Sam Davies examines why Graham Taylor's much-trumpeted return to club football with Wolves was brought to an abrupt end
The glory days of the 1950s were a long way in the past when I first started following Wolves but my generation of fans grew up accustomed to the club being First Division mainstays. After the dark days of the early Eighties, the revival under Sir Jack Hayward’s patronage promised a return to glory days; but it seems to be going horribly wrong again.
In his resignation statement, Graham Taylor pointed out that last season Wolves had finished higher in the League than in any time in the previous decade and had reached the Quarter-Finals of the FA Cup. With players such as Tony Daley, Steve Froggat and John de Wolf fit again, hopes were high in August.
They would have been higher still were it not for the transfer speculation concerning Steve Bull, which was to turn into a public relations nightmare. It was widely rumoured that Taylor and Bull hadn’t ever got on, a consequence of Taylor’s refusal to select Bull for England when he was arguably in the best form of his career.
Bull clearly benefited from the coaching he’d received when he was away with England during the Bobby Robson era – his control and distribution became much sharper and he’d shoot on sight – but neither Taylor nor his predecessor Graham Turner seemed inclined to try and work with him on the weak points in his game. During the Summer he declined a move to Coventry, a prospect that had appalled fans, and was then dropped from the first team.
Taylor may have cut his own throat as early as September when he said that he didn’t look at a League table until after 12 games. Well, after 12 games, Wolves were going nowhere and getting worse. Four games later he was out of a job.
The poor start was not made any easier for Wolves fans to bear by the sight of West Brom and Birmingham racing up the table. To see a Baggies team assembled for a fraction of the cost of the squad at Molineux several points clear and playing better football was particularly galling.
And we were dreadful. Not, despite what some of his critics said, because we were playing long ball – some of the best goals came from neat passing play – but because the team’s shape was being changed constantly (we played three different formations alone during the course of one match against Charlton).
The team selections were matched for weirdness by some of the recent transfer deals. Both Froggatt and Daley had been in and out at Villa with one injury or an-other. Daley ended up playing just fifteen min-utes of first team football in a Wolves shirt last season while Froggatt, having overcome a bad ankle injury, now faces a long lay-off due to a blood disorder.
Then there was Eric Young, now 35, who Taylor continued to play week in, week out despite the fact that twenty thousand Wolves fans could see that he has the turning circle of the Titanic and hopeless distribution. It began to seem as though Taylor was scared of being vilified in the press for having given Young a two-year contract and then having to admit that he is past it. (Bobby Gould continues to pick Eric for Wales, of course, but then Bobby’s a bit unusual himself.)
After the pathetic performances at Barnsley and at home to Charlton the board had seen enough. Something had to be done while there was still time. Kenny Hibbitt is the supporters’ favourite to succeed Taylor, but I think he would be mad to take the job. He was a Molineux idol during his playing career, and I’d hate to ever hear people chanting, “Hibbitt Out!”
Nor is it the time for experiments with players yet to cut their management teeth, such as Chris Waddle or Steve Bruce. It needs to be someone able to make the players aware that the fans expect more than they are getting at present.
The Hayward family have built a Premiership ground and facilities at Molineux. Players have been brought in who should be able to cut it at the highest level. Taylor has reduced them to a shambles, but many are on Premiership salaries already and have had too easy a time of it: if they can’t handle the pressure they should go and play for Walsall. And the way things are the moment, we might be back there next season as visitors.
From WSC 107 January 1996. What was happening this month