FORTY years ago Wolverhampton Wanderers took on the overwhelming favourites, Manchester City, at Wembley in the League Cup Final. Unlike Sunderland last week, Wolves pulled off what most pundits thought was an unlikely, if not impossible victory.
1974 is remembered for the austerity of the Three-Day Week and the eventual collapse of Edward Heath's government, although I was personally oblivious to the hardship. 15 years old at the time, I was more interested in Wolves on Saturdays and Midland League Stourbridge on Sundays. Inspired by Chick Bates and Ray Hayward, Stour got to the final of the Welsh Cup, where they fell 3-0 on aggregate to Cardiff City. John Richards shares my biased opinion; "Although it was difficult from a national economic standpoint, these were good times from a Wolves point of view!"
Inspirational skipper, Mike Bailey, recalls the journey to the final; "Our campaign paired us with Halifax in the first round, and I remember winning comfortably at the Shay, then we saw off Tranmere and Exeter. In the quarter final at home to Liverpool the first half was fairly even, but in the second, playing towards the North Bank, I felt us move up a gear. We were very patient, very focused, waiting for a chance and it came through John Richards. John latched on to a ball in the left channel, showed great strength holding off very determined defenders before shooting past Ray Clemence. I was always pleased to be on John's side."
This key victory, on 19th December, was celebrated by Slade's new song, Merry Xmas Everybody, blaring out of the ground's loudspeakers.
A two-legged semi-final win over Norwich City then followed in which JR scored twice to set up the Wembley encounter.
Frank Munro described the scene on the day as the team coach approached the stadium; "Waggy and I were always card partners and on the way up to Wembley there were so many Wolves fans it was unbelievable. They were banging on the coach windows, it was incredible."
Dave Wagstaffe himself added; "It was a blur on the day. I can tell you now, but it goes so quickly. I'm the most nervous person in the world and remember saying to Frank, 'I wish we were playing this game at Castlecroft instead of Wembley'. I was absolutely petrified walking out there, pre-match nerves, I was the same with any game. But once you walk out, you're comfortable because you're doing your own job."
Richards remembers that the proudest person on the coach was the driver Sid Kipping, who drove deliberately more slowly down Wembley way to wave back to the all the supporters waving to him.
The dressing room was deep in the bowels of the stadium and, as John Richards explains, it left the players largely unaware of the intensity of the build-up; "I don't think anyone could actually prepare you for walking out from the tunnel at Wembley. You'd seen it on the television, you'd heard about it, but to actually experience it was an unbelievable feeling. As we walked out the noise was deafening and two thirds of the stadium was gold and black, even in the City end there was gold and black amongst them."
Ken Hibbitt agrees; "The day itself, no words can explain it. It was remarkable the players in the opposition, Bell, Marsh, all of them had played there 30 times and it was like another game for them. Watch the video and look at our line up, full of youngsters that had never been there before, and we were stood in a line ready to go out, with our hands down by our sides or in front of us. You look over to the Man City players and they're tossing the ball up and flicking it on their shoulders or the back of their heels."
The visit to Wembley was a magical experience indeed. I had been there before but only for schoolboy internationals and grateful though I was for this, the atmosphere could not compare with the raw emotion among the heaving masses on the west enclosure. Perhaps I had lived a sheltered existence but what I believed to be spilled drinks cascading down the crumbling stone steps was in fact the result of hundreds of grown men relieving themselves almost in unison.
As Kenny Hibbitt and others have already described, I remember the teams coming out of the tunnel at the opposite end of the ground into bright, early spring sunshine, an experience that still sends a chill up Derek Parkin's spine; "It was a tremendous occasion. We started to go up the tunnel and all you could see at first was the top of the stand. As you got further and further up, the crowd started to come into view. Well, we had that stand and the atmosphere when we came out was, well, the hairs on the back of your neck stood up."
To my mind, the match was a classic, with Kenny Hibbitt putting Wolves ahead with the outside of his right foot just before half-time. Mike Bailey switched play to Geoff Palmer, who fed Alan Sunderland on the right, it came back to Geoff Palmer who drifted a ball into the box that Richards just missed but Hibbitt connected. Kenny recalls the moment; "The first goal came off the top of my foot. Geoff can claim an assist with a great cross! John was coming away from goal, banged his leg up and just missed it. I had got into position to volley it, but just lost it for a second and mistimed it. But it might have been the best thing that happened because it went in any way. Keith McRae in goal went for it and all I saw was him grabbing thin air as it dropped over him. I knew it was in and I was on my run before it hit the back of the net."
Wolves taking the lead seemed to spark off a veritable City siege of the Wolves goal that brought the best out of Gary Pierce, 23 on the day, and he brilliantly tipped a Marsh free kick over the bar. Just when it seemed that the Wolves goal would remain intact Colin Bell profited from a lucky deflection off the top of John McAlle's head to bring City level.
At 1 – 1 Manchester looked favourites to kick on and win the game, but it was now under the greatest pressure that the pugnacious Wanderers captain did exactly what his players still maintain he did best, as he took the game by the scruff of the neck.
Mike continues; "City did not expect the reaction from a Wolves team that had so much desire to bring a major trophy back to Molineux and our loyal fans. I sensed that we had to get a period of control as we were hitting too many long balls up to Doog and John. As we were unable to get up and support them, the ball just kept coming back to put us under greater pressure still. I started to encourage the lads to play shorter passes, keep possession, build up more slowly and not get stretched out. We gradually got back into the game."
Clive recorded his interviews with the Wolves stars between 2005 and 2007.
We'll have the full account of the second half of this historic match and the Wolves triumphant return home in next week's Bugle.
Were you at the 1974 League Cup final? Tell us your memories of the big day. Contact editor@blackcountry bugle.co.uk or write to 41 Bugle House, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.