Bobby Gould is delighted to be playing a leading role this weekend after departing overseas immediately following the shattering loss of his two biggest influences in the game.
The former Wolves striker’s January 2 departure for a three-week holiday in New Zealand did much more than deny him any opportunity to go to watch Kenny Jackett’s side in FA Cup third-round action away to another of his old clubs, West Ham, the weekend after.
It also meant he missed the funerals of the manager who gave him his first break, Jimmy Hill, and Don Howe, the ex-Arsenal coach who then signed him for Albion before helping him achieve improbable FA Cup glory with Wimbledon.
“It was a great shock to lose the two of them within a few days of each other,” Gould said. “I spent a lovely few hours with Jimmy on my last visit to see him around five years ago.
“He was everything to me and I just went numb in the talkSPORT studio when I heard he had died.
“All that I achieved in the game, I owed to him…….I had been discarded by his predecessor at Coventry, Billy Frith, but had another chance because Jimmy came in and said he wanted a look for himself at all those lads who had been cast aside.
“He organised a trial match one Sunday morning at Shilton, which was a ride of seven or eight miles away for me by bike. I did well enough to be invited back in the afternoon but said I wouldn’t be going as Sunday afternoons were when I went visiting my dad in hospital.
“He said: ‘Come back next week, then’ and added: ‘I think you and I are going to get on just fine, young man.’
“I was so disappointed to miss his funeral, which was arranged for while we were in New Zealand. But I have since spent four hours at BBC Coventry and Warwick to help them with a programme about him that is going out tomorrow night.
“And I have also been invited to speak at the memorial service organised by the club’s Former Players Association at Coventry Cathedral that teatime. I have been told I have three or four minutes maximum, so how I’m going to say everything in that time, I don’t know.
“But I’m so glad to have the chance to be part of it and to be going on the pitch with a lot of other ex-players at the Coventry v Bury game on Saturday. Jimmy was a very special person and would have loved that.”
Gould has stories to tell as well about Howe, whose widow Pauline was featured in the Express & Star in June, 1982, after her husband sent a ‘happy anniversary, love’ message back to her in a TV interview he gave while working alongside England manager Ron Greenwood at the World Cup finals in Spain.
Both were born in Wolverhampton and lived at different times in Tettenhall and Goldthorn Park, with Gould recalling a visit to their home while he was at Albion.
“Don was my coach at Arsenal but I never thought he really fancied me as his sort of forward,” he added. “He had us doing so much running and chasing back that I had no energy to get back into the danger area.
“It was music to my ears when they sold me to Wolves in 1970 and Bill McGarry told me straightaway: ‘If I ever see you back in our half, I will kick your backside.’
“I thought it was a joke when Bill told me around 18 months later that Don had rung from Albion to say he wanted me. I reminded Don that he didn’t seem to rate me and he just said that the dressing room he had inherited was poor and he needed characters like me to help sort it out.
“He was at my side many years later when we won the FA Cup at Wimbledon and we were at QPR and Coventry together after that.
“I have spoken to Pauline in the last few weeks and Bob Wilson told me that the funeral was like a who’s who in football. Don was always a great mate to me.”
On a lighter note, Gould has seen the funny side of how his son Jonathan and family have moved from being 12,000 miles away on New Zealand’s North Island to residing 25 yards from their front door in Portishead!
The two families now live virtually opposite each other on a quiet road that slopes down towards the Severn Estuary, with Jonathan working as Albion’s goalkeeper coach and his son Matthew on loan to Stourbridge from Livingston as he tries to make his way professionally between the posts.