By David Instone
“I told Claire, I don’t want no fuss, just a quick visit and then out. I’m playing golf this afternoon.”
What was this……The Guv’nor smiling but looking slightly uneasy and even a shade embarrassed? Convivial gatherings with him as the centre of attention are apparently not his thing.
Here he was, though, in the spotlight at one of the game’s celebratory venues and about to be individually honoured with a handshake and presentation from one of his Old Trafford predecessors, Viv Anderson. No ball, no team-mates.
Paul Ince was being inducted into English Football’s hall of fame and was visibly lifted by familiar faces from Wolves and the other clubs that benefitted from his stellar career.
A clash with transfer-deadline day rendered present-day Molineux personnel unavailable, so I was asked to accompany the club’s long-serving former secretary Richard Skirrow to today’s ceremony at the Manchester-based National Football Museum.
“My wife knows I’m not too keen on this sort of thing but it’s a really special moment to have this happen to me,” Ince said. “It’s a great honour.
“You look around at some of the others who are in and you realise you are in very good company; people who have done so much in the game.”
The day’s big surprise was in being reminded that Wolves were second in his list of clubs in terms of games played. Only at Manchester United, where Anderson initially took him under his wing in 1989, did he make more appearances than the 131 he totalled while at Molineux.
“I loved Wolves,” he said. “We got them up, didn’t we? And we would have stayed up if they’d had the owners they have now. The problem was that a few of us, like Denis, Colin Cameron and Alex Rae, were getting old and we needed some younger legs to help us.
“I don’t have a lot to do with those lads these days, not even Denis, who tends to be over with the Manchester lot while I’m on The Wirral. But I spoke to Dave Jones a few days ago. I find more and more these days, though, that you spend five minutes talking football and then you move on to golf and grandkids.”
For too long, Wolves were inclined to offer big money to players at the back end of their careers. They were a cash cow to grizzled old pros seeking one more big pay day.
In Ince, they found not only a man who came in, financially, at below what they expected for someone of his background and achievements but also a leader who still relished the heat of the battle.
Like Denis Irwin, he wasn’t ready to walk away from playing and proved the point by playing 45 League, cup and play-off games as he skippered the club to promotion. Relegation came immediately but he stayed around back in the Championship, earning another contract as he added a further 50 outings across two seasons. He was one of those who gave serious return on the investment despite having no resale value in his mid and then late 30s.
The impact was such that he had a sizeable lobby of support among fans when the manager’s job subsequently became available but he sat in the chair instead at MK Dons, Blackburn and others as Wolves regrouped impressively under Mick McCarthy.
Now, football’s loss is TV’s gain. “Always has something interesting to say, doesn’t he, Incey?” said no less a journalistic authority than Henry Winter on a visit to Compton to interview him more than a decade and a half ago. Which explains why the 53-times-capped former England midfielder makes a living now on the other side of the screen.
After a substantial stint with BT Sport, he has switched to Premier League Productions (PLP), with 25 dates this season; mostly at their studio at Stockley Park but with a big red ring round the date of October 24, when he will attend Manchester United v Liverpool. “That will be fun!” he laughs.
In his six years at Old Trafford, Ince was a League title winner twice, an FA Cup winner twice, a European Cup Winners Cup champion, also clasping his hands round the League Cup. Such was the force of his personality that he teamed up again with Anderson and Bryan Robson at Middlesbrough and went to a World Cup finals with Glenn Hoddle’s England after emerging as the bloodied, bandaged hero of their play-off conquest of Italy.
A United camera crew followed his every move today and asked him about their performance at Wolves on Sunday. “First half diabolical but a great result and now they have Ronaldo coming in. He will be good for them and good for the game here.” The 53-year-old will never get splinters from sitting on the fence.
It was some career, enough to see him follow Terry Butcher and Karen Carney as 2021 hall of fame inductees and to now be rubbing shoulders in there with the likes of Billy Wright, Stan Cullis, Emlyn Hughes, Denis Irwin, Glenn Hoddle, Graham Taylor, Jack Taylor and even a few dozen legends who never served Wolverhampton Wanderers.