John Richards called it the highest honour a club can bestow upon a player – which helps explain why there was a collective sense of pride in Molineux’s Hayward Suite last night.
Not only among the individuals whose deeds on the pitch or sidelines have earned them places in Wolves’ hall of fame but also among their families and the paying supporters who are as pleased as punch to have had them as heroes.
Eight more names were added to an already glittering cast list….goalkeepers, full-backs, wing-halves, a goal-scoring winger and a much-feared forward. Even a couple of guys to train, heal and mentor them.
There are the equivalent of three and a half teams in there now and the pool grows stronger as it becomes deeper.
Phil Parkes and Geoff Palmer were side by side on the team-sheet for years. Now they are together in even more exalted company.
Robbie Dennison and Mike Stowell were long-time playing colleagues and pals also and it’s hard not to bracket Jack Davies and Joe Gardiner together, given that they both served in the backroom here for decades.
The cluster of new inductees was completed by Alf Bishop, a Black Country-hewn defender apparently so tough that he played in a winning Wolves team in the FA Cup final while still recovering from a broken jaw, and 1950s great Dennis Wilshaw.
What a group, what achievements they helped inspire and oversee, what a night!
This celebration dinner was some four years in the making thanks to covid then a kitchen fire last season and was very much the happy occasion it was intended as.
Brilliantly compered by Sky Sports’ Johnny Phillips prior to his reporting duty on the nightmare that unfolded at Brighton this afternoon, it was underpinned by much nostalgic footage of the chosen men and the eras in which they performed their heroics. Can anyone watch those old films and not be stirred by them?
For the first time also, inductees were presented with framed certificates and locally crafted keepsakes for the cabinet rather than a commemorative book. There was even a 16-page programme on every one of the 210 places, so no corners were cut.
Approaching 20 former players were among the gathering, including previous inductees Richards, Steve Bull, Kenny Hibbitt, John McAlle and Derek Parkin, plus Colin Brazier, Willie Carr, Mel Eves, Ted Farmer, Gerry Farrell, Fred Kemp, Gerry O’Hara, Gerry Taylor and Terry Wharton.
The widows of others attended as well and saw Jeremy and James, grandson and great-grandson of Alf Bishop, step up to receive the first of the evening’s awards from director John Gough. James researched this turn-of-the-century playing career while on a sports journalism course at Brighton and brought it to the hall of fame committee’s attention, his father saying: “It’s a great legacy and something we’re very proud of.”
Merv Davies then went on stage and said his grandfather Jack would have been ‘quietly proud’ to have been honoured for his astonishing 58 years’ service to Wolves behind the scenes. “He was a modest man….people would try to get him to reveal juicy gossip from the club but he just used to say it was about what happened in those 90 minutes on the pitch,” he said. We have previously mentioned the part played by Jack, who died in 1978, in keeping Stan Cullis and Billy Wright at the club when they might have slipped away as young players. He deserved to be honoured just for those acts!
Efforts to trace any living relatives of Joe Gardiner’s failed despite strenuous attempts to reach out in his native north-east, so Wolves general manager for marketing and commercial growth Russell Jones accepted from John Richards and Kenny Hibbitt an award that will remain in the club’s custody. “Joe turned up at our house one Sunday morning after a game I played in and asked if I was interested in coming down for a trial at the end of a season,” Richards said. “I had had approaches from Derby and Sheffield Wednesday and asked my mom what she thought. She said: ‘I liked that Mr Gardiner.’ I think she had a bit of a crush on him!”
Hibbitt also recalled a knock on the door from the man who preceded his wonderful work as Cullis’s no 2 and then as a scout by giving sterling pre-war service to the club as a wing-half, including being a regular member of the side who finished runners-up in both the League and FA Cup in 1938-39. “Joe was the guy who went to watch players at whatever level and was a massive influence on my career,” the midfielder said. “He was a lovely, lovely man…..an absolute gent.”
By coincidence, the eulogy at Gardiner’s 1997 funeral at a Wolverhampton town centre church was given by Dennis Wilshaw, whose award was in turn presented to his daughter Diane and grandson Tom by Wolves Former Players Association administrator Richard Green.
The path to prominence and glory was not always smooth for this man of the Potteries, who clashed with Cullis more than once over his insistence on pursuing a career in teaching at the same time as leading Newcastle, Real Madrid and Scotland defenders a merry dance in the colours of his club and country. It’s amazing to think now that a part-timer could hit such heights with one of the world’s elite teams – how much further might he have gone with no other professional distractions?
“It was mainly down to his father telling him his football career might not last long,” Diane said. “So he also trained as a teacher.” We have previously written about Dennis acting as an occasional psychologist to players and his daughter added: “He did a lot of work for Wolves after his playing career and made a lot of friends here.” Tom pointed out that his grandfather had originally been a Stoke fan but changed allegiances to the south of Staffordshire – the reason he himself is a Wolves supporter.
Parkes and Palmer settled into comfortable chairs on stage when their time in the spotlight came, the keeper reflecting on ‘a great set of lads who got on well, fought on the pitch together and drank together.’ “We had very good players as well, though,” he said, “and Mike Bailey was the best captain this club have ever had, in my opinion.”
Palmer looked round the room in saying a thank-you for the guidance he received as a youngster before graduating to the status of double League Cup winner and 1982-83 Second Division promotion-winning skipper. “They just helped you along,” he said of the older players. “I have a lot of respect for the defenders who assisted me during the early part of my career. The way they looked after themselves and trained and played….if you wanted to make it yourself, that’s what you had to do as well.”
John Richards presented their awards and the only man to have bettered his 194 Wolves goals stepped up to hand over the ones received at the end of the evening by Messrs Dennison and Stowell. Bully described them as ‘class’ individuals and spoke about being able to quickly pick up friendships forged three and a half decades ago.
“There were a lot of hungry lads here wanting to get started and the first two or three years was a fantastic time to be here,” Dennison said. “We were too good for the level we were at and we progressed. It’s nice when people see our time as having affected the history of the club. It makes you really proud of what was achieved. There were only six or seven people working at the club then. Everybody knew each other, felt part of it and it was a really tight ship. Once your heart gets into this place, that’s it….job done.”
Stowell, having reminded Johnny Phillips that the reporter was the first man to greet him at Leicester’s training ground the morning following the East Midlanders’ astonishing 5,000/1 Premier League title triumph in 2015-16, also spoke of having a unique bond with Molineux. “It’s a special place in our hearts,” he said. “It makes you feel wanted. I’ve never been in a place where I felt more at home.”
The same theme was picked up by hall of fame committee chairman Richards in his closing words: “So many players talk so warmly about this club. Their hearts are here because you (supporters) give your hearts to them.”