He was the cheese to Bill McGarry’s chalk. The good cop alongside the bad cop. He was liked and appreciated whereas the manager garnered respect but didn’t care if he was unpopular.
Wolves’ players loved Sammy Chung and, as he lasted at Molineux for a few days shy of ten years, we can be sure he loved them and loved life at the club.
He was the amiable go-between, the one to place a friendly arm round the shoulder. He was also regarded as a fine coach and, as if to emphasise what a different game football was then, he was for years the man to run out with a bag and cold sponge with which to attend to injured players. He even helped with the massages and packing the team kit.
In the eyes of some, he might be one of the forgotten bosses because he stepped up from the role of assistant, took over a relegated squad and kept the tinkering and spending to a minimum. There was hardly a moment of fuss.
That he then immediately oversaw a goal-filled charge to the Second Division title was to his huge credit.
The players wondered whether he was too nice to be their boss and have expressed the feeling that they nevertheless expected to be promoted in 1976-77. But how many times since, especially in the 1990s, have Wolves been tipped to succeed and then struggled to make the necessary impact on the second tier? Under Chung, they delivered big time.
To those who lived through it, the return to the top flight was an exhilarating ride. Wolves started with draws against the two sides they had come down with and then clicked with goals and victories galore. What days and nights they were…..beating Oldham 5-0, racking up six at Hereford, putting four past Carlisle, Orient, Plymouth and Cardiff and going one better at Bristol Rovers and at home to Fulham.
No fewer than five players had goal totals in double figures, with four of them in the teens. Safety-first football in this era thankfully by-passed Wolverhampton and there was an obvious joy in driving back towards Division One without any thought of using the handbrake.
Chung had arrived in the West Midlands with McGarry in the late autumn of 1968 and already knew what it took to prosper at that level. They had just led Ipswich to the Division Two championship as second highest scorers and he was sufficiently switched-on to realise that, eight years on, it would have been folly to play conservatively with Richards, Hibbitt, Sunderland, Daley and Gould around.
He had, after all, seen them all at close quarters over several intoxicating seasons, especially in the cups – a span that guaranteed him the utmost respect as a coach and character when he stepped into the main role.
Named Second Division manager of the year in 1977, the Oxfordshire-born son of a Chinese father and English mother relished the chance to show he could fly solo at the higher level, too. While giving opportunities to youngsters like George Berry, Bob Hazell, Colin Brazier, Martin Patching and Mel Eves, he nevertheless realised replacements were needed from the outside now Wolves were back with the elite.
This strengthening gave him the chance to again show his caring side, the £150,000 club record recruitment of Paul Bradshaw prompting him to drive to Phil Parkes’s house to personally break the news of the arrival of a man who would be taking over as first-choice keeper.
Chung kept Wolves up thanks to a late rally in 1977-78 but the slide towards even greater danger the following autumn cost him his job after his side conceded four for the second of three consecutive matches.
As with the Mark McGhee-Colin Lee partnership, McGarry and his faithful assistant didn’t reunite anywhere after Molineux, although they had worked successfully together as manager and player at Third Division Watford as far back as 1963-64.
Chung, best known in his younger years as a forward or wing-half, played around 250 games for the Hornets, having previously served Oxford (as an amateur), Reading and Norwich more briefly, and delved into his East Anglia past when linking up with Ipswich legend Mick Mills as assistant manager of Stoke for four years in the middle of the 1980s.
He also managed Tamworth and Doncaster and coached abroad as well as being a member of Blackburn’s backroom team but his Wolverhampton connections were underlined by the fact his wife Heather worked for many years at the Express & Star – ‘the best company in town,’ he flatteringly told me at a circulation-landmark celebration in 1987.
The couple lived near the North Devon/Somerset border for around a decade before returning to Tettenhall to be close to their daughter amid worries over Sammy’s declining health. He was in nursing homes for the last few years.
A minute’s applause was held before kick-off at home games played by Watford and Ipswich this week and Wolves supporters have chance to pay their respects at tomorrow’s visit of Southampton.
We plan to write more about Sammy’s life and career around the time of his funeral.