No former Wolves player remains more active and visible around Molineux than Mel Eves. If it’s not playing for and running the club’s All Stars side, it is watching first-team matches and supporting charity events.
Not surprisingly, he was more than happy to step up as John Richards’ latest interviewee in this series, the more senior man having very much been a guiding light and inspiration to him in his playing career.
As ever, we thank readers, including those from Molineux Mix, for providing questions.
Q: You were with us for a good number of years, Mel, through good and bad times. What are your best and worst memories about your time with Wolves? (from Mugwump)
A: I was at the club for nine seasons from 1975 to 1984. I joined straight from school aged 18, which was a little unusual as I had stayed on at school in the sixth form. Growing up as a Wolves supporter and standing on the North Bank since the age of seven, it was a dream come true to sign as a professional footballer and to actually be training and playing with so many of the players I had cheered on from the terraces. I have many happy memories of my time at Wolves. Some of the best have to be making my debut at home to Ipswich in November, 1977 and playing up front with John Richards. Scoring my first goal in League football – at Chelsea, against Peter Bonetti in a 1-1 draw in April, 1978 – was wonderful, too, so was following that up the next week by scoring the winner on Match of the Day in a 2-1 win over Manchester United at Molineux. In the next game, I scored the first goal in a 3-1 win over Aston Villa at Molineux and this run of form at the end of 1977-78 earned me a late call up to the England B tour of Malasia, New Zealand and Singapore that summer. Obviously, playing at Wembley and winning the League Cup in 1980 with our 1-0 victory over Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest was absolutely brilliant. It was a terrific season for the team as we also finished sixth in the First Division. We had a great away record and won at the likes of Arsenal, Everton and Manchester United. That 1-0 victory at Old Trafford (yes, I did score the only goal) was the last time Wolves have won there. After 1979-80, I think the best season for me at Molineux was 1982-83, when we bounced straight back to the First Division after relegation. I finished with 19 goals, 18 in the League and one in the FA Cup, as we finished second. The most disappointing season for me has to be 1983-84, which happened to be my last. We had done so well under Graham Hawkins and Jim Barron to gain promotion at the first attempt. Then, not to strengthen the team with the two or three quality players that were needed, meant the writing was on the wall from the start. Things were obviously not right off the pitch, which has now been well documented. The club were trying to reduce the wage bill and move players on. I was sent out on loan to Huddersfield in March, 1984, and played seven games, scoring four goals. Wolves’ caretaker manager Jim Barron recalled me. We were already relegated by then and I played at Watford. After 12 minutes, I ruptured my Achilles tendon and stayed in London to
have an operation. That was to be the last time I put on the famous Wolves shirt.
Q: You were a natural penalty-box predator. How frustrating was it to be played in wide positions for much of your Wolves career? (from Paul Utnik)
A: It certainly wasn’t frustrating playing wide when John Richards and Andy Gray were the two main strikers. They were two of the best in the country at the time. I enjoyed being part of a very good team and was pleased to be able to adapt my play and do a job for the team down the left hand side.
Q: We all know that many footballers have rituals and routines they feel compelled to follow before games. How about yourself? What were the pre-match routines you just had to do before each game? Or did you have any lucky charms or trinkets? If so, did they ever work? (from ricki herbert’s moustache)
A: I know many of the lads had various rituals. I didn’t have any lucky charms or anything like that. My regime changed over time but I never had one particular thing I always had to do.
Q: I remember our nickname for you was Elbow Eves due to your running style, with outstretched arms. Were you familiar with this nickname and did your style ever cause you problems? (from Dudleywolf)
A: That’s an interesting one. I was not aware of being called that! I did actually learn to run and move a lot better when the club had a top sprint coach called Roger Walters come in during 1982-83 and teach the lads how to run properly. I benefitted more than most from Roger’s guidance. He became a very good friend who we sadly lost just over a year ago.
Q: You played alongside Billy Rafferty, who had a particular way of turning in the box – a bit like Cruyff! I saw it many times but could never figure out how he did it. Can you explain? (from Paul Utnik)
A: I played up front with Billy and John Richards during the early part of my first-team career at Wolves. Billy was a great lad and a very good player. I think you must be referring to one of his dancing moves! I certainly can’t remember how he did it!
Q: I have a vague memory of you playing with England B in Singapore. If I recall correctly, the score was 8-0. The score aside, do you have any pleasant memories from that trip? I’m Singaporean and, as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t stop to get autographs of the Wolves players in the team as I was in the Army then (from Singwolf 1)
A: In 1978, I played in two games in New Zealand and we then went on to Singapore for the final game. I went on as a second-half substitute and scored in the 8-0 win. We didn’t get chance to see too much of Singapore but I remember a visit to the Singapore Cricket Club and a trip down an interesting place called Boogie Street.
Q: Which players who you played with went on to play for the full England side? (from Fleet Wolf)
A: Steve Daley and John Richards were also on the tour, so was the former Wolves player-coach Brian Owen, who was assisting the manager – a certain Bobby Robson. Of the rest of the squad, the following were or went on to be full England internationals: Joe Corrigan, Viv Anderson, Alan Kennedy, Brian Talbot, John Hollins, Paul Mariner, John Richards and Gordon Hill.
Q: As a Wolves fan growing up in the area, it must have been wonderful to play at the place of your dreams. So what were your feelings and thoughts after the club were taken over by the Bhatti brothers in 1982? (from Berlin Wolf)
A: I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to play for the club. At the time of the Bhatti brothers’ takeover, most of the players were just pleased that the club were still up and running. It was just business as usual for the players. Obviously, it was later on that, following the 1982-83 season, when we were promoted back to the First Division, the club fell into a rapid decline and went from the First Division to the Fourth in consecutive seasons. There was no real financial backing and the whole scenario hinged on property deals which didn’t materialise. We obviously had to wait for Sir Jack to eventually take over for any real stability to be re-established.
Q: Mel, you were probably in your prime when Wolves started to hit a decline in the early 1980s……what tell-tale signs did you detect from the inside that the club were heading for big problems? (from David Instone)
A: The first tell-tale sign as far as I was concerned was our inability to capitalise on the tremendous achievement under Graham Hawkins of winning promotion. There simply wasn’t any investment in the team. In fact, they were actually looking to move players out. There was no Premier League money then……that wasn’t to come for another nine years. Big players, such as John Richards, Emlyn Hughes and Andy Gray, had left or were about to leave. The League Cup winning team of 1980 had virtually been disbanded and no players anywhere near the same quality were brought in to replace them.
Q: At 28, you were still in the prime of your career when you signed for Sheffield United in December, 1984. I recall you had just recovered from a ruptured Achilles tendon injury. Were you told to find a new club? (from Berlin Wolf)
A: I was 27 when I ruptured my Achilles against Graham Taylor’s Watford. Because of Wolves’ wretched state at that time, I was offered a contract on reduced terms to stay when I went to see the new manager, Tommy Docherty. He said I wouldn’t be playing for six months in any case but, because I had been at the club for nine years, he was sure I could have a testimonial game. At the time, I didn’t want the supporters to fund a testimonial and decided not to accept the offer. I chose to take my chances elsewhere. The whole way the club were being run and the way the players were being treated, not just me, didn’t resonate with me and made me feel very uncomfortable. I then went to Manchester City to do my rehabilitation and eventually played three reserve games for them, scoring three goals. I was still a little short of full fitness when Sheffield United called and offered me a contract. Their manager was Ian Porterfield and they had a certain goalkeeper by the name of John Burridge, who I knew very well from Wolves.
Q: Although it is common for footballers to play for clubs all over the globe now, you were playing at a time when English footballers were only just starting to play abroad. What were your thoughts on playing professionally in other countries and were you ever tempted to try your luck? (from ricki herbert’s moustache)
A: I nearly went to Seattle Sounders early on in my Wolves career, before I broke into the first team. It would have been in our summer and not a permanent move. However, I had a minor injury which scuppered the idea. Later, following my Achilles injury, I had an offer to join one of the clubs in Holland. My wife and I went over to talk to them and look around. That was the closest I got to playing for an overseas club.
Q: Mel, how did you end up becoming manager of Willenhall? What did you make of your time in the post? Did it give you a different appreciation of the game? (from ricki herbert’s moustache)
A: It was through my friend, the former Wolves striker Dean Edwards. He wanted to get back into the non-League management scene and felt that if I applied, along with him as assistant manager, we would stand a good chance of being appointed. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. The supporters and everyone connected with the club were brilliant and very friendly. There was certainly a difference in approach and mentality between part-time and full-time professionals. It took a little time to adjust to the requirements at that level but, once we got into it, I feel we did really well. We won the Birmingham Senior Cup for the first and only time in the club’s history and, the following season, only missed out on being promoted to level three of the pyramid in extra-time of the play-off final against Bromsgrove. The following season, the club’s financial situation was taking its toll -now there’s a common theme! – and, consequently, I resigned and Dean went on to combine the jobs as steward of the social club and team manager. Unfortunately, it was just a matter of time because of the lack of finances, that the club sadly fell into decline.
Q: How enjoyable are the All Stars matches? Does the same camaraderie and will to win still exist between the former players? (from Mutchy)
A: I have been player-manager of the All Stars charity team since 1997, when I took over from the Wolves legend Bobby Thomson and former reserve player Phil Nicholls. I have thoroughly enjoyed, and still do, the banter in the dressing room with the lads. The will to win never leaves the players and, although the main objective of every match is to raise as much money as possible for the good causes we support, we always want to win as well. It is good to see that players such as Jody Craddock, who is not long retired, are now turning out for the side. He certainly helps bring our average age down a bit! The former players are proud of the fact that, through the charity games, we have helped raise over half a million pounds for various charities and good causes over the last 18 years.