Lure Of The Middle East Took Manager Away
As our World Cup-themed month on Wolves Heroes nears its end, we reflect on the list of ex-Molineux personnel who subsequently decided to go and work in the Gulf – Bill McGarry, Dave Woodfield, Graham Hawkins, Frank Wignall, John Burridge and, of course, Nuno Espirito Santo among them.
Wignall, we should not forget, was in charge of the Qatar national team for a year or two in the mid-1970s, having not only his young family by his side but also Woodfield, one of his colleagues in the Wolves dressing room for just under a year from March, 1968.
But the time spent in that part of the world shortly afterwards by Ronnie Allen, the man who had brought Wignall to Molineux, is also worthy of appraisal because he walked out on Albion and a top-flight job to seek his fortune in the Middle East.
A decade after making himself a favourite in these parts by leading Wolves to promotion as Division Two runners-up to Coventry and signing Derek Dougan, Mike Bailey, Derek Parkin, Frank Munro, Kenny Hibbitt and others, Allen found the lure and wealth of Saudi Arabia too much to resist.
Late in 1977 and not too long after the resumption of the Black Country derby following a break of four and a half years, Allen accepted the offer to become an adviser to the Saudi FA within a couple of weeks of taking Albion there for a mid-season friendly.
Bizarrely, he was working without a contract at The Hawthorns, so the chance to quadruple his wages in the desert was one that many would see as a good reason to move.
If we rewind the clock almost another 20 years, though, it is possible to learn something about Allen’s attitude to money and to understand further why he decided to cash in when he did on the riches on offer through oil-rich employers.
During the 1960-61 season, when in the latter stages of his record-breaking career as a player with the Baggies, he spoke at length about his wages – and with an openness that seems remarkable today, even if he was the club’s PFA representative.
Footballers were close to walking out at the time in a dispute over what they saw as the injustice of the maximum wage in the English game; so close to throwing off their boots, in fact, that when Dave Burnside (also then at Albion before reuniting with Allen at Molineux in the mid-1960s) was fined £5 in Cheshire for driving without due care and attention, the magistrates offered him the opportunity to pay in instalments ‘as you may soon be on strike.’
Allen said he was thankful to have always been paid the maximum wage by Albion, adding: “I received £1,004 last year, which was £20 a week through the 40-week season and £17 for the rest of the year. With bonuses and merit money (the latter the term for a payment based on League placings), I reckon my gross wage was £1,200 – that’s just under £1,000 after tax.”
Allen went on to say that he lived in a club house, the type of which would cost about £3,000 to buy, and had spent two weeks in a caravan in Wales with his family by way of a summer holiday.
So does this sound like money-obsessed greed or a man doing his best to provide for his family? When we learn that he supplemented his football wages by also working more than one afternoon a week as a rep for a local engineering firm, we perhaps form a clearer picture of someone trying to better himself.
“In football, I think there should be, quite simply, the incentive that lies in every other job – the right to ask your boss for more if you think you are worth it,” he went on to say in the article. “Why shouldn’t a player who has worked hard, applied 100 per cent concentration and been successful be able to ask for a better contract the following season?”
Allen said there was technically no ceiling to what he could earn going from factory to factory as a rep but he could work 24 hours a day as a footballer and not earn more than the permitted £20 a week.
All of which explains why, just before Christmas in 1977, he was amenable when he walked through customs alongside Jimmy Hill at Heathrow after flying back from talks in Saudi and explained to two waiting West Midlands journalists why he was going to find it very difficult to say ‘no’ to the offer.
David Harrison, then a Birmingham Post & Mail reporter and now the meet-and-greet man on the media door on Molineux match days, had travelled to the airport by train with the Express & Star’s Bob Downing and the pair were delighted to accept Ronnie’s offer of a lift back to the West Midlands in his car.
“The strange part about the journey was that I had a deadline coming up and asked Ronnie if it would be okay to stop at the services, so I could use one of the phones there,” Harrison said. “He very kindly agreed and waited for me to dictate my story about his decision, then we continued up the motorway before he dropped me off in Birmingham.”
No doubt the handshake on a deal in the Gulf that was worth close to £70,000 a year had added to the manager’s pre-festive cheer.