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Striking memories of Chelsea for Billy Rafferty and Tommy Langley

Billy Rafferty and Tommy Langley didn’t spend the greatest amount of time at Wolves.

Billy Rafferty comes up against Chelsea’s Ray Wilkins in Wolves’ last win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge
Billy Rafferty comes up against Chelsea’s Ray Wilkins in Wolves’ last win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge

You won’t find either of them near the top of any Molineux goalscoring charts, or being talked about for the club’s Hall of Fame.

But when it comes to fixtures involving Wolves and Chelsea, for both of the affable former strikers, the force is strong.

Historic even in Rafferty’s case, as his goal, and another from John Richards in a 2-1 win in March, 1979, incredibly secured Wolves’ most recent victory at Stamford Bridge.

Langley, who scored for the opposition that day, has affiliations leaning more towards the Chelsea corner than that of Wolves.

Blue is the colour slightly more than gold and black, which is perfectly understandable given they are his boyhood club where he made his first team debut at 16 and went on to make 152 appearances, scoring 43 goals.

As Chelsea and Wolves face off again this Saturday still with European qualification of different types to play for this season, memories return of another of Langley’s goals in what was an even more pivotal fixture between two of the historical heavyweights of English football.

The penultimate fixture of the 1976/77 Second Division season saw Chelsea travel to Wolves needing a point to secure promotion and the Molineux Men the same to claim the title.

Langley, then still only 19, takes up the story.

“I have a feeling there weren’t supposed to be many Chelsea fans at the game, but a lot had got in and it felt like there were a million of them there.

“There was a great atmosphere and I scored after about 20 minutes.

“Ray Wilkins played the ball in behind and I snuck one in at the near post past my old pal Gary Pierce.

“Then the legend that is John Richards equalised and for the last 15 minutes or so very little happened.

Rafferty and family at Plymouth

“A point got us promoted, and Wolves the title, and there was a bit of chat between the players that by that stage of the game we were probably both happy enough with that outcome.

“It was a weird one, I’m not sure there was a shot on goal in the last 20 minutes, and everybody pretty much pulled up stumps and said, ‘see you in the First Division!’

“Both sets of players and fans were able to celebrate at full time and it turned out to be a really good day at the office.”

In the following two seasons in the top-flight Langley scored both home and away against Wolves, including a 25-yarder at Molineux in the opening week of the 1978/79 campaign to seal a 1-0 win ahead of a trip to face Tottenham for the White Hart Lane bow of Ricky Villa and Ossie Ardiles.

His goal in the return fixture wasn’t enough for a league double, as Wolves goalscoring version of ‘R&R’, Richards and Rafferty, responded.

“I was lucky enough to have some good days at Stamford Bridge,” Rafferty recalls.

“I remember scoring my first ever away league goal when I was at Coventry in a 3-3 draw and then setting up Paul Mariner for one of his two goals at Plymouth when we came back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2.

“Then in that Wolves game Tommy had scored for Chelsea before John equalised from what was such an acute angle, I’ve no idea how he managed to squeeze the ball in.

“I can’t remember the build-up to my goal but I think it was a volley from about 15 yards out.

“It was a great result for us and incredible to think it was the last time Wolves won at Stamford Bridge all those years ago.”

That goal came during something of a purple patch during Rafferty’s Wolves career, at a time when he scored both in the initial tie and replay of an FA Cup quarter final against Shrewsbury Town.

The Glaswegian was 27 when he arrived at Wolves, having started his career with Coventry and then moved to Blackpool before things really took off at Plymouth and Carlisle.

The Pilgrims progressed from Division Three to Two in winning promotion in 1974/75, Rafferty’s strike partnership with Mariner – who sadly passed away with brain cancer last year – seeing both of them labelled as ‘Argyle Royalty’ for contributions which will never be forgotten.

While with the Cumbrians, ‘Rafferty is a God’ was daubed in the town centre in deference to his goalscoring heroics, and he actually found the net in a 2-1 win against Wolves just under a year before moving to Molineux for a Carlisle club record fee of £130,000 in the March of 1978.

Wolves have played at Stamford Bridge in league and cup on ten occasions since the goals from Richards and Rafferty secured that famous win over four decades ago.

Of those games they have drawn three and lost seven, scoring three goals and conceding 24.

That is the sort of sequence they would love to break in the Premier League this weekend albeit recent times – two draws from the last three visits – have been slightly more encouraging.

Chelsea of course have become an even more formidable proposition in recent years to the team they were at the start of Langley and Rafferty’s careers, then occupying the top division for most of the mid-to-late Seventies with the exception of a relegation prior to returning upwards with Wolves.

Langley’s teenage debut came in November, 1974, his first goal came as a 17-year-old against Birmingham – “the Wolves fans will like that one” – but he wasn’t involved in the infamous 7-1 defeat at Molineux in March, 1975.

“During that time Chelsea were a bit of a waning club with a few financial struggles and a lot of the older players who had won the cups at the start of the Seventies had moved on,” he recalls.

“It gave youngsters like me an opportunity to come through and there were lots of reasons for that but we were happy to grasp our chance.

“After getting my debut I wasn’t involved in that big defeat at Wolves because at that stage it was probably felt that I wasn’t quite ready and mentally or physically able to handle the pressure of a relegation battle at the time.”

When Rafferty came to Wolves it was also to play his part in helping steer the club away from any danger of relegation, and he made a decent start with a goal in his second appearance against West Ham and an assist in a 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion.

But that local derby also brought the first shoots of an ankle injury which sometimes hampered Rafferty during his 18 months at Wolves.

Albeit he did manage to play through the pain barrier to help Wolves beat the drop that season, including setting up Richards and scoring himself on an electric night to help beat Aston Villa 3-1, and grabbing a brace in a final day victory against Ipswich.

“Five minutes from the end of that game against Albion, I badly twisted my ankle, I was struggling like anything and could barely walk,” he recalls.

“I remember Sammy Chung was the manager and he told me he had spoken to his counterpart at Carlisle who told him I never missed a game!

“I felt like that put me under a bit of pressure to make sure I played and I went out in the next game against Manchester City and I probably really shouldn’t have been on the field.

“The ankle ended up being a bit of a problem, a bit like Harry Kane has suffered, and when you have a weakness somewhere you can guarantee someone will find it!

“I really enjoyed it at Wolves and nothing will take away from that but I do wish I had been fully fit throughout my time.”

Langley on Chelsea TV

By the time Langley joined Wolves a few years later, in the summer of 1984, he had spent time, post-Chelsea, with QPR, Crystal Palace, AEK Athens in Greece – which went “pear-shaped due to registration issues” - and a couple of games with Coventry City.

Manager Tommy Docherty had signed Langley for QPR and repeated the feat to bring him to Molineux, to try and rejuvenate a Wolves side which had limped miserably out of the First Division the previous season.

“Obviously Tommy Doc was a manager I knew very well and even though I knew Wolves weren’t in a great financial state they were still such a big club,” Langley recalls.

“There were still some fantastic footballers there, and I arrived very much full of the joys of Spring.”

Sadly, despite a decent opening to life at Molineux, that feeling wasn’t to last.

Langley scored three goals in the first nine games, including in the opening day 2-2 draw with Sheffield United and a winner against Charlton.

But, and he holds himself wholly responsible for this, he wasn’t able to build on that promise and soon fell into the general malaise that had afflicted Wolves as they tumbled through the divisions.

“Wolves could pay salaries but there were restrictions in other areas such as accommodation, and the place I found to live was freezing cold, like an igloo,” Langley explains.

“So, I would travel up from my home in Surrey, leaving at 6am on a Monday, go training and then stay over on the night, going for a drink with the boys as was the case in those days.

“I’d travel home on a Tuesday to see the family and return on a Thursday and to be honest the travelling was killing me.

“By the time we eventually moved up to Perton - and my daughter was actually born while I was at Wolves - the damage had been done and Tommy had lost a little bit of faith in me which was fully understandable.

“I was running around and trying to do my best but I was nowhere near it, and it was sad because while I went to Wolves with the very best intentions it was a year which ultimately went astray.

“I did start off o-k but was living off the work I had done in pre-season building up that base fitness, but when you start to live wrong, travelling, socialising, not staying in when you need to rest, it all catches up with you and that is when my performances dipped.

“I didn’t do myself justice and certainly didn’t do the Wolves shirt justice and I blame myself for that and, if I had been a better professional, things could have been different.

“To be honest I let everyone down for which I can only apologise.”

Departing Wolves to join Aldershot, it wasn’t the end of his links with the club as, returning to the Shots after a year with South China, Langley scored against the Molineux Men once again in a 2-1 defeat at the start of the 1986/87 Fourth Division season.

By the time the clubs met again in the two-legged play off final, Langley had picked up an injury after being on the end of a heavy aerial challenge in the semi-finals, and could only look on as the Bobby Barnes-inspired Aldershot sunk Wolves hopes.

Spells at Exeter and Stateside with the Tampa Bay Rowdies brought Langley’s playing career to an end but for the last 25 years he has worked as an agent, on what he describes as a ‘low key basis’.

That means providing help and assistance to players, largely from overseas, which has included regular contact with Wolves recruitment team including around Hungarian defender Daniel Csoka, who went into the Academy before moving on to become a regular with AFC Wimbledon.

Langley has also worked within footballing media, on Channel 5’s Breakfast News and then also with Chelsea Radio and Chelsea TV.

Rafferty meanwhile also enjoyed some playing time abroad, like Richards, finishing his career in Portugal, playing alongside another Wolves old boy Peter Eastoe in helping Faro-based SC Farense to promotion after spells with Newcastle, Portsmouth – where he was part of another promotion – and Bournemouth.

On returning to England, a potential return to Carlisle to head up their Football in the Community scheme was blocked when Rafferty believes the team’s manager felt threatened, even though he had no intention of moving into coaching.

Ultimately however, it perhaps proved something of a blessing in disguise as Rafferty and wife Elaine ended up tapping into the health and wellbeing sectors and setting up a hugely successful health, fitness and beauty business.

He also launched an equally successful six-a-side football league, at one point boasting over 100 teams, before selling it on at the start of the pandemic.

Now fully retired, Rafferty, 71, is kept busy by life on the golf course, his family – son Stuart and daughter Lorna have given him and Elaine five grand-children – as well as taking in Carlisle games.

He remains in touch with several of his former Molineux team-mates, often meeting up with ‘best pal in football’ John Richards and wife Pam, as well as Willie Carr and his wife Tess.

The Raffertys are also still, thanks to his time at Bournemouth, close friends with Harry and Sandra Redknapp, who attended his 70th birthday celebrations at a golf course near Edinburgh back in 2020.

Memories of Molineux however, remain strong, and also happy, perhaps with the exception of the FA Cup semi-final defeat to Arsenal in 1979.

“I always had a dream to play at Wembley, it was one of my ambitions, but we just couldn’t quite get there,” Rafferty explains.

“We didn’t play well on the day, and I will never forget George Berry in the dressing room when (assistant manager) Richie Barker asked him what had happened with Arsenal’s first goal when Frank Stapleton had gone past him.

“George apologised and then just said ‘Frankie Baby had been too good for him’, which didn’t go down too well!

“That was a disappointment but overall, I loved my time at Wolves.

“I had always enjoyed playing at Molineux even before joining the club and a lot of us there were of a similar age, and got on really well.”

Langley, now 64, also harbours ‘fond memories’ of his time with Wolves, even though it was brief and during a spell which was very much a downward spiral.

As two of his former clubs meet this weekend, he is pleased to see both operating at a loftier position than during his playing days, and even though his brief Wolves foray wasn’t anything like as successful as when with Chelsea, Langley remains pleased that he joined.

“I still have some fond memories and Wolves are a massive football club and where they are now, battling for the European places, is where they deserve to be,” he insists.

“It has been great to see some investment going in there and the club being put on a really sound footing.

“Both clubs have progressed massively over recent years and Chelsea had that massive investment themselves before what has been a tough time over the last few months.

“They are both fighting for something, Chelsea for the Champions League and the FA Cup and Wolves to get into Europe, and that is great to see.

“It should be a really interesting game on Sunday and I’m looking forward to it.”

Langley scored four goals in 28 games during just under a year with Wolves, and Rafferty eight in 50 during 18 months at Molineux.

That both retain such fond memories of their respective times is testament to the pull of the club, whilst they certainly had an impact on Chelsea/Wolves fixtures of times gone by.

From a Wolves perspective however, a follower in Rafferty’s footsteps in bagging a winner at Stamford Bridge on Saturday is perhaps very much overdue!

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