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The Big Interview: Bobby Gould

Wolverhampton | Sport | Published:

Over 50 years of experience in the game as a player and manager certainly gives Bobby Gould the right to an opinion as to where football is headed.

The 70-year-old was just 17 when his first-team journey began with his debut for hometown club Coventry City in October 1963, writes Craig Birch.

Eight clubs, 440 league games and 140 goals later, operating as a striker, Gould had already seen it all on the field.

Turning his hand to management saw him work with another nine clubs, plus becoming the last Englishman to coach the Wales national team.

But the old-school mantra that Gould abides to wouldn't be the common theme of the game today, where style can take the place of substance.

He's not fan at all of what he calls 'crab football,' where a team's worth of passes are put together before anybody has thought about getting into the opposition box.

One of the English game's stalwarts freely admits he believes him and his favourite former strike partner, Derek Dougan from their time together at Wolves, wouldn't be having any of it.

He wouldn't have had much of a point until the end of last season, when a direct Leicester City side overcome odds of 5,000-1 to win the Premier League.

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Gould talks straight to the point, played the game the same and managed in a similar way. Has he been left behind or can such an ethos enjoy a renaissance?

He said: "I've been lucky like that, I've always tended to remember a lot of things that have happened to me in football quite vividly.

"I've got lovely scrapbooks and data from every game I've ever played in a nice office I have at home and up in the loft.

"I believed in my ability as a player and, if you look back at anywhere I've been, I always got into double figures for scoring goals.

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"Looking at the game today, the one thing that frustrates me now is the crab football that people play, at the moment.

"They play from side to side and, as a centre forward, I would have hated it. I'd want it direct and into the penalty area.

"When I was first at Wolves, the likes of Derek Dougan and me couldn't played the type of way that so many teams seem to want to do it these ways.

"At that time, when John Richards pushed through and started to play alongside Dougan, you had ball service galore with John McAlle, Dave Wagstaffe and Kenny Hibbitt in the team as well.

"I lived off the big centre-half and Dougan was just fantastic, for me."

Gould had the opportunity to learn under one of the game pioneers from day one as soon as he came through the youth ranks at Coventry, where Jimmy Hill was manager.

He'd given him his debut at Shrewsbury Town on 30 October 1963, while still an apprentice. He signed pro forms the following summer.

Hill, still in his thirties at the time, literally made them 'the Sky Blues' and led them from the Third to First Divisions, with Gould leading the line in their second promotion campaign.

Netting 40 goals in 82 league games, with Hill surprisingly leaving as soon as the club entered the top-flight, earned him an £80,000 move to Arsenal in 1968.

The Gunners were investing in youth, for what would not be the last time, but he ended up on the fringes. He did score in the 1969 League Cup final, though, which Arsenal lost to Swindon.

A move back to the Midlands came calling, with Wolves shelling out £55,000 to take him to Molineux in the summer of 1970.

He scored 18 goals in the First Division for Bill McGarry's side, who finished fourth in the First Division but, somehow, he then fell out-of-favour with McGarry.

He would cross the Black Country divide to join West Bromwich Albion after just 15 months, for the unusual fee of £66,666.

It was there he met his best friend in football, the late Don Howe. Although Wolverhampton-born, the Baggies chief was Albion through and through.

Ironically, Howe had more regard for Gould as a man than as a player and was the first to see his potential behind-the-scenes.

Gould said: "I started out at Coventry under Jimmy Hill and, under him, I made my debut up at Shrewsbury Town in a dour goalless draw when I was 17.

"Then it was Arsenal, who were rebuilding with the likes of me, Ray Kennedy and Charlie George all coming in, but I fell out of the team after a couple of years and went to Wolves.

"Bill McGarry was brilliant, we used to call him 'the Louisville Lip.' Whenever he got mad, his lip would go right up towards his nostrils!

"I just loved playing football and, if people didn't want me, I wasn't going to waste my time anywhere. That later became the circumstance under Bill.

"He told me that Don Howe wanted me at West Brom and I couldn't believe it, because I'd always thought that Don didn't fancy me as a player.

"I asked him why when I got there and he told me it was for what I would bring to the dressing room. The rapport I had with him from there was phonomenal.

"The fond memories I have of the relationships I've had with people have just been wonderful. I actually started my coaching career when I first went to play under Don."

His switch to the Hawthorns saw him paired up front with legendary Baggie Jeff Astle, who was just as full of trickery off the pitch.

Gould said: "Jeff was a funny man. It was a time when referees would still come in the dressing room and you'd have to show them your footwear.

"Week in and week out, Jeff Astle would set them up. He'd show his right boot towards them first, so they could see if he had any sharp studs.

"Then, he'd turn round and lift his right foot again and they didn't realise, thinking it was his left. All of the lads would crack up every time! He had such a sense of humour."

Gould's form started to wane after his first season at Albion, where he scored 12 goals. Only another seven would follow as he reached 60 appearances.

Howe sold him to Second Division side Bristol City for £68,888 in late 1972, which would see him come 'home.' He would move to the nearby town of Portishead, where he's lived ever since.

It wasn't enough to keep him with City, moving to West Ham United after less than a year for £80,000 as he wanted to play in the First Division again.

He played under Ron Greenwood and then John Lyall at Upton Park over the next two years, before dropping back down a league for a second spell with Wolves for £30,000.

He helped Sammy Chung's team to the Second Division title, netting 13 times in 34 games, but left soon after they started their next campaign following promotion for his first player-coach role.

He said: "My grandparents lived just outside of Bristol and that's where my family originated from. I moved there after West Brom and I've been there ever since.

"My first club after Bristol City was West Ham and I commuted. I used to get up at 5pm and get the train from Bristol Temple Meads to Paddington.

"I'd get across to Chadwell Heath and Trevor Brooking used to pick me up from the tube station. Towards the end, I'd stay in a hotel the odd night.

"At that time, the house market fell apart so you couldn't sell property. A couple of years later, I got the chance to go back to Wolves.

"After I had left the first time, they went and won the League Cup and later I came back, we got promotion under Sammy Chung. I was a little bit older and a lot wiser."

Gould left Wolves for good to head back to Bristol, this time joining Rovers under the proviso he was to work with the players as well as pull on the boots.

Then 33, he still hadn't made up his mind what role he wanted and spent time coaching with Norwegian side Aalesunds in 1978. Wife Marjorie and sons Richard and Jonathan joined him.

Rovers recouped the £10,000 they had paid for him that September when he joined Hereford United in the same position.

Now sure he wanted to be a boss in his own right, he was handed an opportunity to first become an assistant manager in 1979.

He had England's 1966 World Cup final hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst as his gaffer, too, but they were axed in April 1981 with the club mid-table in the Second Division.

Gould decided this was his time to strike out on his own and he was handed the chance back at Bristol Rovers that October, who had just dropped into the Third Division.

He said: "I had done the course at Lilleshall (then the Football Association's national centre), which is what the FA wanted and, when I was at Bristol Rovers, I had an invitation from Norway.

"I told my wife that I thought we should go out there for six months, at the height of their season and learn whether I want to be a manager or a coach. The kids came with us.

"I had met Geoff Hurst at Lilleshall and it was like working with a god. The likes of me, him and Dario Gradi were being fast-tracked through this course.

"We had two summers of that and he told me if he ever got a job, he wanted me as his No 2. Low and behold, I was coaching at Hereford and he got the Chelsea job.

"I was learning my trade and Geoff went in one day and told the board of directors 'back us or sack us.' He came out and said 'they sacked us alright pal.'

"I went on my own back to Bristol Rovers and I always remember my first game in charge. We beat Huddersfield 3-2 and I just sat in my office and cried.

"As a manager, you feel like you're always on your own. I'd phoned up Lawrie McMenemy, John Lyall, Bob Paisley and Brian Clough before doing it myself.

"You had to make 48 calls to get through to Brian and, when I did, I asked him what he'd would advise to be a successful young manager.

"He said 'the first thing you need to do is call me Mr Clough!' The second was to make sure you get your back-room staff right."

Gould cut his teeth through two seasons at the Rovers helm, earning plaudits despite failing to get them out of the Third Division.

He went back to his roots to manage Coventry in the summer of 1983, with Don Mackay his assistant. There was no chance of a settled team, as Gould bought 25 players in 18 months.

Taking charge of a First Division outfit he had so much affinity for was something he could really get his teeth into it and, initially, it went well.

Coventry were fourth in December and had just beaten the mighty Liverpool but, come the next Christmas, they were in the relegation places. Gould was sacked and replaced by Mackay.

He went back to Rovers, spending another two seasons at the helm. On both occasions players, David Williams and then Gerry Francis, replaced him.

He was offered the chance to take over at Wimbledon - then in only their second top-flight season - in the summer of 1987.

He took over the infamous 'Crazy Gang' team, who were the epitome of a physical side and just as mischievous off the park. It went well, as they finished seventh in the table.

But that all paled into insignificance after the 1988 FA Cup final, where Lawrie Sanchez's goal for the Dons proved enough to see off hot favourites Liverpool at Wembley.

Gould had gone from being a third-tier to cup-winning boss in one season. There was a secret to his success. Howe, who had left as manager of Arsenal the year before, was with him this time.

Gould said: "It took me seven years to get it right but, when I did, me and Don won the cup. I'd got Coventry into the top four, at one stage, but I ran tired. I didn't have the right people with me.

"I was mentally and physically exhausted at Coventry and I started to make erratic decisions. I'm a Coventry lad through and through, so it was sad when we parted ways.

"It was back to Bristol Rovers, which was more humble and realistic. Then the chance came to join Wimbledon.

"A lot of people don't know this, but I'd already been there. After Chelsea, I spent four weeks under Dave Bassett. I'd impressed Sam Hammam (owner) and he must have followed me.

"When Dave went to Watford, Sam offered me the job and I couldn't turn that down. I inherited the players and kept them going.

"The lads were 'the Crazy Gang,' make no doubt about it. I often tell people, it was like teaching at the worst comprehensive school in England going to work every day.

"We wanted to educate them and, if you look at that team, a lot of them went on to be a great success in their own lives.

"For us to beat Liverpool in the FA Cup final is still one of the biggest shocks ever, no doubt it. I already had a medal, from being with West Ham when they beat Fulham in 1975.

"I never actually got onto the field of play that time and then won it as a manager. That could be a bit of a unique record!"

Gould eventually quit in 1990, joining back up with Howe later in the year at Queens Park Rangers. It was the only time he'd served as Howe's No 2 and lasted less than two months.

The Black Country was a distant memory, until West Brom offered him the chance to succeed Brian Talbot as manager.

He jumped at the chance but couldn't save Albion from their lowest ebb - dropping down to the third tier for the first-time in their history. It was also Gould's first relegation of any kind.

He'd arrived in February 1991, with the writing on the wall. They somehow went down unbeaten in their last nine games of these season, but only two had ended in victory.

He stayed for another year, but couldn't even get them into the play-offs of the league below. Fans were bringing a coffin for Gould to the games by the end of the campaign.

He'd never seen eye-to-eye with assistant Stuart Pearson, the fans' choice for manager, either. Howe, through his own bad experiences, had warned him not to take the Hawthorns' hot-seat.

He left in the summer of 1992 for a second spell at Coventry, where he and Howe were joint bosses as the Premier League began.

Howe left before the new era got underway, with Gould keeping them safe from danger in the first outing of the re-branded top-flight.

By this time, he'd had very little in way of a break after 12 years of management. He resigned in October 1993, handing over the reins to assistant Phil Neal.

Gould said: "Four years with Sam at Wimbledon was enough, he was hard work! Don had already gone from there, to Queens Park Rangers with Gerry Francis.

"I'd brought Ray Harford into Wimbledon and he was a fantastic coach, but he wasn't a manager. That told when he replaced me there and under Kenny Dalglish at Blackburn, too.

"I worked as a No 2 to Don at QPR for a bit and then I went to West Brom, which was farcical. You don't always make the right decisions with the teams you go to.

"I always felt as if I didn't play the right type of football for them, perhaps it was me but, once again, I didn't think my back-room staff was right.

"It wasn't very nice to get relegated and that has been on my CV forever more. In the end, I was given another chance at Coventry.

"My time at West Brom came in handy there, because I bought a lot of the players who had played against me like Phil Babb, John Williams and Peter Atherton.

"I was always a good judge of player, particularly those from lower-reaching clubs. They all played well and Coventry were quite successful.

"When I left there - and remember I resigned - I needed a long spell out of the game to recharge my batteries again. I'd been working non-stop for a long time."

An 18-month absence allowed him to recharge his batteries, but Coventry remains his last top-level club position. He then pursued another challenge, at international level.

He wasn't even a name in the running for Wales when Mike Smith left the hot-seat in September 1995 with Ron Atkinson, Howard Kendall and Mike Walker those strongly linked.

Of the trio, only Walker had played international football and only to Under-23 level, with Gould feeling that lack of know-how can hamper a national boss.

He said: "I think Ron was the one in for the job, but then he dropped out. I was abroad in Grenada and my best mate, Bill Smith, phoned me.

"I wrote out an application, posted it and was interviewed before I got the job, which was a wonderful experience for me.

"The biggest criteria that I didn't have was that to be an international manager, really you need to have played international football to understand it.

"That's the one thing that let me down. The biggest void, to me, was that I couldn't bridge that gap because I hadn't had that experience of being an international player.

"I found it hard to stimulate the lads, once they turned up at the hotel they were physically and mentally shattered after their club games.

"They needed to rest but I just wanted to get my enthusiasm over to them and that, perhaps, wasn't the right thing to do.

"It was a difficult period. I had my own passion in wanting to be a success and wanting to give Wales the best I could."

Gould was at the helm from 1995 to 1999 and feels he played his part in where the Euro 2016 semi-finalists find themselves today, despite his reign often being criticised.

Current Wales boss Chris Coleman and his direct predecessor, the late Gary Speed, both played under him as did legendary attackers Mark Hughes and Ryan Giggs.

Gould said: "Even when I was there, we were looking to get as many kids fixed up with Premier League clubs as we could.

"For that to happen, people had to come and notice the players. I think Gareth Bale would have been eight or nine years old, at the time!

"Chris is now leading what's been done and full marks to him. I had him in the team and I made Gary my skipper. These lads understood international football was all about.

"We'd got the lot, in terms of players, but it was about blending them together. I thought we were just that little bit short across the back and in midfield, at times.

"Neville Southall was a brilliant goalkeeper, but he couldn't keep everything out."

Gould took charge in the midst of a 20-year gap between an England and Wales meeting of any kind, after the British Home Championship was abolished in 1984.

He tried to arrange a friendly with Terry Venables' England during his time in the role, which he light-heartedly dubbed the 'Rumble in the Valleys.'

He added: "I knew Terry well, I approached him about it but he wouldn't reciprocate. I suppose if you get a bloody nose, you'd have a problem."

Gould left Wales after failing to make both Euro 1996 and the 1998 World Cup, finishing bottom and second bottom respectively in the qualifying groups.

He said: "I'd been there four years and I just thought it was in the best interests of everyone that we parted ways. I walked, they didn't sack me."

Gould did manage again at club level, his first post ironically in Wales with Cardiff City when the Bluebirds were in Division Three.

He also had spells at Cheltenham Town, Peterborough and Weymouth, the latter his only foray into non-league which ended in 2009.

He added: "Even now, if someone wants to pick up the phone or bring me in to give them some advice, I'd listen to them. I have a wealth of experience."

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