The Final Word

Magical Memories 50 Years On

Johnny Phillips (left) with Steve Daley, Kenny Hibbitt and John Richards.

And now, it probably IS all over. Fifty years and two and a half months on, the League Cup celebrations are done.

The last of the various 2024 occasions marking the anniversary of the epic Wembley victory over Manchester City has been played out in front of more than 800 nostalgia-fuelled fans at the city’s Grand Theatre.

The ‘sliced’ opener from Hibby, the wonder saves from Piercey, that magnificent defensive resilience, JR’s late winner, Doog sinking to his knees, skipper Mike raising the cup….wow, those film clips still make it feel like some day all these decades on.

More than half of the surviving members of the line-up, plus Phil Parkes and Steve Daley, were present to talk through their memories once more, the pride still clear and the admiration for them undimmed.

Sky Sports’ Johnny Phillips is too young to have lived through it and is now preparing for a weekend at an altogether different Wembley on the play-off final beat.

But he has socialised with these guys, played golf with them and adopted them as heroes through his links with a club he fell in love with in the 1980s during his upbringing in Liverpool.

This was by no means his first ‘evening with’ presentation on stage with Messrs Daley, Hibbitt and Richards and his natural ease with them is a guaranteed way of having the recollections flowing.

In turn, they make his job easier. They remain the closest, tightest of squads, able to praise and tease each other in equal quantity. “They were on great form,” the host said of this latest group appearance.

No team-mate is safe when Daley has a microphone in his hand but the sincerity in how he reflected on his historic 1979 sale to Manchester City is unmistakable. “Financially, it was a good move,” he said. “Professionally, it wasn’t.”

The sheepskin-clad Bill McGarry wasn’t the only one to make a dash for birthday boy Pierce as the final whistle blew on Wolves’ 2-1 win at the twin towers. Daley, one of the non-playing reserves after emerging as a star in the making during the run to the 1971-72 UEFA Cup final, was thrilled as well for the little-known stand-in for the desperately unlucky Lofty Parkes.

Pierce travelled down from Lancashire on Tuesday evening, having also been part of the gathering who had a fond walk-on part at Wolves’ Premier League home victory over Fulham on March 9. A week before that, 50 years to the day after the final, Hibbitt and Geoff Palmer helped show tour groups around Molineux, so the anniversary has definitely not passed unheralded.

Palmer and John McAlle were also there two nights ago, Richards pointing out that the full-back was still a teenager on the big day and Alan Sunderland and substitute Barry Powell only 20. The two goalscorers, like Pierce, were 23.

“The Doog was terrific and we hit it off for a wonderful few years on the pitch but he, Mike and Waggy were much older,” Richards said. “The ones I socialised with as friends were those who were the same sort of age as me.”

Gary Pierce with the silverware he did so much to help win.

McAlle spoke in glowing terms about his central defensive partner, Frank Munro, the veteran of 370-plus Wolves first-team games, and, in turn, heard compliments from the attacking spearhead.

“We didn’t win that day at Wembley because of the goals Kenny and I scored,” Richards added. “We won because of Gary in goal, Geoff and Derek Parkin at full-back, Frank and Scouse in the middle, and Mike Bailey just in front of them. They were outstanding.”

Parkes referred to Bailey as the consumate, inspirational leader – comments enjoyed by the captain’s wife, Barbara, and daughter, Victoria, in the audience. 

Hibbitt, unsure until match-day afternoon of his place in the historic line-up, has clear memories of City’s star-studded side looking calm, even cocky, in the tunnel beforehand, with Rodney Marsh casually heading a ball against the wall.

“Several of them had played there for England as well as in cup finals and I was very nervous,” he said. “But I only needed to see those 50,000 Wolves fans in their gold and black and then I just couldn’t wait for the match to start.”

Hibbitt played a part in persuading Robert Plant to send a message that was shown on big screen and there was one other contribution to the evening, in addition to a successful auction, from outside the Molineux dressing room.

The most enduring of happy images….the 1974 League Cup winners.

Phillips travelled to Bergen for a Sky Sports preview piece before Wolves’ 2019 FA Cup semi-final against Watford and spent time there with Odin Henrikssen from Viking Wolves.

He and his friend, Stig Vangsnes, have not only been over this week from Norway but were interviewed on stage on Tuesday, Odin having hosted several players at his house some years ago in a celebration of Viking Wolves’ 30th birthday.

Wolves have recently celebrated the 70th anniversary of their first League Championship triumph but the players the two Scandinavian visitors watched being interviewed again here agreed that the cup competitions offered the club their best chance of success from now on.

Maybe there will be more 1974s to cherish in the future.

 

 

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