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A special time for Wolves' special 1971/72 European heroes

Speak to any of the Wolves players involved in the run to the UEFA Cup Final in the 1971/72 season and the response is generally mixed.

Wolves v Juventus in the UEFA Cup Quarter Final (2nd leg).
Wolves v Juventus in the UEFA Cup Quarter Final (2nd leg).

A sense of pride and achievement at such an incredible surge through the competition is almost overshadowed by the disappointment and general apathy at what happened in the final.

And that’s not just because it ended in defeat.

More so that after travelling to various European outposts in what, for many in the squad, were their first ever trips abroad, that it all ended in a two-legged affair – against Tottenham Hotspur!

“After all that, all those experiences, we ended up playing in a final against a team from our own league,” laments former goalkeeper Phil Parkes.

“If it had been a one-off game at Wembley or somewhere similar that might have been o-k, but not over two legs, at your own grounds.”

“It was just like playing two more league games,” adds then midfielder Steve Daley, a young prospect just breaking into the team at the time.

“Two very tight games, and we just came out on the wrong side, but it was all a bit flat after the excitement of the adventures that had come before.”

Fifty years on, tentative enquiries about whether there would be any Golden Anniversary celebrations looking back on the memorable European cup run never really got off the ground.

“Why would we want to celebrate defeat?” has been the typical reaction from the majority of that squad.

And so, we won’t either!

Instead, we aim to focus on memories from the semi-final, against Hungarian giants Ferencvaros, which took place on the 5th and 19th of April, half a century ago.

For Daley and Parkes in particular, those were ground-breaking nights. Nights where both posted significant contributions during such an exhilarating period of Wolves’ recent history.

Parkes saved a penalty in both legs, which proved pivotal given the hugely close and competitive nature of the tie, and the young whippersnapper Daley settled nerves at the start of the second leg by scoring inside just 22 seconds. Although ask the man himself and he’ll claim it was even quicker.

Bringing the two together to talk football and to re-live old times is always a pleasure. And never dull.

We are at Oxley Park Golf Course, home of the annual Wolves’ Former Players Association’s annual golf day meticulously organised by Daley.

It is early on a Friday evening and a large group of golfers are occupying the bar area, enjoying a post-round beer, deciphering the results from their afternoon on the course, and chipping in with a word and a joke or two in Parkes and Daley’s direction.

The pair love it and respond in kind. And they love chatting about their Molineux memories.

It makes the conversation a challenge, because while it starts on the subject of it being 50 years since Ferencvaros, it soon becomes obvious that the subject matter is going to jump around like a flamboyant trampolinist off the back of downing a four-pack of Red Bull.

There is no point fighting it - you just have to go with the flow.

“Steve, can you remember when you first met Phil? Have you always got on?”

“Yes,” Daley replies. “Although I didn’t know what he looked like for a while – I just saw his back when he was picking the ball out of his net.”

“Phil, what was Steve like when he first broke into the team?”

“Well, we felt sorry for him so decided we ought to let him have a game.”

And so it continues.

We manage somehow to get back to their respective statuses in that 1971/72 season, Parkes the established Wolves number one several years into his lengthy Molineux career and Daley the new kid on the block trying to break into a quality-packed team.

Both felt the way the dressing room operated during their early time coming through the ranks played a key part in their respective developments.

“When you were a young player at Wolves in our day, you’d have to knock the door of the home dressing room to be allowed in,” says Parkes.

“We’d be in the away dressing room and would have to come up to the home, knock on the door and the senior lads would say ‘what do you want?’ and then let us in.

“They were brilliant with us, and that was how you got to know them before then moving into that dressing room once turning pro.”

Daley concurs.

“All the top guys in the dressing room helped the young lads,” he recalls.

“As trainees we would have to do different jobs, taking their kit in for them to train in, collecting it afterwards, giving them towels, cleaning their boots and putting them out by their peg for the next day.

“It was an unbelievable experience seeing these top players, it was relationship-building and everyone would tell us to make sure we listened to what they told us as that was how they had got themselves into that position in the first place.

“We would listen and we would learn and one person I always made sure I listened to was Mick Bailey, who was brilliant.

“Even if he wasn’t playing well himself it didn’t affect his enthusiasm to push everyone else to perform.”

We will get to Ferencvaros eventually, but it is worth providing some context to the European run Wolves enjoyed that season.

It was the first ever UEFA Cup, and Wolves – almost a couple of decades on from blazing a trail as pioneers of European competition with the famous floodlit friendlies – had qualified by finishing fourth in Division One in the previous campaign.

This was now the real deal and, as mentioned, for many of the younger element among the squad, it was their first taste of travelling beyond British shores not just for football, but life in general.

It all started out comfortably, with an 7-1 aggregate win over Academica Coimbra from Portugal made more remarkable not by Derek Dougan’s second leg hat trick but the fact that defender John McAlle was on target both home and away.

Those two goals, and another in the League Cup against Manchester City just a few weeks earlier, were the only three notched by McAlle in 508 appearances in the gold and black. Just like buses, eh?

A trip to the Netherlands and FC Den Haag loomed next, and once again it ended 7-1 on aggregate, Dougan continuing his hot European streak by scoring in both legs.

Frank Munro and Steve Daley enjoy Munro’s goal against Ferencvaros

The second leg was particularly noteworthy as the other three goals in Wolves’ 4-0 victory, were all own goals from the Dutch side. Thanks, lads!

The biggest culture shock arrived in Round Three with a trip to Carl Zeiss Zena in East Germany, then part of the Eastern bloc of Soviet-allied communist countries when the Cold War was very much a theme of the time.

John Richards grabbed the only goal in the away leg before Dougan (2) and Kenny Hibbitt helped Wolves to a 3-0 win at home.

“East Germany was deep in snow when we went over there – it was so cold,” Parkes recalls.

“And you always felt someone was watching you, wherever you went.

“We went for a walk from the hotel and I saw a pair of goalkeeping gloves in a shop window that I wanted to buy.

“When I went in, they refused to sell them to me – because they knew I was the opposition!”

Wolves had rattled up an 18-2 aggregate score in the six legs of their first three rounds, but at the quarter final stage things suddenly took a far more significant – and challenging - turn.

The Old Lady, Juventus. The Italian giants who were well on their way to the first of nine Serie A titles they would lift over the next 15 years.

“No one gave us a chance against Juventus,” says Parkes.

“The away leg came first and that was the liveliest and most intimidating atmosphere we faced during the whole cup run.

“There were firecrackers going off all over the place and one of the ball boys burnt his leg after one landed by him.”

There was an element of firecrackers on the pitch as well with tempers boiling over in parts, not least for Parkes when he picked up a backpass and was spat at by future England manager Fabio Capello.

But Wolves boss Bill McGarry had devised a masterstroke, not just in how he approached the tactical side of the tie, but in taking along Welsh legend John Charles, a hero in Turin after five successful years with Juventus, as an ambassador.

Not only did Charles pass on expert advice and guidance which played a part in Wolves securing a 1-1 draw thanks to a Jim McCalliog goal, his presence has also kept that squad in anecdotes for the best part of half a century.

Over to Parkes.

“On the morning of the game we went to train and it had been raining so the main pitch was covered in plastic sheeting to protect it.

“As a result, there was only one pitch to train on, and we had to wait for Juventus to finish, in front of over 2,000 fans watching them train.

“John Charles was taking the Doog (Dougan) to have a bit of treatment and when they walked past the crowd, they all started clapping and cheering.

“The Doog raised his hand to acknowledge the applause and John said, ‘what are you doing you daft sod, that is for me!’”

Daley and fellow young prospect Alan Sunderland had already taken Charles up on his offer of a tour of the local shops during the build-up.

“I wanted a pair of shoes and went up to sort it at the counter and the shopkeeper said, ‘you are with Charlo, you don’t pay’,” says Daley.

“’Amazing’ I thought, and when we got out of the shop, I told Charlo that I needed a nice new suit as well!

“I won’t repeat what he said to me, and I didn’t get a suit, but he was a brilliant bloke, just what we needed on that trip.”

Parkes also observed the Juventus dressing room attendant sink to his knees and kiss Charles’s shoes when they arrived for the game, but later on in the evening – after a night of celebration which included Charles insisting McGarry continued to enjoy the moment rather than head off to bed – it was a rather different type of assistance that the big Welshman required!

“John was in the room next to myself and my room-mate Frank (Munro), and he was a big smoker,” says Parkes.

“We all went up from the bar having had a few drinks and I remember saying to Frank that I hope he doesn’t start smoking and drop his cigarette.

Phil Parkes and Steve Daley

“He could have set the whole place on fire.

“He had given us his key to make sure we woke him up in the morning to make the flight home, so I thought we’d better go and have a look.

“He was sat on his bed in his underpants, trying to light his cigarette, and there were matches all over the floor!

“We took them off him, rolled him into bed, covered him up and went back to wake him in the morning!”

Flying home there was a feeling of optimism and excitement amongst the returning Wolves squad as Charles had told them that, with the game so tight, Juventus’s big names wouldn’t fancy the second leg and wouldn’t make the trip.

And he was right.

Goals from Dougan and Danny Hegan secured Wolves a 2-1 win on another famous Molineux night and a place in the semi-finals in front of an ecstatic crowd of over 40,000.

Although, as Daley explains, there was still time for a bit more drama, courtesy of one of the few stars to have headed to Molineux, striker Helmut Haller, who scored for West Germany against England in the 1966 World Cup Final.

“It got to the early hours and Sammy (assistant manager Sammy Chung) got a call from the Juventus manager saying he had done a bed check and they were one short – Helmut Haller.

“Sammy then phoned up Lofty (Parkes) and asked if Danny Hegan had been seen and he hadn’t, by which point he knew what had happened.

“Danny liked a drink, and it turns out that because he felt he’d had Helmut in his pocket during the game he should take him for a night out afterwards to soften the blow.

“The pair of them had gone to Cleveland Court and Helmut had to be tracked down so he could get back on the Juventus flight later on in the morning.”

And so, that finally brings us back to our initial plan, the semi-final with Ferencvaros, 50 years ago right about now.

It was ‘2-2 in ’72’ after the first leg in Budapest, Frank Munro and John Richards on target for Wolves with the Ferencvaros goals from another World Cup 1966 star in Florian Albert and a penalty – before he later missed from the spot – from Istvan Szoke.

That set things up perfectly for the return, and an immediate impact from the young Daley, in what was only his fourth Wolves start - and first in European competition - having appeared on several other occasions as a substitute.

The 19-year-old, in for the injured Dave Wagstaffe, didn’t need long to make a first impression, and he can close his eyes and picture it even now. Whilst sipping on his coffee at Oxley Park.

“We kicked off, got the ball forward quickly, it was cleared out and the Doog passed it to Alan Sunderland, his cross came back in and I met it at the far post with a half volley. Get in!

“Looking back on it on video I can’t believe I went for it first time as I probably had time for a touch, I’d have looked a right idiot if I’d missed.

“Bill McGarry had told me when I was playing on the left that as soon as the ball was out on the right-hand side, to break my neck to get on the end of it and get in the box.

“And it worked!

“It was so early but to be honest I didn’t feel nervous at all that night, I’d actually scored on my first league start against Southampton as well, because at that age everything just felt like an adventure.

“It was an unbelievable time to score so soon, on such a big night, right in front of the North Bank.

“With us getting back in front it meant they had to come out and attack a little bit more, and of course the Big Man saved another penalty later on to help us get through.”

By that time Munro had extended Wolves lead before Lahos Ku responded shortly after half time, and then the award of a spot kick offered the Hungarians the chance to level.

Once again Parkes was the hero, saving just as he had one of the two penalties faced in the first leg, and helping Wolves progress to the final.

This of course was a couple of generations at least before the availability of any sort of detailed analysis on opposition, and so Parkes had nothing like the sort of data available around penalties to goalkeepers in the modern era.

And, he admits, there wasn’t a huge amount of science underpinning his technique.

“I was always o-k at penalties, and saved one on my Wolves debut, against Preston,” he explains.

“My approach was just to stay on my feet for as long as possible, and make it as difficult as I could for the kicker.

“They wanted you to dive early, to make their mind up, but if you stayed on your feet, they were more likely to panic.

“For both of the Ferencvaros penalties he went down the middle and I had delayed my dive so was able to save both of them with my feet.

“You could probably say I dived the wrong way both times – but it was the best left foot you have ever seen!”

It was another glorious night, a glorious win, but of course, there followed that two-legged final with Spurs, who had overcome AC Milan in their semi-final.

With Wagstaffe back, Daley dropped out of the line-up, but Parkes featured in both, and it was a Tottenham side packed with quality who narrowly edged it to lift the trophy.

“I know we were disappointed and it was a bit of a letdown to play Tottenham but they had some good players, didn’t they?” Parkes suggests.

“Jennings, Mullery, Chivers, Gilzean, Stevie Perryman, Cyril Knowles.

“We had a lot of tight games with them throughout that time and the two legs of the final were no exception.”

Even though he wasn’t involved in the final Daley was still handed a medal, although sadly he doesn’t have it anymore.

“When I went over to play in America, my lad Ryan took it into school for show and tell,” he explains.

“When I went to pick him up, he came out sobbing – he said somebody had pinched it.

“’Don’t worry,’ I said, ‘shall we go to McDonald’s?’ I had to cheer him up somehow.

“And I wasn’t all that bothered to be honest.

“Maybe it would have been different if we’d won but I don’t need a medal to remember that year in Europe, I’ve got the memories.

“My first season in the first team was incredible and no one can take that away from me.

“I’ve had the experience – I was there – and I don’t need a medal to remind me.

“And what a job that we had - how many people would have loved to have done what we did?

“I feel very lucky to have been a part of it.”

“Absolutely,” Parkes chimes in.

“Along with that European run we had a lot of tours during those years, to Los Angeles, Kansas City, Canada, New Zealand, Australia.

“We were travelling all over the world and getting paid to play football, which was amazing.”

That strong sense of appreciation and gratitude, the humility and down-to-earth candour with which the pair recall the time when Wolves were right at the top of the tree in European football, is endearing.

Particularly given repeating those levels of achievements in the modern game would see them hailed as superstars.

Because despite becoming the pioneers of continental competition with the floodlit friendlies, Wolves had never reached a major European final previously and, five decades on, they haven’t since.

It is only two years ago when the current side enjoyed a fantastic march to the Europa League quarter finals that any of their successors have even come close.

There is nothing Parkes and Daley would like more than to see the modern-day Wolves go a couple of steps further and see Conor Coady – whom both are huge fans of – lift a major trophy.

Equally their own contributions, and that of their team-mates through the 1970s, remain so fondly remembered by the Molineux faithful.

Last month, as guests of Wolves, Daley and Parkes were among a group of former players who enjoyed a wonderful tour of the Compton training ground and the comments which followed from fans on social media showed the lofty – excuse the pun – esteem in which they are still held.

“That was lovely, and the fans have always been brilliant with us,” adds Daley.

“I remember the one game we were all in WV1 bar and as we walked down to sit in our seats everybody around us stood up and started applauding.

“That was unbelievable really, to think that we are still remembered and that people enjoyed what we did.

“Although the once somebody thought I was Mel Eves…”

“We love getting together at the golf days and the dinners,” adds Parkes.

“We’ll end up talking – as we have done today – about all our old memories. ‘Remember when this happened’? ‘Remember when so-and-so did that’?

“It’s great that we all get on so well and so many of us still live locally and can meet up at different events or just to get together and catch up with how everyone is doing.”

And with that they are off, with a warm farewell to the golfers before heading out to the car park.

“Here, get ready for this,” says Daley, with a glint in his eye.

Parkes is somehow trying to squeeze his 6ft 4in frame into the passenger seat of Daley’s modest Volkswagen - which makes for a fairly hilarious sight.

“He’s gonna dent my roof,” laughs Daley.

He finally makes it and the two head off with a cheery wave, both in fits of giggles.

Fifty years on, former team-mates, still firm friends, like so many amongst that squad, still in close contact and still so humble.

If they themselves aren’t necessarily keen to remember the climax to that UEFA Cup run, their overall contributions – indeed their legacy – will forever remain etched in Molineux folklore.

A special group of players - for a special club.

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