Charles Bamforth delves once more into the archives and looks into the fascinating matter of who Wolves chased almost six decades ago as the man to follow their most successful ever manager.
Kilmarnock is an East Ayrshire town with a population close to 50,000 and with Jim McCalliog living only a few miles away. Its football club is eight years older than our beloved Wolves.
In a country where the game is dominated by two clubs in Glasgow and, to a lesser extent, two in Edinburgh – with a notable stand from Aberdeen back in the days of Alex Ferguson – opportunities for success at Rugby Park have been few and far between.
There was, however, one highly notable era. And the man who managed perhaps the best team in Kilmarnock’s history was the one Wolves really wanted to succeed Stan Cullis.
Willie Waddell, who had been a highly acclaimed right-winger for Glasgow Rangers and Scotland, was only 36 when appointed as Killie manager in July, 1957. His first season there brought a fifth-place finish in the top division, followed by a disappointing eighth spot in 1958-59.
But then, in order, the club ended in second, second, fifth, second and second places again over the next five seasons. Which brings us to 1964-65 and Killie’s greatest ever season, when they inched out Hearts on goal average to hoist the championship trophy for the only time.
The People insisted on June 13, 1965 that Wolves were going for Waddell (right), the ‘Stan Cullis of Scotland’. They reported that the 43-year-old was scheduled to leave Kilmarnock at the end of the month after delivering the championship and he would replace the Flying Doctor, aka stand-in manager Andy Beattie, who was on holiday in Switzerland.
It seems Beattie was still talking about his plans for the coming season but insisted he had no intention of moving home from Nottingham to Wolverhampton.
Waddell, who had studied under the great Helenio Herrera at Inter Milan and who had also led Kilmarnock to two League Cup finals and an FA Cup final, had handed in his notice several months earlier. It seems that there was a tug o’ war going on in his heart and mind between his football and his family. He had three children and they won.
Wolves had made Joe Gardiner assistant manager and brought in Ronnie Allen as coach. But they were clearly seeking an exciting new name with a sustained track record of leadership.
By June 27, it was being reported that Waddell, whose last day at Rugby Park was close, had said ‘no’ to Wolves’ £7,000-a-year offer. Whatever the level of interest at Molineux, he was having none of it and headed off on a family caravan holiday.
The Sports Argus insisted on July 17 that Wolves still wanted him but Waddell was interested in the Scotland manager’s job – if they were prepared to make an appointment on a full-time basis.
Meanwhile, Beattie was keen to get out of the West Midlands as soon as possible because of an illness to his wife and had announced that Ron Flowers would direct coaching operations during a game anyway. “Once a game starts, Flowers will be in complete charge,” he said. “He can demand things from the rest of the side and not merely ask for them.”
We will never know what Waddell would have made of that arrangement (nor whether Allen was keen). Willie went into journalism instead, writing for the Evening Citizen and Scottish Daily Express.
The inevitable happened, though, and, in 1969, he succumbed to the temptations of his old club by returning to Rangers, who won the League Cup in 1971 and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1972 before he handed over to Jock Wallace.
Waddell, having been at the helm at the time of the Ibrox disaster, became general manager and vice-chairman and was credited with the reconstruction of the stadium in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He remained a director of Rangers until his death in 1992.
Returning to 1965, Beattie’s last game was the infamous 9-3 defeat at Southampton. It had already been announced that he would leave after that match – his departure wasn’t a reaction to the embarrassing margin of defeat.
Chairman John Ireland insisted there was no panic and would be no rushed appointment. There was speculation, though, that Dave Bowen, who had taken Northampton from the Fourth Division to the First in successive seasons, was high on the list. Others in the frame, according to the press, were Harry Catterick (still very much at the helm at Everton, who he would lead to an FA Cup triumph that season), Bill Ridding (firmly ensconced at Bolton) and Mr William Harry McGarry, who was impressing at Ipswich.
By November 7, it was being reported that Wolves definitely wanted Bowen, who was also the Wales manager and who had previously turned down Sunderland. Approaches from Molineux to Portman Road had apparently been rebuffed.
It was not until July 25, 1966, five days before England’s World Cup final triumph, that Ronnie Allen was finally given the job. Joe Gardiner became chief scout, with George Noakes stepping down because of ill health.
Chairman Ireland revealed at the club’s annual meeting that the players would have shared £10,000 if they had won promotion in 1965-66 instead of finishing sixth. “We feel we have enough talent here to have won it out of sight,” he said. It was hardly a resounding endorsement of Allen’s efforts so far.
The club had a deficit of £99,760 and Ireland bemoaned the fact that the sale of nine players had brought in only £40,000 while £117,000 had been lavished on new signings. “The money has gone on players,” he said.
Vice-chairman WC Sproson said: “We are not really short of money. Current assets exceed liabilities.”
Asked why it took so long to appoint Allen, Ireland said the Potteries-born 37-year-old had been a player only two years earlier and needed time before having the ‘tremendous responsibility of managing the club’.
Allen said that all concerned had learned a lot the previous season and added: “With a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, we won’t be very far away this time.”
Wolves, of course, finished 1966-67 promoted as runners up to Coventry. After a less than stellar first season back in the top flight and a so-so start to 1968-69, Allen’s time was up. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that he was never the board’s preferred man. Enter McGarry.