Deep In The Heart Of Texas
Vaughan Loving Life In Houston
We have commented many times on here about Charles Bamforth’s expertise in tracking down former Wolves personnel for this website. As his latest task, he was challenged to find a man who played a starring role in the lives of a proud family almost 35 years ago.
Our son, Peter, was seven and already excited enough at Christmas of 1987 about having a Wolves strip as his main present. Imagine his delight, then, to be told he would be leading his heroes out at Molineux three days later as mascot for the game against Exeter.
The lovely Mark Kendall ensured that Peter got one past him in the pre-match kick-in. And Andy Mutch, who scored Wolves’ last goal in a 3-0 win, handed the match ball to him after the game.
But the main man in his eyes that day was Nigel Vaughan, who was stepping in as skipper for the absent Ally Robertson. He could not have wished for a more caring guide and it’s no wonder that the skilled, wee midfielder would go on to be a much in-demand and highly qualified coach for the younger element.
It was one of the more straightforward search jobs to find Nigel, who, like the Bamforth family, has ‘gone west’ – in his case to Houston, the state capital of Texas, where he is a director of coaching with Dynamo Dash Youth Soccer Club.
His outstanding early career at Newport and Cardiff were covered in an article on here in December, 2012, in particular how he was mentored by one who got away from Wolves, Len Ashurst. The piece also referred to how the man from South Wales played ten times in the full Welsh side, having previously represented his country at youth and under-21 levels. Here now is the story of how he came to Molineux and how, in turn, the move projected him into a lifetime of outstanding coaching work with youngsters. Let’s start in 1986-1987, at Ninian Park…..
“I had gone to Cardiff to be reunited with Len Ashurst and be part of a team doing well in the old Second Division,” Vaughan said. “But then Len went back to his old club, Sunderland, as manager and Jimmy Goodfellow and Jimmy Mullen took over. The following season, after Goodfellow was sacked, the club appointed Alan Durban and the team plummeted, with two relegations in two seasons.
“There were budget cuts and several senior players left, such as Gary Bennett to link up with Len. Although Brian Flynn came in, it was a time for using young, inexperienced players.
“In my last year. I was on a week-to-week contract under the new manager, Frank Burrows. Just before the start of 1987-1988, he called me in and demanded to know whether I would sign a new contract. I declined, so was told that I wouldn’t be appearing on the team photo! In fact, I was sent home for two weeks and that’s when Wolves started to show their interest in me.
“I was on the golf course one day (no cell phones in those days, of course) and my mate, Will Foley, came running over to me with the message: ‘Wolves have been on the phone. You’d best get back home to call them.’
“Robert Kelly had a bad back injury and it was my old colleague from Newport, Mark Kendall, who suggested to Graham Turner and his staff that I could do a job. I think the fee was £12,500.
“The Wolves game at Scarborough on the Saturday was the one where a chap fell through the roof of the stand, so Graham Turner was a bit busy on the Monday when I signed.
“In the first training session at Wolves, we played a 1-on-1 game, in which you had to beat a specific opponent and, if he got the ball off you, you alone would be the one charged with getting it back. Graham Turner put me up against Robbie Dennison and he slaughtered me big time. By the end, I was breathing out of my backside. I am sure the other players were wondering: ‘What the hell have we signed here?’ But I hadn’t trained for a couple of weeks.
“In due course, though, I was able to make my debut, ironically enough at Cardiff, and I went on as a substitute to score our second goal in a 3-2 defeat. There were no Wolves supporters in Ninian Park that day as there was a ban on them at away grounds.”
After that, Vaughan became a fixture in the first team. He usually played alongside Keith Downing and Phil Robinson in the engine room before losing his place to Phil Chard at the end of March – a development that meant he was one of the substitutes at Wembley for the memorable Sherpa Van Trophy win over Burnley.
“Earlier that week, we had a first team v reserves game on the main pitch at Lilleshall,” he added. “The second team usually won as lads were so eager to impress the manager. But the first team were brilliant that day and won well. Chard was cup-tied from Northampton and Mickey Holmes got the call. I was on the bench with Jackie Gallagher.
“When the ref blew his whistle to clear the pitch of everyone except the starting line-ups, Jackie and I made our way to the bench. Turner, Barry Powell, and physio Paul Darby were on the front row and behind them were several tiers of those not playing. There was only room for Jackie and me five rows back. When Mickey Holmes went down injured late in the first half, Turner turned round to look for us and said: ‘Barry, where the f*** are they?” We had to bounce up and down to get noticed! But it was fantastic to get on. As I say to the lads that I am coaching now, they should really savour the precious moments that come along.
“I enjoyed my time at Wolves. At first, I would travel up from South Wales daily with my mate, Mark Kendall. A couple of hours up the M32 and M5 and the time just flew by with all his jokes. Mark was a fantastic keeper and a wonderful friend.
“My ex-wife, Lynn, and I had a home in Rogerstone, just outside Newport and where the children were born. Mark lived up the valleys in Blackwood. In due course, though, the Kendalls moved to Telford, so did we. Mark, Gary Bellamy, Andy Mutch and I would travel in together.
“When I lost my place in the team, it was very hard, travelling in with the lads who were still in the side. Again, I stress to my young players that the mental side of the game is at least as difficult as the playing itself. I always stress patience.
“In the 1988-89 season, a fresh start came for me on New Year’s Eve at Brentford. I came off the bench to replace Phil Robinson and things clicked again. I changed my game from being attack-focused to a more holding role alongside Mick Gooding. I was very proud to watch the end-of season comments on a video from Graham Turner, who drew attention to three great pairings that were at the heart of the team: Floyd Streete and Ally Robertson at the back, Steve Bull and Andy Mutch up front, and me and Gooding in the middle.
“It got me a new contract but the writing was on the wall. You need to recognise that you will likely be replaced by better players and Gooding was certainly that, as was the one who ultimately replaced me, Paul Cook.
“Turner wanted me to stay but said I would not be first choice. I didn’t want that, so I was on my way in the summer of 1990. I spent the pre-season at Mansfield but we only had the one car and I soon discovered there was no railway station in Mansfield. George Foster, their manager, was not best pleased when I agreed to sign for Hereford and Colin Addison, an old boss of mine at Newport.
“I got the contract and said I would like to take it home to study. Next day, we had a pre-season friendly against Chelsea at Edgar Street. Addison said he would put me on for the second half. I scored within five minutes with my first touch and then five minutes later, Peter Nicholas (a Newport lad), did me with a nasty tackle.
“The ligaments were ripped, the ankle bone was out of its socket and the outside of my leg broken. I hopped off the field and the boss was screaming at me to run off the injury. I told the physio, Peter Isaac, that it was bad and he had me lie on the table in the treatment room. He was supporting my leg, holding it by the ankle, then let it go. The pain was excruciating. Addison came to the hospital the next day after the operation and his first question was: ‘Where is the contract?’ It was at home, otherwise I wonder whether it would have been torn up?
“When I got back and with a plate in, I really did not have good mobility in the ankle. The plate was taken out in the summer and the ligaments manipulated to loosen things up and things got better – I then went on the UEFA A License badge at Lilleshall and passed. When I returned to Hereford, I was not the same player and was released at the end of the season.
“I went into Bundy’s, a factory in Telford making car parts, and was there for seven years thanks to David Harvard, who I am sure gave me my job in despatch because he was a big Wolves fan. I played for Worcester City and for the resurrected AFC Newport, who in their first year had to play outside Wales, so home games were at Gloucester City. I was earning more with my day job and the games in the old Southern League Midland Division than I had as a first-teamer at Molineux! Telford United kindly allowed me to train with them in the week. I also changed my job to go to an ink technician company called Crowpac in Telford.
“And it was at this time in 1993 that Robert Kelly called. Would I be interested in doing some coaching for the Wolves Centre of Excellence? I certainly would and he said he would give me a trial for the remainder of the season at a rate of £10 per week! I used that to fill up my car with diesel! I would be running sessions on Mondays and Thursdays, and there would be a game on a Sunday. I passed the test and Wolves started to pay me the going rate. I loved it, particularly working alongside the likes of Mike Smith, the old Wales manager, and my mate, Steve Wheatley. In those years, some fine youngsters came through, including Robbie Keane, Joleon Lescott, Lee Naylor and goalkeeper Scott Brown.
“In due course, Chris Evans took over from Robert and, before long, I realised he wanted to bring in his own coaches. In 2001, I started helping at Shrewsbury’s Centre of Excellence and among my charges was the son of manager Kevin Ratcliffe. Unbeknown to me, he watched the sessions from his car and rolled the window down one day to ask: ‘Vaughany, can we have a word?’ And so, I was offered the job of running the under-18s at Gay Meadow and I was there for nine years. I am proud that the likes of Joe Hart, Jon Taylor, Connor Goldson, Andre Gray and, of course, Dave Edwards came through the system.
“Then I got a call from Danny Hill, who had been a youngster at Wolves but who suffered a bad injury and didn’t make it as a professional. He asked me to go out and coach for a week at a camp in Houston with Albion Hurricanes. His first choice was Robert Kelly and to this day he says ‘Yes, I wanted Robert, but you did ok and I was happy to fill the role!’ Danny called me to come over and be the boys’ director of coaching with the Hurricanes. I then moved on to Texas Rush, who changed their name to Dynamo Dash Youth Soccer Club.
“I am delighted that my son Gareth and daughter Erin are both directors of coaching in the US, in Issaquah Soccer Club, Washington State. Erin played for Aston Villa and got a bunch of caps for Wales before coming out to Seattle.
“I am also so happy to have re-married on July 1, 2021, to Mechela Perez. As a young lad from Caerleon, I certainly never imagined I would be living one day in Texas and married to a beautiful Cuban lady.”
At 62, he also remains in the thoughts of one Peter Bamforth, who lives and works in America as well and is now in his early 40s, with children of his own.