It is widely acknowledged that the ‘marriage’ between Tommy Docherty and Wolves was not a happy one. Charles Bamforth offers a new raft of information as to why….
Tommy Docherty’s Wolves won only eight Second Division games in 1984-85. One of those was in late October, 2-1 over Crystal Palace, and was followed two days later by the manager dispensing with the services of his no 2, Jim Barron, and youth coach Frank Upton.
Jim told me when I interviewed him for my 1992 goalkeepers book, In Keeping With Wolves: “We brought along some good kids. Tommy? He sat in his office and did his after-dinner speaking.”
When they parted company, Barron had been quoted as saying: ”I had a gut feeling it was going to happen. I am sorrier for Frank Upton, who turned down a good job with another club out of loyalty to Wolves and his kids.”
Stoke’s Alan Hudson was touted as a possible to come in, as was Docherty’s former sidekick at Manchester United, Tommy Cavanagh. One of the manager’s former Chelsea charges, Ken Shellito, was another contender. In the end, Docherty’s son, Michael, was appointed, which says it all really.
One wonders what history there was at Stamford Bridge, where Barron was reserve to Peter Bonetti and a colleague of Shellito’s. And Upton was signed by Chelsea from Derby in 1961 while Tommy was player-coach – and soon to be manager.
Maybe it was just that the Scot viewed Barron and Upton as Graham Hawkins men and simply wanted them out. Whatever the reason, it seems mighty careless to have lost them both.
Upton resurfaced as no 2 to Don Mackay at Coventry at the end of December, 1984, Mackay having replaced our friend, Bobby Gould, as manager. Upton had managed Bedworth for three matches in the meantime and it didn’t take him long to scoop the cream of the Wolves youth team and take them to Highfield Road.
Graham Rodger, the stripling centre-half who had made his debut in the First Division team at Molineux in April, 1984 alongside Alan Dodd, became a Sky Blue ten months later after being ignored by Docherty. He played more than 30 Division One games for them, most notably going on as substitute for Brian Kilcline in the 1987 FA Cup final and making the winning goal.
He went on to play for Luton and Grimsby and manage the latter, before spending several years as their chief scout. Oh, and he won four caps for England under-21s, so thank-you, Tommy!
Then we have red-haired Michael Cook. The kid from Stroud was sent to Coventry (in the best sense of the term) early in 1985 and played in the team who lifted the FA Youth Cup in 1986-87 by defeating Charlton in the final over two legs. He later played for York and Cambridge United and turned out extensively in the highest reaches of the non-League game before managing Cinderford, Gloucester and Chippenham.
Remember Roger Preece who we chatted with on Wolves Heroes a few years ago (A Thumbs-Up From Budgie – Wolves Heroes) and who played more than 300 games for the likes of Chester, Wrexham and Shrewsbury? He also joined up with the man Derby fans knew as Frank the Tank as he amassed well over 250 League games for their club.
Martin Bayly was another who might have gone on to do much more for Wolves. He had seven top-flight games for them in late 1983-84, making his debut at no 4 alongside Rodger in a team now under the caretaker management of Barron following Hawkins’s departure. Clearly, the Barron-Upton partnership were determined to give the kids a chance and Paul Dougherty and Joe Jackson also got the nod.
Bayly did have the merest of look-ins under Docherty, making a substitute appearance and then being given two games in the no 7 shirt – the victory over Palace with which we started this piece and the following week in a 1-0 win at Portsmouth. Alas, Coventry didn’t give the Irishman a first-team opportunity and he was soon back across the ocean for a lengthy career with numerous clubs there.
When Coventry spirited Rodger and Bayly to the cause, they also recruited a player who was even shorter than ‘Pee Wee’ Dougherty. That was Swindon-born John Hathaway, who measured only 5ft 1in in his stockinged feet. The press loved to show a photo of him alongside ‘lookalike’ Terry Gibson and the rather more elongated Rodger and Kilcline.
Like Bayly, Hathaway didn’t reach the first team at Coventry but must have enjoyed himself on November 25, 1985 when the City lads walloped Wolves 7-1. It is said that had it not been for Vince Bartram in the Wanderers goal, the scoreline would have been far worse for Upton’s former club at the hands of his new one.
Hathaway (‘Jack in the Box’ according to the Coventry Evening Telegraph) hit a brace, with centre-forward Steve Livingstone netting a hat-trick. Future Wolves man Steve Sedgley was also in a team who conceded only when Preece toppled Andy Dace to give away a penalty that was scored by Richard Smith.
When we look at the photo on the right of the shadow Wolves side of 1984, we ponder what might have been. Next to Rodger at the back is a lad rather taller than his brother, Norman Dougherty. There’s also Darren Wright, who we interviewed in 2015 (Made Of The Wright Stuff – Wolves Heroes), Steve Blackwell and Smith, a Reading lad who would go via Moor Green to a couple of games for Mansfield and who had had one first-team run-out as substitute while at Molineux.
The other notable youngster is Dudley-born Sean Kimberley, who was loved by the managers at Leicester, Notts County (where John Barnwell called him ‘a diamond of a lad’) and Hereford but who never made the first teams. He moved into player development and is now head of recruitment at Blackburn after a long career behind the scenes at Villa.
And Frank Upton? After Coventry, he served in various roles with Keflavik in Iceland, Sabah in Malaysia, the Borneo national team, Burton, Northwich, Cheltenham and Leicester. Among his numerous posts beforehand, he was a League Cup winner with Chelsea and also played for Nuneaton, Northampton, Notts County, Workington and Worcester.