Ex-Wolves man Jack Price proving himself Stateside

When Jack Price was in his Wolves pomp, marshalling the midfield alongside Kevin McDonald, there was a phrase that emerged from within the Molineux faithful.

Jack Price (Photo: Colorado Rapids)
Jack Price (Photo: Colorado Rapids)

‘No Price, No Points’.

It was a saying that reflected not just Price’s ability, and indeed reliability, but also cold, hard facts.

The statistics are spectacular.

It wasn’t until Price’s 19th league appearance for Wolves, starting or as a substitute, that he finished on the losing side.

He lost only one of his first 35 league outings in a Wolves shirt. No Price, No Points indeed!

“I remember that saying from the fans,” recalls Price, whose Colorado Rapids side are getting into their early-season stride in the MLS just as Wolves’ campaign has come to an end.

“Although I didn’t remember the ‘stat’ being that good!

“I have to point out that this would be nothing to do with me and that record was all down to the team and how we played at that time.

“But thinking back it will definitely have given me confidence going into every game thinking we had got a really good chance.”

It is perhaps slightly surprising that Price’s contribution was so appreciated by the Wolves fanbase, not through any fault of their own but just that the impact of his style of player can sometimes drift under the radar.

A continuity player who can sniff out danger with his anticipation and positioning, win the ball back, do the simple things well and link play whilst taking good care of possession.

“People sometimes think you are just a crab, passing it sideways,” Price laughs.

Jack Price (Photo: Colorado Rapids)

“But it’s about doing the dirty work and putting in the hard yards, doing a lot of running that maybe the attacking players don’t do and winning the ball back.

“To have a successful team I think you need that, the players at the top end to go and do the magic and the ones in behind that just do their jobs and do them well.

“At the same time I remember some of the easiest games I ever had during my best time at Wolves were when we were flying and I just had to give the ball to the likes of Sako, Afobe and Dicko.

“They were incredible, and made my job so easy, just win the ball and give it to them!”

It is perhaps more a sign of the type of player Price is, not to mention his stature during his formative years, that repeatedly during his career – and perhaps more often than most - he has found himself needing to prove himself.

And that is a challenge that he has faced right from the very start, from his days in the Wolves Academy which began at the age of just eight after some initial interest from home town club Shrewsbury.

Former Wolves sporting director Kevin Thelwell used to hold Price up as an example of just how attitude and professionalism were the perfect accompaniments to talent and ability when emerging through the ranks.

Because at the end of every season in the Academy, there would often be a borderline decision as to whether Price would make it through.

Every time he did, and just look at how that faith has been repaid ever since.

“I went through the age groups at Wolves with some great coaches,” Price recalls.

“But there were times when I know there were concerns that I was too small and might not be big enough or strong enough.

“Around 14 or 15 I would often be playing down an age group rather than up, and obviously I would do well because I was older but mentally it was getting to the point where I was thinking they really didn’t see me as someone with potential.

“There was also a time early in my scholarship where I was travelling in from Shrewsbury and not really enjoying it and remember saying I wanted to give up.

“I think every kid goes through that at one point, and I was lucky that my parents left it all up to me and never really pushed me.

“Although my Dad, a mechanic, did tell me that having played football for ten years I would probably prefer to carry on doing that than spending my days underneath cars!

“Anyway, I went into digs and Kevin just told me to give it a go and stick it out for a few weeks which I did, and not long afterwards I managed to pass my driving test which meant I could go back home and travel in every day.

“I am really glad I did, and gradually I started to really prove myself and show that if you can play football it doesn’t matter how big you are or how old you are.

“Maybe it toughened me up a bit - those years with people suggesting I might be too small - but to me it has always been about being smart and using your brain.

“I always think football is played ‘upstairs’, and as long as you are a few steps ahead of everyone then, as they say, size really doesn’t matter!”

There are many within the Wolves Academy whom Price gives credit for his ascent through the ranks.

Jack Price of Wolverhampton Wanderers celebrates after he scores to make it 1-2 . (AMA)

First scouted by Colin Eaton, Price pays particular tribute to John Trollope, his coach at Under-16 level, who had a major influence and strongly recommended him for the scholarship.

Then there was Thelwell and Gareth Prosser who nurtured him through those youth team days, and coaches Mick Halsall – who improved Price during the second year of his scholarship after a hip injury put paid to the first – and Steve Weaver, who progressed him through the Development set-up.

When his initial flirtation with the first team arrived it was during the brief tenure of former coach and assistant Terry Connor, with Price an unused substitute in the Premier League at Norwich.

His debut would actually arrive 18 months later as a 76thminute substitute on a memorable afternoon at Molineux, the first home game for Head Coach Kenny Jackett.

Wolves trounced Gillingham 4-0 on a day remembered for the launch of a fresh new dawn, cleansing of the recent past, an electric atmosphere and Martin Allen’s bright red trousers.

“I still can’t properly explain to people the feeling of running on the pitch that day,” Price recalls.

“I was buzzing to make my debut in front of the Molineux crowd and just wanted to get as many touches of the ball as I could and enjoy the moment.

“Those are the sort of feelings you can never get back.”

Price’s first league start came against Sheffield United six weeks later, and in total he would chalk up 30 appearances in all competitions in that record-breaking 2013/14 season as Wolves stormed to the League One title.

“It was perfect timing really as I think six or seven of us young lads broke through under Kenny that year,” says Price.

“The club went through a rebuild relying more on the Academy and we had such a good season.

“The lads got on so well together and we played some great stuff to get straight back to the Championship.”

It was then that the regular need to prove his worth returned for Price, as he was despatched on loan to Yeovil and then Leyton Orient in the early months of Wolves’ Championship season.

But then, as Wolves suffered one of their disappointing ‘Naughty Novembers’ of the period, losing five games in succession, the midfield maestro with the ability to make Wolves tick was swiftly called back.

“I always felt that if something went wrong, that was when I would come back in and be given a chance to try and fix it,” Price explains.

Bernardo Silva of Manchester City and Jack Price of Wolverhampton Wanderers (AMA)

“If I was involved and things were going well I probably wouldn’t be singled out as having made a difference but if things went wrong I would be the one who was dropped.

“And then if the team had a bad run I would be brought back to steady the ship, and yet I felt I like I had more to offer than that.

“Thinking back now, I would probably knock on the manager’s door if I had been more experienced but I was a young lad, in and around the Championship for the first time, and when I was involved I was really enjoying it.

“And I did make a decent contribution after coming back that season where we missed out on the play-offs on goal difference.

“We had such a great second half to the season, and we felt so confident.

“The lads still say now when we chat that had we gone into the play-offs that year, with the way we were playing and the likely opposition, we would have gone all the way to the Premier League.”

This was when Wolves boasted so many threats from midfield, both from the pairing of Price and McDonald, and his fellow Salopian Dave Edwards further advanced.

The Price/McDonald axis in particular was one which enjoyed so much success.

“Kev is an outstanding player and I loved playing alongside him,” says Price.

“Wherever I have been, I have always felt that if I get on well with someone off the pitch – like I did with Kev – it helps the understanding on it.

“He’s a great lad, a little bit older than me, and I learned from him how to be around the changing room and also how not to take yourself too seriously!

“One of my best times playing football was when it was me and him in the middle of the park – I really enjoyed that time.”

In total Price chalked up 115 appearances for Wolves, scoring two goals, a winner at MK Dons and, his first, a deflected effort against Watford.

Not only did that herald a ‘Lion King’ celebration as Danny Batth lifted Price to the skies, it also meant he had to follow through on a comment in the matchday programme where he said he would remove his trademark beard should he ever find the net.

A promise is a promise, and the temporary end of the ‘Fear the Beard’ hashtag saw Price’s magnificent whiskers removed by his team-mates at Compton Park, all filmed for Wolves TV.

“It looked horrendous when it came off to the extent that I don’t think I will ever shave it off again,” laughs Price.

“I am pleased to say it is still in force and flourishing now.

“Why did I say I would do it? Well I don’t score many do I? I didn’t really think it was going to happen.

“It would be like me saying now that I will shave it off if I win the World Cup.

“As soon as it happened I knew the lads weren’t going to let me off the hook and Stears (Richard Stearman) had already got the clippers out the next time we were at the training ground.”

Ultimately however, it was not just the beard which had to depart as Price’s 17-year Wolves love affair ended in the early part of 2018.

It was six months into the Molineux tenure of Nuno Espirito Santo and Price, aside from a decent League Cup run including a superb night pushing Manchester City to penalties, had found opportunities limited.

So when the chance came to head Stateside to join a Colorado Rapids side whose Wolves alumni included Marcus Hahnemann and Kevin Doyle, he was itching to explore a new challenge.

“When Nuno arrived I actually think I had my best ever pre-season and he told me he was impressed with how I had trained and done in the games,” Price recalls.

“But at the same time, when players of the quality of Ruben Neves were coming in, I knew at the back of my mind it was coming to an end, even if I didn’t want to admit it.

“The League Cup games were brilliant, but in the league I was only getting a few minutes and it felt like my time was up.

“When the chance came up to go to America I remember going in to see Nuno to say I needed to go over to Colorado and have a look at the place.

“He told me I was due to be playing in the FA Cup against Swansea that weekend!

“He was great though, and he told me that if I went there and I didn’t like it then my home was always back at Wolves, and that I could come back and be a part of the squad.

“But I wasn’t happy not to be playing and Nuno knew that.

“I could have stayed and been part of a squad that we knew was going to get promoted but at the age of 25, I really needed to be playing games.

“I didn’t feel I was a part of it, I was going into training, not feeling happy and just not feeling myself.

“It is part of football that at some stage you have to move on, and it was sad because Wolves is such a great club which had done so much for me as a player and as a person.

“The club were heading in the right direction, as has been proved since, but for me it was time to move on, get some games and regain the confidence which I was lacking at that time.”

Next stop America, and the Rapids in Major League Soccer.

It was an exciting move, but not without its risks.

Jack Price of Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tom Adeyemi of Leeds United. (AMA)

Price headed out with partner Lauren – the couple having only been together a few months – moving away from his Shrewsbury home and close family network for the first time in his career.

In footballing terms too, he wondered what would happen should it not work out. Where would that leave him in terms of a next step?

But proving himself? That’s what Price does best. He backed his ability, and the last three-and-a-half years has seen him get better and better at the same time enjoying more and more responsibility.

He is now Colorado’s club captain, replacing the retired Tim Howard in the role last year, chalked up ten set piece assists in 2019 – the most for nine years in the MLS overtaking a certain David Beckham – and was the team’s MVP (Most Valuable Player) last season.

On Saturday night he was at it again with an assist and typically enthusiastic post-match celebration captured on the Rapids’ social media as a 3-0 win against FC Dallas continued a promising start to the season which sees them occupying fourth spot in the Western Conference.

“This was such an exciting opportunity for me and while it was a bit of a risk, I really haven’t looked back,” says Price.

“It was the right thing for my career, I am playing week-in week-out, delivering assists, trying to get goals, and just feeling like my old self again.

“The manager Robin Fraser is a great guy and a great coach and obviously we also have another great coach in Neil Emblen here, who Wolves fans will know all about.

“I am a very proud captain and feel like I am taking more responsibility now, passing on my experience and helping the young boys through in the same way as others did for me when I was at Wolves.

“When I was given the captaincy I was told not to change, to have a stern word or two if it was needed but to continue having a laugh and a joke when the time is right, and that will always be important in a football dressing room.

“And I think the league itself is always growing and improving.

“There have always been big players coming over here, the likes of Beckham, Thierry Henry, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, but now I think the overall standard is much better as well.

“There are some really good players in the MLS, including at our club, and I think it will only carry on going in an upward direction.

“We have a really good team this year, and the next step for us, is to go on and try and win a trophy.

“For me, at 28, I feel like I am in my prime, really enjoying my football, and looking forward to what’s ahead.”

It was always perhaps written in the stars that Price would end up plying his trade in Colorado when, back in 2016, as part of a pre-Super bowl feature at Wolves, he donned the Denver Broncos jersey.

Jack Price with his family.

A few years on the Broncos are now his nearest NFL team and, while he hasn’t yet braved the usual wintry weather conditions to take in a game, it is on his American bucket list having already taken in hockey, basketball and baseball.

Life off the pitch is good with Lauren and their 18-month-old son Hugo, keeping Price on toes at home, and also prompting happy days out on walks or visiting the nearby zoo and aquarium.

Contracted with the Rapids to 2022, plus a club option for a further year, his current future is secure and, beyond that, he admits only missing respective parents, siblings and extended family would sway any potential return home.

Whisper it quietly, but there is also a dream of one day following his good friend Edwards in turning out for his beloved Shrewsbury before hanging up the boots.

Even now the strains of ‘Sallllloooop’ can still be heard from Price in the wake of a positive Shrewsbury result.

At present however, all focus is on leading the Rapids, and building on this promising start.

“I am very proud of how far I have come in my career, and I have got plenty more miles left in the tank,” says Price.

“As I have got older I have reflected more and while it’s not like I am desperate to prove people wrong I do feel that there may have been doubts along the way.

“I am now at a time when I feel I have people who believe in me and can see my value as a player and a person.

“I am enjoying life on and off the pitch and relishing the season ahead and living in a place where it sunny 300 days of the year – what’s not to like?!”

Still fondly remembered by fans not just for ‘No Price No Points’ but also his overall contribution to life at Molineux, there will undoubtedly be many across Wolverhampton and indeed Shropshire still checking on the fortunes of Colorado Rapids every weekend.

And do you know what? Maybe their captain has proved that the Price was right all along!

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