Wolves throwback: Tim Steele on his Molineux highs and lows

Tim Steele effectively had the best seat in the house as Peter Beagrie smashed home his two goals for Everton against Wolves.

Tim Steele. (Photo: Dave Bagnall)
Tim Steele. (Photo: Dave Bagnall)

For the first he couldn’t quite get close enough as Beagrie let fly from outside the area and for the second, was held off by the Everton winger as his deflected effort beat former Goodison gloveman Mick Stowell.

“I tried to make a tackle but it was in vain and Beagrie managed to score from long range – twice,” Steele recalls.

This was a big night for Wolves, 30 years ago on Saturday.

Nowadays meetings with the Toffees are commonplace but this clash on Merseyside, not at Molineux where Monday’s latest fixture between the two will take place, was the only one of a 19-year period during which there were certainly some sticky times for the men in gold and black.

“It was nice to play at Goodison and the pitch was great,” Steele adds.

“But we didn’t really do ourselves justice that night and got a bit of a tanking.”

It was only the third round of the League Cup but those were the days when teams fielded their strongest teams in the competition.

And so Everton boasted the likes of Neville Southall, Dave Watson, Pat Nevin, Mike Newell and other goalscorers that night Tony Cottee and Peter Beardsley.

Steele himself was marked by Andy Hinchcliffe, another of the array of past, present or future internationals on show for the hosts that chilly October evening.

And it all started with that Beagrie brace.

Steele, whose talents were always far more potent going forward than defensively, was a very different winger to Beagrie, who had the ability to turn inside and out, not to mention execute some Olympic-standard somersaults in celebration of his goals.

Far cry from the sort of ‘Knees Up Mother Brown’ reaction from Steele to his first ever Wolves goal in a 6-1 win against Gillingham.

But no, Steele was one of those described as a more ‘traditional’ winger with a game based around pure speed and crossing ability.

Not quite the fore-runner to Adama Traore but certainly someone whose arrival at Wolves back in the February of 1989 carried with it a genuine sense of excitement.

The Wolves team of the late Eighties was not, despite its magnificent successes, blessed with electric pace.

The wings were generally occupied by the gliding majesty of the likes of Robbie Dennison and Jon Purdie, or the energetic efficiency of Andy Thompson or Mick Holmes, and, later, Paul Birch and Mark Burke.

When Steele made the short hop across from Shrewsbury for Wolves at the age of just 21, it was to add something fresh to a squad blazing a trail enroute to a second successive lower league title to touch base with the second tier.

“I was very quick and fairly strong for my size,” says Steele.

“Very direct, and very different to Robbie and his silky skills – I was more of a ‘push it and run’ kind of player.

“That was my job, to get crosses in, and obviously we had Bully (Steve Bull) and Mutchy (Andy Mutch), who were the cornerstones of the team.

“Bully scored 50 or more goals in those two successive seasons which is still absolutely phenomenal when you think about it.

“When he went out there on a Saturday, he just never stopped.

“Maybe that wasn’t always the case in training but on a matchday, that was when Bully came alive and looked the fittest player on the pitch.”

Steele’s chances with Wolves came after spending just over three years spent picking up a highly beneficial footballing education in Shropshire.

Boasting a keen sporting interest growing up – not just in football but also rugby and athletics – it was legendary scout Ron Jukes who spotted the young Steele and recommended him to then Shrews boss Graham Turner. And Wolves fans know all about him!

In a batch of apprentices including Shrewsbury’s record league appearance maker Mickey Brown and Wolverhampton-born defender Richard Green, experienced players of the era who helped the young players on their way numbered another Wulfrunian in Steve Cross and two top managers-in-waiting in Nigel Pearson and David Moyes.

“They were really good times for me at Shrewsbury,” recalls Steele, whose debut came as a substitute against a Fulham side including Paul Parker.

“In the Second Division as they were then, Shrewsbury were probably punching above their weight – they were higher than Wolves for a few seasons – and ended up spending about ten years in the division.

“They usually had to sell players on at the end of every year and eventually it caught up with them but for me it was such a good time and a good way to learn my football.

“There were also plenty of highlights.

“I remember we won 3-1 away at Manchester City, beat both West Brom and Birmingham and had a good game against (Aston) Villa after they had been relegated.

“We came up against some decent sides at that level and with the small ground and good atmosphere from the fans we picked up some really good results.”

Steele played his senior football under Chic Bates at Shrewsbury as Turner had moved on to the Villa hotseat before launching his successful reign at Molineux.

Wolverhampton Wanderers squad 1991-92

When he did, both he and Jukes, his trusted scout who accompanied him to Wolves, hadn’t forgotten the pacey young winger who had emerged with the Shrews, and so he was snapped up for a not unsubstantial £80,000 in those early weeks of 1989.

“I think Graham had remembered me from signing me as a youngster and I had also scored against Wolves in a friendly the year before,” says Steele.

“The club was certainly on the up when I joined and he was keen to get young players in.

“Wolves, even with only two sides of the ground open, were still getting decent crowds and it always felt like a big club, with so much potential.

“The crowds were maybe between 12,000 and 15,000 every week even in Division Three and that was only ever going to improve if the team did well.”

Do well they did, Steele coming in for the final months of the season which sealed those back-to-back titles.

He got off to a blistering start as well, following up two substitute appearances with a goal on his first start in that comfortable demolition of Gillingham.

But, then came the afore-mentioned dodgy ‘celebration’!

“I did o-k for my first start and it was nice to get such a resounding win,” he admits.

“I enjoyed the goal although that celebration looks a bit dated now doesn’t it?

“None of that fancy stuff, just pumping my knees with my fists out – I’m not sure what I was doing to be honest!”

Four days later Steele was again part of the starting line-up which defeated Bury 4-0, Bull grabbing a hat trick and Mutch the other. How the goals would flow!

As much as Steele was motoring down the right wing, Wolves were motoring towards those memorable back-to-back promotions, the only blemish a surprising Sherpa Van Trophy semi- final second leg defeat against Torquay to deny another back-to-back accolade in the form of trips to Wembley.

The following four seasons which Steele spent at Molineux bar a loan spell with Stoke City brought him mixed fortunes as the team finished between 10thand 12th on resuming acquaintances with the Second Division, or Championship as now.

On several occasions he enjoyed a decent run in the team, including chipping in with assists and goals.

At others he found game time hard to come by, and also picked up a serious injury, but certainly revelled in the famed dressing room spirit of the time even ahead of the upgrade in facilities that was imminent under Sir Jack Hayward.

“Like at Shrewsbury I found the dressing room really good with that mix of young players and good pros,” Steele explains.

“We didn’t have the best of facilities at the time and trained on the car park which would raise a few eyebrows if it happens today, dishing out the yellow jersey for the worst player after we all voted.

“It was good fun though, with a group of players really pushing to improve their careers at that time.

“I remember socially I’d probably be having a few drinks with people like Keith Downing, Robert Kelly and Mark Venus.

“It was a time when the club had hit rock bottom but were on their way back and there weren’t any superstars in how the lads behaved.

“We would be drinking in the same places, there would be no heirs and graces and the fans could relate to that – a lot of them were probably on more money than we were!

“Graham Turner was a key manager for me in my career – I think he signed me twice (Shrewsbury and Wolves) and got rid of me twice as well (Wolves and Hereford).

“He had that balance of letting us have a bit of freedom with the social side but also being a disciplinarian at times – I was a bit of a joker which sometimes didn’t go down well and on a few occasions he scared me to death!

“But it was all fair and honest and Graham knew exactly what he wanted and that was passed on to us so we were all under no illusions about how he wanted us to play.”

High points at Wolves included being involved in big derbies with Albion – albeit not the moment he was booked while leaving the pitch on a stretcher after making a late challenge – and notching in both legs of a League Cup tie with his former pals at Shrewsbury to book that trip to Everton.

At one stage, with Mutch out injured, he was even deployed as a centre forward, alongside Bull, and responded with a flourish of three goals in four games.

“I enjoyed that little spell, probably even more than being on the wing,” he recalls.

“I was in the thick of it more, not needing to rely on someone passing it out to the wing, and trying to use my pace in the central areas.

“Bully would take all the kicks and the knocks from the centre halves and I would be left alone to get on with it – they were more worried about him than they were me, that’s for sure!”

For the moments of promise shown by Steele – and in total he notched ten goals and many more assists in 85 Wolves appearances – ultimately it was an injury picked up in Stan Cullis’s Testimonial match against Aston Villa that hampered the opportunity to fully kick on.

Steele ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament, an extremely serious injury even now but far more so when treatment and recovery were very different three decades ago, and for a player with such electric pace, such a setback was always going to prove troublesome.

“I didn’t realise it was such a severe injury at first,” he recalls.

“It happened at the start of the season and I managed to get back towards the end but I could only really run in straight lines and it was an injury that affected me even after I had left Wolves.

“To be honest, when I think back I was still so raw when I arrived at Wolves and probably needed that bit more coaching to improve my game.

“And by the time I had just about got the hang of it, at 23 or 24 when I finally knew what I was doing and was moving towards my peak, the injury came along and that was a time when sports medicine and players’ diets and so on were nothing like they are now.

“A few years later I had to have an operation and the surgeon’s first words were to ask me what else I could do for a living apart from football – never a good sign!

“I probably lost a yard of pace after the surgery and had to adapt accordingly - more often than not I would have to look for a pass rather than taking someone on.

Tim Steele.

“Ultimately I probably did well to get back fit and playing again especially as in those days when you were injured you would just be stuck somewhere in the corner of the gym working away on your own.”

On departing Molineux, Steele went on to play for Bradford, Hereford and Exeter within the Football League before, at the age of 30, dropping into non-league with Tamworth where he would spend another five happy years.

By this time he was no longer a winger, or even a temporary centre forward, but a centre half or sweeper and, even on one occasion, a stand-in goalkeeper following a sending-off.

And in doing that he managed to keep a clean sheet for the entire second half!

He would also later fill the managerial role for one game when, as one of the senior ‘Lambs’ in the ranks, he stepped in following the departure of Paul Hendrie.

By this time however, the next stage of his career path had already been mapped out.

“I was training to become an accountant,” Steele confirms.

“And that all started with a conversation I had at Tamworth with their finance director Adrian Leedham, who sadly passed away only a few weeks ago.

“I was the players’ rep at the time of Tamworth qualifying through to the first round of the FA Cup, and we met to sort out bonuses.

“I remember suggesting to Adrian that there would be additional income from programme sales, bar sales, money from the cup run itself, and I think he saw my interest in that sort of thing and suggested that I should go and work for him!

“That is how it all came about really – I spent five years studying for my qualifications and now work as an accountant alongside my wife, Julie.”

Football remains, however, a big part of Steele’s life, along with that of accountancy.

He completed his coaching badges in order to be involved at grass roots level, coaching the Warwickshire County Schools team as well as Nuneaton Borough which included his youngest son George.

After eight years in that role he has now stepped aside to watch from the sidelines whilst the footballing family feel continues with eldest son Joshua currently playing for Racing Club Warwick.

Predominantly a left back, Joshua is regularly told by Dad that he wouldn’t have got anywhere near him in his pomp!

And so, as the next Steele cabs move off the rank to continue to develop and enjoy their football, it is fair to say that there is a tough act to follow in the Wolves memories of one of the golden eras of recent Molineux history.

“I will always keep an eye out for Wolves, and I am very proud to have played for them during a time which I enjoyed immensely,” says Steele.

“I am very proud looking back, and I may have got the scrapbooks out once or twice over the years to show the kids!

“Playing at Molineux and some of the other grounds I played at, running out in front of the South Bank, making sure I was behind Bully so I could pretend they were cheering for me – no one can ever take that away from me.

“Sometimes I have to pinch myself that it actually really happened!”

But happen it did.

And for the 53-year-old Steele, whose working life is now based more around taxed returns, book-keeping, payroll and auditing, he is very glad it did, with all the memories and experiences a career in football produced.

And that even includes an initially exciting but ultimately disappointing night against Everton, which hopefully, for all of a Wolves persuasion, won’t be repeated on Monday!

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