popular.
Wolves benefitted when Everton decided it was unfair to hang on any longer to Mike Stowell as back-up to Neville Southall and transferred him to Molineux in 1990.
Almost two decades earlier, the boot was on the other foot when Rod Arnold left behind his Wolverhampton roots and beloved Molineux to graduate to the status of true legend at Mansfield Town.
At 67, the keeper is still the record all-time appearance maker at Field Mill, having had a substantial number of Central League outings at the club of his boyhood dreams but not a single first-team game.
“I was on the bench for the UEFA Cup final in 1972 and for most of the rest of that run because five substitutes were officially named,” he says. “But keepers didn’t get sent off in those days and I was never really that close to actually having a game, or even part of one.
“There were no substitute keepers in the domestic competitions, so I never travelled to a League game on stand-by. They picked 12 or 13 and that was that. I was on stand-by back here, I suppose, because I was often playing in the reserves.
“The nearest I went was when Phil was injured on a summer tour somewhere. Bill McGarry rang back to the ground and wanted me out there but I wasn’t fit either. We had been down at Aldersley doing some hurdling and I hurt my groin. I was gutted.
“For the rest of the time, I tended to be in the reserves or one of the other sides and Lofty was in the first team. I obviously didn’t make a good enough job of treading on his fingers in training!”
We shouldn’t underestimate the incentive there was for Arnold to make it here. His entry into this world was made, quite literally, a goal-kick or two from Molineux and he admits to having been Wolves-daft.
Malcolm Finlayson was the first keeper to come to the attention of the ‘absolutely fanatical’ youngster…..then Fred Davies. Derek Dougan and Peter Knowles were other heroes.
He is living proof, though, of the adage that there were no second chances for players in his position. If you weren’t handed that no 1 jersey, there was no alternative role in the side as there were and are for those who operate outfield.
What is certain is that there would have been no prouder lad to have established himself during the Bill McGarry era. “I was born (on June 3, 1952) at 214 Waterloo Road,” he adds. “The house isn’t standing any more. It was opposite Christ Church, down towards the island.
“It was a dream to be taken on by Wolves. I used to clean Derek Dougan’s boots and Mike Bailey’s and they both looked after me. The Doog sent me one of his books once.
“I was playing youth football for Warstones when I was spotted by a scout at 14 or 15 and asked to go for Thursday night training at the ground with the schoolboys. It was often just running round a track.
“I was playing for Wolves’ fourth team while I was still at the Municipal Grammar School in Dunkley Street. I was a centre-forward in junior school but was switched to keeper because I was scoring too many goals and they wanted to give someone else a chance.
“I was an apprentice straight from school on a two-year deal and, on my 18th birthday, signed as a professional and was playing in the Worcestershire Combination and the Midland Intermediate League.
“There were so many keepers like Geoff Crudgington, Jeff Wealands, Phil Weir, Alan Boswell and Lofty that I wondered at times whether it was worth carrying on. But Dave Maclaren, who was youth coach and used to play in our position, told me to hang fire because things could easily change.
“Sure enough, in a few weeks, I went from fourth team to reserves in 1968-69, I think it was, and became a team-mate of players like Hugh Curran, Jimmy Seal, Bertie Lutton, Paul Walker, Roger Grice, Dave Galvin, Jimmy McVeigh, Dave Molyneux and Phil and Wayne Nicholls.
“I was playing on proper big grounds on Saturday afternoons, even if the attendances weren’t very big. I remember playing at Leeds, when they were a very big club, also at Blackburn and Manchester City.
“I also recall playing at home to Liverpool and having a good game, although we lost 2-0 against a side containing Alun Evans and Ray Clemence.
“Norman Bodell was the main reserve coach. He was good. I liked him. Sammy Chung did a bit with the reserves as well and could hit a golf ball miles. One-armed handstands were his party piece, though!
“Norman was in charge when I went with the club’s youngsters to Zambia and Malawi. We also once had a youth trip to Germany and Italy which went on for a couple of weeks. It was only when we were over there that it became clear I was too old to play. I stayed but just trained and watched the matches. We also went to Holland once.”
Arnold became a frequent traveller at first-team level in the early 1970s, initially on Texaco Cup duty and then in a UEFA Cup campaign for which the earlier two-legged experience against Scottish and Irish opposition came in useful. Those games with unfamiliar opponents resonate more now with Wolves about to embark on their Europa League adventure.
“I was on the bench for the Texaco Cup semi-final away to Derry when the crowd came on the pitch at the end and a yob smacked me on the side of the head,” he says.
“When we got to the UEFA Cup final the following season, I was named as a sub for every round except when John Oldfield was on the bench for the first round (against Academica Coimbra). I was close to the action without ever thinking Bill McGarry was going to go me a go.
“I didn’t get a medal from the UEFA run, although I went to ADO, Jena, Ferencvaros and Spurs. I was on the bench in Juve with Sundy, Curran, Daley, Eastoe and Powell – there’s a picture of us in one of the books, all bricking it!
“I was pinching myself because it was a cauldron of noise with the fireworks and crackers going off. I was thinking: How I am going to cope with this if I have to go on?
“I was playing well, though. Mansfield wanted me on loan during that season but Bill said he would double my wages and I’d be first reserve. Eventually, I went on loan and played 16 or 17 games under a guy called Jock Basford.
“They came back in 1973 after offering a fee of about £12,000 and took me on a free transfer in the end. Danny Williams was the manager who signed me permanently and Graham Brown was the guy I replaced.”
Mansfield were in the bottom division and had taken delivery of a player who would rewrite their history books. Even a full decade of ever-present seasons wouldn’t be enough to make him their top appearance maker but he chipped away and chipped away…..
The club’s curve was very much upward, like his own, and there was occasional talk of higher callings.
“We were champions of the Fourth Division and then, a couple of years later, won the Third,” he recalled. “Early in the following season, we beat Stoke 2-1 when Peter Shilton was in their goal. There was crowd trouble around that time and I remember police horses on the pitch.
“Sunderland and Tottenham were also in the Second Division. We drew twice with Spurs, 1-1 and 3-3. Peter Taylor played as well as Glenn Hoddle. We would have won at White Hart Lane if we hadn’t had a habit of missing penalties. We fluffed one down there and several lads missed over the season – that was probably the difference between us staying up and going down.
“Dave Smith was in charge for our first promotion and Peter Morris for the second. There was no big influx of players when we went up. We all seemed to stay. Kevin Bird and Gordon Hodgson were two of the bigger names. It was a team without stars and we all worked very hard. That was the story of our success.
“West Brom, who I had played against in the Anglo Scottish Cup, Manchester United and Ipswich all supposedly had a look at me. I say ‘supposedly’ because I had no agent. The club owned you really.
“But there was a change of chairman one year and the new guy told me during the negotiations that I was at an advantage because I had discussed terms before he was installed. So I got a decent deal and was happy to stay.
“I was never dropped or sent off and became record appearance holder with 518 first-team games, including about 440 in the League. Another keeper had played over 400 games and there was a full-back called Sandy Pates, who I played with for a few years. He was close to 500.
“I was sad to see Mansfield go out of the League in 2008 and delighted when they bounced back four seasons later. I had 25 years in the area, just over what I had in Wolverhampton, where my mom still lives in the Goldthorn area.
“I had a testimonial year while I was at Mansfield but never had a match because it was the time of the miners’ strike.
“I had a pelvic injury for a while once and there were goals going in which shouldn’t have gone in. My contract was up when Ian Greaves was manager and he said: ‘I think you know what’s coming.’ I was in my early 30s, so it came as a blow.”
Arnold headed further north to take up the position of youth manager and keeper coach with Hull, who were then managed by Terry Dolan.
He even played a couple of first-team games in emergency – against Blackpool away and ‘someone at home’ and was proud to have groomed several internationals, among them Welshman Boaz Myhill.
He was a loyal servant on Humberside but the game’s uncertainties and insecurities meant he eventually had to consider a life outside of regular employment.
“I did a few coaching jobs for a while, taking what I could get. Then came the chance to set up my own goalkeeping school and I worked with Bob Wilson at his school in London for four to five years.
“He would put on week-long courses and Sunday clinics. What a great man he is! The invitation came through Graham Brown, the guy I had replaced in the Mansfield team. He recommended me to Bob.
“Having married for the first time when I was in the Mansfield area, I remarried in 2000 to a Humberside girl and we live in a village about ten miles out of Hull. I need the peace and quiet now.
“I worked at Hull College for a good few years and did plenty of goalkeeper coaching, getting a few lads into decent semi-pro careers, often through Barton Town Old Boys in the Northern Counties East League, where I saw Peter Daniel when he was at Ferriby.
“Unfortunately, I had a bad back and had to have surgery on it. The nerve in my leg and foot was affected, so I couldn’t kick and that was the coaching finished.
“I was already doing quiz nights as well in the local pubs, which I’ve carried on with, and I deliver prescriptions to people who can’t get out to collect them. I need something to focus on. I would drive myself stupid being at home all day.”
As our chat neared an end, we urged Rod to try to make one of his late-summer visits back to Wolverhampton fit in with a former players golf day in these parts. At the very least, we would try to fix up a meet with former team-mates, Fordhouses-based Phil Parkes among them.
He told us he had met Lofty at a golf day many years ago and had also, on a visit to Molineux, bumped into Steve Daley and Phil Nicholls at the wedding of a mutual friend’s daughter.
“It was the first time I had been to the ground after it was redeveloped by Sir Jack Hayward,” he adds.
“It would have been nice to play there for Wolves’ first team but you can’t have regrets. I was less than 5ft 11in and would have been considered very small for today’s game. I suppose I was similar to Laurie Sivell. I made up for my lack of height by being agile and quick, but I took a battering every now and again.”