Golden Guy With A Genial Touch
Goodbye, Sammy – Talent Spotter Of Repute
By David Instone
Sammy Chapman is not served well by the record books. They show that he failed to arrest the spectacular mid-1980s nosedive and took Wolves into Division Four for the first time.
Talk of the best Molineux managers will centre on Cullis, Buckley, Nuno and McGarry and not veer anywhere remotely near his name.
Delve deeper, though, and the bald, dark facts take on a much brighter hue.
He signed Andy Mutch for a pittance, spotted Tim Flowers in the Warwickshire backwaters, took a 17-year-old Vince Bartram out of the West Midlands League and saw, in Micky Holmes, an ability that would lead to the midfielder scoring in seven successive League games in the early months of the Graham Turner era.
He also gave Brian Little his big break in coaching…….how much did that quintet go on to achieve? Not to mention the fees some of them brought into the depleted Molineux coffers.
Much more important than all that as the final whistle blew on the life of Samuel Edward Campbell Chapman after 81 and a half years, is the fact that everyone who knew him saw him as one lovely bloke.
All of which explains why, in order to attend yesterday’s celebration service, Bartram got up at 4.30am to fly home from a scouting trip near the Irish border, coach Greg Fellows caught a plane back from the southern tip of Spain and Dean Edwards didn’t hesitate for a moment about the drive up from Devon.
Mutchy and Holmesy were there, too, from Merseyside and Leicestershire respectively, as was Simon Russon, a winger who went on to have a good career in non-League after not breaking through at Molineux.
Graham Hughes, Joe Owen and former directors Doug Hope and Roger Hipkiss were others among the sizeable turn-out while, from elsewhere on the patch, respects were paid by Des Lyttle, one of the Albion promotion winners of 2002 and a man taken from under Molineux noses and out of Bloxwich junior club Forest Star when Chapman was scouting for David Pleat and Leicester.
Sammy could spot a player, all right. He also recommended David Platt to those in power at Filbert Street, where the feeling was that he wasn’t worth the £200,000 that Fourth Division Crewe were holding out for. Ouch!
Piggy-backing the close friendship struck up at Gresty Road between eldest son Campbell and the man who would become a superstar England international – the two later joined forces at the Amici Mai restaurant near Wolverhampton railway station – the scout subsequently sent Stern John to Platt at Nottingham Forest from Colombus Crew in America.
Not surprisingly, Platt had Chapman Snr as his chief scout when in charge of England under-21s in the early years of this millennium and there was also a stint talent-spotting for Frank McLintock at Brentford.
Closer to home, there were other discoveries, like Nicky Clarke and the unlucky Neil Edwards at Wolves. Behind the blow of a third successive relegation, therefore, and the mockery that came with it, those who bothered to stop and analyse realised he actually made something at a club that had nothing left but for a proud history.
“He loved working for Wolves,” Campbell said. “The state of the club was irrelevant. He was just thrilled to be doing what he could there.”
Opportunity knocked for Sammy soon after the Bhatti takeover of 1982. He and Derek Dougan grew up in the same street in Belfast, were members of Northern Ireland and Portsmouth squads together and were happy to be reunited at Molineux.
Chapman had played as an unfulfilled hopeful with Manchester United in the same youth side as Bobby Charlton and Duncan Edwards, Campbell recalling in his ad-libbed eulogy in All Saints Church in Trysull, two or three miles from the family’s Wombourne home, that his father was a film buff once shocked by an on-screen message in the cinema telling him he was required urgently for duty with Matt Busby’s reserves.
Much of his playing career was spent over two spells as a wing-half with Mansfield, near where Campbell was born in 1963, and he represented Northern Ireland B as well as being named in an initial squad for the 1958 World Cup without travelling to Sweden.
Coaching experience followed with Portsmouth and Crewe and, at Molineux, he cheerfully survived the crisis that engulfed the Tommy Docherty era to briefly succeed the Scot as manager.
He very much believed in giving youth its chance and was again the chosen man following Bill McGarry’s unhappy 61-day spell second spell in charge in the autumn of 1985.
This time, he stayed for what remained of the Third Division season and was disappointed to be dismissed in favour of Little shortly before life at the League basement kicked off the following August.
My own dealings with Sammy, from a press point of view, were a delight. He once invited me into a deserted dressing room for a chat over the players’ left-over sandwiches after a defeat at York and had the loveliest way with people.
Those soft Ulster tones are to be heard on the official Wolves history dvd for which I interviewed him well over a decade ago. A wry smile spread over his warm face as he reflected that day on the hardships that stretched to needing a whip-round to pay the milkman at the mid-1980s Molineux.
Sammy, secretary Keith Pearson, the ever-jocular Fellows and others did much to cultivate and preserve the survival spirit in those harrowing times. The players, including some of those present yesterday, bought into it and we have much to thank them all for in keeping the club afloat.
With Campbell busily engaged now in coaching in Atlanta and brother Cavan resident with his family in Brisbane, we spare a thought for mother Jean and hope the football friends will maintain some contact.
David Pleat was still calling the Chapman household every week, Nicky Clarke’s dad, John, has been a wonderful mate over a beer and on a number of scouting assignments for decades and Sammy was just as likely to find good pals at the grassroots venues like Willenhall and Bilston as anywhere.
The last time I saw he and Jean together was in the Merry Hill shopping centre when Albion were manager-less and Dean Smith was starting to look the part in the Walsall dug-out. He reckoned then they should take a punt on him……he always was a super judge, with a genial touch.
*Campbell Chapman played 58 Wolves first-team games for Wolves, one of them (at Cardiff in a Second Division fixture in February, 1985) coinciding with the sole senior match younger brother Cavan played for the club.