A Leader Even As A Teenager

Proof Of Why Mike Is Coming ‘Home’ For Captains’ Night

A young Mike Bailey leads Charlton out at The Valley.
A young Mike Bailey leads Charlton out at The Valley.

By way of a scene setter for Thursday’s Wolves Former Players Association dinner, we have been researching the life and times of Mike Bailey – one of the evening’s principal guests.

The 1974 League Cup final skipper will be on stage with two captains of a more recent vintage, Alistair Robertson and Jody Craddock, and revealed in the book he brought out in mid-season that he was chosen to lead out Charlton’s side on a permanent basis at the age of only 19.

Such were the qualities he had for inspiring those around him that Bailey was selected as replacement for Stuart Leary, a man then in a contract wrangle at The Valley as he was also a county cricketer.

The Londoners were in the Second Division at the time and we were intrigued to learn the circumstances of the Molineux legend’s bow in professional first-team football.

His autobiography, The Valley Wanderer, tells us that he signed as a pro in March, 1959, and includes recollections of a game at Aston Villa where the Valiants suffered their highest all-time Football League defeat. Although not playing, he recalls being present to see Don Townsend asking spectators if anyone could lend him some gloves when he, a full-back, was asked to take over in goal from the injured Willie Duff. Charlton lost 11-1.

Debut day for Bailey came unexpectedly after an exchange over which manager Jimmy Trotter might have taken umbrage.

“We didn’t have any reserve games over the festive period in 1960, so I asked Mr Trotter if I could go home to Norfolk for Christmas,” he wrote. “He shocked me by turning down my request and explained that he might need me for the first team.”

Fans in these parts might recall that Bailey had left Molineux for American football by the time Wolves celebrated promotion at Plymouth at the end of 1976-77. But he had his own personal highlight at Home Park on December 27 all of 55 seasons ago when chosen there in place of injured left-half John Hewie.

Bizarrely, Charlton had welcomed the same opponents to The Valley only the previous day before travelling by train to Devon – presumably in carriages shared with Argyle’s players! Even more bizarrely, the two games were each won 6-4 by the home team.

Football was a very different game in those days……just look at some of Charlton’s results. In that same season, they also won 7-4 against Portsmouth, 5-3 at Brighton and 6-2 against Swansea and drew 6-6 with Middlesbrough.

The back cover of The Valley Wanderer showing him as a successful Wolves captain.
The back cover of The Valley Wanderer showing him as a successful Wolves captain.

“I found the pace of the game much faster than in the reserves and still had a lot to learn but I felt I couldn’t have done much better on the day and felt good about my performance,” he now recalls of his first appearance.

Before moving to Molineux in 1966, Bailey, now 74, played 169 matches for Charlton and scored 22 goals. He returned in 1979 as their manager.

We will be at Thursday’s dinner at Molineux and plan to present our account of the proceedings on here the following day.


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