From Highbury To Bilston – A Rich Story
Tales Of The Circuit, Purdie Style
Avid reader that he is, Charles Bamforth has wasted no time in securing his copy of Jon Purdie’s new book. The fact that he saw his Wolves career play out three and a half decades ago made him extra keen to chat to him now…..
Jon Purdie excelled as a 15-year-old, winning seven caps on the left wing for England Boys and scoring five goals in a team also including Michael Thomas, Darren Beckford and Kevin Keen.
The latter went on to play for Wolves, too, but things might have turned out differently for Purdie if he had not attracted so much attention.
“I come from Corby, which is not exactly a football hot bed,” he said. “From the age of 12, I was with Nottingham Forest and then spent time with Leicester and I felt sure I would be going to one or other. But playing for my country attracted so many scouts. I visited Manchester United, Southampton, Aston Villa and West Brom but it was going to be Arsenal. It was all very unsettling.
“Steve Burtenshaw invited my mum and dad (who were from Belfast and Glasgow families respectively) and me for a weekend in London. The club put us up in a swanky hotel and gave us tickets for a West End show. And of course, Highbury was so impressive. So, I signed.
“Martin Keown, Niall Quinn and Martin Hayes were a year ahead. Tony Adams and David Rocastle were in my year and Paul Merson a year behind. So there was a rich seam of talent.
“I played in the reserve team from early on and must have impressed. Don Howe wanted me to sign a two-year professional deal but it was on less money than had been offered to those a year ahead. I dug my heels in and would only sign for one year. Then I got an injured and Howe was not happy.
“I was released at the end of the 1984-85 season and went on trial on a pre-season tour with Notts County but was still suffering with the injury. I managed to get a trial with Wolves and did well enough to get a one-year contract from Sammy Chapman.
“The money was not particularly good but I was relieved to get my chance under a manager I liked and who rated me. Of course, Bill McGarry came back for a bit before Sammy returned, then it was Brian Little, who also seemed to like me.
“But Graham Turner had different ideas and I did not fit in. In fairness, he knew the style of football he felt would get Wolves out of the lower leagues, so credit to him for that. I guess my style of play was not really suited to the lower divisions.
“I loved being at Wolves in my first couple of seasons. I liked the area and settled quickly in Tettenhall. I married a local girl and our two lads were born there. Throughout my career and until I went off to coach in Thailand, I stayed in the area. These days, I live in Bridgnorth.
“In my first two seasons at Molineux, I was a first-team regular but, after just half a dozen appearances at the start of the 1987-88 season, I went on loan to Cambridge United, under Chris Turner. I only played seven games but managed to get myself cup-tied for the Sherpa Van Trophy and so was not in consideration for the Wolves Wembley win that season.
“I was freed that summer but I suppose 13 goals from 103 first-team appearances (nine of which were as substitute) was not a bad showing. In the July, I went to play for Mark Lawrenson at Oxford. They had just been relegated from the top division, so I felt good about going back to a higher level.
“Robert Maxwell owned both they and Derby and when that mysterious deal took place that saw Dean Saunders going to Derby behind the manager’s back, Lawrenson resigned. In came Brian Horton and, like Graham Turner, he did not fancy me.
“Next stop, in March 1989, was Brentford, with Steve Perryman, but that was short-lived, and, in the summer of 1989, I went to Ian McNeill’s Shrewsbury. Sure enough, out he went and in came Asa Hartford with the same old story: new manager, different ideas.
“I decided to go non-League and loved those ten years as a part-timer. With a day job, it meant there was not the same total reliance on the game. I was with Cheltenham, Kidderminster, Telford, and Worcester. Above all, I loved playing for Kidder under Graham Allner, with his enthusiasm for an attacking game.”
Jon went on to manage Old Wulfrunians (for whom he played a solitary game, aged 46) and Bilston Town. These days, he enjoys his role as an estate planner – and looks back fondly at his time with Wolves.
“I resurrected the players’ bar at Molineux,” he added. “After training on a Friday, I would go to the cash-and-carry to get the beer for the players to enjoy after the game on a Saturday. The profits were carefully banked and then we’d have a great ‘do’ come Christmas.
“Mickey Holmes and I started the Tuesday club and when Ally Robertson came, it really got going. There was no training on a Wednesday, so the evening before we would go to the Odd Spot in Birmingham with the lads from Albion, Blues and Villa. It was all good fun and nothing untoward ever happened.
“I used to walk to games from my home in Clark Road across West Park alongside the fans. The banter was fun – and most of them did not recognise me. Remember….the John Ireland Stand was a long way from the pitch, so they didn’t really know our faces!
“One time, I wasn’t on foot but was driving to a reserve game at Molineux when my car conked out on the ring road. I abandoned it and walked to Molineux, expecting Greg Fellows to take the minibus and tow it in.
“When we got there, we found two fire engines putting out the blaze. My dad asked me: ‘When did you last put oil and water in it?’ The answer was: ‘Never, I didn’t know you had to do that!’”
For this and so much more about Jon Purdie’s remarkable story, go to https://jonpurdie.co.uk . Purds, Booze and Footy is the title. Essential reading.