‘Wolves Helped Me, Then Sacked Me For Nothing’
Lockdown has been a time for sorting out cupboards and wardrobes – and for surprise discoveries.
On the 42nd anniversary of Ronnie Allen’s departure from Molineux, we have this week learned much about his time with Wolves – and not from a source we expected.
A long-defunct magazine called The Baggies carried an outspoken and extended interview in 1998 with the Hawthorns legend and has had us poring over it; especially the admission from him that he was spurred on by the thought of showing his former employers what they had missed out on when he delivered handsomely on this side of the patch.
In other words, it helped Wolves that Allen was not enamored with Albion’s directors before and around the time he led the gold and black revival in the second half of the 1960s.
“The Albion virtually opened the door and threw me out,” he divulged to interviewer John Homer about his May, 1961 departure to a Crystal Palace side who had just won promotion from Division Four.
He evidently trebled his wages by moving to Selhurst Park, where he spent four years under Arthur Rowe and then his former Baggies colleague Dick Graham, skippering the Londoners to promotion to Division Two in 1964 and retiring as a player the following year before moving back to the West Midlands to join Andy Beattie’s backroom staff.
“Wolves offered me a job as a coach,” he added in a feature that stretched across no fewer than six pages. “I didn’t have an offer from the Albion and wouldn’t have taken it if I had. I didn’t like the directors at that time.
“The Wolves gave me all the help I needed, made me manager – then sacked me for nothing!” As we said, this was one forthright interview!
Having been appointed by John Ireland’s board in July, 1965, Allen was asked to take over team affairs after the notorious 9-3 defeat at Southampton within hours of Ernie Hunt’s arrival from Swindon in the September.
His first four matches in charge – and John Holsgrove’s opening quartet of appearances as a Wolves player – were all 3-0 victories and the side immediately went ten games without defeat.
Although promotion that season proved a step too far, he was given the job outright at the end of the campaign and the club then won 12 of their last 15 games in 1966-67 to regain their top-flight place.
But this rapid on-field success, underpinned by a famous triumph in the marathon summer tournament in the USA in 1967, was only part of the outstanding impact Allen had at Molineux.
As well as Holsgrove, he brought in Mike Bailey, Derek Parkin, Dave Burnside, Frank Munro, Kenny Hibbitt and a man he described as having a ‘terrible reputation’ before coming to Wolves and then ‘behaved perfectly’ – the free-scoring, crowd-pleasing Derek Dougan. Bill McGarry was lucky to bear the fruits of those outstanding recruits as he put his own stamp on the club.
Consolidation in the first season back up came with the cushion of four points (the equivalent then of two wins) and a considerably superior goal average. But it did not give Allen job security.
Ireland had had his sights fixed for some time on recruiting McGarry from Ipswich and got his man 42 years ago this week, the axe falling on Allen despite a 2-0 home win against West Ham and then a 1-1 November 16 draw at Burnley.
Of the 151 League and cup games Wolves played under him, they won 67, drew 35 and lost 49. A lot more managers have been handed a new contract, rather than their P45, with a record like that and he went on to tell John Homer: “When I went back to The Hawthorns for the first time as a manager (in August, 1967), it was a good occasion, even though we lost 4-1. I was thanked by all the Albion directors. They knew they’d made a mistake and told me so.”
Allen’s work at Molineux was good enough to land him the job as manager of Athletico Bilbao in 1969, from where he went to Sporting Lisbon and then, more improbably and more briefly, to Walsall.
At his side at Fellows Park was his close friend Dave Burnside, who had also been one of several ex-Albion men playing alongside him at Palace. And the Potteries-born manager used his stay with the Saddlers to back up the Doog’s claim that he had ‘a sharp eye for talent’. He signed Alan Buckley from Nottingham Forest for a pittance.
Allen’s ability to spot a player clearly stayed with him when he returned to Albion in the second half of the 1970s. As a consultant in their scouting operation, he recommended that they should sign Laurie Cunningham from Orient in 1977 and was then in the first of his two spells as Baggies manager when he signed Cyrille Regis from non-League Hayes later in the same year.