Precious Connections

Wolves Links At Birth Of Multi-Billion Industry

Peter Withe looks on in a Wolves game at Elland Road as Barry Powell tussles with Allan Clarke.

Not playing for Wolves does not preclude Mick Hoban from being granted a second generous mention on this website…..because, boy, he developed some excellent connections at Molineux!

An Albion-supporting Villa reserve he might have been in his formative years but his stellar career in the game has helped him make any number of friends from the gold and black quarter.

He was a team-mate of Peter Withe, Barry Powell, Jimmy Kelly, Don Gardiner and Chris Dangerfield at the mid-1970s Portland Timbers, he kept Phil Parkes, Les Wilson and many others in kit during his years as a big-hitter at Nike and had Withe as one of his go-to men in the Villa dressing room around the time of their League title and European Cup triumphs.

Before all that, he played in the same England grammar schools team as John Richards while completing his education at St Chad’s in Wolverhampton, so he’s well known to respected figures from these parts.

“Nike is a business with annual revenues in billions but the very beginning of its football operation 45 years ago had a strong Wolverhampton and Wolves connection,” Hoban said on a recent trip back to the West Midlands from his home in Oregon.

“Tony Penman, the school-teacher who discovered John Richards, visited Portland in the 1970s with the Wolverhampton Schools football squad as a result of a connection I made for him when I played over there for the Timbers.

“During their stay, Jimmy Kelly helped set up contact with Blue Ribbon Sports (the company’s original name) for him and Tony became a consultant for the fledgling Nike.”

So how quickly did the brand spread through these familiar Molineux figures? Hoban added: “Jimmy Kelly was contracted to Nike from around 1978, if memory serves me well, and may have stayed with the Penman family when he first arrived at Wolves.

“Chris Dangerfield wore Nike while playing in the NASL post-1978, as did Peter Withe (while at Villa), Kenny Hibbitt at Seattle Sounders, Bobby Thomson at Memphis Rogues and Seamus ‘Jimmy’ Kelly at the Timbers. But one of the very first Nike endorsees was Phil Parkes at Vancouver Whitecaps.

“The second team supply contract in Nike Soccer history was with the Whitecaps thanks to the relationship between Tony Penman and Les Wilson and the excellent set-up at the club.

“I became friends with Les in 1979-80 when I implemented the team supply contract with the Whitecaps and still speak to him very regularly.

“We often reminisce and it’s amazing to think that the very start of a multi-billion dollar business had such connections around Wolverhampton – to a former Wolves player (Jimmy Kelly) and a Wolves ‘scout’ (Tony Penman). On top of that, the company’s first ever employee in soccer (myself in 1978) went to school in Fallings Park.”

So favourable an impact did Tipton-born Hoban make at the school after switching from an establishment in Dudley that he became head boy. He clearly had plenty about him, off the pitch as well as on it.

We have always loved reconnecting old football friends through this site and the reunion (photo left, with Mick on the left) we arranged a few days ago between the 71-year-old and his former team-mate John Lalley – a keen supporter of Wolves Heroes and a long-time Molineux season ticket holder – was one of the best.

“It is 50-odd years since I had seen Mick…..I don’t think we had met since school,” John said. “He was a wonderful player there and displayed such energy in midfield or when he was breaking out from the back.

“I can still remember playing as keeper in the same team as him, feeding him with a thrown pass and seeing him go past two or three of their players to score a brilliant goal.”

Hoban didn’t make it at Villa but moved to the USA to play for Atlanta Chiefs and to later win a single full international cap – in a game against Canada.

His post-playing decades have been massively successful and more meetings with Wolves figures serve as confirmation of how far and wide his career with Nike and other global brands took him.

“I was once in Australia on business and asked the Nike guy there if there were any ex-players local to where we were,” he said. “In no time, I was introduced to Alun Evans and Dave Maclaren.

“And, coming right up to date, I met up in the Lake District on this trip with Greg Fellows, who was a youngster with me at Villa and later a coach at Wolves.”

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