Tributes to former Wolves chief Harry Marshall

Who knows what might have been? In February 1982, Wolves chairman Harry Marshall was on the brink of recruiting Aberdeen's young manager Alex Ferguson to join Molineux.

Harry Marshall
Harry Marshall

Tributes have been paid to former Wolves chairman Harry Marshall, who has died aged 80. Marion Brennan reports on the life of the prominent business man

Who knows what might have been? In February 1982, Wolves chairman Harry Marshall was on the brink of recruiting Aberdeen's young manager Alex Ferguson to join Molineux.

But according to his son Tony, his plans were thwarted by his fellow directors.

"Wolves might have been a very different club today if the other directors at that time had taken his advice."

Harry Marshall, who died on Monday, was a prominent businessman who guided Wolves through one fo the most turbulent periods of the club's history.

A lifelong Wolves fan, he followed his father Jim onto the Molineux board during the highly successful 1970s era when Wolves became Texaco Cup winners and UEFA Cup runners-up. But it was during his time as chairman from 1976-82 that the club endured some real highs and lows that shaped the next decade.

Today Tony Marshall, 49, said: "My father was a real football man. He understood the game.

"One of my strongest memories of that time was seeing Alex Ferguson, then manager of Aberdeen, in our living room one Sunday talking terms with my father."

He said his father, who lived in Worfield, Bridgnorth, continued to attend matches at Molineux and was active until his death on Monday night at the Nuffield Hospital.

Mr Marshall, who attended Woodfield primary school in Penn, was himself an able sportsman, representing his Derbyshire boarding school Repton at football, cricket and hockey.

Excelling in hockey, he played for Staffordshire and the Midlands. Later he turned out for both Wombourne Hockey Club and Wolverhampton Cricket Club.

After National Service in the RAF he served an engineering apprenticeship with GEC in Stafford before joining the family engineering J.H.Marshall in Sedgley Street with his two brothers. In 1966 he started his own company, Priory Woodfield Engineering in Horseley Fields, now run by his son.

He also leaves a wife, Dorothy, daughter Susie and six grandchildren.

Wolves vice-president Rachael Heyhoe Flint said: "I knew him as a friend and as someone very dedicated to his sport and to the club."

Wolves broke the British transfer record when they signed Andy Gray from Aston Villa in 1979 in a near £1.5m deal financed by the sale of Steve Daley to Manchester City just days earlier.

He followed in the footsteps of his father Jim when he became a director in 1969 and chairman seven years later, succeeding John Ireland.

When he took over the reins, Wolves were in a transitional spell.

The departures of popular players such as Derek Dougan and Dave Wagstaffe were soon followed by that of inspirational captain Mike Bailey and the team needed new faces.

The vast majority of the money generated by the halcyon days of the 1950s was gone, and the responsibility of trying to recapture those glory days fell to a younger generation largely devoid of star names, save for future legends John Richards and Kenny Hibbitt.

But promotion was secured in his first season at the helm — 1976-77 - and within three years, Marshall had another trip to Wembley to relish as Wolves beat Nottingham Forest to win the League Cup for the second time in six years.

While the start of his tenure coincided with reinforcements needed on the pitch, the ground needed major surgery. Plans had long been in the offing to improve a rapidly crumbling but iconic Molineux. But with no major funds to finance the ambitious project, they remained a pipedream until Marshall's stewardship.

Yet the businessman's determination saw the early transformation of the ground as he oversaw the £2m rebuilding of the Molineux Street Stand, now the Steve Bull Stand.

The huge project involved purchasing and demolishing over 70 houses in Molineux Street to make room to move the pitch from the cramped Waterloo Road side of the ground.

In what was initially called the Molineux Stand, a gleaming 9,500 all-seater construction rose from the ashes, dwarfing the other three stands. Marshall's plan was to replicate the new stand as part of a 40,000 capacity stadium within four years.

But he couldn't foresee the extent of the boom-bust nature of the economic climate at the beginning of the 1980s, and, as interest rates rocketed, the club struggled to meet the repayments on loans taken out to build the stand, which was cruelly dubbed 'Marshall's Folly'.

With reduced investment in the team, performances dipped dramatically and after finishing 18th in 1981, Wolves were relegated the following season. Within two months, Wolves entered liquidation, bringing Mr Marshall's resignation.

He was never involved in professional football again, but his experiences and the sharp decline in the team's fortunes failed to dim his enthusiasm for his beloved Wolves, and he continued to watch as a fan.