John McAlle is sampling one first tomorrow – and is hoping for another.
The former Wolves defender, now 69, reckons he will be travelling on a coach for the first time since he hung up his boots more than three decades ago as he joins supporters on Wolves Official Travel for the FA Cup semi-final against Watford at Wembley.
And after playing in three losing FA Cup semi-finals as a player – a series he shares with team-mates Derek Parkin, Kenny Hibbitt and John Richards – he is finally hoping to make it fourth time lucky this weekend.
McAlle, who finished playing professionally in 1984 and is now a retired landscape gardener, rarely attends Wolves games these days but booked his tickets and his place on the bus because of family interest in his old club.
He plans to meet grandson Harry MacKenzie, 12, and son-in-law Doug, who is married to the McAlles’ daughter Zoe, at the stadium. They live on the holiday isle of Jersey.
“This is the fourth FA Cup semi-final I’ve been to and I hope we bloody win this one!” said McAlle, who had spells with Sheffield United and Derby following his 16-year, 508-game stint in gold and black from 1965-81. “I don’t think I have been on a coach since I finished playing. I don’t think there will be any card tables on there! But if we win it would be nice to have a beer.”
McAlle will be travelling on his own on the bus but is looking forward to the soaking up the build-up to a game and mixing with the fans.
“It’s a very new experience for me,” he added. “Usually as players we travelled to an away game the day before a game and went to the hotel.
“But it was very different for home games; I made a lot of good friends who were fans that I only met through them watching us then going for drinks after games in the old social club.”
Now young Harry wants to get in on the act.
“My grandson doesn’t get to see many games but we all went to the Everton match on the opening day of the season and an evening game last season under the lights with the atmosphere and fireworks, and it was fantastic,” said McAlle.
“They are the only games he has seen, but ever since he was seven or eight he has developed an understanding of football, and, especially since he learned his grandad used to play, they have looked out for the Wolves results.
“So they asked us if we could get tickets for the semi-final and I managed to buy three for us, and I got myself booked on coach 14. Now I just hope I can park my car!”
So is young Harry a chip off the old block? “No, he can play!” joked McAlle. “He’s not a bad player at all. He can control it and pass it, he makes the play. He plays for his school team and the island side as well and about 18 months ago they came over and played a side from Fulham’s academy. But at this age, I just tell him to enjoy it.”
Of the three losing semi-finals McAlle he played in, like his three team-mates, the 1-0 defeat to Leeds in 1973 is the one where he was most frustrated with. John Richards’s shot hit the inside of the post and rolled along the goal-line but didn’t go in.
“I don’t feel hurt – the really good thing was that we got to those semi-finals and we had a good side,” he said. “We got three big chances but usually you only get one.
“I would say we should have beaten Leeds at Maine Road, but we just didn’t have that bit of luck you need. Against Arsenal in 1979 we were beaten by the better team.
“Then against Tottenham at Sheffield Wednesday in 1981, I felt we were stronger, but we didn’t get the luck you need again, but they were all over us in the replay at Highbury.”
Aspects of the game have changed of course but McAlle sees some similarities between the Wolves team he played for and Nuno Espirito Santo’s side.
“The one thing about the lads I played with was they were always up for the big games,” he recalled. “They didn’t need telling or talking to, and that’s what these lads will be tomorrow.
“When I went to see them against Everton I was a little bit unsure as to how they would get on, but Wolves are a good side. They can pass it, they can keep it, they very rarely give the ball away and the game they play is quite exciting to watch.
“They want to pass the ball forwards and they don’t like going backwards.”
McAlle believes Wolves will have too much for Watford, who he has unpleasant memories of after breaking his leg against them in the fifth round of the competition after coming on as a substitute in the shock 3-0 home defeat to Graham Taylor’s emerging outfit in February 1980.
“I think they should easily beat Watford,” he said. “Wolves are a good team and they have matured since that first game of the season.”
Wolves have not had too many Liverpudlian central defenders but current captain Conor Coady follows in McAlle’s footsteps in that regard.
And if the former tough-tackling centre back doesn’t see himself in Coady’s play, he sees the virtues of other esteemed favourites in the Scouse sweeper.
“When I played with Frank Munro, Derek Parkin, Geoff Palmer and Mike Bailey, they were the type of players who would win the ball and we’d get it forward to the Doog,” he said. “It was so simple – we got it into the opponents’ half and there was lots of excitement around their 18-yard box.
“Conor Coady seems to me to have time on the ball, he passes it very well and he reads the game well, knowing where the ball is going to be. He always seems to have time to play.
“He doesn’t need to tackle now. He watches it and sweeps up, his passing of the ball is great and he gets himself in positions where he doesn’t need to tackle, but I would imagine he could if he needed to. In my day, all I did was tackle!
“You need the right players in every position to have a chance, and this team has.”