Graham Turner made a double visit back to Molineux over the weekend and, in so doing, offered some illuminating thoughts on his tide-turning seven and a half years in charge of the club he supported as a boy.
Those who remember his somewhat haunted look in the difficult final season or two of his Wolves reign will be pleased to know that the worry lines have long since gone and, in his 68th year, he appears to have changed little, appearance-wise, over the decades.
It is also lovely to see that he looks back now only with pride and fondness on a time at the helm that was highlighted by the winning of two lower-division titles, the Sherpa Van Trophy at Wembley and the signing of a certain Steve Bull.
Remarkably, it is now more than 20 years since his departure – ample time for him to open up considerably in the question-and-answer session he did with more than 30 members of the Viking Wolves Supporters Club.
The Scandinavian fans were over for the derby against Birmingham as part of their 25th anniversary celebrations and were delighted to be given an entertaining inside track during the Friday-night function in Molineux’s Hayward Suite.
Wolves Heroes’ David Instone has an honorary position with Viking Wolves and reported back from the dinner on the recollections and revelations. Here’s what Turner, a member of Wolves’ Hall of Fame, said:
On being appointed by Wolves in 1986
I let my heart rule my head. The only reason I came was because I had been a Wolves fan as a boy. When I went to Villa as manager, they had won the European Cup two years before. Wolves were in the bottom half of the Fourth Division (sic). Never has a motto (Out Of Darkness Cometh Light) been more appropriate…….you have to deal with the dark before you see the light. The chairman and vice-chairman (Dick Homden and Jack Harris) came round to my house and asked if I would be interested in taking over. I said it was wrong to talk because there was already a manager in place but they said it had been made clear to Brian Little that he was only a caretaker.
On why he was a boyhood Wolves fan
There seemed to be a lot of Wolves and West Brom fans where I was from in Ellesmere Port – the posh part of Merseyside! My grandfather supported Albion, so of course I opted for Wolves. At 12 or 13, I wrote off for Billy Wright’s autograph and was thrilled to receive a programme with a photo he had signed. It has pride of place at home.
On then befriending Billy at Molineux
I had met him in his years working in TV in Birmingham but it was a new lease of life for him when Sir Jack Hayward invited him on to the Wolves board in 1990. He had had his problems and I must admit I just wondered how it might affect me when he, as a former Arsenal manager and England under-23 coach, became a director. Any apprehensions I had disappeared the first time we spoke at Wolves. He was a wonderful man and loved coming up from his Barnet home, even for reserve and youth games. He used to sit among us down at the front of the coach and always had an opinion but, win or lose, he would ring me the day after a game and be supportive. It was lovely for me, as such an admirer of his, to then have his company on overnight trips and when we went on tour to Sweden a couple of times.
Half a dozen journalists from national newspapers were waiting the day after we lost to them, waiting to put the final nails in the coffin of the club. We had drawn 1-1 at Bolton in the first game against them and also then drew 1-1 here, where we led before one of their lads was yards offside when he went through to equalise. It was at the North Bank End, with the linesman on our side of the pitch. A ball boy on the far side was in a gold or yellow top and the linesman mistook him for one of our defenders.
On The Turning Point
I got some gold ear muffs when I first came here because I was told I might be in for some criticism. We were a bit up and down for a while and were 1-0 down with about 12 minutes left in a home match against Stockport (in February, 1987) which we didn’t look like winning. But one of their players obligingly got himself sent off and we equalised from a dodgy penalty. We scored two more very late on and won something like 11 of our last 12 matches of the season.
On Bully And Thommo
There had been no money to spend, then the directors told me I had a bit, so I spent (an initial) £60,000 or so on bringing Steve Bull and Andy Thompson from Albion. I got a bit of a telling-off for signing two kids, one of whom had a dicky knee. The club found a bit of floating bone in Bully’s knee in the medical but he turned out to be the best player for doing his job that I ever worked with. And his job was to score goals. He was never a moment’s trouble except for a day or so when Villa had tapped him up and he thought about going there. He has to be the best signing I ever made but taking Martin Keown to Villa from Arsenal for £125,000 was a steal, given that he became one of the top defenders in the country.
On The 1993 Spending Spree
We made a few signings – David Kelly, Kevin Keen, Peter Shirtliff, Cyrille Regis and, biggest of all, Geoff Thomas. If anyone wanted to sabotage our promotion hopes, they would have taken Geoff and Bully out of the team and that is what happened. Geoff had just scored a brilliant solo goal when we won at Sunderland in the September. He picked the ball up just outside our area and went through on his own. Right at the end, a big idiot in their team went in on him and left him with a badly torn calf muscle. His knee was affected and he was never the same player again. In the March, we played at Chelsea in the quarter-final of the FA Cup, live on TV on a Sunday. Glenn Hoddle was their manager and went on as substitute and ran the show. They won 1-0 and we had to play at Portsmouth two days later. You would probably get an extra day now before having to play again. We lost 3-0 and the chairman had a go at the players afterwards. When that happens, I think you know your time is up and I asked the chairman for a meeting the next day.
On The Future
I had left Shrewsbury before their game here last season, although I was invited back as a guest for the day. I didn’t go to the Shrewsbury v Chelsea cup-tie, although I do plan to return there at some point. Am I retired? Well, if ever an opportunity came up for me to mentor a young manager, that’s something that might interest me. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t but I suppose what Lennie Lawrence has done with one or two managers is what I have in mind.