It was a night of rich on memories, revelations and laughs.
From Karl Henry on falling out with Joey Barton to Steve Daley being tapped up in a lift by Bobby Robson and Ally Robertson’s tale of the team beating Burnley in a drinking game, there was no shortage of tales at the Wolves Former Players Association’s annual dinner last night.
All were fascinating to anyone of a gold and black persuasion, and the trio, prompted by Wolves fanatic and the excellent host from Sky Sports TV, Johnny Phillips, held over 200 guests spellbound with their stories of life at Molineux.
But it was a question from Daley to Henry that prompted the former captain to lift the lid on his relationship with Barton.
The pair had infamously clashed in Wolves’ 1-1 feisty draw with Newcastle in August 2010. Twelve players were booked that day, seven from Wolves, and Henry revealed what went on.
“Me and David Jones, who was an excellent footballer but not so well known for his physical presence, were up against Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and Alan Smith. We said beforehand that the first tackle was really important,” recalled the former Molineux skipper.
“The first ball landed about 20 yards from me and the same distance from Joey Barton. I won the ball and he went up in the air. I picked him up.
“After that I did it about three or four times and then he started saying he was on 70 grand a week. When the rest of the lads heard that, they wanted to smash him too!
“Even Matt Jarvis, who I don’t think had tackled in his life, got booked for a tackle on him.”
Fast forward three years, and Henry and Barton were by now at the same club, after signing for QPR that summer.
“Amazingly, Harry Redknapp, the manager who signed us, didn’t know anything about me and Joey Barton until he came up to me one day at training,” said Henry.
“He said ‘you’ve got previous with Joey, haven’t you?’ We were fine for about a month and played together in the middle of the park.
“One day we played head tennis and him and Clint Hill beat me and Alejandro Faurlin. Fair enough, but then Joey decided to tell everyone – the groundsman, the kitman – that we were s****. I thought he had taken it to a new level.
“I played pool a quite a bit on the Willenhall Road as a kid and I’m decent. So I was playing pool one day and Joey said he would take me off the table.
“It got to the black and I thought ‘shall I pot it left-handed or right-handed?’ and I did it left-handed. He wasn’t happy.
“After that we had to go on the coach to an away game at Yeovil and he started saying he had been given a pay rise of ten grand a week and he was now on £80,000 a week. We ended up having an argument and it almost came to blows.
“We were both dropped for the next game. He is not for me.”
True to form, Daley then brought the house down by asking Henry, “So, have you kept in touch with Joey, then?!”
Henry was typically forthcoming on his opinions of his managers at Wolves.
“Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor were phenomenal together,” he said. “It was refreshing for me to have someone like Mick. If he thought you were crap, he would tell you so.
“But Mick was Mick and you couldn’t have a Mick as manager and a Mick as a coach.
“Mick had that presence about him when he walked in a room. Richard Dunne reminded me of it when I went to QPR and he said he still called him ‘gaffer’.
“‘TC’ had a different approach and knew his football inside out. You can only pick 11 players and so there would be 12 or 13 other players disappointed at not playing.
“Knowing this, TC would organise a training session for the players not playing. I have not seen that any other club.
“For me it was a mistake to appoint Stale Solbakken,” he said. “He was a nice guy and probably better suited to the Premier League. The way we played…we sat back.
“Every player signed under Mick was a certain type and we were a hardworking team and the underdog, like Burnley now. We were compact and organised and we pressed high up the pitch.
“We did it in the Championship and we did it in the Premier League but it’s a lot harder to do it in the Premier League.
“I remember a game under Stale when we played Derby at home. We sat back in our own half and barely touched the ball in the first half and the fans booed us off at half-time. We came in at half-time and Stale was delighted.
“It was really difficult for the players – we knew what it would take to be successful in the Championship; not many teams could deal with putting the opposition under pressure but Stale didn’t want to do that, he wanted to sit back.
“I was captain and I spoke to him, saying the fans are giving us abuse because we’re sitting back. We tried to do what he wanted us to do but it was really difficult sitting back not laying a glove on teams.
“We understood what he wanted us to do but we knew ourselves that when we played a certain way, we had success for so long. In the end it didn’t work.”
That led to the ‘double-dip’ relegation and Henry gave a really candid response to how his seven-year Molineux career came to an end after the drop into League One.
“One hundred per cent regret and disappointment,” he said. “We were ashamed of the situation, certainly me with being local as well. I don’t think there was any disgrace at being relegated from the Premier League, but to be relegated from the Championship with the team we had was a disgrace.”
When asked the six-million dollar question if he regretted going to Manchester City, Daley gave the expected but hilarious reply: “What do you ******* think?!”
But it led to a fascinating insight into the preamble to him briefly becoming Britain and Europe’s most expensive footballer.
“I was getting telephone calls at home from Ron Atkinson (then West Bromwich Albion manager) and Bobby Robson (then Ipswich boss). Bobby took me on the England ‘B’ tour. We’d just finished training and we were in the lift together and he said ‘Daley, (Brian) Talbot, (John) Wark’ – are you interested? I nodded and he said ‘say no more’.
“When I got back home, I was out at the cinema one night with Lyn, my wife, and the telephone went. My mother-in-law, who was babysitting, took the call and when she asked who it was, he said to tell me that someone calling himself the unknown gentleman had called me. I never heard another thing.
“It got to deadline day and Ron Saunders, who was manager of Villa, phoned me, asking where John Barnwell (Wolves manager) was because he couldn’t get him at the training ground. I told him I didn’t know so that one never happened.
“Eventually Malcolm Allison at Manchester City started bidding and each time he bid, Barney told him it had been matched so Malcolm said he would top it.
“The fee went from £800,000 to £1,437,500 and that’s when they agreed the deal. But within four weeks they had sold Gary Owen, Asa Hartford, Mick Channon and Peter Barnes – to pay for me.
“I was getting death threats, my kids were being threatened with being kidnapped, I had to have police escorts to and from games – it became ridiculous. Then I got the call to go to America.”
There was a hint of emotion in his voice as Daley admitted his big regret. “I didn’t realise what I’d got and the biggest mistake I made was leaving this club,” he said.
“I should never have left Wolves. I played with the best two midfielders I ever played with, Kenny Hibbitt and Willie Carr, and they made me. I was on the verge of the England team.”
Besides the memories, if there was another theme that shone through it was the camaraderie and team spirit than ran through their respective teams.
Daley recalled physio Kevin Walters, the brother of actress Julie Walters, staggering through Dubai airport having drunk a bottle of whisky to himself after failing to entice the players to drink with him, and, when it was suggested they might need to call a doctor, it was pointed out that he was their medical man.
The former 1970s favourite also told of a time when assistant boss Sammy Chung had been sent by manager Bill McGarry to carry out a bed check of all the players, to see if they had met a curfew.
“When Sammy got to the room where Frank Munro and Dave Wagstaffe were, he opened the door and found the lights off, so he turned the lights on and found them fast asleep,” he said. “So he turned off the lights and got to the door, then thought ‘This can’t be right’ and turned back the bed clothes to reveal they both had suits and ties on, ready to go back out!”
Henry remembered the down time of the pre-season trips to Ireland under Mick McCarthy when the players were allowed to let their hair down with a night out in Dublin.
“One of the lads actually injured their ankle and was out for a couple of months from jumping down from their room.
“We had a lot of players who hadn’t played in the Premier League but we were all young and hungry. There are a number of us still in touch, such as Richard Stearman, Kevin Foley, Stephen Hunt and Kevin Doyle – we’re a tight-knit group.
“We all left here and we all realise how special it was. I took it for granted just how good a dressing room the team spirit we had here I never had before and I’ve never had it since.
“We didn’t have a Joey Barton but Mick wouldn’t have signed a Joey Barton. Roger Johnson was close but even he wasn’t Joey Barton!
“We had a really good group and I will remember that for the rest of my days.”
Dennison called his former captain Robertson up on stage to explain the build-up to Wembley for the Sherpa Van Trophy final in 1988.
“We went warm weather training and soon became apparent that Burnley (Wolves’ opponents) were at the same place,” recalled the Scot. “We ended up having a drinking game with Burnley – and beat them! Mind you, we had Jackie Gallagher and he could out-drink anyone!
“I remember walking out of the tunnel at Wembley in front of 50,000 Wolves fans after we’d been watched by crowds of 2,000 and 3,000 not long before.
“I looked across at Ian Britton, Burnley’s captain, and said ‘We’ve beaten you at drinking and now we’ve got to beat you at football!”
Dennison recalled: “When I first came to the club, there was no training kit, no training ground, the ground was falling apart…but it was a fantastic place to be.
“There was no airs and graces, we all had the craic but we all wanted to play football and do something here.
“I was so proud to have been part of that period of time. People say it’s about the money but that’s b******s. For me to have played a part in transforming the club, I am so proud.”
Dennison, who also revealed he regularly ‘had lumps’ kicked out of him by para-military soldiers after turning semi-pro with Glenavon in Northern Ireland at 16, didn’t pull any punches when it came to a couple of managers he played under at Wolves.
“Graham Taylor was absolutely fantastic as a manager and if he had had the three years Mark McGhee had, he would have got us to the Premier League,” he insisted.
“We had the squad to go up and but for the injuries, we would have done.
“Four or five top class players were out for the season (John De Wolf, Geoff Thomas. Tony Daley and Neil Emblen) and he also lost Paul Birch and Steve Froggatt for the season as well. It was his first job at England and he was hounded by the media – every day there would be a story about him, but he would just tell us to focus on the football and he would deal with the rest of it.
“Graham was fair to anyone who wanted to play for him, but if you didn’t, you were out of the door – it wasn’t a case of just training with the kids. I ended up getting another two years here and a testimonial.
“I thought it was a disgrace the way he was treated. The chairman wasn’t strong enough to let him see out his time.
“As for Mark McGhee? No. Once you start going against senior players and losing the senior players, you lose the dressing room and we never looked like going up.”
If McGhee ‘lost’ the Wolves dressing room, there was certainly no danger of any of the invited speakers following suit as those on stage were so familiar to us and therefore engaging.
It was a format that worked a treat – and that was how we came away at the end. Treated.