Wolves throwback: Steve Froggatt's glass always half full

Anyone taking a scroll through Steve Froggatt’s social media accounts will usually be wearing a broad smile and positive outlook when they click away at the end of it.

Steve Froggatt
Steve Froggatt

Nothing to do with the former Wolves, Aston Villa and Coventry winger’s exploits on the football pitch, although some of those highlights have returned to the public consciousness with nostalgic videos of former games posted during lockdown.

No. This is more to do with the regular supply of fun and frolics that are on show at Froggatt towers, as the man himself, wife Julie and daughter Leah, share an insight into family life behind the scenes.

They do this via an eclectic mix of wild, weird and wonderful dancing, singing, performing - often with a glass of wine or two in tow.

Not so much Paul McCartney’s Frog Chorus but the Froggy Chorus? Now there’s an idea for Christmas!

Son Ashley is also rumoured to get involved from time to time, although, “too cool for school” as Dad describes, he manages to keep himself away from the phone camera’s lens.

Like everyone, Froggatt has suffered during the pandemic, probably more than most.

Having seen Dad pass away at the age of just 49 just after coming to the end of his football career, Froggatt lost his Mum to Covid in November of last year.

Amid the grief and the sadness, the pain of bereavement also restored a belief in Froggatt that life is to be savoured and made the most of. Even the simple pleasures of enjoying being together at home.

“I think social media can be full of a lot of nastiness with arguing or people showing off,” he suggests.

“For me, life is about family and friends, and enjoying it when you can.

“We know this has been such a tough time for so many, and I was devastated to lose my Mum.

“Our children are with us in the house and, as young adults, it has also been mentally tough for them having to shut their lives down, a story which will have played out in so many households all over the country.

“All we do, is that if anyone has a bad day, we try our best to cheer them up, whether with a joke, a laugh or a daft dance, with a glass of wine.

“My wife and daughter – my girls – well they are bonkers while my lad also gets involved but is usually there in the background, staying out of shot!

“I just think there is a lesson for us all, on how important family and those around you are during the bad times, and I know that only too well having been through them so many years ago.

“I just have to try and look after my little crew in our house, and I am sure everyone else is exactly the same.”

Let’s face it, Froggatt’s status as one of the great entertainers was set in stone long before he started busting some moves in his garden, or moonwalking across the kitchen.

As a player, he was one of those swashbuckling fast and direct wingers who fans wanted to see on the ball, and moved to the edge off their seats and produced a buzz of excitement when he blazed a trail down the flanks.

Froggatt’s career, which launched as a schoolboy in Leicester, was then based entirely in the West Midlands as coach Dave Richardson took him from the Foxes to Villa before he later moved on to Wolves and finished, sadly well before his time, at Coventry.

And his breakthrough onto the scene was every bit as spectacular a fashion as one of his explosive bursts down the left wing.

Wolves' Steve Froggatt at full speed.

“I had just turned 18 when I made my debut for Villa and then it all went a bit crazy,” he recalls.

“All of a sudden I was transformed from this scruffy Lincoln council estate kid who everyone wondered who the hell he was to someone playing in the Premier League.

“In the space of about six weeks I scored a winning goal into the top bins from 25 yards for Villa in the FA Cup, got man of the match against Everton in a live televised game and an England Under-21 call-up.

“It was the start of the Premier League so everyone was finding their way but for me it was all a bit nuts!

“It was quite hard to get my head around it with the background I had come from but now I can look back and think ‘wow, I played in a team which came runners-up in the Premier League and won the League Cup’.

“And I was surrounded by so many fantastic senior pros at Villa who really looked after me.

“They were a brilliant set of lads and some world class footballers and serial winners who taught me the tricks of the trade.

“I was learning from the likes of Kevin Richardson, Nigel Spink, Andy Townsend, playing in the same team as Paul McGrath – an amazing footballer – and Dwight Yorke, and so many more – it was an incredible experience.”

It wasn’t just manager Graham Taylor with whom Froggatt would ultimately share both Wolves and Villa links.

Two other big influences on the young winger were Paul Birch and Gordon Cowans, not to mention fellow wing wizard Tony Daley.

Despite both sometimes battling each other for a place in the team the two got on well - they still do - and Daley was Froggatt’s best man.

There was massive excitement around Molineux when the two of them both chose to link up with Taylor again at Wolves in the summer of 1994 as the former England boss set about an ambitious and attack-minded assault on the First Division promotion race.

For Froggatt, dropping down a division from Villa was only ever meant to be a temporary measure, and there is only one reason why he even considered it.

“There was no other manager I would have dropped down a division to play for,” he insists.

“The reality was I could have signed for four other Premier League clubs, but I was still young, only 21, and felt like I needed somebody to guide my career.

“Having worked with Graham Taylor I knew what a good man he was, what he was capable of achieving in football.

“When he had become Wolves manager, given there were players there like Birchy, Tony, Gordon later on, it almost felt like I was going into the same dressing room, just 15 miles away.

“I saw the squad, the stadium, the plans Graham had, and it was a club which was made for Premier League football.

“Unfortunately, it just didn’t happen.”

Indeed it didn’t, and those four years spent at Molineux came right in the midst of that spell where Wolves, for so many different reasons, just couldn’t get over the line.

A squad packed with quality, with personality, with character, somehow never quite made it as so often, the cruel hand of fate and misfortune stepped in to play its part.

Never did Froggatt think Wolves should have done it more than during his first season of 1994/95, one of two campaigns ending in play-off semi-final defeat in which he was absent in the closing stages with injury.

He had been flying in both, right from the moment he scored the only goal of the game in an albeit extremely tricky game for his opening day debut against Reading.

“That first season – that was the hardest one to take,” Froggatt acknowledges.

“We were absolutely flying, top of the league, well on course for promotion but then four or five of us got crocked in a short space of time.

“I picked up an horrific injury from a tackle at Reading and didn’t play for well over a year and we lost a few solid, senior players.

“Then after dropping into the play-offs we had the Bolton episode where John McGinlay punched David Kelly and didn’t get sent off and you just think that it wasn’t meant to be.”

Oh for the existence of VAR at Burnden Park back in May, 1995.

Oh too, in Froggatt’s case, for the existence of statistics on assists from that era.

Games with Grimsby and West Bromwich Albion from the season 25 years ago have been featured in these columns in recent times particularly for the Steve Bull and Iwan Roberts hat tricks which were exclusively the result of Froggatt assists.

There were plenty more too, suggesting that the winger’s absence later in the campaign played a crucial part as Wolves fell at the semi-final hurdle once again, this time against Crystal Palace.

Steve Froggatt and David Kelly

“I was never really a massive goalscorer – I think my goals were sometimes highlighted because I managed to score one or two really good ones – but I think I would always like my career to be based around how many goals I made for others,” Froggatt explains.

“They didn’t really do stats for that in those days but hopefully, going back to strikers like Dean Saunders and Dalian Atkinson at Villa, and Bully at Wolves, they appreciated the sort of service I was able to produce.”

Aside from the disappointments of missing out on the main target of promotion there was still plenty to savour for Wolves at Froggatt.

Named in the 1996/97 PFA team of the year, there was later a hugely sentimental return to Villa Park – his first since leaving – for the FA Cup Semi Final of 1998 where he will never forget the noise created by the Wolves fans but also the nagging feeling that victors Arsenal never really needed to get out of second gear.

Both Ashley and Leah were born during Froggatt’s spell at Molineux – wonderful memories for both him and Julie – and there were ‘amazing’ friendships formed with Daley and others which have endured to this day.

And, as previously reported, he didn’t actually want to leave Wolves and was ready to put pen to paper on a long term contract, only for the club to decide that he and Robbie Keane were the two big-hitters who could command the transfer fees needed to refresh the squad.

“I started like a house on fire that season, I’d been fit for a long time and was probably playing as well as I ever had at Wolves, and spoke to Mark (McGhee) to say I was keen to sign a four-year deal,” Froggatt recalls.

“I could see what was happening with the team looking good, the likes of Robbie and Dean Richards part of a nucleus of great young players who were ready to take things forward.

“But I was told they weren’t going to give me a contract and I was going to be sold because the chairman wanted to recoup some money.

“When that happens, and you are told that you are going to be sold, there isn’t really a lot you can do.”

At this point Froggatt was still only 25 with plenty of football potentially ahead of him.

The best – but then sadly the worst – was very much still to come.

The best came as Froggatt was named in Kevin Keegan’s England squad for the European Championship play-off with Scotland late in 1999.

Travelling down to the squad with now England boss Gareth Southgate and occupying the same dressing room as David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Alan Shearer was a “brilliant experience”.

Froggatt was an unused substitute at Hampden as England won the first leg 2-0, and while also not featuring in the second leg, Keegan had told him he would feature in the end-of-season friendlies against Ukraine and Brazil as the manager formulated his squad for Euro 2000.

But the worst? That was lurking just around the corner.

Before those fixtures came around, Froggatt was on the end of a tackle from Sunderland’s Nicky Summerbee which damaged his ankle ligaments and, while he did try to return and made several more appearances, that damage had been done and he had to call time on his career at the age of just 27.

During the aftermath Froggatt was understandably a mixture of anger, despair and frustration at the effects of the challenge but has since made his peace with Summerbee after bumping into him several years later.

“Do you know what?” he says. “Anger and bitterness can eat away at you if you let it.

“I can’t change the tackle or change the past and it was a bad challenge but you have to move on.

“I was fortunate and privileged to have played for ten years at the highest level and I have great family and friends around me so there really isn’t too much to moan about.

“Obviously football is very different now as well.

“I did actually play over 100 games for Wolves which came back to me when I visited the training ground when my lad was on the Academy books and my name was on the 100-club board!

“But I look at matches now and think I would love to be a winger in the modern game – you can barely get tackled!

“In my time a full back knew they could get a good few whacks on a winger without even a talking-to from the referee but now somebody gets touched, they fall over and the defender gets booked.

“Because of the way my body was built, I suffered quite badly with those injuries and when I look back at some of the videos I wonder how I lasted as long as I did!”

Steve Froggatt and his wife Julie

Another thing that has definitely changed is how off-the-pitch support given to players at the time of Froggatt’s retirement was substantially different to how it is now.

In the modern day, as seen by the many different and positive initiatives highlighting World Mental Health Day last weekend, there are processes in place within football both from clubs and the authorities to support players through difficult situations.

Back then, there was pretty much nothing.

“I had two or three rough years, I’m not going to lie,” Froggatt recalls.

“I also lost my Dad about eight months after retiring so I was in a lot of turmoil at that time.

“Coventry were great with me and the chairman actually gave me a job as a press officer but when I started doing it I found it too painful.

“Going into the training ground, seeing all my mates doing what I loved doing and still wanted to be doing was just torture.

“It was a lovely gesture from Coventry but in the end I had to thank the Chairman but tell him that I needed to leave for the sake of my mental health.

“That apart, I didn’t get any support apart from my wife and family and friends, there was nothing else about.

“But it is also a generational thing isn’t it?

“Back then being in a dressing room no one would talk about their problems – that was deemed to be a sign of weakness in such a man’s world.

“Nowadays I feel the younger generation will talk about anything, they will cry on each other’s shoulders, and will speak about what they are going through.

“People are starting to realise that you are allowed to feel down, you can go through devastating things in life and are allowed to feel upset.

“Life can knock you for six sometimes – it certainly did me – and it took me a good three or four years to get going again in what ultimately felt like starting all over again.”

As he did get going again Froggatt certainly managed to keep himself busy.

He owns plots of land with former Wolves team-mate David Kelly and former Walsall boss Tommy Coakley, he part-ran a golf course with Kelly and also enjoyed a stint working as a personal trainer.

Having also worked in football media for BBC WM and BBC London, he then retrained for his current role as a mortgage advisor, based largely at home, but still with very much an eye on football, particularly the fortunes of his three former clubs.

“There is one million dollar question I get asked everywhere I go,” says Froggatt.

“Which of the three clubs is my favourite?

“The answer is that it would be like having to pick between three children – it’s not possible!

“The reason for that is that I had a brilliant time at Villa, Wolves and Coventry and I want them all to do well.

“Whenever they play each other I am picking splinters out of my backside and hoping for a draw.

“It’s been great to see Villa and Wolves establishing themselves in the Premier League and also Coventry having such a good start in the Championship this time.

“I left them in the Premier League and to see them sink down the divisions with all the hassles that involved was really disappointing so it is nice for the fans to have something to cheer again.”

For Froggatt too, now 48, it is nice that, all these years on, he is able to reflect happily on such a positive and successful career, ahead of its sadly premature end.

“I’ve been retired from the game for 21 years now and I am always taken aback when I go somewhere and people still recognise me,” he says.

“It was actually nice during lockdown that my old clubs often showed old games and footage from on YouTube and a new generation of fans were able to see what us old boys were like!

“I got a fair few messages from people who had seen the clips and it’s still an absolute privilege for me to have gone from a humble council estate kid to playing in the Premier League and it always will be.

“I look back with such fondness at those years because they were so special, each and every single one of them.

“The times I had at the clubs, the players I played alongside who became friends, they are memories that I will cherish forever.”

Lovely words, and heartfelt sentiments from such a popular player, and ex-player, and not just because he has transferred his quick feet and silky skills from the football pitch to the kitchen dance floor.

Whatever the result between Villa and Wolves this weekend, you get the impression that there will be plenty to enjoy at Froggatt Towers on Saturday evening, and, presumably many more messages in the social media in-box.

“Since we started posting the videos there is one particular thing that I have noticed,” Froggatt explains.

“We are getting hundreds of requests from people who want to come to one of our parties!”

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