Rejected By Wolves, Then A Record-Breaker
But Young Forward Did Change Sports!
Our regular readers well know that California-based Charles Bamforth loves locating and interviewing even those who fell short at Wolves. Here, he harks back to his days as an ever-present in the John Ireland Stand by chatting to a youngster who appeared on the Molineux landscape for a season but couldn’t force a way past Bull, Mutch, Dennison and co.
“Another signing for the future. Today, we gave a one-year contract to Ioan Bebb, a 19-year-old striker or left-winger who caught our eye when he played for Aberystwyth against us last week. He’s a bright lad who has decided to give professional football a go rather than go off to university. He doesn’t say a lot but it’s still another Welsh voice to go with Mark Kendall and Nigel Vaughan!”
So reads the August 23 entry in Graham Turner’s diary of the 1988-89 season, The Only Way is Up.
Ioan (pronounced Yo-an) beamed when I read him the entry but said it was only partly accurate. “Graham was right in that I was painfully shy at school. But I was 17 and actually played for Wolves against Aberystwyth that day. I was a local lad, born and raised on a farm. I played both football and rugby union at school, as well as cricket, and, if anything, I preferred rugby.
“I was an outside half, principally on account of my kicking ability. I was on course for a Welsh under-15 cap but 1986 was the year of the teachers’ strike and the resultant go-slow meant school sports were not supported. Consequently, the rugby authorities decided there would be no internationals that year.
“But the Welsh FA pushed on and decided to hold an international against Northern Ireland and I was selected to play for the under-15s and went on to represent the under-18s just before Wolves came along.
“Several clubs were watching that Wales schoolboy side. I played a game for Cardiff before turning out in three matches for Manchester United. That was around the time of my O levels and the journey from Aberystwyth to Manchester was not the easiest. Aston Villa were keen, I had been to Leeds, and Spurs were interested.
“But I played a couple of games for Wolves’ youth team, including one at Birmingham. They felt like the right club for me and Barry Powell, who was the first-team coach at the time, asked me after one of the matches if I would play in the Wolves’ annual game at Aberystwyth.
“They regularly sent up a side comprising fringe first-teamers and youth players. It was a great thrill to me to be asked to play against my home-town team at Park Avenue. We won 4-1 but my best memory was what happened before the game. I was told to meet up with the team at the ground and I was there at 5 o’clock when the bus rolled up. Barry Powell said: “Right lads, take a stroll into town to stretch your legs. I am sure Ioan can show you where to get a coffee or something.”
No sooner had we started walking than a white Mercedes slowed down by us and stopped. The window rolled down and a mop of curly blond hair appeared. ‘The Wolves are playing here tonight, right?’ It was Robert Plant. The rest mumbled something and started to walk off but I was in awe, pointing out to them who had just spoken to us. So, my claim to fame is that Robert Plant watched my first game for Wolves.
“The game went well for me and Barry Powell came into the dressing room afterwards and asked if I would step outside as someone wanted to chat to me. It was Graham Turner, offering me a professional contract.
“I lodged with Jack and Olive Carr at Codsall, who were, of course, Wolves royalty. Jackie Gallagher was there, too, and he was a bad influence!” Ioan chuckles but then carries on. “Mark Venus lived round the corner and was a top man. Bully lived nearby and we would all go to the pub. But it was Robbie Dennison, a left-winger like myself, who helped me the most.
“I was very close to him. He appreciated that I was struggling to fit in and he spent a lot of time working with me. And, of course, Mark Kendall and Nigel Vaughan were also great guys and very helpful.
“The first half of the season went well and I was scoring goals for fun. The local papers were saying I was going to get a chance the next Saturday. But, in training three days before the game, I was in the six-yard box, sliding in to try to knock it in at the far post when my knee collided with the upright. It swelled up like a melon and I was out for three weeks. And I didn’t get another chance.”
It was on October 28 that the Wolves squad named for the Third Division fixture at Gillingham listed as substitutes ‘(from) Bennett, Brindley, Grainger, Bebb’. Back to Graham Turner’s diary: “Six players out injured…Ioan Bebb was briefly on stand-by to travel down here with us today. But he went to play for the youth team at Stoke instead.” But it is the manager’s entry for May 18 that shows things didn’t go as well as everyone had hoped. “I also had to see Ioan Bebb to tell him he’s being released. I think he’s going back to Wales to continue his studies. He’s a very bright lad.”
How devastating was that, I asked. “Honestly, it was not a shock. I had a niggling injury in March and was off form as the season ended. I was becoming a little bit disillusioned and would not blame the boss because there were a lot of other young players who were really doing well. I knew I had a place at university for the following year.
“One of the other youngsters let go was Stan Collymore, who had fabulous talent but just could not put his mind to things. I never kicked a ball competitively again after leaving Wolves.
“I decided I would revert to rugby at college in 1989. I went to the South Glamorgan Institute (now known as Cardiff Metropolitan University) to take a four-year sports science degree. It has always been well known for producing rugby players – a recent one is Alex Dombrandt, the England no 8.
“I taught for a few months in Pontypridd, then got my first full-time teaching job at Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera, a school in the Swansea Valley. I have been there now as PE master for 27 years.
“While I was at college and when rugby union was still amateur, I played for Llanelli, Cardiff, Pontypool and Aberavon but had my most successful period at Cross Keys for five years after the game went professional in 1995. I broke every one of their points-scoring records and my 1,598 career points remains the only time a Cross Keys player has passed the 1,000 mark.
“It’s a record that may never be broken, given the changes to the game in Wales. I was named one of the best kickers in Wales and represented the Wales under-21 side alongside Neil Jenkins and Scott Gibbs and played for Welsh Students.
“I started playing rugby league at college and represented Wales Students 19 times, including a World Cup in Australia. I was also a member of the first ever Wales Amateur team, which faced England in 1984.
“And, back when I was a lad, I ran the 400m hurdles for Wales, so I am proud to have represented my country in four different sports!”
With Wolves by now in the Championship but struggling to take the next step, Bebb featured with some regularity for the South Wales RLFC in the Super League Division Two in 1996. He played 16 times at full back, scoring seven tries and 45 goals as his team faced the likes of Hull Kingston Rovers, Swinton and Hunslet. They finished half-way in the table but it was to be their only season.
Google the name Ioan Bebb, though, and nearly all the hits are focused on one unfortunate incident in his union career on the first day of the 2000-01 season.
“Cross Keys had just been promoted to the top division,” he adds. “Just after half-time, a Bridgend second row forward decided he was going to assault me. I suffered a double tear to the retina and was told that if I carried on playing, another bang to the head might blind me in that eye. So, I was finished.
“I enjoyed reporting and doing commentary for the BBC and the Welsh language service S4C but then children came along and increasing responsibility at school meant I just could not continue with it.
“At Ystalyfera, the focus has been on rugby over the years. But, in recent times, we have been very proud that two of our lads have got into the senior Welsh football team. First there was Ben Davies, the Spurs defender, and then Rubin Colwill, the Cardiff player, who used to play alongside my son in schoolboy football.”