Express & Star

Feature: Gary Pierce’s place in Wolves history

There were so many great stories, and magnificent performances, associated with Wolves’ League Cup Final win over Manchester City, which took place 50 years ago on Saturday. But perhaps the true romance of the cup was most personified by the man between the sticks on that glorious Wembley afternoon. Paul Berry catches up with one of the day’s heroes.

Wolves lifted the League Cup in 1974 despite starting against Man City as underdogs

“Let me ask you a question,” begins former Wolves goalkeeper Gary Pierce.

“How many people get to play at Wembley on their birthday?”

It’s a good question. To which there may not be a definitive answer.

‘How many people get to play in goal at Wembley on their 23rd birthday, produce a string of fine saves to help their team overcome the odds and defeat star-studded opposition to win a League Cup?’

That would narrow it down just a little bit.

The Gary Pierce story from Wembley, which took place 50 years ago this Saturday, is one of the many where footballing fact proves stranger than fiction.

Deputising for the more established number one Phil Parkes, six months on from being plucked from Huddersfield’s reserves, and in his only his 14th appearance in the Wolves goal, Pierce had an afternoon to dream of – and one he will never forget - as Wolves defeated Manchester City.

The scenes at full time remain, even now, the stuff of legend.

Gary Pierce

No, not Wolves’ midfielder Steve Daley, who just missed out on a place in the squad, dancing onto the pitch in the shocking yellow tracksuit trousers which were club issue for the day.

More so when uncompromising and often belligerently defiant Wolves manager Bill McGarry, sheepskin coat flailing in his wake, and in echoes of victorious Sunderland boss Bob Stokoe after the FA Cup final ten months earlier, sprinted onto the pitch to congratulate his goalkeeper.

‘I didn’t believe you had it in you,’ he told Pierce.

“Imagine your manager saying that to you,” laughs the man himself, half a century on.

“It was a real shock to see him coming towards me, but also a compliment.”

It sure was. And what a day it was for the young goalkeeper. What a memory.

“Don’t make this about me though,” he continues.

“That back four – Geoff Palmer, Frank Munro, John McAlle and Derek Parkin – they were superb.

“But my man of the match was Mick Bailey, he was unbelievable.

Wolves v Manchester City league cup final at Wembley in 1974 with John Richards in team

“I have only watched the game back a couple of times but just look at Mick’s performance…what a player.”

Bailey getting to lift the League Cup on that March afternoon was, for all his team-mates, almost as defining a moment as winning the trophy itself.

He was their Captain Marvel, an inspirational leader on and off the pitch, for whom finally lifting a piece of silverware was a fitting reflection of his ability and status within the game.

That it proved an overall team effort which secured Wolves a famous victory under McGarry - goals from Kenny Hibbitt and John Richards either side of Colin Bell’s equaliser - is an unquestionable truth.

And that is exactly how it should, and will be remembered, as the Golden Anniversary of the gold and black triumph arrives this weekend and is celebrated when several of the class of ’74 will be present at Wolves’ next home game against Fulham a week on Saturday.

But the goalkeeping situation and immense contribution of Pierce provided a fascinating and ultimately fulfilling sidenote to an incredible day which will forever have its place in the halcyon pages of the football club’s illustrious history.

“I used to pop into the old Social Club at Molineux during my lunchtimes,” recalls dedicated fan Les Green, who spent most of his working life with British Telecom and the small matter of 23 years scouting for Wolves Academy, unearthing the likes of Joleon Lescott and Danny Batth.

L-R: Kenny Hibbitt, Barry Powell, Dave Wagstaffe, Derek Parkin, John McAlle, Geoff Palmer (Hidden by cup), Mike Bailey, Alan Sunderland, Derek Dougan, John Richards, Francis Munro, Gary Pierce..

“I got to know a few of the players and I was also playing Sunday League football for Wolverhampton Supporters Club, a team who Gary was training and would watch play.

“We got on well and started to socialise – he’s got an older brother Ray who was like his mentor back home and maybe I filled that role just a little bit when he moved down to Wolves from Huddersfield.

“He had a house in Codsall not far from me and we shared some good times.

“If it was a home match and Wolves had won, we’d go out – this was the time when there were discos everywhere – but, if they had lost, we would go and find a quieter pub somewhere.

“We had some great times and a lot of fun, but I used to hate watching him play because he was a mate and if things went wrong with the team, he would often get the blame.