Pikers: Proud And Always Professional
Fitting Send-Off For Master Craftsman
By David Instone
It seemed there were almost as many present as at some of those Wolves games John Pike reported on in the mid-1980s.
Wombourne Methodist Church was packed for his funeral and the platitudes just kept coming.
He was a close enough friend of Billy Wright’s to be given his hero’s England blazer, he was a wonderful public servant in sport and everyday life and he never had a damning word for anyone.
“However bad Wolves were when they were going down the divisions, he always found something positive to say,” his son Russ reflected in one of no fewer than five eulogies. And, boy, the club’s slump was deep and long-lasting!
Only someone possessed of the sunniest disposition could have done what John did in those days – an era well before the birth of Sky Sports, the Internet and 5Live. He was the go-to man from 3pm to 5.30 for supporters who didn’t go to (away) matches and he still managed a smile while conveying news that was usually gloomy.
He had embraced the gold and black cause from the time he landed in the Midlands for his national service in 1949 – at Bridgnorth and then Hednesford – but most of his time in the Molineux press box bore no resemblance to the 1950s glories he feasted on as a young fan.
Rotherham 6 Wolves 0 in the FA Cup, the concession of five goals at Wigan’s Springfield Park as a third successive relegation was confirmed and all-too-frequent outbreaks of crowd trouble at faraway venues – he operated through some seriously testing times.
Another drawback on top of driving to outposts like Darlington and Torquay was having to report on home games from the ridiculously distant John Ireland Stand when we frequently had fewer than 4,000 other hardy souls for company. It was more than a different era and landscape…..it now seems a different game altogether.
I was lucky that my own time on the patch started just before the upturn and the arrival of Steve Bull. This lovable Devonian brightened journeys to any number of forgotten destinations and for years recounted the story of how we pulled up on the sea front after travelling for endless December hours to Hartlepool and were immediately shocked to see Wolves-supporting former England under-21 striker Ian Painter waving at us from the next car.
We wrote on this site more than two years ago of how John persuaded Billy Wright to be part of the WM commentary team at the Sherpa Van Trophy final in 1988 (Wolves Heroes » Blog Archive » A Winter’s Tale); also of how, as pitchside reporter at Wembley, he charmed his way into the Wolves dressing room at half-time to answer a call of nature!
Nice entries, indeed, on the CV of a former south west table tennis champion, who had sold deck-chair tickets when growing up in his native Sidmouth and then served as a press officer and senior umpire in that indoor sport. He was proud that David Vine had roots in the Exeter area as well but John didn’t consider Devon to be a place for ambitious youngsters. “It’s the only graveyard with a Woolworths,” he once said, with that characteristic twinkle in his eye.
Watching Somerset at Taunton was another sporting love for him, the game that has given us Johnners, Blowers, Aggers and others also simplifying his friends’ choice of a nickname for him.
“When I came down to the Midlands from Lancashire in 1985, he introduced himself at Pebble Mill as the man who covered Wolves home and away,” former WM and Midlands Today sports presenter Ian Winter told the congregation. “He said everyone called him ‘Pikers’, so I did as well – for 38 years.
“His impersonation of John Arlott was second-to-none and his Richie Benaud wasn’t bad either.
“I remember he became quite emotional when Alistair Robertson lifted the Fourth Division trophy in 1988. Wolves meant a lot to him and he knew this was the first step on the journey back.”
John was so well liked that it was a ‘given’ he would be allowed on the open-top bus after Wembley and he, in turn, was very fond of Graham Turner and Sir Jack Hayward. Maybe he liked working in adversity because we didn’t see him with the headphones on much after the press box moved into the new Billy Wright Stand in 1993 and Wolves had achieved respectability in the top half of the Second Division.
Having first been invited by Nick Owen into the then Radio Birmingham to read the classified football results, Pikers returned to that role for many years after his decade and more on the road – a stint that allowed him the pride of joining the ’92 Club’. A 1988 visit to Cambridge completed his full set of Football League grounds and earned him an introduction on to the pitch from the man on the tannoy. He also received a commemorative tie that looked a picture under Billy’s blazer.
Two players from opposite ends of the Molineux appearance scale were among those present at today’s upbeat farewell to the veteran who died on the final day of February, aged 91.
John Richards, with 487 League and cup games for the club, was determined not to miss out despite only recently returning from a five-week family visit to Australia and New Zealand. He remembers with affection John’s days in the Waterloo Road press box in the John Barnwell era and contributed to a This Is Your Life-themed tribute as part of the 90th birthday celebrations last winter.
David Heywood managed only eight games in the first team but attended, too, having come to know and like the man who also served Wombourne Parish Council, the Royal Television Society (including two years as its chairman), Brinsford Young Offenders Institute, the church, Rotary and the Wolves Fans Parliament as well as, in a professional capacity, the Express & Star, and Central TV in high-ranking advertising roles.
There were some big-hitters present from the broadcasting sector. As well as his big BBC mate, Ian Winter, the industry was represented by Paul Franks, Tim Beech, Jenny Wilkes and Malcolm Boyden. What a role model he was to them all!
Those attendees more associated with the written word included Paul Berry, David Harrison and Tony Leighton.
Anyone worried that John’s life meandered quietly over the last 25 years towards one of tending the roses, with pipe and slippers, needn’t do so.
Having already attended the Italy and America World Cups in the 1990s, he went to Chicago for a Rotary centenary function and savoured ‘many’ Caribbean cruises with wife Doreen – herself the organist at Wombourne Methodist Church for 50 years and with whom he had daughter Alison as well as son Russ.
‘He will live on in all of our hearts’, ‘Premier League quality’ and ‘a man of integrity’ were three of the many other tributes paid to him. And that blazer of Billy’s? After many years of treasuring it, John gave it to the Wolves Museum, so others could enjoy it, too. Says everything, really.