Costly Nightmare Amid Bizarre ‘Revolving Door’ Spell
Roger Hansbury’s name does not figure large or even too fondly in Molineux’s collective memory bank.
His notorious part in one of the Torquay goals that denied Graham Turner’s Wolves a second successive trip to Wembley in the Sherpa Van Trophy saw to that.
But the former Birmingham last line of defence did create an obscure piece of club history after his arrival at the start of spring, 1989.
This wasn’t so much a time of ‘finders keepers’ as ‘sign us keepers’ as Turner drafted in three new men for the position in the space of a few weeks.
The bizarre sequence started when former Derby and Watford man Eric Steele was recruited on a non-contract basis with the principal aim of serving as the club’s goalkeeper coach.
While he was still bedding in at the start of a brilliant career in the dug-out that brought him long service with the two Manchester clubs, Aston Villa and the FA, Wolves responded to the loss of Mark Kendall to a mid-March knee operation by bringing in Mike Stowell on loan from Everton.
Despite the smooth progress towards a second consecutive lower-division title win and a return to the twin towers, Turner still wasn’t finished.
Unconvinced by Vince Bartram’s performance in the reserves in the meantime in what was effectively an audition for the Sherpa Van area semi at Hereford and with Stowell cup-tied after his temporary autumnal stay with Port Vale, the manager decided he needed to go for yet another keeper.
And so a quick form and fitness check was made with Blues manager Garry Pendrey to ensure that Hansbury was a worthy stand-in for a few weeks, essentially only for games in the competition Wolves had won at Burnley’s expense in front of 80,000 spectators ten months earlier.
Stowell, having just made his debut in a 4-0 home win over Bury that was highlighted by yet another Steve Bull hat-trick, could and did return for the next League fixture. But he and three other senior keepers were either unfit, ineligible or deemed ill-prepared to play on a big night down in the border country against the renowned cup fighters that were Hereford United.
Hansbury duly lined up at Edgar Street and kept a clean sheet in a victory secured by goals from Andy Mutch and Steve Bull that had the new man eulogising over the hard-work standard the two strikers set for the rest of a vibrant team.
As Stowell reclaimed the jersey for the Third Division games against Chester, Bristol Rovers, Mansfield, Cardiff and Brentford, Hansbury – a Barnsley-born 34-year-old who had also played for Norwich, Burnley and various clubs on loan – waited for his next chance in the Sherpa Van area final against Torquay.
The team performance in the first leg at Plainmoor was scratchy but two late Bully goals glossed over any shortcomings and made it another winning night for the man borrowed from across the patch at St Andrew’s.
His contribution did not stop Stowell being brought back in for the following weekend’s victory at Aldershot but fans were left cursing the latest change in the position in the Molineux return against Torquay three nights later.
Hansbury was beaten early on by former Wolves striker Dean Edwards, as he had been in Devon, and then made the error that sadly defined his Molineux time. Leaning on a post while lining up his wall, he saw a quickly-taken Mark Loram free-kick flash inside the opposite one as the Division Four also-rans took a 2-0 lead they held on to comfortably in pulling off a highly unlikely 3-2 aggregate success.
That was expected to be the sad final chapter in the Wolves story of a keeper who unkindly came to be known by some as Careless Hans-bury. But Everton legend Neville Southall somehow walked into a branch on a dog walk and, fewer than 48 hours before a Molineux clash with Swansea, Stowell was recalled to Goodison with the expectation of making his top-flight debut at Tottenham the next day.
Remarkably, it was the closest he ever went to playing on that stage. Southall recovered in time to turn out at White Hart Lane, leaving his long-time deputy contemplating another spell of Central League football.
Wolves were caught on the hop because, with Kendall on the way to fitness after his surgery, Hansbury had been signed only for a month. So secretary Keith Pearson had to make a Friday dash to Villa Park to fax the Football League – maybe the still-impoverished Molineux lacked such mod cons at that time – and add a second month to the deal.
Hansbury it was, therefore, who faced Swansea and, the Saturday after, Huddersfield as 1-1 and 0-0 draws inched them closer to the finishing line. Then Wolves strode to the very brink of promotion by beating Bristol City thanks to Bully’s brace on the May Day Monday afternoon.
The fact the keeper let in only one goal in the three matches and kept clean sheets in the latter two is largely forgotten, as is the fact his three Sherpa games were marked by the concession of a total of three goals. Statistically, his record here was very good and Charles Bamforth found him lovely company when interviewing him for his In Keeping With The Wolves book in 1992.
“There have been better goalkeepers defending the Cow Shed End but seldom have there been nicer ones,” he wrote of a man who had been a team-mate of Barry Powell’s in Hong Kong, of Floyd Streete’s at Cambridge and a keen learner under the tutelage of Fred Davies at Norwich and Blues, But, oh, that gaffe against Torquay still haunts us!
There was also a startling misjudgement outside the area at Huddersfield’s Leeds Road home and, with ample other younger options, it is little surprise he was not pursued permanently after sitting out the last three games of the triumphant Third Division programme.
Kendall came back almost as good as new for those, having reeled off 124 successive appearances from the mid-winter of 1986-87 (the time of his arrival in the West Midlands), and Hansbury returned to Blues and then linked up again with Davies at Cardiff.
So what was the slice of history this short, bitter-sweet loan stay established? Well, Wolves had been known to use as many as four keepers in their first team in a season but never had they deployed three in the space of eight or nine days.
Kendall faced Gillingham at Molineux on March 14 in a 15th home win in a row, Stowell took over against Bury on the 18th and Hansbury was drafted in on the 22nd at Hereford.
With Steele destined never to play a first-team match for the club and Bartram missing out on what would have been a first game since the nightmare against Chorley two and a half seasons earlier, no wonder the Express & Star toyed with the idea of producing a cartoon to depict this bizarre stockpiling of no fewer than five senior goalkeepers.